Small, domestic turbine driving neighbors nuts (California)

Jul 22, 2010

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Disturbing the silence: Wind turbine not sustaining to neighbors’ sleep

—Heather Hacking, ChicoER.com (7/15/10)

CHICO—A year and a half ago when Don Steinsiek installed a wind turbine at the top of Stilson Canyon Road, he was excited to harness the wind.

He had been interested in the technology for a while, and when tax credits and rebates became available, he went for it.

The wind will vary, but he figured with the incentives, he could pay off his $82,000 investment in six or seven years.

When energy generation is greater than his use, he can sell electricity to the grid for 5 cents a kilowatt. But overall, he said the turbine provides energy for about two-thirds of his energy use.

It sounded like a good plan, and fit with the trend toward renewable energy sources.

But neighbors say the wind turbine ruins the quiet nature of the neighborhood, lowers their property values and deprives them of sleep.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting there was a lengthy discussion of Steinsiek’s turbine.

The state is passing new rules that will make it easier to install small wind structures, explained Tim Snellings, county development services director. Unless Butte County passes its own rules before Dec. 31, the new state rules will apply, he continued.

Neighbors took the opportunity to talk about the wind turbine.

O.J. Sutherland lives at the bottom of the hill from the turbine. He described the sound as similar to a “hovering helicopter to a whining or moaning sound.”

He told the supervisors some neighbors have changed the rooms in which they sleep, others wear earplugs and some just can’t sleep.

“We no longer have a quiet neighborhood. There is only one acceptable relief — to remove it,” Sutherland said.

Farther down the road is Gary Marquis, who said for 20 years he has heard frogs and crickets. “Now I listen to a wind turbine,” he said.

Leslie Schibsted, another neighbor, said she no longer sleeps with her windows open, and that the turbine has caused “tension between neighbors.”

Another neighbor said it’s not the decibels of the sound, it’s the “variability in pitch” that annoys neighbors.

One neighbor, who lives just at the bottom of the Steinsiek’s driveway, acknowledged the couple “did everything requested by the county,” and that she considers the neighbors friends.

“We’re all in favor of alternative energy. But it comes down to one person’s right to do something with their property, and other people deprived of their sleep,” she said.

Neighbors circulated a petition asking if people were bothered, and held a neighborhood meeting.

Steinsiek turned off the turbine on nights and weekends for a while. But now its back on, neighbors said.

Steinsiek has lived in Stilson Canyon since 1978, and said he did not know his neighbors would be addressing the Board of Supervisors, or he probably would have been there.

Steinsiek said he did everything according to the rules, and that some of the neighbors who signed the petition have told him they can’t hear it.

Some people might be able to hear the turbine, but it’s not much louder than the wind, he said. To him, he said it’s a “white noise.”

Christopher Grant, chief technology officer for ReDriven, the Canadian manufacturer of the turbine, said he plans to visit Stilson Canyon near the end of the month to look at Steinsiek’s turbine again.

“I think I know what the solution is,” Grant said, and it should be “a fairly simple software fix.”

A technician has been to the property twice over the past month and a half.

Grant said of the 160 similar turbines his company has installed, there have not been noise complaints.

Steinsiek said none of his immediate neighbors have neither complained nor signed the petition.

The turbine is 100 feet from his own bedroom.

He said part of the issue might be that the technology is something new, and having a wind turbine in the neighborhood focuses people’s attention to the sound.

Enterprise-Record staffers visited Stilson Canyon at 3 p.m. Wednesday, when the turbine was moving slowly. The turbine was not audible from the road, however Steinsiek said the turbine was moving very slowly due to only a slight breeze that day.

Snellings, of development services, said the neighbors’ comments at the Board of Supervisors meeting will be taken into consideration as the county looks at how to approve future wind turbines. Staff will need to make recommendations for regulations before the end of the year.

As for Steinsiek’s turbine, Snellings said there will be further discussions to see if something can be worked out.

Staff writer Heather Hacking can be reached at 896-7758 or hhacking@chicoer.com.

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