STATE PRISON: Turbine plan fans health issue

Local officials, doctor discuss wind facility

Elodie Reed

By Elodie Reed

Staff Writer

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We just want to make sure it fits in with the local community.

- Bill Nihan, selectboard vice chair

ST. ALBANS — Differing opinions have emerged in light of the possibility of a 121-foot tall, 100-kilowatt wind turbine being installed at the Northwest State Correctional Facility on Lower Newton Road. While some favor the renewable energy source by Green Mountain Power, others are concerned about the aesthetics of the large tower and even potential health issues that could arise.

For former St. Albans Planning Commission chair Dave Schofield, wind power is predominately a good thing. “Wherever we can create greener energy, it’s a worthy thing to do,” he said by phone on Thursday morning.

Schofield did add that he was a little unsure about the potential turbine. “I’ve got mixed feelings. I believe [wind turbines] are good, but I think they need to be set back from residential areas, upwards of a mile,” he said. “If they’re going to do it, I’d like to see it at the back side of the facility.”

St. Albans Town Selectboard Vice Chair Bill Nihan felt similar sentiments on Thursday morning.

“I’d really have to see where things are located, how it affects the scenic vistas, and so on,” Nihan said. “The problem is the town doesn’t have much say – it’s virtually taken out of our hands. We just want to make sure it fits in with the local community.”

Nihan added that he could take solace in knowing the turbine would be a smaller size than the wind turbines at Georgia Mountain Community Wind. “It’s massive enough, but it’s not one of those 260-foot monstrosities,” he said.

According to an e-mail sent by GMP corporate spokesperson Dotty Schnure on Thursday afternoon, the turbine is planned to be in the southeast corner of the state property, and it will be set back from the road.

Health concerns

Even if the turbine won’t be front and center at the 250-bed correctional facility, some are still highly concerned about its installation.

Sandy Reider, a doctor out of Lyndonville, said by phone on Wednesday that he was worried about the wind turbine adversely affecting people’s health in its new location.

“It has a lot to do with low frequency sound,” Reider said.

Reider said he has six patients he sees, including one from St. Albans, who appearing to suffer headaches, sleeplessness, panic attacks, and general discomfort when close to wind turbines, specifically the 100 kw turbines manufactured by Northern Power Systems, the same model to be installed at the prison. “One person had to abandon his home, it was so severe,” Reider said.

Reider has testified in front of state legislature three times in the past several years on these issues. In his Jan. 31, 2013 testimony, Reider spoke about the patient who moved away from his home after experiencing new symptoms with the installation of a 160-foot wind turbine 1,800 feet away.

“At the time of installation, he paid no attention at all to the turbine and had no particular feelings about it one way or the other, aesthetic or otherwise,” Reider wrote.

Reider went on, “About three weeks after the installation he began to experience quite severe insomnia, something he had never dealt with before, and he had no clue why. … He complained of abrupt waking 30 to 40 times a night, like a startle reflex, associated with some anxiety. “

Reider explained that his patient also started experiencing headaches, dizziness, and a ringing in his ears. The patient went on vacation for several weeks to see if the wind turbine was truly the problem, and he found that when away, the symptoms were gone, but when back, the symptoms returned. With additional research and observation of patients with similar complaints, Reider said in his testimony that he came to the conclusion that WTS (Wind Turbine Syndrome) should be considered more seriously.

“From a purely clinical perspective I believe the acoustic trauma produced by large wind turbines is real and significant, and that this makes the siting of these turbines especially critical,” Reider said. Reider went on to ask the Vermont Department of Health to take a more proactive role in researching these potential wind-generated health issues.

Despite his testimonies, Reider said on Wednesday that legislators have not done anything in response to his requests. “They haven’t taken anybody’s advice except the health department’s.”

Reider is not alone in his concerns. Annette Smith, a Danby resident and executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, told the Messenger on Wednesday that she was worried about the incarcerated who may experience health issues as a result of the turbine.

“What will happen to prisoners if they start getting sick?” she asked. “If Vermont citizens are getting no relief after two years, there would not seem to be any hope for those who are incarcerated. This seems like a really bad idea based on the track record with these machines,” she said.

Despite the issues some have with wind power, others have been living in close proximity to wind turbines without problem.

Earl Audet of Audet’s Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport said today that there has been a 100-kilowatt turbine on the dairy farm’s property for close to a year without issue.

“We’ve never had a problem,” Audet said. “Every now and then you’ll hear it when the wind really blows, but to say it bothers us, no.”

Craig Giles, the manufacturing director for Northern Power Systems and maker of the turbine that could be going in at the prison, said Wednesday afternoon that despite all the turbines the company makes and distributes worldwide, he rarely gets complaints about the product.

“Wind is clearly not right for every location,” Giles said. “But I’m on the receiving end of the phone calls for good and bad, and there’s overwhelmingly more good.”