Matthew Preedom, photo
SWANTON – Homeowners around Rocky Ridge have been reeling in recent weeks from the announcement of an industrial wind project that, if approved, will be visible from many homes in Swanton, St. Albans Town, and Fairfield.
One of the concerns cited by homeowners is a sharp drop in home values that is caused by the aesthetics, noise pollution and related health effects. Neighbors reference instances where families have abandoned their homes after years of being unable to sell but the developers, Swanton Wind, points to academic and government studies reporting there is no evidence that wind farms damage home values.
Steve and Luanne Therrien own a home in Sheffield, Vt. When First Wind, LLC announced its plans to install a 40 megawatt industrial wind farm, the Therriens say they didn’t think it would be much of a problem.
“We had a lot of neighbors who were within two miles of the turbines, many of them weren’t effected at all,” Steve Therrien said. “When they went operational the sound seemed to be funneled by the contour of the hills to our house. We knew right then it was going to be bad.”
Sheffield wind power went online in fall 2011. Throughout that first winter the Therriens reported sleep problems, difficulty with their ears, and a pounding sensation in their home.
“The sound penetrated the house,” Therrien said. “We would get a drumming feeling in our body, the kids couldn’t take it. They would often wake up panicked. Many of our neighbors couldn’t feel a thing and weren’t bothered by it, it seemed like ours was the only home impacted to that degree.”
The winter was the worst time of year, they said, and last Christmas Eve they decided to abandon their home. Steven and Luanne Therrien moved their family to Derby. They have been unable to sell their former home. They cite the disruption of the turbines as the primary reason.
The Therriens are working with Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, who is negotiating with the wind project to purchase the Therriens’ home.
“Most of the time, neighbors are well accommodated by projects,” Recchia said. “Few people report being affected medically, and we are pretty confident now that there is not generally a health effect from the turbines.”
Recchia tried to convince First Wind, the developer at Sheffield, to buy the Terrien’s property, but was unable to negotiate what he called a fair price.
“There is no method to compel a project to buy someone else’s land, regardless of what effects may be reported by the homeowner,” Recchia said. “These things move forward on a ‘good neighbor’ basis. We’re hoping that Sun Edison [First Wind’s new owner] will be more willing to work with us.”
Still, the Therriens are outliers – the impact of wind turbines on their properties was unique, and not felt by the majority of their neighbors.
“Most people will be unaffected except for some annoyance from the project,” Recchia said. “Some individuals will feel that they are impacted medically or emotionally or economically, and we should do whatever we can to help those people.”
Three homeowners on Georgia Mountain Road appealed their tax assessments after that project went online in 2012.
Melodie McLane, whose home value was adjusted downward by 12 percent, said, “It’s 10 times worse than I ever thought it would be. We moved here because we wanted peace and quiet in the country. We never expected noise like this.”
Town assessor Bill Hinman originally denied the McLanes application, citing several studies that showed no impact on property values. After re-consideration by Georgia’s Board of Civil Authority, the three parcels saw reductions between eight and 15 percent.
Andrew Thompson and Erica Berl saw their home’s homestead value drop from $387,100 to $362,200 according to town records.
Berl and Thompson recently moved to North Carolina. They had listed their home for six months in 2014 and told the Messenger that they did not have a lot interest. They listed the home again on March 23, 2015 and sold it in June for $448,750 according to town records, $86,550 more than the assessed value.
“My experience with tax assessments is they are always lower than the actual market value,” Thompson told the Messenger by phone. “I can’t really speak to what is normal, but I do think the turbines had some impact.”
Thompson’s realtor, Geri Reilly, disagreed:
“I’d have to say that the wind towers had no affect on that property. In fact, I’ve sold three or four on Georgia Mountain and I don’t think they’ve had any effect on any of them.”
“I think it’s difficult for potential buyers to really understand how these turbines can affect your life,” McLane said after being told about the Thompson’s sale price. “It’s very hard to live with the noise, and you don’t get that if you come up here on a sunny summer day when the wind isn’t blowing hard. You just can’t understand it until you experience it.”
The study’s Georgia Assessor Hinman reviewed when making his initial determination are the same that Swanton Wind and others reference when attempting to show that their projects will not adversely affect their neighbor’s home values.
Indeed, whether sponsored by the renewable energy industry or the federal government, the reports form a solid consensus that there is no measurable impact on home values.
These studies aggregate and analyze data from real estate transactions within a certain radius of a wind project (typically two to 10 miles, but perhaps for an entire county). When the data is studied, it shows no significant impact.
A 2012 study of the Lempster, N.H. project found that there is “no evidence that the project has had a consistent, statistically-significant impact on property values within the Lempster region.”
The Lempster project consists of 12 turbines nearly 400 feet tall. The study reviewed 2,593 property sales records for fifteen towns in Sullivan County, New Hampshire to form its conclusion. The author, like many others, issued the qualification that “this study does not exclude the possibility of isolated cases of property value impacts attributable to the Lempster Wind Power Project.”
A 2013 federally sponsored study referenced on Swanton Wind’s website reviewed more than 50,000 home sales throughout nine states that were within 10 miles of 67 wind facilities. Of those, 1,198 sales were within one mile of a turbine.
This study too found “no statistical evidence that home values near turbines were affected.” None of the homes included in this study were in Vermont. They found that, “if effects do exist” they occur within the margin of error or impact “only a small subset of homes.”
“Based on our results,” the study continues, “we find that it is highly unlikely that the actual average effect for homes that sold in our sample within 1 mile of an existing turbine is larger than plus or minus 4.9 percent.” The variance within a half mile is nine percent.
Within those variations and large numbers are homeowners such as Steven and Luanne Therriens, and Erica Berl and Andrew Thompson.
“We keep looking for solutions to these situations that do occur infrequently,” Recchia said. “But we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, some situations do occur, they are not predictable, and do not present a public health concern.”
“If a homeowner feels that they are adversely affected, we will work with them to find some solution.”