7/20/09 REVIEW: The State of Wisconsin and the word Assume--- the origins of our state's current guidelines for siting 400 foot industrial wind turbines
A is for "assume"
Near the town of Byron, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, fall, 2008
The state of Wisconsin allows industrial wind turbines to be sited just 1000 feet in all directions from any home of unwilling residents unless the county or town board creates an ordinance that requires greater setbacks in the interest of protecting residents health and safety.
Several counties and towns have done just that, after realizing the 1000 foot setback recommended by the state is inadequate.
First hand reports from residents of four of Wisconsin's newest wind farms let us know that the noise from the wind turbines, especially at night, is far louder than predicted, and that shadow flicker from the turbines is much more severe and of longer duration than predicted.
Though the state does not allow the consideration of loss of property value in regulating siting of wind turbines, those who have been trying to sell their homes in our state's newest wind farms can find few buyers, or even realtors willing to represent them.
As pending legislation and legal challenges threaten to overturn the ordinances which were adopted following the letter of state law, Better Plan, Wisconsin takes another look at the origin of the 1000 foot setback, and what it's based on.
We begin here:
"[Industrial wind turbine] noise, on which the ordinance is silent,
was assumed to be captured by the 1000 foot setback"
From the Minutes of the November 4, 1999 Guidelines and Model Ordinance Ad Hoc Subcommittee meeting.
At the time, DePillis was a state worker employed by the Wisconsin Energy Bureau, Department of Administration.
He now works as a wind developer for EcoEnergy LLC
What are the results of this "assumption" about the 1000 foot setback?
Gerry Meyer carried mail in his community for 30 years.
He lives inside the Invenergy Forward Energy wind farm near the town of Byron in Wisconsin's Fond du Lac County. When the turbines went on line near his home in March of 2008, he was surprised by the amount of noise that they made. He began keeping a noise log. (The entire turbine noise log can be downloaded by clicking here)
Let's look at the noise log for September 1, 2008
6:20 AM Loud motor running or humming sound.
7:05 AM I’m hearing turbine #4 in the barn, shop, and at the computer.
[ Turbine #4 is less than 1600 feet from the house]
11:15 AM Wind SW Loud.
4:15 PM Turbine 4 and 6 are making loud jet flying over sounds, ripping the sky apart. It has been loud all day.
9:40 PM This is the loudest night in a long time.
I hear #4, 6, 73, 74a, 3a and and possibly more.
I can hear them at the computer in the front of the house and in the family room in the back of the house with the TV on.
Keep in mind turbine 6 is ¾ mile away. # 73 is 2480’ and 74a 5/8 mile away.
It is very sad our town officials and PSC have allowed this turbine project to affect the health of residents in this area and it will continue in other areas.
11:40 PM I hear turbine jet flying over sound while watching TV in our family room.
This assumption about wind turbine noise made by Alex DePillis and other members of the Model Ordinance Ad Hoc Subcommitee helped the state create guidelines which allowed Chicago-based wind developer Invenergy to site turbines as close as 1000 feet from unwilling participants homes in Fond du Lac and Dodge County.
Residents in Dodge and Fond du Lac are having trouble sleeping at night due to noise from industrial turbines, and when they want to sell their homes, no one seems interested in buying them.
This photo, taken December 8, 2008 is of a home near the town of Byron that has been on the market for a long time. The price has been reduced but still no offers.
Can you guess why?
Why would the state put so many residents at risk by allowing a committee to set guidelines based on an assumption that a 1000 foot setback would take care of noise problems?
Local governments who recognized the inadequacy of the state's guidelines for siting turbines have created large wind ordinances intended to protect the health and safety of residents. Within the last year several Wisconsin towns have adopted ordinances with a 2640 foot setback. They didn't just pull that figure out of the air. And they didn't base it on an assumption. So what is it based on?
Here's what we learned from the findings section from the Town of Union's large wind ordinance regarding wind turbine noise.
The complete text of the findings and all documents used to support these findings are cited in the ordinance. (Download the entire Town of Union ordinance by clicking here)
This is just a summary:
The state's current wind turbine noise limit of 50dBA does not adequately protect residents from the adverse health effects associated with large wind turbine noise.
The town of Union limits large wind turbine noise to a maximum of 35dBA or 5dBA over ambient, whichever is lower, in order to protect residents from adverse health effects associated with large wind turbine noise based on the following findings:
Large wind turbines are significant sources of noise, which , if improperly sited, can negatively impact the health of residents, particularly in areas of low ambient noise levels.
Large wind turbines emit two types of noise-- 1) Aerodynamic noise from the blades passing through the air, which can generate broadband noise, tonal noise and low frequency noise; and 2) Mechanical noise from the interaction of the turbine components.
A dBA scale is commonly used to measure audible wind turbine noise.
Low frequency noise from large wind turbines is not adequately measured by the state's use of dBA weighting.
Noise is an annoyance that can negatively impact health, producing negative effects such as sleep disturbance and deprivation, stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
Large wind turbines create a noise annoyance that can hinder physical and mental healing and can cause adverse health effects associated with sleep disturbance and deprivation, psychological distress, stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, fatigue, tinnitus and hypertension.
Wind turbine noise can affect each person differently. Some people are unaffected by wind turbine noise, while others may develop adverse health effects from the same noise.
At low frequencies, wind turbine noise may not be heard but rather is felt as a vibration. Medical research reported complaints from people who felt the noise from large wind turbines, similar to symptoms that can be associated with vibroacoustic disease.
The risk for adverse health effects resulting from noise annoyance such as headaches, stress, anxiety, fatigue, depression, pain and stiffness, and decreased cognitive ability associated with sleep deprivation from wind turbine noise increases with increasing A-weighted sound pressures. According to wind turbine noise studies, few respondents were disturbed in their sleep by wind turbine noise at less than 35dBA. Respondents were increasingly disturbed in their sleep by wind turbine noise greater than 35dBA.
Wind turbine noise greater than 5dBA over ambient increases the risk for health effects because a change of 5dB is clearly noticeable.
Studies show prolonged exposure to wind turbine noise resulted in adverse health effects at sound levels below those from other sources of community noise, such as road traffic noise. Sound generated by wind turbines has particular characteristics and creates a different type of noise having different health impacts than compared to urban, industrial or commercial noise.
Living in a rural environment in comparison with a suburban area increases the risk of residents being impacted by noise from nearby large wind turbines because of the low ambient noise in rural environments. The International Standards Organization recommends community noise limits for rural areas be set at 35dBA during the day, 30 dBA during the evening, and 25dBA at night.
Eye-witnesses living near newly-constructed large wind turbines in the Town of Byron, Fond du Lac County, WI, testified at the public hearing held by the Town of Union Plan Commission that they currently experience adverse health effects from the wind turbine noise such as sleep deprivation and disturbance, headaches, nausea and dizziness. Th noise from the wind turbines in the Town of Byron is greater than 45dBA at their residences and can be heard inside of their houses and outside in their yards.
Two Plan Commissioners from the Town of Union visited the newly constructed wind turbines in the Town of Byron, Fond du Lac County, WI in June 2008 and confirmed the wind turbines were a significant source of noise. One described the quality and intensity of the noise as sounding like a jet airplane. The other spoke with residents, farmers and a sheriff's deputy in the area who all stated that the turbines were noisy. He also took sound measurements from the home of a resident with a turbine less than 1500 feet from his home. The sound measured between 57 to 67 dBA on June 6-7, 2008.
However, experiences vary. Two other plan commissioners visited wind turbine sites. One visited sites in Byron Township, Lincoln Township and Montfort and found that overall, people were satisfied with the turbines. Two issues noted by this Plan commissioner were tensions between landowners profiting from the wind turbines and those landowners who did not, and poor conditions of roads following the installation of the turbines.
The other commissioner visited wind farms in Iowa. He estimated that approximately 60% of the people he spoke with had positive opinions of the wind turbines and approximately 40% of the people he spoke with had negative opinions of wind turbines.
A fifth plan commission member went to a wind farm south of Rockford, IL. No one was available to talk so he walked around the area. It was a nice day, and windy. He noticed that the windows in the homes surrounding the site were all closed and no one was outside. He stated the noise was similar to a plane going overhead. He stood under a tower and did not feel any unease.