« 12/28/11 Rejected by local government, wind company goes to the Public Service Commission AND 2013 predictions for Big Wind | Main | 12/24/11 UPDATED: Before you sign on with a wind developer: some legal advice AND Money doesn't always talk: More farmers saying no to wind developers »

12/26/11 More evidence of negative health effects wind developers claim do not exist AND Getting away with murder: how green is a bird and bat killing machine? 



Via Cape Cod Times, www.capecodonline.com

December 26, 2011 

FALMOUTH — A study released last week concludes wind turbines in Falmouth negatively affect abutters’ health.

The analysis was partially funded by a grant from Bruce McPherson, who opposes the Falmouth wind project and other turbine projects on Cape Cod. Its results assert that wind turbines cause “visceral” physical reactions and that sound waves from turbines are felt more intensely indoors than outside.

“We did not expect it,” said Stephen E. Ambrose, a Maine environmental sound consultant who co-authored The Bruce McPherson Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise Study.

Ambrose declined to release the amount he was paid but said he and a partner each spent about 800 hours on the study.

Ambrose and Robert W. Rand, who also specializes in sound studies, conducted their research over three days in April, Ambrose said.

The two former employees of Stone & Webster Inc., a Stoughton engineering firm that designs and builds power plants, have conducted peer reviews on acoustics from turbines for several towns in Massachusetts, Maine and Wyoming.

For this study, Ambrose and Rand lived in a house near Blacksmith Shop Road for three days while measuring pressure originating from infrasound. They documented the intensity of sound frequencies from a privately owned turbine in the Falmouth Technology Park and how their bodies responded to it. The turbine studied is roughly the size of Falmouth’s two municipal turbines.

When the two arrived at the house — located 1,700 feet from the turbine — on April 17, they began feeling effects within 20 minutes, according to the study. Both felt nausea, dizziness and anxiety, among other side effects.

They also reported having difficulty performing “normal activities” associated with the investigation, which included setting up instruments and observing measurements, the report states.

According to a chart included in the study, the discomfort and sick feelings intensified as wind speeds increased and the blades spun faster.

Previous sound studies that showed no negative health effects were done outdoors, Ambrose said. The recent study, which used low-frequency microphones to measure sound waves, showed sounds are more intense indoors than out. Data from this study showed a 10 dbG (a measurement for infrasound) increase outdoors and a 20 dbG increase indoors. The effect is similar to "living in a drum," he said.

An independent review of the acoustics data indicates it is scientifically valid, Nancy S. Timmerman, chairwoman of the Acoustical Society of America's Technical Committee on Noise, said in an email. She added that she can speak only to data on acoustics, not physiological effects reported in the study.

Jim Cummings, executive director of Acoustic Ecology Institute, another expert who looked at the study, said in an email the results could be a red flag on the correlation between infrasound and negative health effects, but more data are needed to establish proof.

"This is an indication, for sure, but a short sampling to base large claims on," Cummings wrote. "This and one other recent paper from the Association for Noise Control Engineers conference, Noise-Con, are both good indications that infrasound could be more problematic than generally assumed."

Falmouth Selectman Mary Pat Flynn, chairman of the board, said the study is one of many the board has received about wind turbines. Others show little or no harm caused by turbines, she said.

"We've had a number of studies sent to us, and they all have different points of view, and they all have different outcomes," Flynn said.

Ambrose and Rand's study comes as the state Department of Environmental Protection prepares itself for a sound study of the Falmouth-owned Wind 1 turbine. Environmental regulators agreed in September to conduct the study after Falmouth selectmen reached out to the department in September.

"It's still in the works, still under review," said Ed Coletta, a DEP spokesman. "We're hoping to get it done soon."

Last month selectmen announced the town would shut down the 1.64-megawatt Wind 1 — except during the tests — until April's town meeting. The town also plans to start up the Wind 2 turbine for 60 days, during which time officials plan to log complaints from residents.

The announcement came as a compromise after Wind 1 abutters filed a nonbinding town meeting article that asked selectmen to keep both turbines off until "mitigation options are fully explored and the existence of injurious conditions upon nearby residents can be qualified."

Wind 2, which has sat idle for about a year, could begin spinning for its trial period before mid-January, said Gerald Potamis, Falmouth's wastewater superintendent, who oversees the two municipal turbines.

Next month, Falmouth selectmen will choose a consultant to help advise the town on minimizing the impact of wind turbines on neighbors, Flynn said. Four firms were presented to selectmen during a meeting Dec. 19. The board will accept suggestions from residents until Jan. 4 and plans to choose one Jan. 9, Flynn said.

[Click here for Ambrose and Rand's study.]

Next Feature:


by Cody Winchester,

VIA www.argusleader.com 

December 26, 2011 

“Developers typically build at the site they’ve chosen, regardless of wildlife concerns,” she said. “We’ve written letters stating the proposed location is likely to have high wildlife impacts … but the projects were constructed (anyway).”

As the Obama administration moves on a plan to speed permitting of wind projects in the Great Plains, a major bird conservation group is asking the government to enact stricter standards for wind energy development.

The American Bird Conservancy has formally petitioned the Department of the Interior to develop mandatory siting rules for wind projects, claiming that existing guidelines, which are voluntary, constitute a “counterproductive and almost certainly unlawful approach” to enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“Most wind energy projects that are already in operation are in ongoing violation” of the act, since most birds killed at wind farms are protected, the petition says. The conservancy group alleges a “systemic failure” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce the law.

The conflict highlights an ongoing tension between conservationists and a rapidly expanding industry seen as the linchpin of a clean energy future – although the petitioners also note that climate change driven by the combustion of fossil fuels “indisputably poses an unprecedented threat to species and ecosystems.”

Fueling the conflict is territory overlap: Windy corridors that are prime candidates for energy projects also tend to be migratory flyways. With the growth of the industry in wind-rich states such as South Dakota, conservationists are worried not only about collisions with turbines and power lines but further fragmentation of a habitat already under pressure from urban and agricultural expansion.

“There are impacts beyond the towers sticking up out there,” said K.C. Jensen, an associate professor of wildlife management at South Dakota State University.

Federal officials have worked for years to develop siting standards for wind projects and earlier this year released a set of draft guidelines. As the guidelines evolved, the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, accused Fish and Wildlife of trying to “impose new guidelines that are not based on sound science.” But the American Bird Conservancy says the guidelines were in fact crippled by pressure from a federal advisory board dominated by industry.

“At first we were optimistic,” said Kelly Fuller, the conservancy’s wind campaign coordinator. “But over the last year, our view has changed. We have seen drafts of the guidelines repeatedly weakened under industry pressure. We’ve seen Fish and Wildlife Service abandon much of what its own scientific experts wrote, and so we felt that we now have to respond to this worsening situation.”

The group wants the rules strengthened and made mandatory, so wind developers would have to obtain a permit that specifically considers the project’s effects on migratory birds before beginning construction.

Such a permitting scheme would give the industry greater certainty, since wind developers are technically in violation of federal law every time a migratory bird is killed at a wind installation, said Shruti Sharesh, an environmental lawyer who filed the petition on behalf of the conservancy.

“On the one hand, we have the federal government promoting wind industry,” Sharesh said. “And on the other hand, we have a situation where both the government and the industry is well aware … (of) widespread violation of federal wildlife law.”

But Ron Rebenitsch, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association, argued that the opposite is true. He said new regulations would create greater uncertainty and make it more difficult to plan wind projects, which already require significant up-front financing and can take years to approve.

“This is not a good thing for wind,” he said. “I would be very cautious about how the rules are developed.”

The industry takes pains to minimize harm to wildlife, Rebenitsch said, adding that concerns about bird strikes are overblown.

“There has never been a recorded instance of a whooping crane impacting a turbine,” he said. “A whooping crane could fly into a building. … Do you shut down the industry (for the sake of birds)? That’s a very real concern.”

Rebenitsch said the number of birds killed at wind farms is inconsequential compared with the number killed by cats, windows and other causes related to human activity.

Fish and Wildlife already has a mechanism for permitting “take” of threatened and endangered species under the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws, but not for migratory birds.

The conservancy group says this “legal anomaly,” coupled with the lack of enforcement by Fish and Wildlife, is unfair: Oil companies are prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act when birds fly into oil sump pits and die, the group argues. Why should wind energy be exempt?

Developers ‘build where they want’

On its website, the South Dakota Wind Energy Association urges developers to “consult the environmental and cultural offices in the state as early as possible” and provides contact information for each office.

But this doesn’t always happen, said Natalie Gates, a biologist in the migratory bird program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife ecological services field office in Pierre.

Sometimes, developers contact Gates about a new wind project as a courtesy. Most of the time, however, she hears about proposals from other federal agencies that need input on how the project would affect endangered species.

“Some developers are more conscientious than others,” she said. “Some work with us a little and some ignore us entirely. All tend to build where they want.”

Once her office knows where the company intends to build the project, Gates sends a comment letter outlining the agency’s concerns about habitat and wildlife populations, and typically she requests that the company undertake a baseline study of birds and bats in the area.

“Sometimes when I write a letter like that, I never hear back from the company,” she said.

Some companies hire consultants to collect pre- and postconstruction figures on bird and bat mortality, and this data can be helpful to wildlife agencies, Gates said. But a suggestion to avoid sensitive habitat “seems to get no traction with developers,” she said.

“Developers typically build at the site they’ve chosen, regardless of wildlife concerns,” she said. “We’ve written letters stating the proposed location is likely to have high wildlife impacts … but the projects were constructed (anyway).”

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks also has guidelines for wind projects, and the agency’s wildlife biologists have provided expert testimony at hearings before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which issues siting permits for wind projects.

The commission carefully considers the input of wildlife experts when issuing rulings and crafting permit conditions, PUC Chairman Gary Hanson said.

Hanson, who has served on the governing board of the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative, is concerned about whooping crane numbers and would not necessarily oppose stricter federal guidelines for siting.

Fed’s plan would fast-track projects

The Interior Department, meanwhile, is developing a plan to fast-track wind projects in the Great Plains by allowing developers to go through the federal permitting process en masse.

The 200-mile-wide development corridor would follow the central flyway of the endangered whooping crane, which has a wild population in the low hundreds, from Canada to the Texas coast.

A consortium of wind energy companies, including Iberdrola Renewables and NextEra Energy Resources, which operate wind farms in South Dakota, would be granted incidental take permits in exchange for offsetting the losses with conservation efforts elsewhere. Fish and Wildlife still is hammering out the details.

Determining bird kill numbers a tough task

Estimates of birds killed at wind installations vary, and federal field agents face numerous obstacles in gathering accurate numbers.
“The (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) has no way of obtaining on a regular basis crucial information about birds and bats being killed at these projects,” said Shruti Sharesh, a lawyer at Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal, an environmental law firm .
The conservancy group partly blames this problem on confidentiality agreements between wind developers and private wildlife consultants, which can can make data sharing problematic.
In September, the Argus Leader submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to U.S. Fish and Wildlife asking for records of migratory birds killed by power lines or wind energy projects in South Dakota.
The agency returned a packet of investigative reports detailing 15 bird kills in North and South Dakota since 2008, all of them power line strikes.
This doesn’t mean there were no bird strikes or electrocutions prior to 2008, just that they weren’t necessarily entered into the agency’s computer system, said Rich Grosz, the resident agent in charge of the Office of Law Enforcement for the Dakotas.
Until recently, South Dakota had only one or two field agents, and Grosz said the agency is “completely dependent on the public” to notify it of bird electrocutions. In any case, further investigation may show that the bird died from other means, in which case the agency would not pursue an investigation.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend