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What's all the noise about wind turbine noise?
By Lynda Barry
"There can be no doubt that groups of industrial wind turbines ("wind farms") generate sufficient noise to disturb the sleep and impair the health of those living nearby," states Dr. Christopher Hanning in a recent report titled "Sleep Disturbance and Wind Turbine Noise." [Click here to download full report]
For those of us who have stood directly beneath an industrial wind turbine on a clear afternoon, this statement will come as a surprise. What noise could Dr. Hanning be referring to? The only noise most of us hear at the base of a turbine is the swooshing of the blades above us.
Life in an industrial wind farm is something very few of us have experienced. Most of us don’t know that the quietest place near a turbine is directly beneath it. It’s a bit like standing beneath a speaker placed 40 stories above you. Step out about 1000 feet downwind from the turbine and you will have a different experience, especially after sundown. Though we may not know the physics behind the phenomenon, most us notice sound carries further at night, especially in open rural areas. This turns out to be especially true for wind turbine noise. The noise Dr. Hanning writes about is nighttime turbine noise.
Interestingly, very few (if any) of those responsible for creating the setback distances and turbine noise limits have spent any nights in homes near wind turbines. Nor have they sat through an hour of severe shadow flicker inside of a home.
Why should they? The modeling software used for siting virtual turbines near virtual homes assures them that they’ve gotten their calculations right. So if real people are having problems with real noise and real flashing shadows they must be making it all up.
But are they?
Daniel Haas, a Wisconsin wind farm resident who has been living with turbine noise for nearly two years put it this way in one of his many letters of complaint to the wind company. The setback from homes in this project is 1000 feet.
“I really do not know much about noise levels but what is the noise level of a commercial jet coming through the middle of your house at 2:00 in the morning?
I really am getting tired of the misinformation given to anyone with a complaint. There are different noise levels and you only talk about one.
The low level noise that I am concerned about is extremely loud and actually shakes the whole house. It wakes the whole family up at night. It also spooks our horses so bad that we can't even ride them on our trails anymore. Our dogs won't even come out of their kennel because they’re afraid of the noise.
As for the shadow flicker it is terrible. It affects all of my 100 acres. Yes all 100 acres. That is my home.”
In May of 2009, the Minnesota Department of Health issued a white paper that identified half a mile as the setback beyond which turbine noise and shadow flicker were not a major concern.
This setback is unacceptable to wind developers because it restricts the number of turbines they can profitably site in more populated rural areas which are also more likely to have the transmission lines they need nearby. Profits (and government subsidies) rely on being able to site the greatest number of turbines in the smallest amount of space. Their eyes are on a prize other than protecting the environment or protecting the health of those who will live inside of their wind farms. From a business standpoint this may make sense, but from a human standpoint it’s a formula for trouble.
Our legislature may also find safer setbacks unacceptable because our renewable energy mandates. Setbacks that are better for families mean fewer turbines for the state to make that goal. And though wind energy isn’t the only renewable energy choice, most consider wind to be the cheapest way of getting there, even if it means harming people in the process.
This is made much easier by a general misunderstanding about what the real problems are when wind turbines are sited too close to homes. How close is too close? If you go with a wind developers recommendations, 500 feet from your home is not considered too close. If you go with the National Academy of Sciences, the Congressional Research Service, The World Health Organization, the peer-reviewed study of wind farm residents by Dr. Nina Pierpoint, and Minnesota Department of Health, you’ll get a minimum setback of 2640 feet out to 1.5 miles.
The wind industry has not been able to provide any scientific or medical data which supports setbacks any closer than this, but they have been very good at dismissing and ridiculing those with complaints. For those of us who have witnessed well known instances of organized corporate denial of negative health effects caused by their product, this marginalization of wind farm residents who tell us their families are suffering raises red flags.
The general public knows very little about life in a wind farm. Most don’t know about the serious problems wind turbines cause when placed too close to our homes, or within ecologically sensitive areas such as migration corridors. For now, wind industry is enjoying its image of being a benign industrial-scale source of clean energy. Anyone who dares to challenge this Green Goliath should beware. The David who asks the hard questions about proper setbacks will be shouted down as an anti-wind, anti-environment, anti-green, NIMBY.
But the problem is not going away. As more families are forced to suffer because unsafe setbacks for the sake of wind industry profits and renewable energy deadlines, more Davids will appear. In the meantime, how many lives will be made miserable before we get this right?
In his report on turbine noise and sleep disturbance, Dr. Hanning finds current calculated measures of wind turbine noise “woefully inadequate” and says he is unconvinced by what he terms, "badly designed industry and government reports which seek to show there is no problem.
"Calculations cannot measure annoyance and sleep disturbance,” he writes, “Only humans can do so."
How close is too close? Wind farm residents now living in the wind farms in our state are trying to tell us,-- but right now, who’s listening?
Wind developers have proposed 67 wind turbines for the Town of Magnolia, and have included the Town of Spring Valley in their target map.
The turbines will be at least 40 stories tall. The developers would like to site them as close as 1000 feet to non-participating homes. Five Rock County Towns have created ordinances with setbacks of at least 2640 feet. None of these ordinances has ever been challenged on their merits.
The developers who plan to put 67 turbines in the Town of Magnolia will not provide a map of where the turbines will be.
We made our own map, just to show what that many turbines would look like if they were distrubuted evenly across the township. Each orange dot equals one turbine. There are only 66 in this picture. We couldn't figure out where to put the 67th.
At present, the state of Wisconsin has just over 300 industrial sized wind turbines in operation. 14,000 more will need to be sited to meet the state's renewable energy goals.
Towns Plan for a new wind siting law
By GINA DUWE
3 October 2009
JANESVILLE — Officials in Union and Magnolia townships consider moratoriums on wind turbines to be the temporary answer in response to a new state law.
Wind developer EcoEnergy has proposed projects in both communities.
Local residents are concerned the new process on siting wind energy systems signed into law this week will erase their work to protect themselves from negative effects.
Moratorium action includes:
– Union Plan Commission last month recommended the town board start a one-year moratorium. On Thursday night, the town board approved the moratorium, which will expire on Oct. 7, 2010.
Union officials feel confident in their ordinance if it were challenged on its merits, but with uncertainties about the state writing new laws, “we just thought (the moratorium) was the prudent thing to do,” plan commission co-chair Doug Zweizig said.
– Magnolia Planning and Zoning will discuss and likely make a recommendation to the town board on a moratorium at its meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday. The town board will consider the moratorium at a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 13.
“We just really want to see where we stand with the state,” Magnolia town board member Dave Olsen said. “It seems as though they want to take the rights away to site the turbines, but they don’t want the responsibility that goes with it—to monitor the low-frequency sound, to look after the local residents.”
On Thursday, Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law Senate Bill 185, which puts the siting of wind projects under 100 megawatts into the hands of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. Once the statewide siting rules are written, they will overturn local ordinances.
Projects 100 megawatts or more already go through the PSC.
PSC officials will appoint a committee to advise them on siting rules. No timeline has been established, a PSC spokeswoman said.
People suggested to Zweizig, the Union Plan Commission co-chair, that he should be on the committee, so he sent a letter of interest to the PSC and Doyle’s office. He hasn’t received a response.
The committee will comprise representatives of wind energy system developers, political subdivisions, the public, energy and environmental groups, realtors and land owners who live adjacent to or in the vicinity of wind energy systems and who have not receive compensation by or on behalf of owners, operators or developers of wind energy systems.
Three views on the same wind farm: Which tells the truth?
Or could there be several truths at once?
The BPWI Research Nerd has found that no two homes in any wind farm are the same. Each has its own relationship with the terrain, wind direction, and turbine location both in distance from the home and direction from the home.
This is one of the problems with uniform siting standards. The issue of siting wind turbines near homes is more complicated than anyone anticipated.
Click below to watch a news clip about the 47 wind turbinesof Ulby, Michigan.
This report give the impression that there are no noise problems in that wind farm.
But this news report tells a different story:
Wind Park Complaints Considered
By Kate Hessling
After receiving another letter from residents who say wind turbines near their Ubly-area home are creating noise disturbances, county officials said they still are in the process of developing a way to respond to complaints received following a wind park’s construction.
“We thought it would be, as we were told from the beginning of the turbine project, ‘no louder than a clothes dryer,’” reads a letter David and Marilyn Peplinski sent to Huron County officials May 15. “Now we realize that no one wants to stand right next to a running clothes dryer 24 hours a day. This is the reality of it.”
The Peplinskis’ letter states while the audible noise level coming from the park has slightly improved with the spring thaw, the sound resonance has not.
“Our family’s ability to get good nights’ sleep is dismal, to say the least,” the letter reads. “The feeling we get from the spinning turbines is not only heard, but felt in our bodies as well.”
The letter notes the family has never had sleep issues in the past.
“Now, on many evenings, it takes an effort for several of our family members to fall asleep. Then, our sleep is being disturbed many times throughout the night,” the letter states.
Marilyn and David Peplinski’s letter describes the feeling their bodies experience from low frequency sound waves created by nearby turbines as “like when a heavy truck travels by your home, and you can feel the rumble, except that this is a constant rumbling feeling.”
“If you have ever felt a cement truck while the drum is mixing, or the sound energy given off of a large drum when tapped, this is the best way we can describe the feeling we are experiencing,” the May 15 letter states.
The Peplinskis’ letter includes seven questions the couple felt need to be addressed by Huron County officials and John Deere Wind Energy. The questions, which are listed in the breakout box included with this article, include whether Michigan Wind 1 is in compliance with the county ordinance’s noise level maximum and what kind of monitoring method is being used to ensure the noise level is not exceeded.
Huron County Commissioner Dave Peruski, who represents the Ubly area, said he is planning to attend this evening’s Huron County Planning Commission meeting to see what can be done to answer the questions posed in the Peplinskis’ letter and avoid the same problems cropping up in the future as new developments are built in the area.
He said he would like to see a group come together that’s comprised of representatives from the county board of commissioners, planning commission, building and zoning office and John Deere Wind Energy, to develop a complaint resolution procedure.
“That’s the approach I think we need to take,” Peruski said.
Commissioner: ‘We have to take them seriously’
Peruski said he’s met with the Peplinskis and believes their complaints are not without merit.
“We have to take them seriously,” he said, noting there are varying degrees of the problems the Peplinskis are facing that others in the county could face in the future as future wind developments are created. It’s important, Peruski said, to ensure the county’s zoning ordinance is crafted in such a way to avoid these problems from being repeated elsewhere.
David Peplinski said it is his goal these issues are considered in the siting and development of future farms in Huron County, because he wouldn’t wish the problems he and his family have experienced on anyone else.
He stressed he strongly supports alternative renewable energy projects, but feels the effects these projects will have on adjoining property owners need to be taken into consideration in the siting and zoning process.
Also, David Peplinski said, he is not a complainer and his family never wanted to be in the spotlight. Per procedure, his letter became public as soon as it was sent to the Huron County Board of Commissioners.
David Peplinski noted it wasn’t easy for him or his wife to submit the letter, particularly because they don’t want to hurt others in the community, because those living in the area are the family’s neighbors and friends.
As a result, he said he would also like to see there be a complaint mechanism created where when someone is having an issue, it can be handled in a manner other than submitting a letter to the board that will become public.
Regarding the response David Peplinski said he’s received, he noted both the county and John Deere Wind Energy have been very polite and quick in responding to his concerns.
Noise complaints made in March
Huron County commissioners received two letters in March from residents who said wind turbines near their Ubly area homes are creating noise disturbances.
Shortly after the letters were received, commissioners discussed how to address complaints received from residents after a wind development has been constructed and begins producing power.
The letters, which were submitted by Ubly residents Randy and Angela Weber and Dennis and Darcy Mausolf, reported problems of extreme noise increases and outside noise that resembles a distant jet with an intermittent whoosh sound.
“Inside our house, we have a low hum vibration that sounds like a truck running outside. This noise makes sleep difficult,” reads the letter the Mausolf’s wrote March 10.
That letter, in addition to the one written by the Webers, was obtained by the Tribune in March via a Freedom of Information Act request.
At the time county officials were discussing how to address the complaints, Huron County Building and Zoning Director Russ Lundberg noted the issue of measuring sound emitted from the turbines is more complex than just taking out a decibel reader to measure whether noise levels at/near Michigan Wind 1 exceed limits set in the county’s zoning ordinance.
Sound is measured by using units of decibels (dB), and A-weighting which compensates for the sensitivity of human hearing. A-weighted sound levels are measured by dB(A).
The county’s zoning ordinance’s primary noise standard states noise generated by an operating wind turbine can not exceed 50 dB(A) at all nearby sensitive receptor locations, which includes residents. The ordinance includes a second standard of ambient +5 dB(A), meaning at times sounds created by a wind turbine may cause total ambient noise to exceed 50 dB(A).
In March, Lundberg explained at some locations, particularly during late and early hours, operations of a wind turbine facility significantly increase ambient noise levels. For example, on a night with low wind speeds and little traffic and other outside activity, there may be an ambient rating of 20 dB(A). That rating may double when turbines are in operation, however, the overall limit of 50 dB(A) is not exceeded, though the noise of the wind park is noticeable.
In the daytime, particularly when there’s increased wind speeds, there’s other ambient noise — such as leaves rustling in the wind, cars on the road, tractors in fields, etc. — the sounds of a turbine in operation may not even be noticeable because it’s drowned out by the other ambient noise.
With this in mind, the issue is how to determine whether the 50 dB(A) levels are being exceeded and if so, whether it’s being exceeded by the actual turbines themselves or by a combination of the turbines and other existing ambient noise sources.
Because wind projects have to submit a noise study to prove a wind farm will not exceed the 50 dB(A) limit, the county’s assumption is it’s not the turbines themselves that are exceeding the 50 dB(A) level, Lundberg previously noted. But how to check this assumption is the question officials were mulling over in March.
That is because in order to check the wind park’s noise levels, the other ambient noises would have to be identified through a noise study.
Previously discussed avenues
During March’s discussion, it was noted the county has three possible options. First, the county could have John Deere Wind Energy conduct a wind study, Lundberg said. Another option for the county would be to go it alone, by purchasing the necessary decibel metering equipment and have Lundberg learn the noise consulting expertise needed to conduct a noise study.
The third option would be for the county to hire an independent noise consultant study to conduct a post-construction noise study, which would be paid for post-construction fees (of $400 per turbine) that already are built in the county’s ordinance to fund post-construction reviews.
The planning commission included those fees for post-construction matters so it would not take any money away from the county’s general fund if additional review is required after a wind park has been developed, Lundberg explained in March.
During March’s discussion, it appeared the board favored pursuing the first option that’s a teamwork approach with John Deere Wind Energy.
Since that meeting, Huron County Commissioner Kurt Damrow — who chairs the Legislative Committee, which has been charged with following up on this issue — has said the county planning commission more than likely will make an amendment to the county’s wind ordinance to include a section that deals with how to address complaints made after a wind park’s constructed.
“We just want to work with the planning commission to come up with a … thorough and specific procedure,” Damrow said.
He noted identifying and correcting any problems a wind farm may be causing will only benefit the wind park’s purchaser and developer. That is because the projects currently are under warranty and any repairs/replacements that need to be made will be covered by under warranty from the turbine’s manufacturer for the first year or two after the project’s been constructed, Damrow said.
Questions he said need to be addressed include what is a legitimate complaint, and what — if any — burden should be placed on the developer as far as proving the wind farm is in compliance with the zoning ordinance.
Another solution Damrow said has been proposed is increasing the county’s setback distance, which is the minimum distance a turbine can be placed to an existing structure, from 1,000 feet to 1,320 feet.
Damrow said this is a standard DTE Energy officials told him they would be on board with. He added existing wind farms will be grandfathered in at the current 1,000-foot setback.
Also, Damrow said the county’s discussed obtaining a meter to get an immediate readout of sound so the county could independently monitor sound levels.
Damrow said the county needs the business the wind industry has given the area, however, the well-being of the residents cannot be compromised if developers cannot meet the established wind ordinance in Huron County.
“They’ll have to do whatever it takes to make sure they meet the ordinance requirements,” Damrow said. “We don’t want any undue burden on our residents, and we’ll do everything we can to help everyone.”
1. Does the county have the ability to monitor the county’s zoning ordinances on the noise level?
2. Has John Deere Wind Energy been in compliance with the noise level ordinance since they began operation?
3. How is John Deere Wind Energy going to maintain the turbine noise at or below the ordinance?
4. What method of documentation is going to be used to show compliance?
5. Has the noise level been above the ordinance maximum level?
6. What monitoring method is being used to ensure the noise level is not exceeded?
7. What is the county’s ordinance on inaudible low frequency noise waves?
By Kate Hessling
4 June 2009
NOTE FROM THE BPWI RESEARCH NERD: Click on the image below to see another news story about the turbines of Ulby, Michigan. This one inclueds interviews with wind farm residents who are having trouble with turbine noise.