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Recent Studies of Wind Farm Noise Show Significant Minority is Affected

Health, Science, Wind turbines 6 Comments »

(This item appeared recently in AEI’s ongoing lay summaries of new research page)
The take-away from three new research papers appears to be that while significant proportions of the population – often around 25% – are affected by moderate wind farm noise, neither increasing wind farm noise nor even annoyance with noise lead inevitably to health effects. There is an entire separate body of research investigating various attitudinal aspects related to stress and health, which only muddy the waters as we try to interpret these direct studies on wind farm noise. Some studies indicate that attitudes toward a noise source can affect both annoyance and stress responses, and that a subjective sense of being threatened can likewise increase physiological responses to noise; however, once again, these correlations are far from universal, so they cannot be used to “explain away” either annoyance or health impacts that do take place, any more than annoyance can be used as a clear indication of eventual health effects.

There is far more gray than black and white in these reports. Still, they provide a concrete picture of annoyance and sleep deprivation increasing as turbine noise increases, along with a better sense of the proportion of affected neighbors who will experience these impacts at various distances and received sound levels. Clearly, 35-45dB is a range at which impacts on neighbors become far more widespread. The social question that will need to addressed is what proportion of nearby neighbors we will accept causing sleep deprivation or annoyance in: 10%? 20%? Where will we draw the line, beyond which we consider turbine placement too close? Read the lay summaries below the fold: Read the rest of this entry »

UK, Ontario, Wisconsin Latest Battlegrounds on Wind Turbine Siting, Noise, Health

Default, Health, News, Science, Wind turbines No Comments »

A lawsuit in Ontario, an EIS in Wisconsin, and a gauntlet thrown down at an industry confab in England are the latest fronts in a global debate over the noise impacts of wind farms sited close to residences.  Most dramatic was the opening plenary at the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) annual conference, where John Prescott, a key player in crafting the Kyoto Protocols, attacked NIMBY opponents and local councils for dramatically slowing the build-out of wind farms in Britain, culminating with the rallying cry, “They’ve had it their way for far too long. So let me tell them loud and clear – it’s not your back yard any more, it’s ours.” Prescott bemoaned the fact that 75% of wind farm applications are being denied, putting the blame as much on local authorities as on vocal opponents; he called for mandates compelling localities to designate some areas as suitable for wind development as a way to break the logjam.  Local authorities shot back that federal renewable energy goals can be met in other ways, and that land protection in local areas is warranted.  Prescott’s attack was cast in class terms, suggesting “squires” were fighting to save their “chocolate box views,” though in many areas it is noise impacts, rather than changing views, that drive the opposition.  In those areas, the issue is not whether to build wind farms, but rather how much buffer to require around homes.  An EIS for the Glacier Hills Wind Park, released in Wisconsin this month, acknowledges that noise is in fact an issue for some wind farm neighbors: “The studies done to date…support the concern that some people do react negatively to wind turbine noise, primarily through annoyance and sleep disturbance.  It is widely accepted that disruption of sleep can lead to other physiological and psychological problems…Although specific sound levels or distances from turbines cannot be directly correlated with these disturbance or annoyance problems, project design and siting should take potential impactcs of turbine noise into account.”  In Ontario, a wind farm plan has been challenged in court by a resident who says that five turbines within 900m (a bit over a half mile) is too many, too close.  “As a father, as a husband, I became very concerned about the welfare of my family,” he told CBC News. “We’re very worried about the possibilities of having industrial wind turbines located so close to our home that it will be harmful.” He wants construction stopped until studies “rule out concerns” about impacts on health, an end-point that is surely not within sight, if even possible within the context of the scientific method. Dr. Robert McMurtry, former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, who appeared at a media conference yesterday launching the court action, said there are now more than 100 people in Ontario who report suffering health problems due to wind turbine noise. “There’s no authoritative guidelines for the siting of wind turbines because there’s no good evidence as to when they will be safe or not,” McMurtry said, “This is not an acceptable state of affairs when we’re planning to plunge ahead on such a large scale, a tenfold increase in Ontario.”

The debate over wind farm siting is becoming exceedingly tangled, with visual, noise, and health impacts all on the table, and too often blurred by both proponents decrying NIMBYism and opponents with varying degrees of clarity about their fears and concerns.  Prescott makes a potentially valid point when he suggests that in this age of climate crisis, resistance to visual impacts should give way to the greater public good, as it has with cell phone towers and power lines.  Yet the noise impacts are real, and increasingly well-documented within a half mile to a mile—see this fascinating summary of the disconnect between  1.5-2km (a mile-plus) setback guidelines suggested by researchers and health officials responding to noise issues and the much closer setbacks (1000 feet to 550m/1800 feet) actually being implemented by local, state or provincial, and national standards. When concerns about health effects extend beyond just sleep disruption from audible noise, to include effects of inaudible, but still physiologically significant, low frequency noise, things get more nebulous and difficult to either quantify or protect against, since susceptibility to LF noise is more variable from person to person, and LF noise levels are much harder to predict in the landscape.

AEI will soon be focusing more intently on the slew of reports and studies that have come out in recent months, with a goal of organizing the mass of information into something useful for planners, citizens, and those in industry who want to work with residents more constructively.

WHO Releases New Night Noise Guidelines

Health, News, Wind turbines 4 Comments »

Refining previous Community Noise Guidelines issued in 1999, and incorporating more recent research, the World Health Organization has released a comprehensive report on the health effects of night time noise, along with new (non-mandatory) guidelines for use in Europe.  Rather than a maximum of 30dB inside at night (which equals 45-50dB max inside), the WHO now recommends a maxiumum year-round outside nighttime noise average of 40db to avoid sleep disturbance and its related health effects. The report notes that only below 30dB (outside annual average) are “no significant biological effects observed,” and that between 30 and 40dB, several effects are observed, with the chronically ill and children being more susceptible; however, “even in the worst cases the effects seem modest.”  Elsewhere, the report states more definitively, “There is no sufficient evidence that the biological effects observed at the level below 40 dB (night,outside) are harmful to health.” At levels over 40dB, “Adverse health effects are observed,” and “many people have to adapt their lives to cope with the noise at night. Vulnerable groups are more severely affected.”

The 184-page report offers a comprehensive overview of research into the various effects of noise on sleep quality and health (including the health effects of non-waking sleep arousal), and is recommended reading for anyone working with noise issues.  The use of an outdoor noise standard is in part designed to acknowledge that people do like to leave windows open when sleeping, though the year-long average may be difficult to obtain (it would require longer-term sound monitoring than is usually budgeted for by either industry or neighborhood groups).

While recommending the use of the average level, the report notes that some instantaneous effect occur in relation to specific maximum noise levels, but that the health effects of these “cannot be easily established.”

Maine Medical Assoc Calls for State to Modify Permitting Process for Wind Farms

Health, News, Wind turbines 4 Comments »

Following up on concerns expressed by locals near the Mars Hill wind farm, and preliminary studies done by a local doctor, the Maine Medical Association overwhelmingly approved a formal resolution that stresses “a need for modification of the State’s regulatory process for siting wind energy developments,” in order to reduce controversy and incorporate the latest evidence-based research results. The statement urges the Department of Environmental Protection and Land Use Regulation Commission to refine their procedures to reflect potential health effects, and to concertedly explore these effects, and calls on the MMA and doctors to work with regulatory agencies to provide what scientific information is available (scroll down at link above to read the final resolution wording). Two weeks earlier, the MMA’s Public Health Committee had rejected the proposed resolution, which many members felt was worded more strongly than current evidence would support; the resolution was slightly re-worked, and met with approval at the MMA’s annual session.  One of the resolution’s sponsors, Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, MD, is in the midst of completing a study of the residents both near the Mars Hill wind farm, and those further away, in an attempt to assess any significant differences.  The first part of his study (centered on interviews with wind farm neighbors) is available now, with the second part (similar interviews with residents out of earshot) still underway. A two-part radio interview with Nissembaum is available here.  A two-part local news feature on the Mars Hill controversy is available here.

Ontario Wind Push Triggers Residents AND Industry

Health, News, Wind turbines 1 Comment »

A great short piece in Canada’s esteemed Maclean’s magazine from early August highlights the aggressive push being made by provincial minister of energy to open up the province for wind power.  George Smitherman, the self-styled “Mr. Wind,” may be on to something, because his initiatives are stirring up both anti-wind activists concerned about noise and health effects AND the industry itself, aghast at new setback requirements for large wind farms.

A combination of requiring utilities to enter into long-term, premium price contracts with wind farms and a massive upgrade to the distribution grid has spurred plans for 103 new “shovel-ready” windfarms in the Province, especially along its extensive Great Lakes shorelines.  This has locals worried, after hearing tales of woe from wind farm neighbors elsewhere.  Dr. Robert McMurtry, a former dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, says that  “When I first read about the side effects I thought that they didn’t sound very convincing. But then I did my homework, and I became alarmed.”  Based on surveys he has done, and others in Europe, McMurtry estimates that 25 per cent of people living within 2.5 km of turbines experience disruptions in their daily lives, especially sleep disturbances, which often balloon into other health problems. He thinks that there are enough problems, in wind farms worldwide, to justify a serious epidemiological look at the industry. “You can assume that all these people are liars,” says McMurtry. “But many of these folks will tell you that they welcome wind turbines. They just want someone to turn them off at night, or move them further back.”

New provincial set-back standards issued in June may well be just what this doctor ordered. While not going all the way to 2.5km (about 1.5mi), the new standards call for increasingly large setbacks for larger windfarms, peaking at 1.5km (just under a mile) for wind farms of over 26 turbines; smaller wind farms can be 550m away, loud small ones 950m away.  The Canadian Wind Energy Association claims that these new rules will require changes in 96 of the projects, with 48% of their turbines out of compliance; 79 of the projects are now either “non-viable” or require “back to the drawing board” redesign.

Smitherman is not phased by either side’s reactions.  “I totally understand that there aren’t many people out there looking for more electricity infrastructure in their backyards,” he says. And if somebody has to go back to the drawing board and redesign some projects, “I apologize that it will be inconvenient in some circumstances. But bigger setbacks are part of the Green Act.” But he’s unapologetic about the larger goal, one that would be truly revolutionary: to eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2014—only five years away.

Offshore Wind Farms May Be Heard Many Miles Away?

Health, News, Wind turbines 2 Comments »

As AEI has tracked noise complaints around wind farms on land, which seem fairly common between a half mile and mile (and in some cases up to a mile and half or so), I’ve held on to the idea that offshore will be the better way to go.  Offshore wind developers have been mostly aiming for siting turbines far enough offshore to minimize visual impacts (2 or more miles), which I had assumed would also make them inaudible from shore.  But recent reports are throwing some doubts on that hopeful thought.  We need to hear more from other locations, but a wind farm that began operating on Wolfe Island, Ontario, this summer has surprised local observers with its long-range sound transmission.

Wolfe Island Wind Farm

Wolfe Island Wind Farm

Wolfe Island is at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway.  Even ship operators have noticed turbine noise at 2-3 miles distant (and ships are not exactly a quiet place to listen from), and locals across the channel in Cape Vincent, NY have also been hearing the wind farm readily at 2-3 miles, and, in some atmospheric conditions, as far away as 7 miles!  Yikes….   The reasons for the easy long-range sound transmission are not yet known, though sound does travel well across water, so that may be a key feature.  If so, it ups the ante on offshore wind farms, at least when prevailing winds are toward shore.  (Though we must note that this is not along the coast, but rather at the end of a huge lake which fosters strong prevailing winds.) This one is not yet a clear red flag, but it bears watching….

And, on a brighter note, the health of Wolfe Island residents is being charted by Queen’s University researchers, in the first research study to assess health before and after wind farm operations begin in a community.  This is an important next step in clarifying whether the health effects that have previously been reported are widespread, or rare.

Sleep Disturbance Expert Releases Report on Noise Effects Near Wind Farms

Health, Human impacts, Wind turbines No Comments »

A recently-released report by Dr. Christopher Hanning, a UK MD whose specialty is sleep disorders, takes a comprehensive look at factors affecting sleep disturbance caused by nearby wind farms, and is highly recommended reading for anyone working to develop regulations at the local or state level.  Hanning’s primary point is that external noise need not WAKE a sleeper to cause problems, and the repeated “arousals” can break the most restful periods of sleep.  He notes that “The sleep, because it is broken, is unrefreshing, resulting in sleepiness, fatigue, headaches and poor memory and concentration.”  These are precisely the symptoms often reported by people living near wind farms. He stresses that arousals are also associated with “physiological changes, an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which are thought to be responsible for the increase in cardiovascular risk. Arousals occur naturally during sleep and increase with age (Boselli 1998) which may make the elderly more vulnerable to wind turbine noise. Arousals may be caused by sound events as low as 32 dBA and awakenings with events of 42dBA (Muzet and Miedema 2005), well within the measured noise levels of current wind farms” and the levels permitted by most jurisdictions.

The report also summarizes other studies suggesting that night-time noise levels are often higher than sound models predict, as well as one that suggests that wind farms cause high levels of annoyance at lower sound levels than other common noise sources.  He concludes that “While it may be possible to produce a reasonable acoustically based theoretical approach to calculating set back distances (Kamperman and James 2008b), it makes more sense to rely on recommendations from observations of the effects on real people at established wind farms.”

Download the full report here.

Thanks to Lynda Barry at National Wind Watch for the heads up.

Wind Turbine Setback Limits Debated in Maine, New York, Wisconsin

Health, Wind turbines 3 Comments »

Debate continues to swirl around wind farm development across the US, as local communities struggle to find the right balance between green energy and minimizing impacts on wind farm neighbors.  At the crux of the issue is how close to homes turbines should be built.  The wind energy continues to push for setbacks as small as 1000 feet, while local residents report significant noise impacts up to a half mile or mile.  In Wisconsin, where five wind farm proposals have been derailed since 2007 by local setback ordinances of 1800 feet to a mile, which the industry deemed too severe, a push is on in the state legislature to transfer all decision-making power to state authorities, stripping localities of regulatory authority.  In Maine, two physicians have urged the state to take note of clear health effects caused by audible noise from the Mars Hill windfarm: Read the rest of this entry »

AEI Wind Turbine Noise Report Now Downloadable

Health, Human impacts, Wind turbines No Comments »

The Klondike Wind Rush is underway, and while wind energy is a crucial wedge in the emerging renewable energy mix, some nearby neighbors of wind farms are reporting noise levels that are higher and more disruptive than they’d been led to expect.  Simple noise models suggest noise should be inaudible beyond a quarter mile or so, but residents between a half mile and mile are quite often finding the noise intolerable.  What is going on?  This question is just the sort of thing we love here at AEI: a chance to dig in and get a big-picture view that moves beyond the strident and self-assured voices of advocacy groups on both sides of an issue.  The result, published online in March 2008, was the AEI Special Report: Wind Turbine Noise Impacts.

This report is now available as a downloadable, printable document.  Running to 30 pages in the pdf format, the report provides a comprehensive overview of issues being addressed by local planning commissions as wind energy companies seek new sites for this piece of our energy future.  We’ve also put together an 8-page pdf version that is useful as a quick overview for the public and local officials.  

See http://www.AcousticEcology.org/srwind.html for the full online report (continually updated), along with links to download the 30-page and 8-page pdfs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wind Turbine Sounds Spur Health Complaints, Force Residents to Move

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The spread of wind turbines into quiet rural areas is leading to increasing complaints that they make more noise than residents were led to believe. While simple annoyance and sleep disturbance are the most common effects, in some cases, nearby residents are reporting health problems that they associate with the presence of the turbines, leading some to move from their homes. Not long after wind turbines began to spin in March near Gerry Meyer’s home in Wisconsin, his son Robert, 13, and wife, Cheryl, complained of headaches. Cheryl also sometimes feels a fluttering in her chest, while Gerry is sometimes nauseated and hears crackling. The nearest turbine is 1,560 feet from Meyer’s house. His dismay over an energy source he once thought was benign has made the retired mailman, 59, an activist. He travels the state warning communities considering wind farms to be wary. “I don’t think anyone should have to put up with this,” says Meyer, who compares the sound to a helicopter or a jet taking off. Read the rest of this entry »

Wisconsin Country Implements Strict Noise Regulations on Wind Turbines; Company Declares “War to End All Wars”

Health, Human impacts, News No Comments »

Calumet County, in eastern Wisonsin, recently faced a dilemma that is increasingly common in rural America: an outside company had appeared in their region, planning to build wind farms and seeking permits. Many local governmental bodies have taken a cursory look at complex reports submitted by companies, taken assurances of “no noise” at face value, and later regretted not learning more. The Calumet County Board of Supervisors took two years to consider the issue, and in March instituted a carefully considered ordinance to govern wind farm development that is exceedingly (perhaps even excessively) weighted toward protection of local residents from noise impacts. Read the rest of this entry »

Wind Turbine Syndrome: Can Wind Farms Make People Sick?

Health, Human impacts, News No Comments »

While reports of nearby industrial wind farms causing annoyance with their noise are becoming fairly common, a physician who has been looking at the most severe complaints has coined a phrase: “wind turbine syndrome.” Nina Pierpont, a New York pediatrician who has taught at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has found a consistent cluster of symptoms associated with people living near wind turbines, including sleep problems, headaches that increase in severity, dizziness, nausea, exhaustion, anger and irritability. “A setback of 1.5 miles from homes, schools, hospitals and similar institutes will probably be adequate Read the rest of this entry »

AEI Special Report: Wind Energy Noise Impacts

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Health, Human impacts No Comments »

The latest AEI Special Report takes a close look (or, listen) to the growing concerns about noise impacts from wind farms.  While it appears that only about 20% of wind farms trigger noise complaints, it is crucial that wind energy developers take a close look at these, to assure they don’t repeat the same mistakes.

As usual with AEI Special Reports, the Wind Energy Noise Impacts report is designed to offer a comprehensive yet concise “ten-minute version” of the issue, with links to more in-depth source material.  It includes sections on wind turbine noise, current regulation, comments from neighbors disturbed by noise, possible factors in noise complaints (atmospheric effects top the list), emerging technology, and links to industry trade groups, government agencies, and advocacy groups, both pro and con.

To read or print the report, visit http://www.AcousticEcology.org/srwind.html 

Some excerpts are below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »