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Oregon wind farm neighbors refuse noise waiver payments, seek buyouts

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines No Comments »

A few months back, there was a bit of a news and comment flurry when the Shepherd’s Flat wind farm announced plans to pay neighbors $5000 for noise wavers, in order to build turbines closer to homes than Oregon’s unusually strict 36dB noise limit would allow. While the plan was dissed by many as an attempt to buy off neighbors, it seems to me that agreements like this are a valid way of addressing concerns about noise, especially in that they provide local authorities an avenue that may help them justify larger set-backs (or lower decibel limits) to protect residents who don’t want to hear turbines, while allowing developers to arrange exceptions with people who either don’t care about noise or feel that a payment is fair compensation.

But of course, noise waver or easement provisions don’t guarantee that the developer can build turbines closer to every resident.  Caithness Energy is dealing with this in Oregon now, as this unusually frank article details. The entire article is important reading for nearly anyone working on this issue, but here are a few highlights:

Richard and Joanne Goodhead were clear from the start that they were not willing to live with turbine noise of up to 50dB, as the waiver would allow, and told Caithness, the developer, they wanted to be bought out. “(The Caithness representative) said ‘We’re not in the real estate business,’ Goodhead said. ‘I said, fine — I’m not in the windmill business.’” After a month of negotiations, which included offers of $6000 per year for 20 years, and later, the revenue from one turbine, Caithness relented, and bought the Goodhead’s land and home.

Two other homes near the Shepherd’s Flat wind farm, which is still under construction, have been sold; one was bought by an attorney who works for Caithness, acting on behalf of another local landowner who is part of the wind project.

Invenergy’s Willow Creek wind farm, just south of Shepherd’s Flat, has also been struggling with noise issues, finding it difficult at times to meet the 36dB limit.  According to the Goodheads, the local antelope population has noticeably declined since it began operating.

Read more: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20101227/UPDATE/101227031/Wind-farm-splits-neighbors-who-take-cash-or-leave#ixzz19WgqwrR2

Yellowstone snowmobiles: this winter much like last year

News, Vehicles No Comments »

Been wondering what’s the latest on the Snowmobiles in Yellowstone front?  Then head on over to this good long article from New West, which sketches the history and explores the current tone in gateway communities.

The short story is that after spending the summer accepting public comments on the latest round of “permanent” winter use planning, the Park is operating this winter is operating under the same temporary plan as last year, which allows 318 snowmobiles per day.  Local businesses are adapting to the changing clientele, which includes more skiers and snow-coach tour riders, and far fewer snowmobilers.  My only quibble with the article’s narrative is that it downplays what appears to have been the key factor that has reduced snowmobile use: while the Bush administration overturned the Clinton-era ban which was about to go into effect, and set much higher daily limits (750 machines), a requirement was added that ALL snowmobilers must be part of guided tours.  The loss of free-wheeling exploration by groups of friends led to several winters in which the daily limits were rarely reached; there is plenty of gorgeous National Forest land in the region where snowmobilers can romp freely, so why putter along on group tours in the Park?

Town, wind company spar over property-value rules

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines No Comments »

A new but long-simmering front has opened in the push-and-pull struggle between wind companies advocating the status quo and communities uncertain about how to deal with reports they hear from elsewhere that suggest industrial-scale wind farms have unintended consequences, including chronic noise impacts and reduced property values.

This may not be the first time it’s bubbled to the surface, but it’s the first one I’ve noticed: the Hammond, NY Town Council is considering a ordinance that would require wind farm developers to compensate property owners who see drops in their land values because of the presence of wind turbines. The proposal also requires the company to buy out any property owner who objects to living near a turbine. Iberdrola Renewables says these provisions in the rules “would eliminate any possibility” for a planned wind project in town.  Read the rest of this entry »

AEI helps edit National Geo ocean noise piece

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A few months back, I was contacted by an editor at National Geographic, asking me to fact-check a short piece they were preparing on ocean noise (the author, who I’d talked to a few times, had recommended me). The piece came out this week in print and online, and I’m pleased to say that my input turned out to be important: besides affirming a couple of factual points they were concerned about, I caught what would have been a major mistake in an editor’s attempt to shorten a section of the original text, which had seriously mangled the science behind one of the key the findings in the research they are addressing. Just another day in office here at AEI, where I’m able to respond to questions and queries from anyone needing some clarification, whether an international publication, a county commissioner trying to understand wind farms sound, or a curious individual wondering how to pursue an interest in acoustic ecology….

Read the National Geographic piece, with typically great graphics, here.

“Schools” of 30-foot vertical axis turbines may outperform standard 300-foot wind farms

Science, Wind turbines No Comments »

This is pretty amazing: researchers at CalTech working in biomimicry have completed the first field trials of an array of small vertical axis wind turbines, in which they pack the arrays tightly together, aiming to take advantage of possible boosts in output created by capturing the vortex flow patterns from each other.  The concept is modeled on studies of fish schools, and the realization that the move far more efficiently through the water than do individual fish.  Air pattern modeling and initial field tests suggest that these tightly packed arrays may generate 100watts per square meter, ten times the energy density of today’s industrial wind farms.  This could mean more energy in the same area, or, more likely, the same or somewhat more energy using far less land than today’s wind farms use.  With machines that are quieter and only 30 feet tall!

Energy per unit area of proposed tightly packed small turbines vs. several existing utility-scale windfarms

Energy per unit area of proposed tightly packed small turbines vs. several existing utility-scale windfarms

Each 30-foot turbine generates only around a kilowatt of output, as compared to today’s massive 1500-2500kw industrial turbines; this is the reason that all the many vertical axis designs have been considered only useful for home use, rather than utility-scale generation.  But the fish-inspired layout produced far more power per square meter of land used than today’s wind farms.  The first field test Read the rest of this entry »

Orca protection not sufficient, says Canadian federal court

News, Ocean, shipping No Comments »

Orca populations around Vancouver Island won a decisive victory in Canadian Federal Court this week, as Judge James Russell ruled that the Canadian government cannot rely on voluntary protocols and guidelines to protect orca critical habitat.  The judge brought acoustics into his decision by stressing  that critical habitat protections must include ecosystem features, including prey availability and and noise impacts.

The decision, which is detailed in this article from the Vancouver Sun, could push the Canadian government toward some difficult decisions, especially regarding salmon harvests.  Declining salmon runs are a key factor in orca declines, and there is a push to limit fishing to assure that orcas (and other wildlife) have more access to this key prey species.  In addition, research continues to suggest that shipping noise may interfere with orca communication and foraging (recent AEI post); there’s no telling how this conflict might be resolved.

New wind farm property value study offers grist for both sides

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines 5 Comments »

A new study of property values in the vicinity of a large wind farm in Illinois provides reinforcement for both sides in the debate.  I first saw mention of the study in an American Wind Energy Association press release that touted its consistency with previous studies that found no significant price impact in homes near wind farms.  After downloading and reading through the report, I find that the results do indeed match previous studies, though in my reading the results are subtler than the overall averages suggest, just as they were with the big DOE-funded study that came out about a year ago.

The new study, entitled “Wind Farm Proximity and Property Values: A Pooled Hedonic Regression Analysis of Property Values in Central Illinois, 2010” used complex multi-factor statistical analysis to compare many factors that affect the sales price of a home (that’s lay-speak for the “pooled hedonic regression analysis with difference-in-differences estimators” that were used).  The bottom line is interesting and potentially reassuring: Read the rest of this entry »

NIH-funded study finds possible mechanism behind some people’s sensitivity to infrasound

Health, Human impacts, Science, Wind turbines No Comments »

Alec Salt, a Washington University scientist who studies the inner ear, has discovered that outer ear cells may respond to very low frequency infrasound, well below the frequencies that are audible or otherwise consciously perceptible.  Salt suggests that his discovery may help explain why some individuals seem to be more dramatically affected by low frequency wind turbine noise than would be expected.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and other Communicative Disorders, is a literature survey that looks especially at the physiological responses of guinea pigs exposed to infrasound down to 5Hz.  Humans can generally hear sounds as low as 20Hz; sounds below this frequency are called infrasound.  Guinea pigs are often used in lab studies, since their hearing mechanisms are similar to those in humans; in fact, human ears are more sensitive to low frequencies than are guinea pigs.  The crux of his findings center on the ways that hair-like cells in our ears, the Outer Hair Cells (OHCs) and Inner Hair Cells (IHCs), work together to translate sound pressure at various frequencies into the perception of sound in our brain.  For audible frequencies, the OHCs amplify the vibrations they receive from sound waves, triggering hair-like structures on the IECs to ripple and bend; it is this movement of IHCs that create the electrical (neural) impulses that our brain perceives as sound.

The surprise in Salt’s study was that OHCs also react to infrasound.  Rather than, as might be expected, simply not being affected by infrasound, OHCs are “highly sensitive” to it, Read the rest of this entry »

Many stranded dolphins are deaf, but don’t jump to noise conclusions…

Ocean, Science No Comments »

AEI lay summary of this recently published scientific paper (download paper):
Mann D, Hill-Cook M, Manire C, Greenhow D, Montie E, et al. (2010) Hearing Loss in Stranded Odontocete Dolphins and Whales. PLoS ONE 5(11): e13824. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013824

This paper generated a wave of press coverage upon release, most of it suggesting that the research found that stranded dolphins are predominantly deaf, and often focusing on the idea that exposure to shipping and other ocean noise is the likely culprit.  I must admit that when I first saw the headlines, I too thought this might be the smoking gun implicating chronic ocean noise in population-scale impacts, but as usual, the popular press had vastly oversimplified and distorted the actual findings.

Baby dolphin found stranded in Uruguay, November 2010

Baby dolphin found stranded in Uruguay, November 2010

Deafness found in a less than a quarter of stranded animals

While, as noted in some press coverage, 1200 0r more dolphins strand each year in the US, this study looked at just 35 stranded cetaceans of 8 species that stranded between 2004 and 2009.  The big headlines focused on the fact that 57% of bottlenose dolphins had profound hearing loss.  This represents 4 of 7 individuals, who were deaf or close to deaf; one was clearly very aged (it had no teeth left), so the authors suggest this individual was clearly experiencing age-related hearing loss. One other species showed hearing loss in a significant proportion of individuals studied: 5 of 14 Rough-toothed dolphins had profound hearing loss (36%); two of these are considered likely to have been born with hearing loss (see below).

By contrast, none of the 7 Risso’s dolphins studied had hearing loss, Read the rest of this entry »

New recordings detail shipping noise in key orca habitat

News, Ocean, shipping 2 Comments »

The VENUS ocean observatory network is clarifying the degree to which waters around Vancouver Island are infused with the shipping noise.  The data is reinforcing concerns that local orcas and other sea creatures are likely to experience several negative impacts, including chronic stress, the need to use more energy to talk louder, and perhaps interference in foraging. A good article in the Vancouver Island-based Times-Courier (excerpted below) details the findings.

“The noise is virtually continuous during daylight hours and quietens a little bit overnight,” Richard Dewey, associate research director on the University of Victoria’s VENUS (Victoria Experimental Network Under the Sea) project, said. “In addition to the annoyance of the constant din, [the whales] are likely to have to shout over the engine sounds and listen through the racket to pick out and identify the messages.” Tricky tasks, such as the use of broadband clicks to echo-locate fish — the sole diet for resident killer whales — is likely to be extremely difficult when boats and ships are nearby, Dewey said.

venus-logo

It was expected the Strait of Georgia would be noisy as it is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, but among recent changes is the increase in massive container freighters. “They travel at twice the speed that vessels used to travel at, they use four times as much energy and make four times as much noise in the ocean,” Dewey said.

One of the — as yet unanswered — research questions is whether the whales can survive increasing noise at the same time as they are coping with shrinking salmon runs and climate change. “Whether the whales and dolphins can adapt is an open question,” Dewey said.

Learn more at the VENUS website.