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Maine wind farm reimburses everyone in town for their electric bill costs

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines 2 Comments »

me-roxbury-turbinesThe Record Hill Wind Farm has made the first of planned ongoing quarterly payments to all year-round and seasonal property owners in Roxbury, Maine.  The checks, for $111.57, reflect the average cost of the power used by residents in town over the course of three months.  While wind farms cannot directly supply local electricity (their power is sent into the grid, and often sold in bulk to utilities or other purchasers of electricity), this innovative program aims to give local citizens a direct benefit to compensate for wind farm’s intrusion in the local landscape.

While Roxbury’s 400 landowners seem enthusiastic about the payments, some landowners in nearby towns who can hear the turbines are left out in the cold, including those on Roxbury Pond covered earlier here.

Falmouth selectmen, town meeting continue to tangle over wind turbines

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines No Comments »

Two town meeting votes, along with a short-lived wind turbine plan adopted by the local board of selectmen, kept things blustery in meeting rooms as well as in the springtime air of Falmouth this month.  A large number of people living within a half mile to mile of the two town-owned turbines have been struggling with noise issues, and the town has tried a few different approaches designed to reduce the problems, including shutting down the turbines in high winds.

Just before this year’s town meeting, the board of selectmen adopted yet another curtailment plan that they hoped would make things more livable while they tried to find some sort of consensus moving forward.  The plan would have shut down one turbine anytime the wind topped 10 m/s, and would have increased the cut-in speed of the other between midnight and 3am, from 3.5m/s to 8m/s (this to address the fact that in the still of night, wind noise from the blades can be troublesome even at low speeds).  These curtailments would be in place until May 15, after which both turbines would be shut down all night (1opm to 6am) until the end of June.  Apparently the hope was that a new long-term plan might be in place by then; the Consensus Building Institute of Cambridge is nearing completion of an information-gathering process that included 53 local stakeholders (see their draft report here).

However, two articles were up for a vote at the annual town meeting which stretched across several nights later that week.  The first called for both turbines to be shut down until November, and it passed 100-75.  A few minutes later, a supposedly competing article calling for the selectmen to continue their efforts to build consensus toward finding a solution on what to do with the machines passed by a vote of 93-74, leading the town meeting moderator and at least one selectman to wonder how to reconcile the two.  Without seeing the text, I can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t seem on the surface that the two initiatives are contrary; the work toward a long-term consensus can continue whether the turbines are operating in the meantime or not. Certainly, the process recommended by the Consensus Building Institute is likely to take much longer than from now until the end of June (in short, they recommend that a local committee sketch out a variety of options, without recommending any one; the goal would be to provide selectmen with “a clear, comprehensive, and inclusive analysis of the range of options, their costs and benefits, and their impacts.”

This article in the Falmouth Enterprise offers a detailed blow-by-blow account of some of the more contentious aspects of the recent town meeting debate.

WV wind farm: 55dB limit is being met in long-term average levels, while peaks continue to trouble neighbors

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines No Comments »

Two recent articles have shed interesting light on the ongoing controversy in Keyser, WV, home of the Pinnacle Wind Farm, where many neighbors have been complaining about noise since the turbines began operating late last year. The first clarifies that most or all nearby residents signed agreements with the wind company, including the residence where the noise was expected to be the loudest, 56 dB.

This article notes that the regulations use a full 24-hour average, or day-night level (Ldn), which helps to explain why some residents’ reports of measuring higher levels can coincide with the company affirming that it is operating within its prescribed limits.  It would be likely that peak  sound levels could be well above the average, which is lowered by times when the turbines are turning slowly or not at all.

Much of problem here appears to be that residents, including those who signed agreements, did not appreciate just how loud 55 dB would seem, nor understand that the average may lead to peak sound  levels above that limit. As covered earlier by AEInews, some residents say they were led to believe they would rarely, if ever, hear the turbines.  It appears likely that company representatives assumed wind noise would down out the turbine sounds.

The second article addresses the addition of  noise reducing mufflers to the turbines there, which is expected to reduce some troublesome high pitched sounds from the turbine’s fans, though neighbors say that lower-frequency blade sounds are also bothersome. Charley Parnell, vice president of Public Affairs for Edison Mission Group, owners of the wind farm, said, “We believe Pinnacle is operating in a manner that meets the requirements of our permits, but taking additional steps to mitigate noise is an important part of our commitment to be a responsible corporate citizen of the communities in which we operate.  We look forward to many years of providing clean energy generated by Pinnacle, and we intend to work in good faith to address local concerns.”

Bernie Krause’s Great Animal Orchestra

Arts, Bioacoustics, Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Wildlands No Comments »

Bernie bookBernie Krause’s new book, The Great Animal Orchestra, is a worthy culmination to his inquisitive career.  After working out a few writerly wrinkles on a couple of earlier books that touched on aspects of his fascination with the world of natural sound, this one offers up a wide-ranging tour of our sounding world, shared in a congenial voice.

This book has rightfully garnered widespread praise, including the coveted cover spot on the NY Times Book Review section, as well as write-ups in The Washington Post, The Ecologist, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Wired. Check each of these out for good, brief glimpses into the stories you’ll find between these covers. The Wired piece is particularly well done, with many sound samples; more sounds can be heard on the site of publisher Little Brown.

Several key themes provide the foundation of the book.  First and foremost is Krause’s segmentation of the soundscape into geophony (sounds of wind and water and other movement of natural objects), biophony (sounds of animals, both vocal and sounds of movement), and anthrophony (sounds of humans, especially mechanical and amplified sounds). Similar divisions are used by bioacousticians, as evidenced in a couple of talks at a recent Bureau of Ocean Energy Management workshop on sound and fish that I attended.  Likewise, Bernie is an eloquent spokesman for the widespread thought that early human music has its roots in a time when tribal peoples considered themselves but one voice in a local sounding landscape; this theme is emphasized in the subtitle to the book, “Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places.”

Krause’s reflections on our urbanized relationship to sound are grounded in the soundscape tradition of R. Murray Schaffer, while his continuing efforts to understand the dynamics and relationships in natural soundscapes – using spectrograms to illustrate possible use of acoustic niches (differences in pitch, rhythm, or time of day) that allow a plethora of creatures to each be heard within a complex biophony – are contributions to the leading edges of scientific investigation of soundscape ecology.  Many reviewers note the rambling quality of the book as a small downside, but I found that it brought me as a reader into Bernie’s world, where pure wonder at the diversity of sounds crosses paths with speculative theories, sorrow at what’s disappearing, and a commitment to draw us into a deeper communion with the sounding world that surrounds us. A mindful engagement with sounds, or with the world as it is today, will inevitably bring us to such a mix of thoughts, feelings, and inquiries; this book one of the best invitations into the acoustic aspects of our times.

Health effects of wind farms: summary of recent research

Health, Human impacts, Science, Wind turbines 1 Comment »

Here we go again!  As in AEI’s similarly long recap of 2011 research on low frequency noise and infrasound published in December, I’ve tackled a similar task with close to a dozen papers published in 2011 on health effects of living near wind farms.  Rather than publish the entire thing as a blog post, I’ve created a 26-page PDF that can be downloaded or viewed online.  Here, I’ll reprint the 4-page introduction (note that even the intro has many important footnotes viewable only in the PDF version).
See pdf of Wind Farm Noise and Health: Lay summary of new research released in 2011

In February of this year, I wrote a column for the Renewable Energy World website that addressed the recent increase in claims that wind farms are causing negative health effects among nearby neighbors.  The column suggested that while many of the symptoms being reported are clearly related to the presence of the turbines and their noise, the relationship between wind farms and health effects may most often (though not always) be an indirect one, as many of the symptoms cropping up are ones that are widely triggered by chronic stress. In recent months, the dialogue around these issues has hardened, with both sides seemingly intent on painting the question in simple black and white—community groups assert that turbines “are making” people sick, while government and industry reports insist that there’s “no evidence” that turbines can or do make people sick. The gulf between the conclusions of formal health impact studies and the experiences of some neighbors has widened to the point that both sides consider the other to be inherently fraudulent.  I suggested that the rigidity of both sides’ approach to this subtle and complex issue is likely increasing the stress and anxiety within wind farms communities that may in fact be the actual primary trigger for health reactions.

Here, I’ll expand on that shorter column by taking a closer look at the few surveys and studies that have attempted to directly assess the prevalence of health effects around wind farms, including a detailed look at recent papers from Carl Phillips, Daniel Shepherd, Bob Thorne, Michael Nissenbaum, Nina Pierpont, and Stephen Ambrose and Robert Rand, along with consideration of publications from Eja Pedersen, Frits van den Berg, Geoff Leventhall, Roel Bakker, and the Waubra Foundation.

Even as the public becomes increasingly concerned about health effects, with a lot of focus on the role of inaudible infrasound, it’s been striking to me to that the researchers investigating health effects – even clearly sympathetic researchers – are not talking about infrasound much at all, and are instead focusing on stress-related symptoms.

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