Tag Archive: wind turbines

Wind turbines in 2018

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In October 1986, I presented a keynote address to the Community Noise Conference held in Toowoomba, co-sponsored by the Queensland Division of Noise Abatement and Air Pollution and the Australian Acoustical Society. The title of my talk was “Health Hazards of Noise.” In my talk, I spoke of noise as not just an urban phenomenon and gave examples of how residents in quieter communities can find themselves exposed to intrusive noises. One example I gave was the following:

Imagine how surprised a suburban couple were to wake up one morning to the sound of a windmill erected in the neighbor’s backyard.

In the 1980s we spoke of windmills, not wind turbines. Yet, in 1981, I actually had a court case involving a backyard windmill that was impacting on the health and well-being of a nearby neighbor. The judge in this case acknowledged the discomfort brought about by the windmill’s noise.

Now thirty years after my talk in Australia and after the court case cited above, we have a finding by an Australian Council regarding a wind farm stating that “noise is audible frequently within individual residences and this noise is adversely impacting on the personal comfort and wellbeing of individuals.” In several U.S. cases, courts have asked wind power operators to buy out noise-affected neighbors. A majority of the wind turbine cases argued in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Europe, and Canada, however, have found that wind turbine noise would not affect health adversely. This, despite the fact that there are published papers noting that the sounds produced by wind turbines are not being assessed properly and a number of studies reporting a link between wind turbine noise and potential health impacts.

Considering the growth of evidence suggesting the harmful impacts of wind turbine sounds on health, I believe that we need to continue to examine this link before we forge ahead in siting industrial wind turbines. And we also must continue to monitor the legal challenges to wind turbine impacts internationally.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

The battle between wind power v. wind noise

Vermont is cracking down on noisy wind turbines. But at what cost? Boston.com writes about how the effort by Vermont utility regulators to settle the “long-standing, contentious issue of how much noise neighbors of industrial wind projects should be subject to ended up upsetting both proponents of wind power and those who say the noise poses a health risk to people who live near turbines.”

We love the idea of fossil fuel-free energy, and on seeing a group of large wind turbines from a distance, we thought they looked majestic. But some industrial wind farms have been built very close to existing communities, and opponents of these farms claim the noise levels are too high and “even at a level that is among the lowest in the country would create an unreasonable burden for people who live near the turbines.”

What is that level? For new projects the daytime limit is 42 decibels “near a home,” and 39 decibels at night.  That may seem really low, but the World Health Organization in its report, “Night Noise Guidelines for Europe,” recommends that 40 decibels “should be the target of the night noise guideline (NNG) to protect the public.”

Proponents of the new limits say Vermont won’t meet its goal of “getting 90 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2050” without wind turbines, and Boston.com adds that “scientific studies have shown no link between wind turbine noise and human health.” But there have been complaints throughout New England, perhaps because the people affected “were accustomed to living in quiet areas.”

In the end, the battle will go on as the need for clean energy runs up against the rights of people living in formerly quiet communities.  Let’s hope a happy compromise can be found.

 

Potential relief for those living near wind farms:

wind-turbines

Owl-inspired wing design reduces wind turbine noise by 10 decibels.  Some people living near wind farms have complained about health problems caused by the turbine noise.  While the debate continues as to whether the noise adversely affects human health, relief may be on its way.  Science Daily reports that a team of researchers studying the acoustics of owl flight have been working on pinpointing the mechanisms used by many species of owl that allows them “to hunt in effective silence by suppressing their noise at sound frequencies above 1.6 kilohertz (kHz) — over the range that can be heard by humans.”  The researchers wanted to use those mechanisms “to improve human-made aerodynamic design — of wind turbines, aircraft, naval ships and, even, automobiles”  And apparently they have succeeded in using owl feathers “as a model to inspire the design of a 3-D printed, wing attachment that reduces wind turbine noise by a remarkable 10 decibels — without impacting aerodynamics.”