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Noise Pollution from Wind Energy – Why It's a Problem!

by Acoustics By Design on August 19, 2009

With today’s heightened awareness about energy and our dependence on foreign oil, we are being lured with a promise of bountiful, cheap electricity if we simply harvest the energy from the wind. As is true with everything in life, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Communities across the country are learning from past mistakes (the hard way) that one of the greatest struggles with wind turbine development is in community noise disturbances – or noise pollution. So, what can be done about it?

In a democracy, we trust our representatives to protect the rights and well-being of each individual and to protect each person and their property from irreparable harm. The regulation tools that our representatives and governments have to protect the individuals are zoning and noise ordinances. However, in addition to protecting each individual’s rights, our representatives are interested in providing for the greater good of the community’s energy needs and winning independence from foreign oil reserves; additionally, the development, employment, and tax revenues associated with having a wind farm in their constituency is also attractive. Can you trust your local politicians to ensure this issue is properly settled before a 400 ft tall wind turbine is planted in your backyard?

We need to ensure that individuals do not suffer health issues as a result of exposure to the noise that wind turbines make – similar to regulations for our drinking water. However, when it comes to annoyance and disturbance, there are really two issues embedded in this debate:

  1. People are different. Some individuals will be annoyed or disturbed by sounds that do not affect others. It is impractical to set regulations that would ensure that no person would ever be annoyed or disturbed by the sound of an industrial wind turbine installation. So, what level of (probably average) annoyance or disturbance is acceptable, and by what percentage of the population is this average annoyance reasonable to legislate to?
  2. What objective measures of wind turbine noise are needed to establish a performance criteria for the wind farm developers such that there is reasonable expectation that intent of issue 1 above is met?

The answer, my friend (to steal from Bob Dylan) is blowin’ in the wind; or, in other words, we don’t know (yet). Currently, noise regulations vary dramatically from state to state and county to county.  With the application of appropriate research,  we can eventually come to some standardized set of noise guidelines for wind turbine noise.

At Acoustics By Design, we pride ourselves in solving the human side of the equation when it comes to noise control and the human perception of sound. One of our goals is to participate in the research and development end of this debate, so we can establish appropriate standardized guidelines for wind turbine noise. Even though wind turbine energy will never be a “free lunch” per se, we want to help make it as “free” as possible, with broad community acceptance.

Acoustics By Design

Acoustics By Design

Acoustics By Design consultants provide acoustical consulting services to architects, engineers, facility directors, municipalities, and building owners. Our team includes acoustical consultants, acoustical engineers, noise consultants, and vibration consultants. Our firm also includes an integrated team of audio-visual consultants who design audio, video, theatrical lighting, and technical systems and integrate them with the native acoustical environment.

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Jim Cummings August 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Very cogent start on this important topic. The “people are different” aspect is the most difficult aspect in setting reasonable setback standards. I am sitting on a round of new info re: surveys of annoyance, and hope to integrate that soon into my ongoing Special Report on the issue at http://AcousticEcology.org/srwind.html However, there are increasing numbers of folks at the half mile or more range who seem to be quite disturbed (especially rural folks used to more quiet than we are used to asking of roads and airports). I’m moving toward a sense that there should be plenty of locations where wind farms can stay a mile from homes and still have ready access to transmission lines; at that distance, complaints are not zero, but very very low. Three-quarters of a mile could be arguable on that count, too, though that inches closer to ranges at which people have struggled in some situations. Of course, upwind/downwind plays into it, and this is virtually never mentioned in any press reports (of folks disturbed or others saying they’re having no issues). Keep up the good work with exploring this issue and be in touch as you see fit.

wind turbine September 3, 2009 at 7:52 am

The noisy problem of horizontal axis wind turbine is caused by the blades design. The horizontal blade must bring noisy when the blades turns. Vertical axis wind turbine is better performance in noisy.

Rick Conrad November 20, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Lack of respect for the rights of people living in the area developers place wind turbines is what will kill wind energy. http://www.windenergy.areavoices.com

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