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Argument: Wind turbines are noisy

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Supporting quotations

Eric Rosenbloom. "A Problem With Wind Power" - Noise

The same West Virginia writer found the noise from the turbines on Backbone Mountain to be "incredible. It surprised me. It sounded like airplanes or helicopters. And it traveled. Sometimes, you could not hear the sound standing right under one, but you heard it 3,000 yards down the hill." Yet the industry insists such noise is a thing of the past. Indeed, new turbines may have quieter bearings and gears, but the huge magnetized generators can not avoid producing a low-frequency hum, and the problem of 100-foot rotor blades chopping through the air at over 100 mph also is insurmountable (a 35-meter [115-foot] blade turning at 15 rpm is travelling 123 mph at the tip, at 20 rpm 164 mph). Every time each rotor passes the tower, the compression of air produces a deep resonating thump. Only a gravelly "swishing" may be heard directly beneath the turbine, but farther away the resulting sound of several towers together has been described to be as loud as a motorcycle, like aircraft continually passing overhead, a "brick wrapped in a towel turning in a tumble drier," "as if someone was mixing cement in the sky," "like a train that never arrives." It is a relentless rumble like unceasing thunder from an approaching storm. Enxco's John Zimmerman admitted at a meeting in Lowell, Vt., "Wind turbines don't make good neighbors." [Click here for one story from Fenner, N.Y., where many other noises have been described, including an eerie screeching as the blade and nacelle assembly turns to catch the wind.]

The penetrating low-frequency aspect to the noise, a thudding vibration, much like the throbbing bass of a neighboring disco, travels much farther than the usually measured "audible" noise. It may be why horses who are completely calm around traffic and heavy construction are known to become very upset when they approach wind turbines [click here]. Many people have complained that it causes anxiety and nausea. The only way to reduce it is to reduce the efficiency of the electricity production, i.e., reduce the illusion of profitability. It can't be done.

Advocates, when not denying the noise outright, suggest that the wind itself masks any noise the turbine assembly makes. Rustling leaves, however, are a very different sound than the thumping of a wind facility. And in developers' output projections, they point out that the wind is very much more steady and stronger up at the top of the towers, so even that rustling down on the ground is not always there when the turbines are turning. This is often the case at night and always the case in winter. In Oregon, wind developers complained they could not comply with regulations limiting the increase of noise in rural and wild areas. In May 2004, the state weakened the noise regulations so installation of wind facilities could go ahead.

The European Union (E.U.) published the results of a 5-year investigation into wind power, finding noise complaints to be valid and that noise levels could not be predicted before developing a site. The AWEA acknowledges that a turbine is quite audible 800 feet away. The National (U.S.) Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) states, "wind turbines are highly visible structures that often are located in conspicuous settings ... they also generate noise that can be disturbing to nearby residents." The NWCC recommends that wind turbines be installed no closer than half a mile from any dwelling. German marketer Retexo-RISP specifies that turbines not be placed within 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) of any dwelling.

Communities in Germany, Wales, and Ireland claim that even 3,000 feet away the noise is significant. Individuals around the world say they have to close their windows and turn on the air conditioner when the wind turbines are active. The noise of a wind plant in Ireland was measured in 2002 at 60 dB 1 km (3,280 ft) upwind. The subaural low-frequency noise was above 70 dB (which is 10 times as loud on the logarithmic decibel scale). A German study in 2003 found significant noise levels 1 mile away from a 2-year-old wind farm of 17 1.8-MW turbines, especially at night. In mountainous areas the sound echos over larger distances. A neighbor of the 20-turbine Meyersdale facility in southwest Pennsylvania found the noise level at his house, about a half mile away, to average 75 dB(A) over a 48-hour period, well above the level that the EPA says prevents sleep. In Vermont, the director of Energy Efficiency for the Department of Public Service, Rob Ide, has said that the noise from the 11 550-KW Searsburg turbines is significant a mile away. Residents 1.5 and even 3 miles downwind in otherwise quiet rural areas suffer significant noise pollution. A criminal suit has been allowed to go forward in Ireland against the owner and operator of a wind plant for noise violations of their environmental law. Also in Ireland, a developer has been forced to compensate a homeowner for loss of property value, and many people have had their tax valuation reduced. In the Lake District of northwest England, a group has sued the owner and operator of the Askam wind plant, claiming it is ruining their lives.

In January 2004, a couple was awarded 20% of the value of their home from the previous owners who did not tell them the Askam wind plant was about to be constructed 1,800 feet away: "because of damage to visual amenity, noise pollution, and the irritating flickering caused by the sun going down behind the moving blades." The towers of this plant are only 40 meters (130 feet) high, with the rotors extending a further 24 meters (75 feet). Steve Molloy of West Coast Energy responded that loss of value of a property, although unfortunate, was not a material planning consideration and did not undermine the industry's argument that the benefits of sustainable energy outweighed the objections. [Click here for the news story.]

Don Peterson, senior director of Madison Gas & Electric, which operates 31 wind towers in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, similarly dismisses complaints, saying that most people, but not all, will get used to the sound of the machines. "Like any noise, if you don't like it, your brain is going to focus on it," he comfortingly told the Beloit Daily News. Especially in relatively undeveloped areas, there can be no question that the unnatural noise from a wind facility will be prominent. Just a 10-dB increase over existing levels (a typical limit for such projects) represents the subjective perception of a doubling of noise level.

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