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Grŵp Blaengwen submission on the control of wind turbine noise to the Petitions Committee of the National Assembly  

Author:  | Noise, Regulations, Wales

I’m chairman of Grŵp Blaengwen, an association of nearly 60 people living in and around the village of Gwyddgrug, Pencader. The group was formally established after consent was granted for the Alltwalis wind turbine development, which became operational in October 2009. We monitor the effects of this installation, gather evidence on wind power generally and more recently campaign against plans for a further 28 turbines up to 145-metres high – the Brechfa Forest West project. Other wind power stations are proposed for the same TAN 8 area G.

Some group members were initially neutral or even in favour of the turbines. Like former Environment Minister Jane Davidson they may have believed that the only disadvantage of turbines was visual. Wind turbine developers and supporters always ignore the issue of sound.

The evidence you will hear today is of lives disrupted, sleep disturbed and health affected by frequent unpredictable and uncontrolled turbine noise. It’s something you may come to feel is best investigated by the health rather than the environment committee. After more than two years of recording the turbine nuisance we are convinced that the whole issue of wind turbine generation should be reconsidered. In the meantime we are calling for a simple solution. We want the turbines switched off at night so that people can get a decent night’s sleep. It’s something that already happens at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Heavy goods vehicles are similarly banned from residential areas at night. There is no obvious reason why wind turbines should be exempt.

Wind turbine power stations are also exempt from other controls. Normal noise legislation does not apply. Instead planners and environmental health officers must use a methodology known as ETSU-R-97 to assess turbine noise. As long as the noise created is within the ETSU parameters they seem powerless to tackle the problem. ETSU-R-97 was drawn up at the request of turbine developers on data collected in 1995 and 1996 when turbines towers were much smaller and the machinery less powerful. It is now out-dated and fails to protect turbine neighbours. It is also perverse in that, uniquely among noise regulations, it permits higher levels of noise at night when, as everyone knows, the countryside is quiet and noise at its most intrusive.

ETSU-R-97 should be scrapped. We call on planners and public protection agencies to use World Health Organisation noise limits. The WHO says: “Measurable effects of noise on sleep begin at about 30 dB. … When noise is continuous, the equivalent sound pressure level should not exceed 30 dB indoors, if negative effects on sleep are to be avoided. For noise with a large proportion of low-frequency sound a still lower guideline value is recommended.” In comparison the ETSU-R-97 limit on night-time noise from wind turbines is 43 dB.

You will hear today various people speaking about turbine noise. In two of the cases those affected have consulted their GPs and now take medication to help to counter the effects. Members of Grŵp Blaengwen know of other neighbours similarly affected but who either feel helpless and despondent about the whole issue or say they won’t speak out for fear it might negatively affect the the value of their homes. As a group are submitting a dossier which we hope you will take away and read. It will include scientific opinion and a chart that might help to explain the different types of turbine noise. There are also statements from four witnesses who want to offer their personal stories and give verbal evidence today of the effects on their lives. Their homes range in distance from the Alltwalis turbines from about three miles to around 800 metres. Two are longstanding members of our group. Two are not.

First I’d like to call Bleddyn Williams, who farms at Cwmhwplin, Pencader, around five kilometres, more than three miles, from the wind farm.

Statement by Bleddyn Williams, Fferm Cwmhwplin, Pencader

I hear noise in the house day and night since the wind turbines were switched on at Alltwalis Wind Farm. It makes no difference where the wind direction comes from, the humming noise is always with us.

I have lived at the above address, which is about three miles away as the crow flies, all my life in peace and quiet until about two years ago when the turbines were switched on.

The first night they were on I heard this noise in the house about the middle of the night and told my wife I was getting up to see what was wrong, thinking the central heating boiler had not been switched off. Then I continued to check every power point to see if anything was over-heating, but found everything was in order. Then I went to check all the outbuildings, the meter and the transformer, but all was in order. I went back to bed at 5am and told my wife, you can try and sleep now – if anything was going to blow up it would have happened by now.

As our meter was installed in 1959 we had Swalec out to replace it with a new one, but we still had the noise. Then we had them out to check the transformer, which they said was in order. We then phoned Swalec customer services and they said the noise was from the turbines.

I have suffered from lack of sleep for more than two years, and it does affect my health. We can cope with a bit of disturbance in the day time, but not at night time.

I hope you can do something to help us.

This chart explains that it’s not as noisy standing beneath a turbine as standing further away.

This may explain why Ms Davidson assured us during the TAN 8 roadshow that she knew they made no noise because she had stood directly beneath one. My own experience is of a low frequency throb that has awoken me on three occasions in the middle of the night. Like Bleddyn I live some five kilometres – more than three miles – away as the crow flies, but the topography separating our homes from the turbines is completely different. And you will note from the evidence we present that the presence of noise is dependent on atmospheric and weather conditions. It is not a constant problem, but is completely impossible to predict. For this reason we support switching off the turbines at night.

Caryl Harries of Gellifelen, Gwyddgrug are among those badly affected by noise.

Statement from Caryl & Jeff Harris, Gellfelen, Gwyddgrug

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Foster for all his hard work in undertaking this petition and for the opportunity to give evidence.

Following the Alltwalis Wind farm becoming operational in October 2009 we, as well as many others, have suffered terribly from the noise emanating from this wind farm. Eventually, following a number of complaints, Statkraft offered to install noise monitoring equipment at some properties. We worked collaboratively with Statkraft and Carmarthenshire County Council to try to resolve the noise problems by monitoring for 13 months, often getting up late at night and during the very early hours of the morning to switch on the monitors and taking them outside. This was followed by a telephone call to the Control Room at Rheidol. During this period of monitoring Statkraft closed down the nearest two turbines following our telephone call at night.

During this period we collected a huge amount of data for Statkraft which was downloaded as often as three times per week. Eventually, a fault was detected on the gearbox of Turbine 9. T9 remained operational but was closed down following our telephone call complaining of noise nuisance at night. I have been told by an expert in this field that T9 should have been closed down immediately until the problem was rectified. This didn’t happen!

Following repairs to the gearbox Statkraft considered the problem solved. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The only difference is that when we now telephone Statkraft’s Control Room at Rheidol complaining about noise nuisance, even during the very early hours of the morning, I am told “sorry Mrs Harris, nothing we can do – contact your Local Authority”. The Local Authority’s Public Protection Department operates between the hours of 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.

Following 13 months of monitoring and after collecting such a huge amount of data, we as a family agreed that we had done all we could to try to resolve the problem. If the problem could not be solved after this amount of monitoring and to be told continuously that the noise nuisance we were experiencing was all within the guidelines it became obvious to us that monitors were not the answer. The ETSU-r-97 guidelines do not offer any protection for those of us living in areas with very low background noise levels and needs reviewing urgently.

These 10 turbines 110.5 metres high are allowed under Carmarthenshire County Council’s Unitary Development Plan to be built within 500 metres of a property. The two nearest turbines to our farmhouse are 815 metres and approx 900 metres away. They tower over us and totally dominate our home. Due to their enormity it feels as if they are in our garden. Our case has proven that both these turbines have been built far too close as when they were closed down during periods of noise nuisance the intensity of the noise was alleviated immediately. It did not rid of the noise altogether but made life bearable.

In our desperate quest for help in this matter we requested a meeting with Jane Davidson, in her role as Minister for Environment via Rhodri Glyn Thomas, AM, as well as writing and contacting her diary secretary ourselves. She refused to meet with us – but did meet with Statkraft. It infuriated us even further that members of the Welsh Assembly Government were willing to meet with Statkraft but not willing to listen to the people of Wales.

Recently an application has been submitted to the IPC for another 28 wind turbines 145 metres in height, which, if granted planning permission, will be adjacent to the existing Alltwalis Wind Farm. This is a huge worry for us and others living nearby as this will result in cumulative noise and even less respite. We have voiced our huge concerns to N-Power and been told that if there was a noise problem at our property they would bring monitors!

I have written to the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, requesting a meeting regarding our situation. The First Minister did not reply but did forward our letter to the Sustainable Energy and Industry department. They advised us that the Brechfa Forest West application was a matter for the IPC. But the TAN 8 area was designed by the Welsh Assembly Government.

This development has caused us as a family an enormous amount of stress and has impacted severely on our health. I personally now suffer from very high blood pressure for which I am having to take medication. On discussing the effects of this wind farm on us as a family with my GP I was offered a prescription for antidepressant medication – which I have refused to date as I am determined that this is not going to get the better of me, but have had to accept a prescription for sleeping tablets which I will only take as a last resort.

There is no protection for the people of Wales from noise from wind farms. We as well as many other residents feel totally on our own, abandoned by the Welsh Government. We thank Mr.Foster and are extremely grateful to him for submitting this petition highlighting the problems experienced by the people of Gwyddgrug. Getting turbines switched off at night would be an enormous relief for us.

Caryl’s experience is similar to that suffered by the Davis family, who farm at Deeping St Nicholas, Lincolnshire. Jane and Julian Davis, who were initially supportive of wind turbine, sued local landowners and the owners and operators of a wind farm half a mile from their farmhouse. The couple sought £2.5m in compensation for the low frequency hum that made them so ill they had to move out of their home and rent a house some distance away. The problems began immediately after the eight-turbine wind farm began operating in 2006. The noise disturbed their sleep, gave them headaches and made their house effectively worthless.

The case dragged on for more than four years and when it eventually reached the High Court, the defence claimed the couple were “over-sensitive” and were “exaggerating and overreacting” and argued that the owners and operators had done everything possible to deal with the couple’s concerns. But last November the judge was told the parties had agreed a settlement under terms of strict confidentiality – an admission, albeit in secret, of culpability by the landowners and operators.

The Davis family was able to sue, and eventually achieve restitution, because of a clause in their insurance policy. But it took them four years – and they still can’t live in their home. Caryl and Jeff Harries, who live almost exactly the same distance away from turbines as the Davis family, have no such insurance or hope of compensation.

Lyn Morris of Glenydd, Gwyddgrug is another whose nights are sometimes ruined by intrusive noise.

Statement from Lyn Morris, Glenydd, Gwyddgrug

I personally suffer from sleep disturbance caused by the intrusive noise from the Alltwalis Windfarm near my home in Gwyddgrug, and I’ve had to make several life-style changes to try and cope with the situation.

So I’m grateful for this opportunity to explain how disruptive this type of noise disturbance can be, in the hope that decision-takers and policy-makers might start listening and taking into consideration the impacts of this type of development on local people, and save others from having to suffer the same as many of the villagers in Gwyddgrug.

What I have to say isn’t full of scientific or technical jargon, nor is it dramatic and emotional – just a factual account of what it is like to live near a wind-farm.

In 2005 I moved from Essex to Gwyddgrug. People asked me: “Why Gwyddgrug? There’s nothing there!”

Precisely! No school, no pubs, no village hall – just a lovely close-knit rural community with a chapel and a village Post Office. Peaceful, quiet,with lovely views and stunning scenery. Perfect.

My new home was intended to be my ‘last move’ – my retirement home ready for a few years’ time, and the equity in it part of my pension. So I put a lot of thought into leaving my family before moving here. It had turned out to be everything I had expected, but now my way of life here has been horribly blighted.

It was upsetting to find out about the proposed wind-farm developments. It was bad enough to discover that I could see far more of the turbines than predicted by photomontages and wire diagrams. But far, far worse has been the way I, like others, have been misled by developers, energy companies, local authority and Welsh Government officials about the noise. The noise we were told wouldn’t happen!

  • Firstly, the noise we suffer from is always referred to as ‘alleged’. The noise is not ‘alleged’ – it exists. It may well be compliant with the planning conditions but it is still intrusive, has had a life-style impact on me and continues to wake me up or prevent me from getting to sleep in certain weather conditions.
  • Since the wind-farm became operational I have had to move from my bedroom at the back of my house to a front bedroom, which is directly over the main road outside my property – but the noise of the traffic is far less intrusive than the noise of the turbines – there is minimal traffic going past from 9pm to 6am and what does rarely wakes me.
  • However, the noise from the turbines still disturbs my sleep, especially if I have the windows open. So, now I have to have my bedroom windows closed even in the summer. When my son is away I sometimes sleep on his bed as his room is slightly quieter. Or I may resort to trying to get some sleep on the sofa downstairs as the noise is sometimes less intrusive downstairs. Leaving the back-door open in the summer also lets the noise into the house and there is little pleasure in being in the garden when the turbines are noisy.
  • In Gwyddgrug we have undergone intensive noise monitoring for over 18 months, covering all seasons and all types of weather. This has only confirmed that the noise complies with ETSU-R-97 guidelines. These are out of date and no longer relevant to the type of turbines now being commissioned. Data anyway is disregarded if one or more turbines are switched off, or if it is raining – and it is often in damp/rainy weather that they are at their worst!
  • For what it’s worth I phone Statkraft operational room whenever the noise is so bad I can’t get to sleep. I keep a record and so do they, but they’ve never come up with a solution – just offers of more monitoring. Pointless!
  • It isn’t necessarily the volume of the noise that is disturbing – it is the nature of the noise – incessant, pulsing, thumping, swooshing and roaring (more annoying than a constantly dripping tap or loud ticking clock) – a continuous rhythm that can sometimes also bring on panicky palpitations in the same way as horror-film or ‘Jaws’ type music. It gets inside the house and seems to bounce off the walls; and it does the same inside your head.
  • I live 2kms from the wind-farm. Now I am fearful of the effect of even more, even larger turbines currently going through the planning process. If planning permission is granted there will be 80+ more turbines, with one development sited a similar distance from my home to the existing one, but in a different direction, increasing the chance of much greater noise disturbance, much more often and with a greater span of wind direction.
  • Sleep deprivation is most unpleasant, but it is also dangerous. I frequently have to make long car journeys and shouldn’t be forced into a situation where I have to drive tired, even to my office in Carmarthen. I can’t just tell my employer that I’m too tired to come to work!
  • If all of this was to be for just a few months during construction then maybe it might be acceptable – but surely not for the next 25+ years!
  • I said at the beginning that the equity in my home was part of my financial planning for old age. My property has gone down in value by some 30%. 20% can be attributed to the recession but I am told that the other 10% is down to being blighted by noise, and to the likelihood of further large-scale industrial wind-power developments. I have been advised that the best thing I can do is sit tight until all the developments are either refused or completed, and then sell to someone who likes wind-farms!
  • This whole business is so stressful. The quality of my life and the enjoyment of my property have been blighted by the noise from the turbines, and this is likely to continue for the rest of my life. My property has reduced in value. Friends and neighbours are in similar situations. It’s not right that we should be expected to suffer in this way. If it was a factory disturbing us they would be made to shut down at night.

Again there is no compensation for turbine blight. But the noise issue is not new. It has been extensively studied and reported.

Physicians around the world have recorded ill health effects among people living near industrial-scale wind turbines. The symptoms begin when the turbines start to turn, and are only relieved when the victims leave the area.

The symptoms include:

  • sleep disturbance
  • headache
  • ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • ear pressure
  • dizziness, vertigo
  • nausea
  • visual blurring
  • racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • irritability
  • problems with concentration and memory
  • panic episodes with sensations of internal pulsation or quivering which arise while awake or asleep.

No wonder many families have had to abandon their homes. We draw your attention to the problem caused by the Blaen Bowi wind farm – three turbines on Moelfra Hill, two and a half miles south of Newcastle Emlyn. In 2006 Gwen Burkehardt felt she had no option but to sell up and move away.

That example shows that the noise problem is not new and is widely studied. We refer you to the Frey-Haddon study of the health effects of wind turbine noise, published in February 2007 and to the work of Dr. Nina Pierpont of New York, who recommends that large wind turbines are sited no closer than two kilometres (1.25 miles) from a home.

Terence and Kathryn Neil live much closer than that.

Statement by Terence Neil, Lan Farm, Gwyddgrug

My name is Terence Neil and together with my wife, Kathryn, we live at Lan Farm which is 900m. south-west of the Altwallis Wind Farm.

From the beginning, we were very concerned about several aspects of the proposed wind farm, including noise. The initial developers, Catamount, stated that we would rarely hear them.

Successive developers, Force 9 and then Statkraft never appeared to take local concerns seriously and I don’t believe fully appreciated the implications of the noise footprint that these turbines produce.

From the day the blades started turning there has been noise. Noise measuring equipment was placed in various locations, Lan Farm being one. Measurements were taken and reports produced. We were then informed that the turbines did not exceed the noise regulations. We have been visited by the Public Health Services Department of Carmarthen County Council who agreed as they stood in the yard that there was a noise.

The regulations (ETSU97) relating to noise need updating. What is relevant in an urban area with background noise is not so in a quiet rural hilly area. Noise travels, follows contours round hills and down valleys and reverberates and echoes around and off buildings. It also resonates off water droplets – mist, drizzle. This is when the noise is at its worst.

With the wind from the south-east the turbines sound like a tumble dryer. Statkraft admitted problems with gear boxes – these apparently have been dealt with but to no avail. The main problem at Lan is blade noise, you can hear the whoosh as the blade passes the mast.

We moved down to Wales 15 years ago for, among other things, the tranquillity that this area offered and the quality of life. My wife can no longer wear her digital hearing aids consistently and a neighbour of ours has a similar problem. In addition, when there is blade noise/slap at night, my wife will frequently wake up with a migraine for which she now has to take prescribed medication.

The noise of these turbines affects the people in this community in differing ways. It is not just something that can be ignored. We now have a situation where up to 55 larger turbines are proposed next door to those existing. The noise problem will get worse and the long term health problems will increase – both mental and physical.

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A study on turbine noise, sleep and health by Dr Christopher Hanning, Honorary Consultant in Sleep Disorders Medicine to the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and President of the British Sleep Society, published in April 2010 concluded that the appropriate mitigation of sleep disturbance and annoyance from industrial wind turbine noise is a maximum external turbine noise level of 35dB(A) or a setback of at least 1.5km.

Finally there are the words of the British acoustics expert Dick Bowdler, a Fellow of the Institute of Acoustics since 1977 and a former member of the Government’s Noise Working Group. He has this to say of the ETSU-R-07 methodology:

  1. The level of noise permitted from wind turbines in rural areas is higher than would be permitted from other industrial developments – even other renewable developments. Therefore people are exposed to higher levels of wind farm noise than they would expect from other new industrial noise sources.
  2. If there is amplitude modulation present (that is the swishing or thumping noise that is sometimes reported) this can be particularly annoying because it is relentless and regular and ETSU-R-97 makes no allowance for it.
  3. Most important is the manner in which wind farms are procured. Developers usually have no previous contact with the area and whilst they often make a show of consultation it is almost unknown for them to take local views into account. They are supported by governments who simply ignore people’s valid complaints. This divides communities and causes annoyance and stress which can affect people’s health.

Bowdler also says: “The main difficulty with ETSU-R-97 is that it is quite unsuitable for quiet rural areas because, particularly at night, it sets noise limits not by what is acceptable or reasonably protects amenity but by what is the upper limit that can be tolerated. For example it often permits turbine noise levels four times as loud as the background noise level at night and just into the region where the World Health Organisation says that it may cause sleep disturbance.”

You may be able to imagine how we felt when a Freedom of Information request revealed that civil servants suppressed warnings over health problems caused by ETSU-R-97 limits being set too high. This came in a draft report by the consultants Hayes McKenzie Partnership, one of the companies that drew up ERSU-R-97 in the first place. The document said the best way to protect members of the public was to cut the maximum permitted noise to 38 decibels – or 33 decibels if the machines created discernible beating they spun. Those warnings and that advice were removed from the final 2006 report. And in effect that has led to hundreds of wind farms, including that at Gwyddgrug, being allowed to generate noise levels that affect people’s health.

We believe this is a matter that should properly be considered by the Welsh Government’s Health Committee. We appeal to Assembly Members to contradict Bowdler’s observation that turbine developers are supported by governments “who simply ignore people’s valid complaints”.

Go to: “Control of Noise from Wind Turbines”

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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