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Letter to Potter County Commissioners in response to revised Wind Turbine draft ordinance 

Author:  | Impacts, Noise, Ordinances, Pennsylvania, Safety

The only changes of any significance made to the County’s proposed wind ordinance were:

  • Reduction in the application fee from $1000 to $500.
  • Reducing the setback requirement from 6 times to 5 times total turbine height, and closing the distance even more by measuring from the non-participating landowners nearest occupied building rather than nearest boundary line.

My questions/concerns regarding the original draft still stand and I’ve included them again at the bottom of this letter.

My primary concern continues to be that public safety be placed as the number one priority when it comes to industrial development in the County. Ensuring public safety for those living in the shadow of industrial wind turbines means addressing protection from physical injury and protection from noise.

  • The World Health Organization recommends that the level of continuous night-time noise outside of a dwelling be 45 dB or less, and inside bedrooms, night-time noise should be 30 dB or less. These thresholds should be even lower if there is a low-frequency component or impulsive quality to the sound, as there is for wind turbines. Higher levels of noise disturb sleep and produce a host of negative effects on health, well-being, and day-time productivity.
  • Vestas Wind Systems, a leading manufacturer of industrial wind turbines based in Denmark, has established guidelines for both, requiring a safety setback for maintenance workers of 5 times the hub height. Their noise policy states that “turbine noise emission must not exceed the level of background noise” and goes on to recommend “that governments supplement relative noise limits with a low absolute maximum limit in areas of very low background noise (e.g. quiet countryside), which ensures minimal noise disturbance for turbine neighbours.”
  • Terry Matilsky is a Professor of Physics at Rutgers University. He has several decades of experience in applying the laws of physics to various environmental and commercial issues, and has served and testified as an expert witness in several venues, including United States Federal Courts. His calculation of ice throw distances for Wachusett Wind Power Site in Massachusetts determined that for turbines with a hub height of 230 feet and blade radius of 130 feet, “for all practical purposes, the theoretical maximum ice throw, in the absence of air resistance, would be about 2855 feet.” It is worth noting that hub heights and blade radius for turbines constructed in Potter County will in all likelihood be taller than those used in Professor Matilsky’s calculations.
  • Physical setback is needed from protection from shadow flicker as well as from projectiles. According to the American Wind Energy Association’s “Wind Energy Siting Handbook” on shadow flicker impact analysis: “Shadow flicker is the term used to describe the effect caused by the shadows cast by moving wind turbine blades when the sun is visible. This can result in alternating changes in light intensity perceived by viewers. … While shadow flicker can be perceived outdoors, it tends to be more noticeable in rooms with windows oriented to the shadows. A wind turbine’s shadow flicker impact area does not generally extend beyond 2 kilometers [1.2 miles], and high-impact durations (>200 hours per year) are generally located within approximately 300 meters [984 feet] of the turbine.”

This information, which supports the County’s position on wind turbine safety, demonstrates the depth to which you have researched wind development issues and should nullify any claims that passage of your ordinance will expose the County to lawsuits, as Jim Hoopes is reported in an Endeavor 12/6/2008 article to have stated during your December 4th meeting. However, it seems to me, any township ordinance with less than a 5 times the hub height setback and noise levels greater 30 dB is certainly opening the door to legal challenges.

With all the wide open space still available in this country, there has never been any need to build industrial wind turbines close to residential communities. Our federal and state legislators have done us a disservice by not designing community-based energy policies that place alternative energy development under the watchful eye of a utility regulatory authority, staffed by individuals educated in energy production. Placing wind development in private hands has left rural communities struggling to grasp the complexities of this new industry, setting friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor.

There is a growing movement across the country that is changing the conversation – community based wind farm development, an idea supported by the wind industry group, Windustry; an organization that “promotes progressive renewable energy solutions and empowers communities to develop wind energy as an environmentally sustainable, community-owned asset”. ( www.windustry.org/communitywind )

Juhl Wind Inc, based in Minnesota, is a leader in developing this approach. Excerpts from their website ( www.juhlwind.com/community_wind.php ):

  • “Historically, landowners in rural areas had only one option to benefit from the development of wind farms in their community and that was to lease their land to large wind developers. These large and usually foreign-based developers would then sell the wind energy to the utility company and retain a majority of the project’s profits. … Community wind projects keep more dollars in local communities, preserve local energy independence, and protect the environment. Community wind projects average 10 – 20 turbines and can produce enough energy to power over 6,000 homes.”
  • “… the key feature of community wind is that local community members own and have a significant financial stake in the project beyond just land lease payments and tax revenue. Community wind projects can be any size, ranging from a single turbine to more than twenty, yet typically serve local communities or consumers. The key feature is that local community members have a significant, direct financial stake in the project beyond land lease payments and tax revenue.”

If Potter County took a community-based approach to the development of wind power, how might that change the conversation? As a community, we could all be involved in site selection so that no one would be harmed and everyone would benefit. What are you, as our Commissioners, doing to promote this idea in our state legislator? Assuming you are sincerely committed to economic growth and see alternative energy as a via economic opportunity, you are in a position to act on behalf of Potter County citizens, taking this dialogue to the next level and advocating truly viable alternative energy policies.

Martha Young
Sweden Township

December 14, 2008


B – The County needs money, and yet you decided to reduce your application fee from $1000 down to $500? I don’t think the $1000 fee is too high at all. It most certainly is not a prohibitive burden on corporations that rake in billions of dollars in annual profits. I seriously doubt that $1000 will discourage any power company from doing business in Potter County. This amount very likely will not even show up on an accounting sheet that rounds dollars to the millions.

B 1 a – Does this mean that an actual lease has to be signed? Or just documentation to show that a specific landowner is willing to enter a lease? If the former, could the power companies use this language to convince landowners a lease needs to be signed in order to proceed? Perhaps “affidavit” could be added to the list of definitions?

B 1 f – Will all developers be required to work with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to study proposed sites and minimize the ecological impact to each turbine site?

Does the state of Pennsylvania have any kind of “Environmental Quality Review” that would classify turbine projects as significant enough to require environmental impact studies?

Protection of wildlife is not addressed in either the model ordinance or County draft. Should some provision be included to safeguard placement of turbines in the flight path of protected or endangered migratory birds?

B 1 g – What kind of notification will be given to adjoining landowners? Notification that an application has been made?

B 1 h – What other studies will be required? Given the vagaries of our hills and valleys, how can a fixed setback guarantee safety in all cases? There likely is no 1-size-fits-all setback distance. It seems appropriate that noise testing, conducted independently, be required prior to construction approval. This is a recommendation by the American Wind Energy Association.
Facts About Wind Energy and Noise
(extract) “What can be done to reduce the likelihood of a noise problem from a wind project? A noise analysis can be done based on the operating characteristics of the specific wind turbine that will be used, the type of terrain in which the project will be located, and the distance to nearby residences. Particular attention will need to be paid if residences are sheltered from the wind. Also, pre-construction noise surveys can be conducted to find out what the normally-occurring background noise levels are at the site, and to determine later on what, if anything, the wind project has added to those levels.”

B 1 i – Can the Commissioner’s reserve the right to approve the hydro geologist selected?

B 1 j – Shouldn’t the landowners of wells and/or spring that will be adversely impacted be contacted prior submitting the application, and a document verifying the same be included?


Add provision to require power operator to update existing turbines as improvements become available for field use. (example: see Science Daily article regarding vibration dampers)

“Anti-noise” Silences Wind Turbines, publication date August 2008
(extract) “If wind turbines clatter and whistle too loudly … [a]n active damping system cancels out the noise by producing counter-vibrations. The researchers have already developed a working model of the active vibration dampers, and their next step will be to perform field trials.”

Why was the Climb Prevention/Locks section from the model ordinance not included?


Will surrounding households be notified prior to the start of blasting?

What is the remedy for personal injury or property damage due to blasting (e.g., broken windows)?


Below are links to numerous documents regarding setback recommendations of 1-mile or more. These documents demonstrate that 1-mile limit is not at all arbitrary, but backed up by real data from experiences with existing wind turbine installations.

Setback language re-crafted to establish minimum yet allow for vagaries of each unique installation site (pre-approval noise testing to determine the need for additional setback footage), and to allow for development of taller towers and turbines with longer blades that potentially will project noise further and require greater setbacks.

Include guidelines for minimum separation between wind turbines. Again, there is the need to allow for flexibility should future turbines be taller and require greater minimum separation.


Should a requirement be added for a base-line ambient sound measurement be taken prior to the beginning of construction, both daytime and nighttime? How can we determine that ambient noise increased if we don’t have any record of ambient noise prior to the existence of the turbine? In this case, the non-participating property owner would be defined as anyone within the set-back area.

A – Should G weighting be included in the testing requirements? G weighting is a measuring process specifically designed to infrasound.
New England Wind Forum: Wind Turbine Sound
US Department of Energy

B – Will guidelines be made available for residents so they will know how to file a complaint? And what, to do should a noise problem exist? Who to call, keep a diary to document experience, carefully document all doctor visits and dollars spent, etc.

Establish a wider margin for safety (2-miles) within which families have available to them remedy options should noise be a problem. Here’s a great idea from Solomon’s Words blogger:

“Let AES put into escrow an amount equal to the appraised value of the nearby homes, pre-wind turbine construction. If the owners of these homes decide to sell and cannot sell on the open market within an acceptable marketing period they will be bought out by the escrow fund. If they enjoy the Turbines and do not decide to sell after a period of sometime, the money is returned to AES with interest.”

Escrow funds (cash only, deposited once construction begins) to be managed locally, not by the power operator.

“Noisy Wind and Hot Air,” Nina Pierpoint, MD, PhD
(extract) “There need to be funds to cover damages to the health, property values, and quality of life of nearby residents, should these occur.”


A – What determines who the “affected property owners” are? All those within the setback radius? Or only those with adjoining property boundaries?


Why is this entire section from the model ordinance missing? Our roads are not strong enough to handle construction traffic. Who’s going to pay for upgrades and repairs?


Why is this entire section from the model ordinance missing? Seems like this would be in everyone’s best interest.


I’m just curious to know why 15 years was determined. Why not 10 year, or 5 years, or 20 years? What is the life expectancy for today’s wind turbines? Should we take a more conservative approach and issue initial leases for 5 years, with the option to renew should the initial lease term prove to be a positive experience?


Why were the following sections from the model ordinance not included?

  • Disturbed earth shall be graded and re-seeded, unless the landowner requests in writing that the access roads or other land surface areas not be restored.
  • … Said estimates shall be submitted to the [municipality] after the first year of operation and every fifth year thereafter.

Nowhere in the County’s ordinance is the term “removal” used, on the term “decommissioning.” What exactly does “decommissioning” mean?

B – This section refers to the base and footing. I’ve read that turbines require foundations with depths up to 30 feet. Does this mean that the entire foundation has to be removed? The model ordinance calls for removal of the top 36 inches.

C – Does not stipulate when funds need to be put into escrow. What protects us from an operator abandonment or sale to a third party prior to establishment of a decommissioning escrow fund?

E – Why are we opening the door to leaving abandoned turbines in place? Do we really want these relics marring the viewscape? No language like this appears in the model ordinance.

Why was this section from the model ordinance not included?

  • If neither the Facility Owner or Operator, nor the landowner, complete decommissioning within the periods prescribed by Paragraphs 17(A) and 17(G), then the [municipality] may take sure measures as necessary to complete decommissioning. The entry into and submission of evidence of a Participating Landowner agreement to the [municipality] shall constitute agreement and consent of the parties to the agreement, their respective heirs, successors and assigns that the [municipality] may take action as necessary to implement the decommissioning plan.

The County ordinance is quite lenient when it comes to decommissioning and sets the stage for abandoned turbines left in place indefinitely.

Is there any chance that decommissioning agreements included in private leases with landowners would override decommissioning requirements set by the County?


Why is this section from the model ordinance missing?


A – Why was the following language from the model ordinance not included?
“… or any permit issued under the ordinance, or cause another to violate or fail to comply, or to take any action which is contrary to the terms of the ordinance or any permit issued under the ordinance.”

B – “If the Potter County Planning Commission and/or Potter County Board of Commissioners determines that a violation of the ordinance … has occurred, …”

What is the process for determining a violation has occurred? If someone beyond the setback experiences noise disturbance, can they go to the Commissioners and ask for testing? Will the County pay for said testing?


Add a section on MAINTENANCE. How frequently someone should be on-site to check the equipment. How residents can report problems. What residents can do if noise changes significantly, which could be indicative of a damaged or defective blade, turbine, or any other component. How quickly will the operator be required to respond.

What oversight has there been, will there be, regarding unethical business practices. Coercion of participating or non-participating landowners. Secret negotiation with uninformed landowners who may be convinced to sign leases that are not in their best interest, perhaps including “forbearance easements” that prevent landowners from complaining about noise problems. Non-participating landowners being coerced into signing “forbearance easements.” Inappropriate distribution of monies to participating or non-participating landowners, local/county/state officials?

At some point during development, establish a moratorium on additional development, in order to assess real life experience compared to expectations. This provides an opportunity to put on the brakes, if serious problems are brewing and the existing ordinance needs to be updated.

Is it possible to require public disclosure on all wind test towers, where they are, who installed them, test results?

How does the addition of a wind turbine affect the assessed value of the property? Does it increase the value of the property and will the landowner’s taxes go up?


What do you know about Senate Bill 514? AES representative Bob White stated at the Ulysses Township meeting (when the Ulysses ordinance was passed) that Senate Bill 514 governed revenue from wind facilities. Here’s a link to the bill. What do you make of it?

It is possible to add a provision to require payment of promised revenues (payments in lieu of taxes) from power operators and penalties if they do not pay? Glenn Schleede states in “Misplaced State Government Faith in ‘Wind Energy’ “ that the Kansas legislature was encouraged to adopt language to protect local officials from bribe charges. Apparently, in Kansas, accepting money from power companies in lieu of taxes can be viewed from a legal standpoint as bribery. Do you know if this is a potential issue in the state of Pennsylvania?

Misplaced State Government Faith in “Wind Energy”
An Analysis and Report by Glenn R. Schleede


Wind farm causing a stir
Blair County – 2500 foot setback

Towns in the state of Wisconsin
2640 feet setback

Permitting of Wind Energy Facilities
National Wind Coordinating Committee
1/2 mile

The Noise Heard Round the World – the trouble with industrial wind turbines
1/2 mile more or more setback

Simple guidelines for siting wind turbines to prevent health risks
George W. Kamperman, INCE Bd. Cert. Emeritus Kamperman Associates, Inc. george@kamperman.com
Richard R. James, INCE E-Coustic Solutions rickjames@e-coustic.com
1km (3280 feet) or more setback

French Academy of Medicine warns of wind turbine noise
1.5km (.9-mile) setback

Arkwright, New York
1-mile setback

Trempealeau County, Wisconsin
1-mile setback

National Wind Watch
1-mile setback

U.K. Noise Association
1-mile setback
U.K. Noise Association: 1 mile setback needed for wind turbines
UK Noise Association – Wind Farms Are Causing Noise Problems

Beech Ridge Wind Farm, West Virginia
1 to 4 miles setback

Deal reached in wind turbine dispute – Fayette County
6000 foot setback

Noise Radiation from Wind Turbines Installed New Homes: Effects o Health
2km (1.2 mile) setback

Location, Location, Location. An investigation into wind farms and noise by the Noise Association
1 to 1.5 mile setback

Are wind farm turbines making people sick? Some say yes.
1.5 mile setback

Dr. Nina Pierport
1.5 mile setback, more for mountainous geography
Health Effects of Wind Turbine Noise
Noisy Wind and Hot Air
Wind Turbine Syndrome – testimony before the New York State Legislature Energy Committee
except from rebuttal to Noble Environmental’s draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding noise, shadow flicker, and health

Wind Turbines, Noise and Health
Dr. Amanda Harry
1.5 mile setback

Riverside County, California
2-mile setback

Marjolaine Villey-Migraine
Docteur en sciences de l’information et de la communication, Université Paris II-Panthéon-Assas, Spécialiste de l’Information Scientifique et Technique (IST)
5 km (3.1 miles)

Microseismic and Infrasound Monitoring of Low Frequency Noise and Vibrations from Windfarms
10km (6.2-mile) setback


Vestas Wind Systems
Policy on Noise from Wind Turbines

Human Response to Wind Turbine Noise
Eja Pedersen, Goteborgs University, 2007

Specific Noise Levels for Common Noises (dBA)

Wind Turbines and Sound: Review and Best Practice Guidelines
Submitted to: CanWEA Canadian Wind Energy Association, Ottawa, Ontario
Submitted by: Howe Gastmeier Chapnik Limited
February 2007

Examples of Noise Standards and Wind Turbine Noise Regulations
Carolyn Reed, for the Centerville Township Commercial Wind Ordinance Committee, 8/7/2006

National Academy of Medicine
The repercussions of wind turbine operation on human health
Report from a Work Group on the repercussions of wind turbine operation on human health
March 14, 2006

Addressing Wind Turbine Noise
Excepted from an article by Daniel J. Alberts, 11/20/2005

Disconnect Between Turbine Noise Guidelines and Health Authority Recommendations
Josh P. Harrison
Professor Emeritus, Physics Department, Queen’s University, Kingston, OH

Accoustic Noise Generated by Wind Turbines
Presented at the Lycoming County Zoning Board Hearing on 12/14/2005

World Health Organization (WHO)
Guidelines for Community Noise

New Research Explains Wind Turbine Noise Problems
Renewable Energy Foundations

Examples of Noise Standards and Wind Turbine Noise Regulations
Centerville Township Commercial Wind Ordinance Committee

Wind Turbine Noise Issues
Renewable Energy Research Laboratory
Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation
Assessing and Mitigating Noise Impacts

“Noise Radiation from Wind Turbines Installed Near Homes: Effects on Health.”
with an annotated review of the research and related issues
by Barbara J Frey, BA, MA and Peter J Hadden, BSc, FRICS

Noise pollution from wind turbines
September 20, 2007 by Julian Davis and S. Jane Davis

This is a list of publications from the Acoustics Laboratory and the Department of Acoustics from the period from 1974 until now. The list is sorted in chronological order starting with the most recent papers.

Listen to the sound of the future
Specialist Søren Vase Legarth
Tel. +45 72 19 46 10

Simple guidelines for siting wind turbines to prevent health risks
George W. Kamperman, INCE Bd. Cert. Emeritus Kamperman Associates, Inc. george@kamperman.com
Richard R. James, INCE E-Coustic Solutions rickjames@e-coustic.com

The “How To” Guide to Siting Wind Turbines to Prevent Health Risks from Sound
George W. Kamperman PE and Richard R. James INCE

Low Frequency Noise from Large Wind Turbines
Delta Project EFP-06. Client: Danish Energy Authority

Second International Meeting on Wind Turbine Noise
Lyon, France. September 20-21, 2007

“Noisy Wind and Hot Air,” Nina Pierpoint, MD, PhD
(extract) “There need to be funds to cover damages to the health, property values, and quality of life of nearby residents, should these occur.”

Excerpts from the Final Report on the Township of Lincoln Wind Turbine Moratorium Committee

Wind Farm Noise and Regulations in the Eastern United States
Second International Meeting on Wind Turbine Noise

Acoustic Trauma: Bioeffects of Sound
Alex Davies BFS Honours

A Review of Published Resarch on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects
Report for Defra by Dr. Geoff Leventhall

Noise Background
DART (Dorest Against Rural Turbines)

Project WINDFARMperception
Visual and acoustic impact of wind turbine farms on residents
Wind turbines more annoying than expected

G.P. van den Berg
Wind turbines at night: acoustical practice and sound research
Science Shop for Physics, University of Groningen, the Netherlands
Effects of the wind profile at night on wind turbine sound
Journal of Sound and Vibration
Do Wind Turbines Produce Significant Low Frequency Sound?
The Beat is Getting Stronger: The Effect of Atmospheric Stability on Low Frequency Modulated Sound of Wind Turbines

Vibroacoustic Disease
N.A.A. Castelo Branco and M. Alves-Pereira

Wind Turbine Acoustic Noise
Renewable Energy Research Laboratory

Health Effects of Wind Turbine Noise
Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD

NASA Technical Paper 3057 DOE/NASA/20320-77
Wind Turbine Acoustics
Harvey H. Hubbard and Kevin P. Shepherd
December 1990

NASA Technical Memorandum 100528
Wind Turbine Acoustics Research
Bibliography with Selected Annotation
Harvey H. Hubbard and Kevin P. Shepherd
January 1988

Wind Turbine Noise Concerns

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

The copyright of this material resides with the author(s). As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Queries e-mail.

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