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Why wind turbine sounds are annoying, and why it matters

Abstract —
Almost without hesitation, most people can identify a sound that is annoying to them, whether it might be fingernails on a chalkboard, a barking dog late at night, a mosquito buzzing in their ear, or their own particular example. Classic acoustics texts identify key points related to annoyance. These “special characteristics of noise” include tonality, a non-random cyclical nature, pitch, roughness, rise time, and dominance of noise during sleeping hours when environmental noises diminish. A new source of environmental sound arises from wind turbines, a rapidly growing method of generating electricity. Studies such as the “Health Canada Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study” have documented noise annoyance complaints. This paper categorizes wind turbine noise complaints based on face-to-face interviews with impacted individuals, and correlates logs of complaints to conditions at the time. Recordings made in a controlled manner of environmental sound samples, such as flowing streams, wind in coniferous trees, or wind in bare or leafed deciduous trees as well as other sounds found in the environment, such as vehicles passing by on highways, aircraft overhead, and railway travel are compared with sound recordings from wind turbines. The comparisons included analysis of LZeq, LAeq, narrow band analysis, evaluation of amplitude and frequency modulation, and fluctuation strength. Development of modifiers to normal LAeq sound limits is suggested to improve the effectiveness of regulations. A key finding shows annoyance is related more to changes and characteristics at a particular time, rather than to longterm averages of sound. Why annoying sounds matter is a complex subject. Some consider “annoying” has little impact more than, “your gum chewing is annoying,” while for others, an annoying sound can mean loss of sleep, and loss of that restorative time itself has many documented adverse effects.

William Palmer
Global Environment, Health and Safety 2017, Vol.1, No. 2: 12

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