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Wind Farms and Noise

Clear reports of noise problems up to a mile or so

500 meter / 1500 foot setbacks are often very insufficient

NIMBY [not in my backyard]: be careful fears aren’t based on experiences of others in situations not like yours
WARYDU [we are right – you don’t understand]: don’t gloss over noise impacts

Turbine size and downwind patterns

Directionality of amplitude modulation

Atmospheric/nighttime conditions

What some neighbors are hearing

Wind Direction Is Key

Can be close with no noise issues, or far with severe noise

Amplitude Modulation

Strongest on one side of tower (90, 60, 120 degrees)

5dB: clearly perceptible variation, increased annoyance (especially if low point is inaudible) (when turbine sound is dominant)
400m/quarter mile: 5dB variation about 30% of time
1500m/1mile: 5dB variation about 20% of time

Atmospheric effects

Wind up high > turns blades
Still at ground > very low ambient noise
Night-time: quite at house, turbines audible further away than normal
Inversion layer above turbine: Early morning as air warms: noise accentuated at ground level

Turbine sound dominant
Day: not at all
Night: 72% of time at 400m/quarter mile
38% of time at 1500m/1mile

Summer nights
More common to have low speed at ground with higher wind speed at 80m [and to be outside and to sleep with windows open —NWW]

Reports from neighbors

Are those who complain just persnickety people? (sensitive or crotchety?)


Bajdek 2007 report to NOISECON: Under a half mile (mostly quarter to half): 44-50% “highly annoyed” by noise (45-55 dB); Under 40dB, rates start dropping; At 1 mile (35dB) it’s down to 4%

Remember this is just one location; threshold of minimal impact could be more or less than 1 mi

Elmira, Prince Edward Island

1-2km (0.6-1.25 mi) from wind farm

“My idea of noise is a horn blowing or a tractor – it disappears. This doesn’t disappear. Your ears ring. That goes on continuously.”

“Distances from 1 to 1.5 kilometers were the areas of the most annoying sounds. This spring the winds created constant misery.”

“When you are outside working and absorbed in what you are doing, you are OK. If inside, resting or reading, it’s a problem. Forget about sleeping at night. The repetitions would go away, you think that it is gone, and it comes back again.”

Mars Hill, ME

2500-3000 feet from turbines

“There are many times when winds are high on the ridge but near calm at our homes. The noise and vibrations penetrate our homes; at times there is no escape from it…the noise ranges from the sound of a high jet to a fleet of planes that are approaching but never arrive … When it’s really bad it takes on a repetitive, pulsating, thumping noise that can go on for hours or even days.”

Nick Archer, Regional Director, Maine Dept of Environmental Protection:
“I thought you were crazy at first, but you are not…the quality of life
behind the mountain has changed. We need to figure out what is going
on with these things before we go putting any more of them up.”

18 families all reporting noise issues. Next closest: 1 mile, “only occasionally bothered inside their home.”

Allegheny Ridge, PA

600m/2000ft from turbines

“I’m not going to jump on the ‘I hate windmills’ bandwagon because I don’t. I’m just tired of nobody listening. My point is what is your peace of mind worth? I can’t play outside with my kids back at the pond in the woods because it gives me a headache.”

“I know it’s going to make some noise, but a lot of times, it sounds like a jet.”

“On a calm day, you come outside and try to enjoy a nice peaceful day, and all you hear is the noise all the time and you can’t get away from it. The first time they started them up, I didn’t know what it was. I was like man, that’s a weird noise. It was that loud.”

Cohocton, NY

1000-2000ft from turbines

Cohocton Town Justice Hal Graham signed a lease to allow a turbine on his land:

“We thought we were going to do something good – that these things made good, clean, green energy. We said from day one, we don’t want noise and we were constantly assured that at 900 feet, the noise would only be like the hum of a refrigerator. We believed that. Don’t let them buffalo you.”

Now, they realize they made a mistake:
“It’s a constant grinding, whining noise. You walk outside the house and it sounds like planes are in the sky all the time. And now I can’t sleep at night, in the winter, with the windows closed. You wake up at two or three in the morning, and it’s impossible to get back to sleep.”

Setback Standards

300-450 m
1000-1500 feet
Industry favors this range
Canada: 400m from buildings
Wisconsin: 440ft from property line, 1000 ft from homes
Very often not enough (all our examples)

2500 feet / half mile / 750m
Becoming a common “happy medium”
Not always enough (eg Elmira, Mars Hill)

1.5-2 km
1-1.25 miles
National Academy of Medicine (France)
Rick James (acoustic consultant)
National Wind Watch
Not always inaudible; may not address health effects for residents with vestibular conditions: 2 miles or more is suggested

Industry Responding to Concerns

Shear Wind, Canada
Redesigned project to stay 1.4km (3300ft) from homes
“We’ve taken every single concern to heart and engaged folks on the issues”

Invenergy Wind, Illinois
Ten towers removed from proposed project in settlement with neighbors (secret to avoid setting precident)

E.on Energy, Wales
Canceled 8-turbine project when it became apparent that it would have to be downsized to avoid noise issues
“As a responsible developer, we simply wouldn’t be willing to build a scheme
that we thought had the potential to exceed acceptable noise limits.”

Such relative responsibility by industry is not yet common
“Traffic at 100 feet”
“Morning birdsong”
Playing with noise models to make them “work” at the site
Pushing for state regs when localities set limits beyond 1500 ft
Painting all concerns as NIMBY

“If setbacks had been done properly, none of this would have happened.”
“If they had used just a little foresight and moved these back just a little farther … but they didn’t.”

The Acoustic Ecology Institute

Jim Cummings: jim@acousticecology.org

Download original document: “Wind Farms and Noise [1]