Wendy Todd, a resident of Mars Hill, Maine, and her husband, Perrin, live about 2,600 feet away from one of the 28 turbines that compose the Mars Hill Wind Farm, Wendy Todd said.
Todd’s story is one opponents to the Ellis County wind project have referenced. When her family first heard about plans for construction of the project in 2006, they were not led to anticipate problems, she said.
“We thought we had asked all the right questions. We thought “˜if we can deal with the visual aspect and get through the construction phase, we’ll be all set,’ “ Todd said. “There was never any mention of strobing, shadow flicker was never even mentioned. The noise issues were put on the back burner almost immediately.”
However, she and her husband have been battling these issues, particularly the noise, which Todd said varies with the wind speed.
“It ranges from very livable, sort of a non-issue, low whooshing sound, to progressively working its way up to an airplane, then to a series of airplanes,” she said of the noise. “Different people describe it in different ways … a neighbor calls it a freight train that never arrives.”
The generators are placed along high elevation ridges and the Todd’s home is at the base of Mars Hill, Todd said.
The noise tends to be louder at night and on days with low barometric pressure – noise levels reaching their home have disturbed the couple’s sleep on two occasions, she said.
“You feel it in your chest and in the balls of your feet,” Todd said. “I describe it to people as, if you pull up alongside a vehicle playing rap music and can feel it in your chest almost before you hear it. It’s the same, sort of.”
She and her husband invested in a decibel meter, and have picked up noise levels ranging from 30 to 53 decibels, she said.
The degree of noise isn’t constant – rather, the Todds have experienced cycles, she said.
“You have that sound in your home for three, four, five days at a time and also get that pulsating thump that you feel as well as hear,” she said. “It wears on you to the point, by the end of the first day, you’re starting to get a little grumpy. By the end of day three, you want to hurt someone.
“Then you go a few days without a problem … then it will start over again.”
Todd and several other homeowners in the Mars Hill project area have formed a group called the Mountain Landowners Association, whose purpose is to educate residents about wind farm-related issues, she said.
“We want people to understand, before this is in their backyard, what the possibilities are,” Todd said, “so that they can make an informed decision before they do it and understand what it is they’ll be putting their neighbors through.”
Mars Hill’s 1.5 megawatt turbines are about 380 feet tall, she said – similar to machines originally proposed for Ellis County.
Not all wind project neighbors have a bad experience to report. Jerry King of Spearville maintains that he has never experienced any problems.
“I have never found a negative to them, as far affecting how I operate or how I think, or anything of that nature,” King said earlier this week.
The King family does not have turbines on their property, but they live about 1,300 feet from the nearest turbine, King said.
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Noise and health effects have been a major concern for some Ellis County residents. Dr. Nina Pierpont, a New York resident, addresses these topics on her Web site, ninapierpont.com.
One document refers to Wind Turbine Syndrome and lists symptoms that can include sleep problems, headaches, dizziness, depression, problems with concentration and learning, and ringing of the ears.
Pierpont recommends a 1.5-mile setback between turbines and homes – in Ellis County, the minimum setback distance required by zoning regulations is 1,000 feet and the company has promised a setback of at least 2,000 feet.
Another concern has been vibroacoustic disease. A new study, “Windmills, Infrasound and Vibroacoustic Disease,” by Portuguese researchers Mariana Alves-Pereira and Nuno Castelo Branco publicly will be released for the first time in August.
Alves-Pereira provided the Hays Daily News with a pre-publication press release, which concludes that excessive exposure to infrasound and low frequency noise can cause this medical condition. The study also found that ILFN levels inside a home surrounded by four wind turbines are larger than those obtained in a home located near a port grain terminal.
According to an earlier study by the same researchers, “Monitoring Vibroacoustic Disease,” symptoms of VAD include abnormal thickening of cardiovascular structures.
This study is available online at www.noisefree.org/monitor.pdf.
Dr. Andrew Schowengerdt of Montezuma, however, has reported no change in his medical practice at the Montezuma branch of Dodge City Medical Center since the Gray County Wind Farm went online in 2001.
Schowengerdt has worked in Montezuma for 15 1/2 years, several years before the turbines began operating, he said.
“I have not seen any increase in migraine headaches, increased hearing loss, anxiety or dizziness at all in my practice,” Schowengerdt said.
Insomnia is common for several reasons, but none of his patients have complained about noise from the machines keeping them awake, and the number of patients he has seen with sleeping problems has not changed, he said.
There are several homes in the project area, but Schowengerdt said he’s heard no complaints.
To the best of Schowengerdt’s knowledge, noise-related health issues were never mentioned as a concern, he said.
“I’m surprised it’s coming up (in Hays),” he said. “We didn’t hear anybody worry about that when it was being built.
“From my personal experience here before and after (the wind farm) came in, I have seen no change in my medical practice that would link a concern at all.”
Another study, “Infrasound Emission from Wind Turbines,” by J??rgen Jakobsen of Denmark concludes that “wind turbines of contemporary designs with the rotor placed upwind produce very low levels of infrasound.”
As far as hearing damages goes, there is no need for concern, said Dr. Gregory A. Ator, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
The measurement at which hearing damage begins to occur is about 85 decibels, Ator said.
“I’ve done a little looking around on this,” he said. “The frequencies, as they can tell, tend to be pretty low.”
Ator pointed out that there is lots of information regarding this topic on the Internet, both from an industry perspective and an opposition perspective.
“It seems you can find whatever you want,” he said.
While Ator said he does not have experience with LFN, he has not seen any research suggesting that exposure could cause adverse symptoms such as headaches and dizziness.
Ator said it’s not clear that prolonged exposure to turbine noise causes adverse health effects – if it was, there likely would be a stronger clinical basis, he said.
“I’m thinking of areas like high deserts in California where there’s lots and lots of them, and people around those,” Ator said. “Workers around wind turbines would be falling off their ladders … I would think we would have heard about that by now.
“Imagine the maintenance workers around wind turbine farms – they’re far closer than people’s houses.”
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The amount of noise heard depends on several factors, including terrain, distance and wind direction, Ellis County project manager Krista Gordon said.
Noise produced by turbines is more audible in areas of high elevation – in flat locations, the ambient noise helps to mask the mechanical noise, whereas if the turbines are in a valley surrounded by peaks of elevation the naturally occurring noises are blocked, which makes the turbine noise more noticeable, Gordon said.
According to guidelines established by the World Health Organization in 1999, noise levels should never exceed 45 dBA over the course of an evening, Gordon said.
“That’s what our staff’s been assigned to do,” Gordon said. “Even the internal ones will never go above 45 dBA … that’s the level of background noise in the countryside anyway.”
The WHO document, available online at www.who.int/docstore/peh/noise/guidelines2.html, states that non-continuous noise should not exceed 45 dBA to reduce the chance of sleep disturbance.
To protect sensitive persons, a still lower guideline value would be preferred when the background level is low, according to the document.
This guideline is applicable to all homes around the project area – the company has conducted research so that noise levels won’t exceed 45 dBA near neighbors’ homes at night, Gordon said.
Noise levels closer to the turbines, however, will exceed this measurement, she said.
The turbines for the proposed site southwest of Hays, Gordon said, would be positioned to keep the noise levels in accordance with WHO guidelines, taking into consideration distance and wind direction.
Iberdrola, the project’s new parent company, hired researchers to record sound measurements at the Spearville Wind Farm – the data yielded an LFN recording of 40 dB below the threshold of human perception, Gordon said.
Gordon said the study results were not yet available, but she believed this measurement was acquired at a distance of 2,000 feet from the nearest turbine.
However, there is a possibility that the General Electric models originally proposed for Ellis County will be replaced by a new model, produced by Gamesa, the turbine market leader in Spain, which is home to the project’s new parent company, Iberdrola.
Iberdrola is a part-owner in the Gamesa company, Gordon said.
These turbines would be taller, with a tip height of about 394 feet, but also would produce 2 megawatts of energy and be quieter, she said.
The GE model has a tip height of 389 feet and a capacity of 1.5 megawatts.
“The hub height would be exactly the same,” Gordon said. “The blades are just a little bit longer.”
If approved, using this model also would reduce the number of turbines to about 100, Gordon said.
These turbines will be held to the same WHO guideline, Gordon said.
While the switch is not a done deal, it’s “looking very likely” that the Gamesa models will be approved, she said.
The range of hearing for babies is between 20 and 20,000 Hz, and hearing capacity is lost as people age, said Fred Britten, professor of communication disorders at Fort Hays State University.
Several objects in a home or work environment produce noise – for example, fluorescent lights clock in at about 60 hertz, he said.
However, human ears are able to adapt to these constant exposures so that people typically aren’t bothered by the sound, Britten said.
“People don’t seem to get too upset about a dishwasher in the house or washing machines,” he said.
There is research that suggests non-auditory effects of noise, mostly in people who are surrounded by loud noises all day, such as farmers who spend all day on a tractor, produce health effects, Britten said.
“Those individuals do show an increase in blood pressure and muscle fatigue,” he said. “If they wear (ear) protection, they report less fatigue, less ringing in the ears.”
Overall, the measurement of LFN is difficult to gauge, he said.
“LFN does not give rise to the same level of concern as neighborhood noise can,” Britten said.
By Kaley Lyon
3 June 2007
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