Rumble, rumble, rumble. Like an approaching freight train or thunderstorm rolling in.
That’s how one neighbor of a Benton County wind farm described the noise, as debate raged on for more than an hour Monday over proposed wind turbine noise limits in Tippecanoe County.
The Tippecanoe County commissioners ultimately approved – in a 2-1 vote – higher sound limits. Commissioner John Knochel opposed the changes, while commissioners David Byers and Tom Murtaugh voted in favor of them.
Accompanied by his two young children, Tippecanoe County resident Robert Brooks issued an emotional plea to the commissioners to protect his family from loud nuisance noise that he worries will disrupt their sleep.
After the commissioners voted, Brooks asked them, “How can I sell my house right now? … I don’t know why the ordinance had to change. You’ve given (the developers) a free ticket.”
During the debate at the commissioners meeting, the majority of those in attendance spoke against the changes.
As it is now amended, the ordinance allows for large wind turbines to generate an average sound output of 50 decibels per hour. There is no ceiling set for noise from the wind systems at any one time, but there is a penalty established if the companies let turbines go above the 50 decibel average per hour.
Murtaugh said an annual inspection of wind turbines as required in the ordinance offers protection for nearby residents.
“It will be monitored, and it will be monitored continually,” he said. “This is something I think is a great tool for all.”
But Knochel echoed the concerns of some in the crowd, saying the ordinance should have been left alone. As it was adopted just last year, it set the noise limit at 45 decibels. Opponents already argued that was a compromise from the 35 decibels they originally sought.
According to Purdue University, 50 decibels of sound equates to the noise of a conversation at home or a large electrical transformer at 100 feet. The audiology department puts bird calls at 44 decibels, a library at 40 decibels and a quiet rural area at 30 decibels.
Referencing sound studies done by their own consultant and recommendations from health organizations, opponents argued against any further changes.
Mark Russell of West Point said the participants in the wind energy developments have already waived their rights and protections by signing with the developers.
“We have many reasons for not participating, and those don’t need to be justified here today,” Russell said. “But we should not be penalized.”
In the southwestern part of Tippecanoe County, Invenergy Wind LLC of Chicago is planning a wind farm with an estimated 133 turbines.
Greg Leuchtmann, development manager for Invenergy’s project, said Monday that the changes to the county’s ordinance are balancing protections for residents with the needs of the developers.
“(It’s about) what will allow a development and what will cancel a development,” he said.
Carmel-based Performance Services plans to build up to 30 wind turbines on about 2,500 acres in the northwest part of the county. The company is also pursuing a 60-turbine wind farm on land leased from the Purdue Research Foundation.
Speaking in support of the wind energy development, Romney resident Joe Rund compared the projects to the harvesting of a natural resource – wind – just as farming harvests sunlight for crops.
Ironically he opposed the wind energy ordinance for the opposite reason of many in the crowd: It won’t allow for as many turbines on his property as he’d like.
Along with financial benefits for participating residents, the county stands to gain from wind energy projects in Tippecanoe County. Economic development funds will come from the developments, though the commissioners said the amounts are still being negotiated.
Additionally, the county will net funds from permit fees filed by developers, though some of that money will have to be used for inspection work done by the county’s building department.