The wind farm proposed by EverPower in Allegany is like most wind farms. It will take up several square miles, require construction of a transmission line to the nearest utility substation (here, across Four Mile Creek to the Allegheny River in Olean) and thousands of truck trips through Olean and Allegany bringing gravel, concrete and turbine parts.
Like other wind farms, this one will kill several birds, especially raptors like the American bald eagle and the goshawk, and bats each year.
It will also make a rythmic, pulsating noise audible a mile away, with characteristic low-frequency thumps that carry even farther. The swish-swish and thump-thump sound results when the wind speed at the top of the blade’s rotation is different than the wind speed at the bottom of the blade’s sweep, more than 300 feet from top to bottom.In Allegany, the wind turbines EverPower proposes would be 505 feet high.
Most wind farms don’t generate complaints because most are located on vacant farmland. In the Midwest and Texas, for example, farmers own tens of thousands of contiguous acres, on which no one lives. In those regions it is not hard to find large areas where wind turbines can be erected more than a mile from the nearest resident.
In New York (and most Northeast and Great Lakes states) that’s not possible, and that’s why wind farms are different here. So wind farm developers in these parts of the country offer “good-neighbor” agreements to those within a mile of the project, offering annual payments in return for an agreement by the neighbor to accept the noise.
That’s what is happening in Allegany. In March, EverPower began sending proposed good-neighbor agreements to residents in the Chipmonk and Four Mile Road areas. The neighbors need to know what they might be signing.
The noise section of the agreement requires the property owner to accept any noise from the wind farm, even if (as a growing body of research predicts) some of them will find it impossible to sleep undisturbed at night. Chronic sleeplessness is known to lead to ill health.
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, increased sound levels of 6 decibels will cause community complaints, and an increase of 20 decibels is “intolerable.” Existing background nighttime sound levels in most rural areas is about 25 dB(A) – “A-weighted decibels” – and in Allegany have been measured as low as 18.3 dB(A).
Sound levels are commonly “A-weighted” to reflect the middle range of human hearing, but this does not relect more-intrusive, low-frequency and pulsating sounds. For example, Riverside, Calif., prohibits wind turbines within “3,000 feet or greater” of a residential area unless it is proven that no low-frequency noise will be generated. One study found chronic exposure to low-frequency sounds resulted in health effects, including “indisposition, decrease in performance, sleep disturbance, headache, ear pressure, crawl parasthesy (crawling, tingling or numbness sensation of the skin) or shortness of breath.” (See Minnesota Department of Health, “Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines,” http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/hazardous/topics/windturbines.pdf.)
EverPower cannot meet the Allegany noise limit, which prohibits an increase of 3 dB(A) over the existing background sound level at my house, about 3,500 feet away from the nearest proposed turbine site. I live in the valley along Chipmonk Road, where the ridgelines on both sides of the road would have about 10 turbines each. Right now on a quiet evening we can hear people talking well over a mile away up the valley, which funnels and magnifies sounds. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when ground-level wind speeds calm after sunset, wind speed at turbine height commonly increases.
EverPower’s good-neighbor agreement requires residents not only to accept the noise (for an annual payment of $1,500), they must also allow EverPower to record a noise easement on their land with the county clerk. This will be a burden on the land for all subsequent buyers. If a landowner finds the noise is intolerable, it will be difficult to sell and move.
Meanwhile, EverPower is telling the Allegany Town Planning Board and the Town Board they need to change the local law to allow the project to generate 40 dB(A) anywhere in town. That would increase sound levels 15-20 dB(A) in the area, particularly disturbing at night. Thankfully, the Town Board decided not to allow 40 dB(A).
Is EverPower a good neighbor, or should the company take its wind farm out West, where it can be erected in vast farm fields where lots of gas and oil is burned growing corn for ethanol that reduces our gas mileage – and nobody hears it.
(Ms. Mosman lives in Allegany.)