State environmental regulators today proposed lowering the noise limit for wind turbines. After listening to recommendations from staff at the Department of Environmental Protection, the regulators suggested lowering the night-time noise limit for turbines from 45 to 42 decibels.
Susan Lessard, chair of the Maine Board of Environmental Protection, says the board will seek public comment for the next three weeks before making a final decision.
Speaking to MPBN by cellphone on her way back from the meeting, she said board members have spent a lot of time digesting a huge volume of information on the subject, “trying to discern from all of that what should be in the standards, the rules regarding this subject. Because the standard is not an absolute one–the standard for wind power noise, like any noise, is not the absence of anything, it’s an unreasonable impact standard.”
Activists who have expressed concern about turbine noise call the board’s proposal to lower night-time limits to 42 decibels “a step in the right direction,” albeit a small one.
The 42 is an improvement, it isn’t much of an improvement,” says attorney Rufus Brown, who represents Maine residents who are seeking to lower the noise levels emitted by the state’s wind turbines. “It should be 40, at least, and we’d like it to be 35, but at least it should 40–that’s our view.”
Existing rules set noise level limits at 55 decibels during the daytime, and 45, between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Activists say that while 45 decibels may be barely noticeable to someone living in an urban area, for those living in quieter, rural areas, this amounts to noise pollution.
“The levels of the state regulations, which were based on an urban problem, don’t have relevance in the very quiet rural areas of Maine, and are too high,” says Rob Rand, an acoustic noise expert who testified at a state hearing earlier this year in favor of reducing windpower noise limits.
Rand says research shows that in rural areas, industrial noise levels higher than 35 decibels affect the quality of life for local residents, and tend to generate negative reactions, such as the three lawsuits that have been filed by residents against several wind farms in Maine.
“People come to enjoy the quiet, they come out into the quiet areas up around Moosehead Lake and so-on–they don’t come here to listen to industrial noise, and people don’t live here to experience industrial noise. They live here by and large because it’s beautiful and quiet,” he says. “Noise worldwide impacts the most people of any form of pollution, bar none.”
Rand also warns that wind turbines emit low-frequency sound waves, called “infrasonic sound,” that can cause adverse physical reactions if they get above a certain level.
This was something that Rand says he and his research partner experienced first hand when they were measuring noise levels near a wind farm in Massachusetts four months ago. “What happened to us is that within about 10 to 20 minutes, somewhere in there, we started to feel poorly, and about 45 minutes in, we realized that we were debiltated, we were unable to perform our work. We felt miserable, I got dizzy and vertigo.”
Rand says it was several week before he stopped feeling nauseous. He also says the experience affected his vision, causing him to wear eye glasses ever since.
The state’s wind industry, meanwhile, is also concerned with some aspects of the state’s recommendation that night-time noise levels be reduced. Paul Williamson is director of the Maine Wind Industry Initiative.
“It does cause the industry to require probably some larger setbacks in some areas and that may cause concerns, but sound is a complicated issue,” Williamson says.
He says while lower noise levels may be needed in some areas, there are often other local factors that would make a 45 decibel night-time limit acceptable: factors such as the proximity of sound-absorbing geographical features like thick foliage, and the presence of ambient noise.
“One of the things that the opponents aren’t noticing when they talk about that is when the wind levels get high enough to cause the tubines to make noise levels that are above 35, usually the ambient noise of the wind in the trees exceeds that level itself, and so that needs to be taken into consideration,” Williamson says.
The public comment period on the BEP’s proposed rule amendment ends on August 29th. To view the proposal, click here.
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