I refer to the article in the John O’Groat Journal of February 17 which reported that MSP Rob Gibson has called for noise restrictions on wind turbines to be relaxed.
Mr Gibson’s comments highlight just how little he understands – or indeed seems to care – about the effect of wind turbines in rural communities, and just how the SNP policy to cover areas of the Highlands close to rural properties in wind turbines is affecting people’s lives and their health.
Mr Gibson claims that a “cackling hen” can breach the noise restriction rules for wind turbines in the Highlands. This is nonsense, and clearly shows a complete lack of understanding by Mr Gibson.
The Highland Council’s stance is that domestic wind turbines cannot exceed 40 decibels for 90 per cent of the wind speed time, as advised by RenewableUK, the trade body for the wind industry. This is in line with recommendations of the World Health Organisation and most European countries. Mr Gibson seems to think he knows better.
The “cackling hen” referred to by Mr Gibson may have breached the 40 decibel limit for a few seconds, but to breach it for 90 per cent of the time, the hen would have to be very upset indeed!
What Mr Gibson has failed to grasp is that the noise level is measured over a range of time, precisely in order to remove the odd blip of background noise.
Human exposure to constant noise from wind turbines is a real threat to health, and has only been accepted as such in the past few years. To relax noise guidelines at this point in time would be to take a step in the completely opposite direction from the majority of other countries which have recently amended their noise guidelines and
or guidelines on setback distances from turbines to homes. This has mainly been due to increasing turbine sizes.
For larger wind turbines, the UK still uses the ETSU-R-97 guidelines for noise, which was published in September 1996 when the largest wind turbine was around 800kW output, height approximately 50m to tower and 80m to blade tip.
Turbines now are significantly bigger – those being proposed at Limekiln adjacent to Reay are 3.6MW output, height 90m to tower and 124m to blade tip.
Now over 15 years old, the UK’s ETSU-R-97 guidelines are clearly out of date and should be revised in line with the WHO noise guidelines and with wind turbine noise guidelines issued by other countries, in particular those with more experience with wind turbines than the UK.
The Danes, who know a thing or two about wind turbines, passed new regulations in May 2011 which took account of the larger turbines sizes, and as a result reduced noise levels and increased setback distances to properties.
The Australians proposed a 2km buffer zone around new turbine developments in 2010, and the New South Wales government is currently auditing noise levels around three wind farms following complaints. New Zealand has had a new reduced noise standard since 2010.
The effects of constant noise from wind turbines upon human health is a very topical subject in Canada and across the United States, with many calls for increased setback distances to reduce noise to residential properties.
And yet Mr Gibson calls for a relaxation of the rules here in the Highlands.
One of the turbines at the Baillie wind farm will only be 400m from the nearest house, yet that was approved against the wishes of the local community and Highland councillors, and against the Government guideline of 2km.
Like his party, I suggest that Mr Gibson is more interested in meeting ridiculously ambitious targets than he is in his constituents and their health and quality of life.