February 18, 2006

Noise and vibration from wind farms

From Hawke's Bay (Australia) Today (Feb. 18):

They call it the train that never arrives. It's a low, rumbling sound that goes on and on . . . and on.

Sometimes, in a stiff easterly, the rumbling develops into a roar, like a stormy ocean.
But worst of all is the beat. An insidious, low-frequency vibration that's more a sensation than a noise. It defeats double-glazing and ear plugs, coming up through the ground, or through the floors of houses, and manifesting itself as a ripple up the spine, a thump on the chest or a throbbing in the ears. Those who feel it say it's particularly bad at night. It wakes them up or stops them getting to sleep.

Wendy Brock says staff from Meridian Energy promised her the wind turbines at Te Apiti, 2.5km from her Ashhurst home in southern Hawke's Bay, would be no noisier than waves swishing on a seashore.

"They stood in my lounge and told me that."

But during a strong easterly, the noise emitted by the triffid-like structures waving their arms along the skyline and down the slopes behind the Brock family's lifestyle block is more like a thundering, stormy ocean. Sometimes it goes on for days. And when the air is still, there's the beat - rhythmic and relentless, "like the boom box in a teenager's car".
"It comes up through the floor of our house. You can't stop it."

Mrs Brock says she can feel it rippling along her spine when she's lying in bed at night. Blocking her ears makes no difference.

"It irritates you, night after night. Imagine you've done your day's work, then you go to bed, and there's this bass beat coming up through the floor and you can't go to sleep. You can't even put headphones on and get away from it.

"My older son sometimes gets woken up by the noise. He gets up and prowls around the house."

She tells of other Ashhurst residents who "feel" the sound hitting their chests in the Ashhurst Domain 3km from the turbines. She says one woman is so distressed by the sensation she has put her home on the market.

Not everyone in the village hears the infrasound -- Mrs Brock reels off the names of residents wondering what the fuss is all about -- but says those who do feel the sound are distressed by it and have nowhere to turn for redress.

There's little point complaining to the Tararua District Council because all it does is record each complaint and forward it to Meridian, and nothing ever happens.

"What are they (the council) going to do to Meridian -- fine them, or shut down the turbines?" asks Mrs Brock.

Meridian is dismissive of complaints about noise from Te Apiti.

"Infrasound is just not an issue with modern turbines," insists spokesman Alan Seay.
"We take it very seriously. We have looked into it seriously, but the advice we are getting from eminently qualified people is that it is just not an issue."

Many people claiming to be putting forward scientific argument about noise from turbines "are not qualified in this area of expertise. I have a problem with some of their statements", Mr Seay said. ...

Meridian is currently appealing noise restrictions placed on its proposed 70-turbine wind farm at Makara, near Wellington, where some houses will be about 1km away, and downwind of, the turbines.

John Napier lives on the Woodville side of the Te Apiti turbines, about 2km from the nearest one.

When they first began operating, he couldn't believe the roaring noise they made.
"We can hear it in our bedroom at night." ...

He doesn't hear the infrasound beat so much. It's mainly "a roar like a train going through a tunnel or over a bridge, but it never stops".

He complained to Meridian about the noise, and the company put a noise meter on his property for a couple of weeks, but wouldn't tell him the results.

"Wind farm companies say noise from turbines is not an issue, but it is an issue all right. I would be very concerned if I lived in Karori (near Makara, in Wellington)," Mr Napier said.

Harvey Jones, who lives in a valley 3km from Te Apiti, says there is an easterly wind blowing across the wind farm about 10 percent of the time. The wind goes across the top of the hill, but the noise from the turbines rolls down the valley. It sounds like a train constantly passing by, and the stronger the wind, the louder the noise. When there's a westerly blowing, he can even hear the turbines in Woodville, 6-7km away. ...

Low-frequency sound - sometimes called infrasound - is controversial.

Dr Geoff Leventhall, a noise vibration and acoustics expert from the UK who looked into infrasound at the request of Genesis Power, says "I can state quite categorically that there is no significant infrasound from current designs of wind turbines". ...

Engineer Ken Mosley, of Silverstream, has an entirely different view.

The foundations of modern turbines create vibrations in the ground when they are moving, and also sometimes when they are not moving, Dr Mosley says.

"This vibration is transmitted seismically through the ground in a similar manner to earthquake shocks and roughly at similar frequencies.

"Generally, the vibrations cannot be heard until they cause the structure of a house to vibrate in sympathy, and then only inside the house. The effects inside appear as noise and vibrations in certain parts of a room. Outside these areas, little is heard or felt.

"However, the low frequency components of the noise and vibration can cause very unpleasant effects which eventually cause the health of people to deteriorate to an extent where living in the property can become impossible."

Dr Mosley says that wherever wind farms are built close to houses, people complain about noise and vibration.

He quotes a scientist in South West Wales, David Manley, who has been researching noise and vibration phenomena associated with turbines since 1994.

An acoustician and engineer, Dr Manley writes "it is found that people living within 8.2km of a wind farm cluster can be affected and if they are sensitive to low frequencies they may be disturbed".

Two GPs in the UK have researched the health effects of noise and vibrations from turbines. Amanda Harry documented complaints of headaches, migraines, nausea, dizziness, palpitations, sleep disturbance, stress, anxiety and depression. People suffered flow-on effects of being irritable, unable to concentrate during the day, losing the ability to cope.

Bridget Osborne, of Moel Maelogan, a village in North Wales, where three turbines were erected in 2002, is reported as saying "there is a public perception that wind power is 'green' and has no detrimental effect on the environment, but these turbines make low-frequency noises that can be as damaging as high-frequency noises.

"When wind farm developers do surveys to assess the suitability of a site they measure the audible range of noise but never the infrasound measurement -- the low-frequency noise that causes vibrations that you can feel through your feet and chest.

"This frequency resonates with the human body, their effect being dependent on body shape. There are those on whom there is virtually no effect, but others for whom it is incredibly disturbing."

Dr Mosley says wind-power generators in New Zealand are aware of such literature on turbine noise and infrasound from all around the world.