Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Safe setbacks: How far should wind turbines be from homes?

Let's start with what one manufacturer considers to be safe for its workers. The safety regulations for the Vestas V90, with a 300-ft rotor span and a total height of 410 feet, tell operators and technicians to stay 1,300 feet from an operating turbine -- over 3 times its total height -- unless absolutely necessary.

That already is a much greater distance than many regulations currently require as a minimum distance between wind turbines and homes, and it is concerned only with safety, not with noise, shadow flicker, or visual intrusion.

In February 2008, a 10-year-old Vestas turbine with a total height of less than 200 feet broke apart in a storm. Large pieces of the blades flew as far as 500 meters (1,640 feet) -- more than 8 times its total height.

The Fuhrländer turbine planned for Barrington, R.I., is 328 feet tall with a rotor diameter of 77 meters, or just over 250 feet (sweeping more than an acre of vertical air space). According to one news report, the manufacturer recommends a setback of 1,500 feet -- over 4.5 times the total height. In Wisconsin, where towns can regulate utility zoning for health and safety concerns, ordinances generally specify a setback of one-half mile (2,640 ft) to residences and workplaces.

But that may just be enough to protect the turbines from each other, not to adequately protect the peace and health of neighbors. When part of an array, turbines should be at least 10 rotor diameters apart to avoid turbulence from each other. In the case of the proposed 77-meter rotor span in Barrington, that would be 770 meters, or 2,525 feet. For the Gamesa G87, that's 2,850 feet; for the Vestas V90, 2,950 feet -- well over half a mile.

Since the human ear (not to mention the sensory systems of other animals or the internal organs of bats, which, it is now emerging, are crushed by the air pressure) is more sensitive than a giant industrial machine, doubling that would be a reasonable precaution (at least for the human neighbors -- it still doesn't help wildlife).

Jane and Julian Davis, whose home is 930 m (3,050 ft) from the Deeping St. Nicholas wind energy facility in England, were forced by the noise to rent another home in which to sleep. In July 2008 they were granted a 14% council tax reduction in recognition of their loss. It appears in this case that the combination of several turbines creates a manifold greater disturbance.

Sound experts Rick James and George Kamperman recommend a minimum 1 km (3,280 ft) distance in rural areas. James himself suggests that 2 km is better between turbines and homes, and Kamperman proposes 2-3 km as a minimum. German consultant Retexo-RISP also has suggested that "buildings, particulary housing, should not be nearer than 2 km to the windfarm"; and that was written when turbines were half the size of today's models.

Both the French Academy of Medicine and the U.K. Noise Association recommend a minimum of one mile (or 1.5 km, just under a mile) between giant wind turbines and homes. Trempealeau County in Wisconsin implemented such a setback. National Wind Watch likewise advocates a minimum one-mile setback.

Dr. Michael Nissenbaum and colleagues surveyed residents near wind turbines in Maine and found significantly worse sleep and mental health among those living 1.4 km or closer than those living farther from the machines.

Dr. Nina Pierpont, the preeminent expert on "wind turbine syndrome", recommends 1.25 miles (2 km). That is the minimum the Davises insist on as safe as well. In France, Marjolaine Villey-Migraine concluded that the minimum should be 5 km (3 miles). In June 2010, Ontario's environment ministry proposed requirements that offshore wind turbines be at least 5 km from the shoreline.

To protect human health, these distances are simply crude ways to minimize noise disturbance, especially at night, when atmospheric conditions often make wind turbine noise worse and carry it farther even as there is a greater expectation of (and need for) quiet. The World Health Organization says that the noise level inside a bedroom at night should be no greater than 30 dB(A) or 50 dB(C) (the latter measure includes more of the low-frequency spectrum of noise, which is felt as much as, or even more than, heard). A court case in Great Britain resulted in the “Den Brook” amplitude modulation conditions, which define and limit pulsating noise, which is especially intrusive, as any change, outside the dwelling, of >3 dB in the LAeq,125ms (125-millisecond averaged sound level) in any 2-second period at least 5 times in any minute with LAeq,1min (1-minute averaged sound level) ≥28 dB and such excess occurring within at least 6 minutes in any hour.

Updates: 

Since 2008, Queensland, Australia, has limited night-time noise indoors to 30 dB(A) (1-hour average), with limits of 35 dB(A) no more than 10% of the time and 40 db(A) 1%. Respective daytime limits are 5 dB(A) above the night-time limits. They also specify that existing continuous 90% sound levels should not be increased and that variable noise averages should not increase existing sound levels more than 5 dB(A) in the same time period.

Scottish Planning Policy “recommends” a distance of 2 km between wind energy developments and the edge of cities, towns, and villages to reduce visual impact. Since August 2011, Victoria, Australia, has allowed wind turbines within 2 km of a home only with the homeowner's written consent. In April 2013, the Québec, Canada, government approved a 2-km setback from homes in the municipalities of Haut-Saint-Laurent, Montérégie. Citizens groups in Germany suggest a minimum distance of 10 times the total turbine height to residential areas (see this story). Since July 2013, the state of Saxony has required 1 km between wind turbines and residential areas.

In February 2014, Newport, North Carolina, established a 5,000-ft (1.5-km) setback from property lines, a 35-dB limit for noise at the property lines, and a total height limit of 275 feet. The latter two conditions were also established by Carteret County, North Carolina, in February 2014, as well as a 1-mile setback from property lines.

Also see:  “Wind turbine setback and noise regulations since 2010”

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, human rights, animal rights

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wind Turbines: Offensive industrialization of human space

By Brian L. Horejsi, behavioral scientist and citizen advocate for democratic process, Calgary, Alberta; Barrie K. Gilbert, wildlife Ecologist and conservation activist, Wolfe Island, Ontario; and George Wuerthner, ecologist and writer, Richmond, Vermont; 28 July 2008:

People are barking up the wrong tree by promoting, or succumbing to, wind turbine construction regardless of where it is proposed and how many there might be. Many North Americans are infected with tunnel vision and erroneously appear to believe that turbine generated energy is somehow linked to reversing the growth in and impact of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

There exists NO evidence anywhere that [wind] turbine energy is substituting for or displacing fossil fuel dependence, nor is there any evidence that it is in any material way slowing the rate of GHG emission growth. [Wind] turbine energy is a non-factor in the never ending growth agenda of the fossil fuel industry, and it is not a factor in the agenda of governments promoting growth in and dependence on oil and gas consumption. There can be no better example than North America of the failure of turbine energy to slow growth in anything.

People have been hoodwinked into promoting wind turbine energy as some sort of Nirvana all while human population growth and per capita energy consumption continue to spiral upward. Turbine energy generation is fueling growth in human population and energy consumption and growth in a false “economy”. It is NOT doing the opposite.

Matching the folly of the energy replacement misunderstanding is denial by governments and promoters of the ecological impacts and health effects of turbines; the ugly reality is that they are a serious addition to the industrialization of quiet rural landscapes that people have long valued for quality of life, retirement, and recreation.

The list of environmental costs imposed on wildlife and people are now being recognized; they are far from meaningless, but they have been trivialized by turbine promoters and politicians that have systematically tilted the deck sharply in the developers favor. Environmental costs have been systematically ignored by a political and regulatory system that has corrupted individual and societal freedom and environmental integrity by relegating these values to some distant offshoot of economic growth. These costs, and those who stand by them, are treated with contempt; how dare they influence the decision to grant some landowner a chance to make a buck by carving your backyard and your space into fragments with giant chopping machines?

Wind turbines are an assault on human well being and act to degrade the human “gestalt”. Promotion of wind turbine energy is a case of serious misjudgment by those who fraudulently use green wash to promote their commercial aspirations.

Buried deep within the human genome is an innate recognition and suspicion of monsters – large objects – looming on the horizon. Wind turbines are today's versions of a threatening monster, jammed down the throats of neighbors and localities. 30% of the human cortex occupies itself with processing visual information, far more than any other sense, and nothing delivers a more intrusive and intense visual picture than the tower and blades of wind turbines. Turbines erode freedom of the human mind hour after hour, night after day, virtually forever, like a cell phone ringing incessantly and yet no one is able to turn it off. To many people this intrusion into their physical and physiological space is an insidious form of torment. The mental effect is analogous to the physical effects of a heavy smoker sitting next to you essentially for life!

We do not subscribe to the managerial/market approach to democracy or conservation with its deeply entrenched bias against human values such as an unadulterated horizon. This largely corporate view denigrates the value of freedom of the human spirit – the very pedestal upon which human dignity, character and strength are built.

In an honest and fair regulatory and political environment, local citizens and communities would bury turbine projects long before they get to the serious implementation stage. Once again, however, citizens are being forced to try to employ the very tools that degrade our quality of life and humiliate us as mere pawns of some corporate created market economy. ...

The commercial private sector is forcing itself into your life, and that constitutes a taking of your rights, benefits and well being. We propose that each person impacted by a turbine receive, as a starting point for negotiations, $3000 annually, to be paid by the developer for the loss of private and citizen rights, a very large portion of which includes peace and satisfaction, a critical part of your state of mind. We all know that is a significant part of personal, social and democratic well being. The concept is simple; if the developer and some uncaring land owners want to destroy your rights and those of other citizens, inflicting on you suffering and mental distress, the good old “free” enterprise system developers and local governments love to hide behind, comes into play; they pay to destroy part of your life. There has to be pain and resistance in the system for those who knowingly exploit the public and individual vulnerability, a now institutionalized vulnerability which commercial and private sector interests worked hard to establish.

The recent proliferation of wind turbine farms is just one more case of the serious aggression and destruction that reflects the continuing expansion of an extremist private property and commercialism agenda. This socially, legally and politically defective agenda and process is being exploited by corporations, some local residents, and local governments. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not freedom and it is not democracy; it is vandalism and oppression in the name of commercialism. As citizens we have the right, and we say the obligation, and we must marshal the courage, to reject wind turbine invasions as a corruption of our well being that is cached “in our spirit rather than in our wallet”.

[Our thanks to National Wind Watch for bringing this essay to our attention]

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Pickens plans to pull one over u

Thomas Pickens has a plan to replace the electricity we currently generate from natural gas with wind-generated electricity, to free it up for fueling transport (via his Clean Energy Fuels Corporation). The fawning coverage of the "Pickensplan" and his own proposed giant wind energy facility in northern Texas (not on his own land, however -- "They're ugly", he says) has been pathetic, especially from environmentalists (read, Sierra Club) who should be a little more skeptical about someone who self-importantly boasts, "I know more about energy than anybody."

The following claim is made on the Pickensplan web site: "At 4,000 megawatts — the equivalent combined output of four large coal-fire plants — the production of the completed Pampa facility will double the wind energy output of the United States."

That's comparing Pampa's rated capacity (which would not be on line until some years in the future) to the actual output (about 25% of capacity) of existing wind plants at the end of 2007.

An accurate statement would begin: "Despite a rating of 4,000 megawatts, covering 400,000 acres, and costing taxpayers $6 billion -- not counting hundreds of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines and heavy-duty roads -- the completed Pampa facility will have an average rate of output of only 1,000 megawatts. And it will generate at or above that average rate only one-third of the time, answering to the wayward wind, not to the actual needs of the grid."

But the real flaw in the Pickensplan is the idea that wind would replace natural gas in the production of electricity. In fact, the addition of substantial wind energy plant would require the addition of a similar amount of natural gas plants, because those are the only ones that are flexible enough to start quickly and operate over a wide range of loads to balance the fluctuating and largely unpredictable infeed from wind turbines.

Of course, that would work out even better for Pickens' natural gas company.

[What would 20% of our electricity (the proportion currently generated from natural gas) from wind mean? Click here for earlier post about the Department of Energy/American Wind Energy Association paper saying it's "feasible".]

wind power, wind energy

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Turning wilderness over to development in Maine

Bob Weingarten and Nancy O’Toole of Friends of the Boundary Mountains write in the July 10 Daily Bulldog:

The Maine Legislature created the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) in 1971 to serve the people of Maine and act as the authority over 10.4 million acres of unorganized lands, and one of the largest contiguous undeveloped areas in the Northeast. Among LURC’s responsibilities are the promotion of orderly development, and the protection of natural and ecological values.

In 1974, to ensure the protection of fragile and irreplaceable soil and habitat, Maine’s mountainous areas above 2,700 feet were given zoning protection from ecological-damaging development by LURC. That protection stood the test of time until January 2008 when LURC reversed the protection of our mountains.

Now, before us we have the biggest industrial project being approved, by LURC, which will change the western Maine mountains forever. A project so huge it’s difficult to sum up the total environmental impact, but let us provide a brief overview.

LURC is about to give final approval to TransCanada’s Kibby Wind Power Project based on a final design plan that doesn’t have final surveys, core testing completed, or hydrology mapping finished. (Which means add at least 20 percent to the following figures). There will be 47 intermittent and 38 perennial streams impacted by bridgeways and culverts that will divert streams up to 225 feet. For road building and towers, a total of 423.6 acres will permanently be impacted. Another 310 acres will be cleared and changed from forest and wetland to right-of-ways for transmission lines. The estimate for total road length is 30.5 miles, with widths ranging from 25 to 35 feet, and for 21.75 miles a 150-foot wide “right of way” for the kV line. A 60-foot “right-of-way” for the 34.5 kV buried collector system that runs from turbine to turbine, and then moves to overhead poles moving down the slopes and ridges to the substation. There will be new buildings, temporary batch plant that will be producing 700 yds3 of concrete per turbine pad, rock crushers, and at least 20 acres will be filled by the unused rock and dirt from blasting and road construction.

The project will impact many species of Maine. The northern bog lemming is among Maine’s rarest mammals and listed as threatened. The Atlantic Salmon and the Canadian Lynx is listed as endangered and its habitat will be impacted by this development. Five state-listed plants species have been identified in the project through the wetlands that will be impacted by the transmission lines. The accumulation downstream due to unforeseeable erosion from all these disturbances will greatly impact the fish and natural vegetation forever. Over time the culverts will fill with sediment, silt fences washed out and the environmental damage will accelerate in magnitude and increase in intensity. This doesn’t even include the hundreds of migratory birds, bats and raptors that will perish each year as a result of the 400-foot high turbines. ...

The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development is promoting 2,000 MW by 2015 and 3,000 MW by 2020, by establishing an Expedited Review and Permitting Area in Maine, which includes at least one-third of LURC’s jurisdiction. In the unorganized areas a rezoning would not be required and the DEP will assume jurisdiction for permitting on any proposal that goes through an organized area; the expedited process should take only 185 days.

An Executive Order required LURC to draft a Commercial Industrial Development Subdistrict (D-CI) to streamline permitting and do away with rezoning hearings. In the draft there are two full pages of townships and plantations on the expedited wind energy development area. ...

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not So Fast With Wind Power

An editorial:

Climate change, dwindling resources, and the geopolitics and ecology of fossil fuels and nuclear power figure prominently in today's worries. As part of any solution, most people unhesitatingly include large-scale wind energy. Wind power companies promise to break our dependence on other fuels and to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Teaming up with the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S. Department of Energy has promoted providing 20 percent of our electricity from wind by the year 2030.

With handsome subsidies and regulatory support, the U.S. thus faces a push to erect hundreds of thousands of giant wind turbines in the coming years. Does wind energy live up to such enthusiasm? Does it reward such generosity? A look beyond the hype reveals that wind's actual record does not come close to its claims. In addition, big wind has its own substantial adverse impacts on the environment and people's lives.

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In Denmark, where wind turbines already produce electricity equal to 20 percent of what the country uses, no conventional power plant has been shut down as a result, and it is hard to find evidence that they are using other fuels any less. In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, natural gas use in Denmark increased more than wind as the latter's turbines went in, and coal has been on the rise in recent years.

Wind turbines produce only 15 to 30 percent of their capacity annually and reach that average rate only one-third of the time. They are essentially idle another third of the time. Because wind is so intermittent and variable, much of its theoretical benefit appears to be cancelled out because the rest of the grid still has to provide electricity as needed in addition to the extra burden of balancing the unpredictable wind-generated supply. Or the spurts of energy from wind are simply tolerated as slight rises in voltage and eventually dissipated over a large grid as heat. Wind is only a symbolic add-on that replaces nothing.

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The real results of giant wind turbine facilities have been the opening up of rural and wild places to industrial development and the destruction of communities powerless to stop them. Today's wind turbines are well over 400 feet high, with a rotor span of almost 100 yards, cutting a vertical air space of up to 2 acres. The blades are connected to a bus-sized housing (the "nacelle") for the gears and generator (along with hundreds of gallons of oil) at the top of the tower. The whole assembly weighs 250-350 tons, requiring wide straight heavy-duty roads to transport the parts and cranes for installation and continued maintenance. A large underground foundation, often requiring blasting of bedrock, of hundreds of tons of steel-reinforced concrete, most of which would be left after decommissioning, is necessary to hold it all up. Each tower requires acres of clearance and cannot be close to other turbines, to avoid turbulence. New high-voltage transmission lines and pylons are needed to handle the potential surges and to carry the promised power to distant population centers (or to let it dissipate as heat).

The destructive impact of such construction on, for example, a wild mountain top is obvious: erosion, alteration of wetlands and watersheds, and destruction of wild habitat and plant life.

Other negative impacts follow from this physical reality. At their tips, the rotor blades are slicing through the air at 150 to 200 mph. Substantial numbers of bats (mostly, it seems, by high air pressure rather than collision) and birds (eagles and other raptors being of particular concern) are killed. For two recent examples, at least 2,000 bats were killed by turbines on Backbone Mountain in West Virginia in just 2 months during their 2003 fall migration. And the 195-turbine facility on the Tug Hill plateau in Lewis County, N.Y., will kill at least 8,500-16,000 birds and bats annually, according to data from its first year of operation.

Other animals are adversely affected as well. The breeding and nesting of prairie birds are especially disturbed by disruption of their habitat. Construction on mountain ridges reduces important forest interior habitat far beyond the extent of the clearings themselves. In 2005, several abandoned and dead seal pups were found off Great Yarmouth, England -- investigating biologists concluded that noise from offshore wind turbines disrupted feeding and nurturing. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society recently warned of the threat to cetaceans of low-frequency noise from off-shore wind turbines. In many places, people notice a drastic reduction of wildlife after the turbines go in.

Human neighbors, too, are victimized by the noise of the giant machines. Developers commonly get neighbors to sign gag orders in return for a small "forbearance" payment. Leasing landowners are also required to keep quiet. Thus knowing the problems that will arise, the developers set things up to allow denial of them.

Yet everywhere that people live near industrial wind turbines, they are shocked at the noise. It is unnatural and rhythmic, intrusive and unpredictable. People say they can never get used to it. It's typically worse at night, when not only is the normal noise level much lower but sound also carries much farther. Stress and lack of sleep -- and often more serious health problems, such as migraines, dizziness, and disorientation -- are common. Researchers in Portugal have found that conditions for developing vibroacoustic disease exist in homes near wind turbines. A set of symptoms called "wind turbine syndrome" has been extensively documented by Dr. Nina Pierpont in the U.S. Airplane safety lights at night and strobing shadows when the sun is low add to the turbines' invasive presence.

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If there were clear benefits from industrial-scale wind energy, the extra burden on our already diminished landscape, on wildlife, and on people's right to enjoy their homes would have to be weighed. Careful siting and nuisance regulations would have to be established and enforced to minimize the impacts. We sorely need such guidelines.

But as Denmark and other countries have already shown us, benefits from wind on the grid remain elusive. There is no meaningful benefit to weigh against the substantial negative impacts on communities, individual lives, and the environment. The destructive boondoggle of industrial wind should be roundly rejected wherever its promoters try to gain a foothold.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism

Sunday, July 06, 2008

20% wind by 2030

The U.S. Department of Energy, in a recent report sponsored by the wind industry, says that it is possible to achieve 20% wind "penetration" by 2030.

Accepting the possibility as valid (which it isn't without massively increasing grid interconnection and excess non-wind capacity), what does that mean?

The Dept. of Energy estimates that electricity production will be 5,397 billion kilowatt-hours in 2030, or an average rate of 616,096 megawatts (MW). Twenty percent of that is 123,219 MW. With a capacity factor of 25% (the ratio of actual output to rated capacity), 492,877 MW of wind turbines would have to be installed.

There is currently about 20,000 MW of wind capacity installed in the U.S. (according to the American Wind Energy Association, 16,818 MW were installed by the end of 2007). So more than 470,000 MW more is needed, more than 21,000 MW a year, a rate of building more than four times that of 2007's record breaker.

Each megawatt of wind turbine capacity needs at least 50 acres around it. An installed capacity of 500,000 MW needs 25 million acres, or 39,000 square miles. With the space requirements, and because the machines are huge (now pushing 500 feet in total height), visually intrusive, and noisy, most of them would be erected in previously undeveloped rural and wild areas, along with heavy-duty roads, transformers, and new high-capacity transmission lines.

And after 2030: then what? Electricity demand will continue to grow. If it grows 2% per year, then 10,000 MW -- and more each year -- of new wind turbines would have to be erected every year after 2030 to keep their nominal share at 20%.

But here's the real futility: When the wind isn't blowing, we'll still need full-capacity backup generation -- the grid has to be planned as if the wind plant isn't even there, because quite often it won't be, especially at periods of peak demand. In other words, there won't be any less coal or nuclear, and probably a lot more natural gas (which is better suited to balancing the fluctuations of wind energy production).

The call for 20% wind by 2030 is for a colossal boondoggle that would drastically alter the landscape, adversely affect wildlife, and not significantly change anything for the better.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, ecoanarchism