February 9, 2007

"Our purpose is to project potential noise into the community,"

UPC Group, backed by almost $1.8 billion in European financing, is nearing completion of a wind energy facility on Mars Hill, Maine. But the noise complaints have already begun, with just a few of the turbines operating. The Public Service Board hearings for UPC's project in Sheffield, Vt., is currently in progress. From the Barton (Vt.) Chronicle, February 1, 2007 (click the title of this post):
Until now the issue of noise, which some believe should be included in an aesthetic assessment [which has been a farce of denial, self-rationalization, andd dismissal of local sensibilities -- Ed.] has been relegated to studies from competing experts, who often challenge one another's methodology.

But last week, as complaints about turbine noise begins to surface from places like Mars Hill, Maine, where a UPC wind farm recently went on line, a debate has started to shape up over how much weight the board should give tests that measure noise.

On the stand testifying as a panel for UPC were sound experts Chris Menge and Chris Bejedke. They testified that tests they conducted in the area indicated that turbine noises would not have an adverse effect on the community.

"Our purpose is to project potential noise into the community," noted Mr. Menge.

Under the revised layout that cut the original project from 26 turbines to 16, Mr. Bejedke testified that although the new Clipper turbines are bigger, they will produce less noise on the order of one to two decibels. Testimony from the panel also indicated that noise levels would come well under existing Environmental Protection Agency standards. And at high wind speed, according to their testimony, the noise of wind through the trees would tend to mask the noise from the turbines.
[Three decibels is generally described as the smallest difference detectable by human ears in normal conditions, so "one to decibels" will hardly make a difference, especially since being taller the Clipper turbines will project their noise farther.]
Yet, under cross examination from Sutton's attorney, Mr. Hershenson, the panel acknowledged that noise complaints have surfaced in other host communities despite test results. Displaying an article written by Mr. Bejedke that appeared in a trade magazine, North American Wind Power, Mr. Hershenson cited passages showing that complaints over noise began airing as soon as the turbines came on line.

In Lincoln, Wisconsin, for example, the attorney noted that complaints surfaced even when the noise levels were in compliance with the permit. As a result, he added, a moratorium had been imposed throughout the county on wind farms.

Vermont has no standards for noise studies, but according to testimony, a Massachusetts public agency uses as a cap ten decibels over the measured background noise. [Emphasis added] No permit is awarded if the noise exceeds the cap.
[An increase of ten decibels is perceived to be a doubling of the noise level. It has been stated that community concerns generally begin around an increase of six decibels.]
Mr. Hershenson argued there are numerous locations in the Sheffield project where turbine noise would exceed the ten-decibel cap. That was an assertion that Mr. Bejedke rejected.

Argument Monday suggested there may be a bias at work when background samples are collected in rural areas that are quiet.

Most of the complaints at the Lincoln wind farm came during the night. According to expert testimony on the Sheffield project, none of the studies was conducted at night. Mr. Bejedke testified that most of the samplings were collected between 8:45 a.m. and 2 p.m.

However, Mr. Menge contended that if there were a bias, it would work against wind farms. Quiet background noises at night in the country, he said, "would require the wind turbines to be practically silent."
[Exactly! Not only is it quieter at night, sound typically carries farther. Wind turbines don't care if you're trying to sleep. In Oregon, the 10-dB limit was modified to use urban noise levels instead of those of the actual (i.e., rural) site -- this was done at the behest of wind developers, who, as Menge concedes, know that giant moving machines in a rural area will be distinctly, intrusively, and disruptively noisy. So, as with the "issue" of aesthetics, change the law when reality is in the way.]

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, wind turbines, Vermont