May 13, 2012

Nimby: you lose.

Another friend sent us a couple of articles by industrial wind development consultant Tiff Thompson about the pesky problem of people resisting the insertion of giant industrial machines near their homes after finding that any benefit is far outweighed by many adverse effects. Below are some quotes from her articles, with comments in italics. Since she has named her consultancy "Nimby Consulting", she clearly assumes that there is no basis for their fears, only selfishness, and that she can therefore bully them into submission ...

"For those waging arguments out of genuine fear, the prospect of an industrial-scale wind turbine within visible distance from their homes appears more important than seemingly distant implications of climate change."

False choice. She thus removes one side of the equation. Opponents are not only concerned that industrial wind's impacts are greater than claimed; they are also motivated to fight more strongly for those concerns because industrial wind's benefits are much less than claimed.

"[S]etbacks over 1 mile will effectively kill any wind project, even in the most rural settings."

Can not even consider accommodating concerns. This statement about "setbacks over 1 mile" is actually disingenuous, since the industry fights every setback, no matter how modest, e.g., the effort in Wisconsin to increase a 1,250-ft minimum setback (less than one-fourth of a mile) to 1,800 ft (just over one-third of a mile).

"The wind farms typically referenced in oppositional arguments are, indeed, poorly sited and often the first the industry erected."

"The first" meaning: last month's. The industry has been saying this as long as it has existed, even as problems are documented with practically every facility built.

"Strategies such as ..., while successful at reducing noise, unfortunately also cause significant power loss."

Again, can not be seriously considered. Or as Ditlev Engel, CEO of Vestas, the world's biggest turbine manufacturer, wrote to Denmark's Environment Minister in complaint about regulations of low-frequency noise: "At this point you may have asked yourself why it is that Vestas does not just make changes to the wind turbines so that they produce less noise? The simple answer is that at the moment it is not technically possible to do so."

"In 1999, international noise standards were created by the World Health Organization’s Community Health Guidelines – set at roughly 40dB(A) averaged over night in one year. And in 1972, the US Environmental Protection Agency established its Office of Noise Abatement and Control, only to be later phased out in 1982, when individual states and local governments were given authority to create noise regulations. Today, in the USA, umbrella legislation – the EPA’s Noise Control Act of 1972 and Quiet Communities Act of 1978 – remains enforced, holding guidelines of permissible indoor and outdoor noise levels at 55dB(A) and 45dB(A) respectively."

Why is the EPA indoor limit (45 dB(A) — the writer apparently got the respective order backwards) 5 dB greater than the WHO outdoor limit? (And inside bedrooms at night, WHO guidelines specify a limit of 30 dB(A).) Note that a change of 5 dB is one that triggers widespread community complaints. Imagine the difference between a rural indoor nighttime level of 25 dB and the intrusion of 45 dB from neighboring wind turbines! And that's A-weighted (see below) averaged levels — add a significant low-frequency component (which is more prominent indoors) and a pulsing character, it's no wonder people get sick.

"In a recent Leicester, UK, article: ‘We were wrong on turbine noise, admit protesters’, a four-turbine project that was greeted by foreboding turned out to be not so threatening after it was erected and operational."

The one and only such report! The typical story is the opposite: Neighbors are reassured, even supportive, and then discover how wrong they were (e.g., Mars Hill and Vinalhaven, Maine; Falmouth and now Fairhaven, Massachusetts; Deeping St Nicholas, England; Waubra, Australia). Furthermore, not everyone is sensitive to noise to a health-threatening degree. This single light report can be weighed against the innumerable reports of problems around the world and increasing attention from the medical community (e.g., editorial in
the March 8, 2012, British Medical Journal [BMJ]
, special issue [August 2011] of Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society).

"[I]f people do not like wind energy, do not receive payments, have a turbine within their view, or dislike the developer, they are more likely to be annoyed. Hence, accurate noise assessment – from the beginning – is essential not only for a successfully sited project but also for community goodwill."

But remember, it's a (false) choice of turbine or climate change. And remember the impossibility of adequate distances from homes. And the economic cost of quieter and safer operation. And the laughability of noise standards (and the mystery of logarithmic decibels and frequency weighting). In other words, get the bullshit machine cranking early, and keep spreading it thick until the project is on. Be prepared to pay off a few neighbors. Then ... who cares? Once it's up, it will be nearly impossible to halt the multimillion-dollar investment. On to the next marks!

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