The health and safety of those living in proximity to industrial wind turbines are at risk due to a lack of objective, practicable siting standards.
Given the lucrative and enabling energy policies now in place to promote renewable generation across the U.S., local communities are under significant pressure to develop land use regulations aimed at protecting their residents from poorly siting industrial wind plants. Inevitably, such efforts invite difficult technical questions regarding turbine noise, shadow-flicker, decommissioning and a host of others related to building and operating industrial power plants.
The controversy surrounding wind energy development complicates the siting issue making it difficult to know what or who to believe when it comes to standards. A review of existing wind ordinances adopted in other communities is helpful but standards that might work in one area are not necessarily right for another given population densities, terrain, and other environmental considerations.
Working with no standards
Rules and regulations guiding the siting of wind energy projects essentially do not exist as James Luce, chairman of the Washington State Energy Facility Siting Council, made clear in the Council's October 2011 order recommending conditional approval of the Whistling Ridge wind plant.
In the order, Luce wrote:
The Council is challenged by the fact that it has no rules for siting renewable resources. ...For guidance, we look to our previous decisions, organic statutes and regulations developed primarily for thermal projects. And we use our best judgment to "balance" competing considerations. ...Absent rules, the Council proceeds on a case-by case basis and our decisions inevitable leave room for questioning whether the correct result was reached.
A lack of guidelines does not mean a lack of evidence. But guaranteeing the evidence is taken seriously by review boards is another matter.
Noise models and non-standards
This is certainly the case regarding wind turbine noise. Despite extensive expert testimony that credibly demonstrates the flaws inherent in noise predicting models used by the wind industry, the methods are still utilized.
In two separate proceedings before the Vermont Public Service Board -- Deerfield Wind and Kingdom Community Wind -- Kenneth Kaliski of RSG, Inc. modeled turbine noise emissions at different points within several thousand feet of the proposed towers. Kaliski relied on the Cadna A software tool used by the wind industry, which is based on the ISO 9613-2 standard for sound prediction.
Kaliski knows the ISO 9613-2 standard was never validated for wind turbine noise but insisted its use was appropriate. He argued that by using another tool, the "CONCAWE algorithm," in conjunction with Cadna A he could more accurately predict turbine sound levels. He calibrated his 'modified' ISO method using sound data from a wind farm in Kansas but admitted on cross that he never calculated a "standard confidence interval" before applying his findings to projects in Vermont. He provided no data supporting how his modeled data in Kansas compared to actual sound data surveyed at the Kansas site, nor did he attempt to explain how the mountainous topography, different ground and atmospheric conditions, and foliage found in Vermont compared to that of Kansas and what adjustments he made (and potential errors introduced) to account for the differences.
In short, Kaliski used modeling software (Cadna A) outside its accepted parameters, applied a second tool previously tested at a site located on flat farm land, threw in undocumented adjustments for the Vermont setting and declared his noise predictions accurate for the Vermont sites because he said so -- with no way for any independent party to validate his work.
The flaws in Kaliski's work were obvious but ignored by the Vermont Public Service Board. Instead, the Board imposed a post-construction noise limit on the projects that was itself, non-standard. Neither wind project is in-service at this time but we have good reason to expect operating noise levels will prove problematic for nearby residents.
Public safety and non-standards
This same 'standard-less' approach appears to have guided the Ohio Power Siting Board when it approved the Buckeye Wind LLC application to construct a wind facility in Champaign County, Ohio. The Board's order was upheld in a 4-3 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court but the two dissenting opinions were appropriately critical.
On the question of public safety, Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton cited the risks of blade shear. Buckeye assured the Siting Board that a "shorn blade could fly only 500 feet", 41 feet less than the minimum setback from neighboring properties. But when the Board's staff asked Buckeye for supporting data, testimony revealed that Buckeye's prediction pertained to a different, smaller turbine, and that "no such calculation existed" for the proposed turbines.
Justice Lundberg Stratton wrote:
Nevertheless, despite lacking either evidence or sufficient competence in physics even to attempt to calculate the distance a blade could fly, the staff member responsible signed off on Buckeye's proposal. His portion of the investigatory report stated, 'Staff believes that the Applicant has adequately evaluated and described the potential impact from blade shear at the nearest property boundary.' ...even though this appeal represents the final review of the final order of the board, we have no evidence that the project is being built safely away from yards and homes, and we never will. Yet the majority affirms the order.
The Buckeye wind project is not built but the company's flawed testimony on blade shear has already been demonstrated in the field. On April 26, two blades on a Vestas V90 1.8 MW wind turbine sited at a different project in Ohio shattered under high wind conditions catapulting blade debris up to 1,300 feet from the turbine's foundation.
Back to top
Herkimer County, New York is the latest location to register wind turbine noise complaints. The source? Iberdrola's Hardscrabble wind facility (37 turbines) that went online earlier this year. Studies are underway to determine if the project is operating outside legal sound limits, but the larger question is 'Why?'. Why, with over 1,300 megawatts of wind installed in New York today and an extensive body of evidence showing turbine noise is causing deleterious impacts on people living near the towers, was Herkimer County fooled into thinking it would be spared?
The answer is simple: Herkimer County residents were lied to.
Yes, we could use softer words to explain the situation. But given what sound experts already know about turbine noise, the time for niceties has past.
Predicted turbine noise at Hardscrabble
Prior to erecting a wind facility, project owners usually engage acoustic engineers to prepare models that predict sound level increases a community can expect from an operating project at certain reference points. These engineers rely on the CADNA/A software tool for their models. CADNA/A is based on ISO 9613-2, the international standard developed for sound prediction.
The CADNA/A tool generates predicted sound levels at various distances from the turbines. Developers present the sound levels as contour lines overlaid around the turbine sites. Each contour shows a sound level in decibels with the lines closest to the turbines having higher decibel levels.
The sound predictions developed for Hardscrabble showed that during periods of low wind conditions, non-participating residents closest to the turbines could expect to experience noise increases of less than 6 dBA over the presumed existing level of 35 dBA. During high wind conditions, modeled data showed property owners would experience slightly higher levels but most increases would still be under 6 dBA.
Prior to construction, Iberdrola insisted the facility would meet the New York state noise guidelines for most situations and would be in full compliance with local regulations that limited noise to 50 dBA.
CADNA/A and the ISO 9613-2 standard
Acousticians hired by the wind industry insist the ISO standard is an appropriate method for modeling wind turbine sound provided the correct input parameters are used. But what they do not admit is that the ISO 9613-2 standard, on which CADNA/A is based, was never validated for wind turbine noise. In fact, the standard is mainly applicable to situations concerning road or rail traffic, industrial noise sources, construction activities, and many ground-based noise sources. It does not apply to sound from aircraft in flight, to blast waves from mining, military, or other similar operations. And it was not designed to predict turbine noise.
The ISO Standard limits use of its methods to noise sources that are close to the ground (approximately 30 meter difference between the source and receiver height) and within 1 kilometer of the receiving location. A wind turbine with a hub height of 80+ meters exceeds the ISO height limit by 50 meters. Meteorological conditions are also limited to wind speeds of approximately 1 meter/second and 5 meters/second when measured at a height of 3 meters to 11 meters above the ground.
Only when all of these constraints are met by the situation being modeled can the predicted noise levels be assumed to be accurate within a +/- 3 dB range.
The constraints placed on the ISO standard having to do with wind speed, direction and weather conditions indicate just how limited the models are for anything other than simple weather conditions -- NOT the types of conditions that wind turbines need to operate.
The way sound spreads outdoors can be affected by temperature differences in different layers of the wind that cause sound waves to bend up or down at the boundaries just like water bends light. If a noise source is above a boundary then sound that would have gone down to the ground surface might bend up and dissipate. If the noise source is below a boundary layer then sound that might have dissipated upwards is bent down and added to the sounds that would normally be directed downwards. The current science of meteorology does not have precise ways to know what is happening right near any particular turbine.
Heinrich A. Metzen of DataKustik GmbH, maker of CADNA/A confirmed this fact in an e-mail where he stated:
"long range propagation including atmospheric refraction is not part of the standards used for (normal, "standard") noise calculations. It is known that atmospheric refraction may cause sound to be refracted downwards again and contributing strongly to the level at long distances. The atmosphere in the standards existing is just homogeneous above height."
Since there are no accepted algorithms to predict these refractions, sound propagation models cannot evaluate conditions that have vertical or horizontal turbulence even though we know they can add significant sound at the receiving location when present. As a result, predicted sound levels are understated.
Countries in the European Union are developing their own models for predicting turbine noise propagation because of their concerns with limitations of the ISO standard. Unlike the ISO 9613-2 standard, these newer models have been validated for turbine noise by peer-reviewed independent studies.
Iberdrola knows better
The first post-construction sound study in Herkimer revealed noise levels reaching 60 to 65 decibels, nearly 20 decibels above what was predicted for homes in the area. Iberdrola's Paul Copleman told the press the excessive noise levels were largely due to the wind rustling leaves and cannot be "attributable to the wind farm."
Seriously? Any guesses on the number of complaints filed over noisy leaves before the turbines were sited?
Use of a model that understates real-world operational sound levels is very likely the root cause of the problem at the Hardscrabble facility.
Acoustic experts who work for the wind industry, including Iberdrola, are well aware of the limitations of the ISO modeling. They are well aware that the standard is intended for ground-based sound sources and has never been validated for predicting wind turbine noise. They also know that literature on turbine noise dating back nearly a decade has shown that these models underestimate wind turbine noise levels. But here in the U.S., wind industry acousticians still use the CADNA/A tool without qualification.
Herkimer County residents are now suffering the consequences. And as stated above, the explanation is simple. Herkimer County residents were lied to.
 The CADNA/A software tool is written and sold by DataKustik GmbH of Munich, Germany.
 The 6 dBA figure comes from New York's published guidance which states "In non-industrial settings the [Sound Pressure Level] should probably not exceed ambient noise by more than 6 dB(A) at the receptor. An increase of 6 dB(A) may cause complaints."
 Email from H. Metzen, DataKustik GmbH, manufacturer of CADNA/A software, Nov. 16, 2006.
Back to top
Wind energy is unreliable.
But there's one thing we can always count on -- AWEA tantrums, which are getting to be regular occurrences.
Last month we were treated to a week of whining by the American Wind Energy Association after the Obama Administration and GOP leaders released the terms for extending the Bush-era tax cuts. The outburst was triggered after learning the tax agreement negotiated with the White House omitted any reference to extending the Section 1603 tax grant program (ITC), a program introduced in 2009 under ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and due to sunset end of 2010. The costly stimulus program provides direct cash grants to wind developers in lieu of the production tax credit for up to 30% of their capital costs, no questions asked. Like a recording stuck on replay, AWEA's Denise Bode's shrill warnings about job loss and immediate harm to the industry repeated non-stop until lawmakers relented and sanctioned a 1-year extension.
Last week, AWEA was in a huff again. This time the target was the new governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.
For more than five years, communities throughout Wisconsin worked within State law to establish local regulations that would protect homeowners and families from improperly sited wind energy projects. Projects under 100 megawatts were subject to these local standards which stood as models for other communities worldwide.
The wind industry complained bitterly to then governor Jim Doyle and the State legislature about the new local regulations. With setbacks ranging from 1800 feet to 1 mile, the industry insisted the laws were nothing more than "de facto moratoria" and should be overturned.
In September 2009 the State complied. Senate Bill 185 was signed into law placing all wind energy oversight in the hands of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission ("PSC"). Last year, the Commission voted on siting rules recommended by the advisory Wind Siting Council. The PSC's new siting standards became law on January 1.
Thousands of man-hours invested by communities in research, public hearings, and expert testimony were erased and replaced with some of the weakest standards Windaction.org has reviewed, especially for a State with a long history of turbine complaints filed by its residents. The most egregious of the rules involved setback distances (1250 feet as measured from to the outside wall of a residence or community building), noise limits (50 dBA during daytime hours and 45 dBA during nighttime hours) and shadow flicker (30 hours per year).
Last week, Wisconsin's new governor, Scott Walker entered the debate and like clockwork, AWEA had a fit.
In his proposed regulatory bill, Walker included a provision that increased turbine setbacks to 1800 feet from the property line.
Within a day of his bill going public AWEA's temper tantrum was in full swing.
"New regulation effectively bans wind energy projects in Wisconsin."
"One of the most onerous regulations we have seen."
"A shock to those of us in the wind industry."
"Wisconsin does not want our business."
You get the picture.
And there's no question the pitch will rise and the rhetoric will become even more extreme in the days ahead. We've seen it before from AWEA -- wild and unsubstantiated claims played over and over until the government blinks. And since the group has had some success with tantrums it's no surprise it doesn't bother to change tactics.
But Ms. Bode may want to check her facts on wind regulations. Setbacks of 1,800 feet are hardly the largest in the United States or worldwide. If projects in Wisconsin are unable to meet this limited standard then it could be the population density in the State is too high for safe wind development. But expecting AWEA to respond in a realistic and professional manner is probably asking too much.
Governor Walker has taken an important first step towards recognizing that the residents of Wisconsin deserve consideration. In an e-mail statement to media outlets in Wisconsin, Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said the proposal is aimed at "addressing concerns on wind energy policy that impact homeowners" and that "the proposed legislation, if enacted, will protect private property owners' rights."
Perhaps AWEA's members should remove their wind hats for a moment and at least try to imagine what it means to live in the shadows of the massive towers they're erecting. They might see that eighteen-hundred feet is still much too close.
 Larger projects, those greater than 100 megawatts, fell under the jurisdiction of the State's Public Service Commission.
Back to top
Last November, the island community of Vinalhaven Maine celebrated the commissioning of the Fox Islands community wind energy facility, a 3-turbine project with an installed capacity of 4.5 megawatts. The $14.5 million project was overwhelmingly supported by residents on the island. But before the celebratory speeches concluded, those living within a mile of the facility made it clear the pulsating noise reverberating in- and outside their homes was unbearable.
A formal evaluation of noise levels was initiated and this week the Maine Department of Environmental Protection received a report from its third-party noise consultant, Warren Brown of EnRad. The conclusions and recommendations of Brown's e-mail to the Department are pasted below. (emphasis added) The full report and accompanying documents can be accessed here.
I find no 10 m meteorological, audible or L10-L90 basis for applying a wind speed/noise level adjustment to ML-C measurements or ML-A calculated sound levels.
I have attached measured sound levels at the Webster property (ML-C) and EnRad estimated sound levels at the property line of the Farnham property ML-A, which indicates that FIW exceeded the nighttime noise limit of 45 dBA for 7-10 minute intervals during the complaint period.
The July 17 & 18 complaint conditions were very similar with regards to surface wind speeds and WTG output or 80m wind speeds (May data) as FIWN complaints previously submitted for May 1, 4, 5, & 6 all of which reported sound levels between 46-48 dBA. Although these complaints were prior to the "FIW compliance protocol" in timing, nonetheless there exists a significant body of consistent meteorological and sound data indicating sound levels greater than applicable limits.
Substantial changes are recommended for FIW nighttime operations, limiting WTG sound levels at ML-A to 45 dBA.
Warren L. Brown
The families impacted by the noise issued this press release explaining their efforts in getting to this point.
Windaction.org is hopeful the State of Maine will act swiftly in requiring Vinalhaven's project operate within the limits of State law. Maine's nighttime noise limit for quiet zones is 45 dBA. However, the 45 dBA is still too high according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In its revised Night Noise Guidelines released last fall, the WHO stated:
"...adverse health effects are observed at the level above 40 dB Lnight,outside, such as self-reported sleep disturbance, environmental insomnia, and increased use of somnifacient drugs and sedatives. Therefore, 40 dB Lnight,outside is equivalent to the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) for night noise."
For communities facing proposed wind projects in their area, we recommend their residents and decision makers heed the solemn advice of Sally Wylie of Vinalhaven who wrote:
"The wind turbine noise issue on Vinalhaven is a cautionary tale for every community in Maine and beyond. Do your homework. Ask hard questions. Demand clear answers. There is no free energy. The price you will pay for mistakes will be very high; your quality of life, the enjoyment of your property as well as loss in property value, sleepless nights, and headaches are all a distinct possibility if you live within a mile of turbines. We have not been the ones to give wind power a bad name. If the turbines had been sited responsibly on Vinalhaven, you would have not heard a word from me."
Back to top
Last week, Windaction.org looked at some of the adverse effects of wind energy development on traditional farming in the State of Illinois. In this second essay we explore the relationship between wind developers and farmers and test the concept that wind "farming" is helping farmers stay in business.
It's important to know that Illinois' landowners and the farmers who work the land are not always the same. Illinois is second only to Connecticut for the highest number of absentee landowners (58.6%) representing 64.48% of the acres. While farmers own some land, most need to cash rent or share crop additional land to make their operations viable.
Absentee landownership in Illinois, in large part, is the reason for the prevalence of wind energy development in the state. Most properties leased for wind development are owned by out-of-area landowners who have become disconnected from the land.
A farmer in Illinois explained it to us this way: Imagine you are the child or grandchild of a deceased farmer. After college, you moved to the city to enjoy a prosperous career but still owned a large tract of family farm ground located hundreds, or perhaps thousands of miles from where you now live. Chances are you continued the relationship your father had with his share-cropping tenant or family of tenants but with years having passed and the tenant farmer retired, your attorney or farm manager now advises that you change to a high cash rental agreement.
What's the difference?
Share-crop tenant farmers seek out and enjoy longer term relationships with their landowners. In these arrangements, landowners share in the operating decisions of the farm and hold a vested interest in the long-term productivity of the land since their income is derived from a share of the farm's gross earnings. Any activity that would hinder the long-term productivity and environmental sustainability of the land could cause a decline in the resource's asset value.
Cash renters, on the other hand, offer fixed payments to the landowner for use of the land, buildings and other facilities. These arrangements are less risk for the landowner, the bookkeeping is much easier, and the only expenses incurred are limited to property tax and liability insurance. Occasionally the owner may need to improve the soil by adding lime but only if specified in the rental agreement. A good landlord would pay to keep the drainage system functioning but not always.
It's not unusual for cash renters to come from outside the area and to have limited experience with the soil types. They may be farming thousands of acres and barely know the condition of their crops until they return in late summer and fall for the harvest. Farmers tell Windaction.org that there's a striking visual difference between farms managed by local tenant farmers and those worked by cash renters.
Tenant farmers have no rights when a wind lease is negotiated. If they complain about having to farm around the turbines, damaged drainage tiles or low crop yields due to soil compaction they risk losing their farms altogether. Competition for rentable farmland is fierce, and absentee landowners may view their tenant farmers as more trouble than they're worth, so tenants learn to be silent.
While absentee landowners may view cash rents and wind leases as equal revenue opportunities, farming communities built around the productivity of the land are feeling the adverse effect of this shortsighted approach to farmland management. Farmers Supporting Independent Agriculture (FSIA) argues that productive farmland is a key natural resource in the State and any policy decisions that threaten its productivity also jeopardize Illinois' agriculture communities.
The idea that "wind farming" is helping farmers to keep and maintain their farms is not representative of what's happening in Illinois. Yes, some operators may have overextended their borrowing at local banks which helps explain why lenders are supportive of the wind projects. However, those who have leveraged their operations conservatively tell Windaction.org that they're not interested in the "wind fall". One Illinois farmer wrote us: "The lease payments are not sufficient compensation for the rights we are asked to forfeit."
Windaction.org wishes to thank the Illinois farmers and other agriculture professionals who took the time to contribute to this piece.
Back to top
Acciona Energy's Waubra wind farm, located in western Victoria, Australia is the largest operating wind facility in the southern hemisphere. The site's 128 turbines (192 megawatts installed) started generating electricity in Spring 2009 and were fully energized by that July.
Within weeks of the towers first being turned on, Noel Dean began suffering adverse health effects. Australian newspapers quoted Dean this way: "I was waking up two days in a row with headaches, I'd have to take Panadol but they'd be gone by dinner time. When the wind is blowing north I got a thumping headache, like someone belted me over the head with a plank of wood and I didn't know whether to go to the hospital or what to do. You couldn't really work." Other symptoms he and his wife experienced included general malaise, nausea, sleeplessness and general uneasiness.
By July, the Deans had packed up and left their farm.
Around the same time, an investigation of wind farm noise complaints was underway in New Zealand. Residents living near the towers in New Zealand were filing complaints of sleep disturbance, annoyance, anxiety and nausea. As more people in both Australia and New Zealand became comfortable in talking about their health concerns a picture began to emerge that researchers found unusual. There were compelling similarities between experiences in two totally different countries, totally different environments and totally different turbines.
Audible wind farm sound and consequential sleep disturbance, annoyance and anxiety responses were similar for people in both countries. These effects were also experienced even under situations of near inaudible wind turbine sound.
The concerns of the Deans and others living within 3500 meters of operational wind farms triggered more than twelve months of intensive study by a group of 4 qualified researchers.
The result is The Dean Report, a detailed peer-reviewed analysis of the sound levels near the Dean's properties and the potential adverse effects of wind farm activity on human health.
Dr. Robert Thorne PhD, who authored the report, based his findings and conclusions on extensive field work, personal investigations, case studies and the development of sound analysis methodologies. He told Windaction.org that "the Dean Report, in its various forms, has been placed in evidence subject to cross-examination before a Board of Inquiry and formal wind farm hearings for the purposes of peer-review and critique. A hypothesis as to cause and effect for adverse health effects from wind farm activity is presented."
In news reports today, wind farm operator, Acciona Energy, insisted "there is already enough existing credible evidence proving there are no health effects from wind farm noise."
We respectfully disagree. The Dean Report makes clear we are only just beginning to understand problem.
 Dr. Thorne is a principal of Noise Measurement Services Pty Ltd in Australia. He holds a PhD in Health Science from Massey University, New Zealand. His professional background is the measurement of low background sound levels and the assessment of noise as it affects people.
Windaction.org wishes to express its thanks to Dr. Thorne and Mr. Dean for sharing the Dean Report with us and permitting us to provide its content to our readers.
Back to top
Dr. Carl V. Phillips, an expert in epidemiology and related health sciences, submitted this important testimony to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in reference to the Commission's effort to establish siting standards for large-scale wind turbines.
His testimony is significant in light of the report released by the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations that asserted that "the number and uncontrolled nature of existing case reports of adverse health effects alleged to be associated with wind turbines are insufficient to advocate for funding further studies."
Following Dr. Phillips' detailed review of existing literature, he arrived at a very different conclusion:
There is substantial evidence to support the hypothesis that wind turbines have important health effects on local residents. If forced to draw a conclusion based on existing evidence alone, it would seem defensible to conclude that there is a problem. It would certainly make little sense to conclude that there is definitely no problem, and those who make this claim offer arguments that are fundamentally unscientific. But there is simply no reason to draw a conclusion based on existing evidence alone; it is quite possible to quickly gather much more useful information than we have.
I admit to being new to this controversy and my studies have been on the content and quality of the reported science, and so there may be something hidden or political that escapes me. I have witnessed other researchers naively wandering into fields I have studied for many years, and being tricked into believing the political propaganda rather than the science. Thus I am aware of the potential limitations of understanding when someone is new to a subject matter. But as someone who specializes in trying to sort out competing epidemiology-related policy claims, I find it difficult to see how the evidence could fail to be adequate to suggest that there is a serious problem worthy of further study. The only apparent scenario that would lead to a different conclusion would be if much of the reported evidence of health problems were basically manufactured (subjects or researchers were overtly lying, or subjects were so intent on being negative that talked themselves into having diseases). But since such a scenario could only be established with further research, so even such a story leaves it impossible to justify the call to avoid further research, other than for the most cynical of motives: trying to suppress unwanted discoveries.
Dr. Phillips' full written testimony can be accessed at this link. The information he provided orally to the Commission can be viewed here.
Back to top
The Northumberland County Council (UK) is preparing to grant planning permission for the development of a self-contained eco-holiday complex to be located in a rural region of the county. The high-profile park and equestrian center is expected to attract high-spending tourists, create numerous direct and indirect jobs, and provide a vital revenue stream for the area. The complex will be sited on sixteen acres of fields surrounding the original Waterfalls farmhouse with open countryside visible in all directions.
But not all parties support the development.
Earlier this year, Wind Prospect Developments formerly objected to the proposed eco-friendly holiday center. The energy company, which recently received approval to erect eighteen turbines at Green Rigg Fell, claimed the holiday center application failed to properly assess the impact of the tourist site on its proposed 36 megawatt wind farm. The nearest turbine will be located approximately 2500 feet (780 meters) from the existing farmhouse.
This map shows the area surrounding the Waterfalls farmhouse and the proximity of the turbines to the building and adjacent fields slated for development.
Last week, attorneys for Wind Prospect Developments filed a letter with the Northumberland County Council Planning Department. In it they state:
The [Waterfalls] applicant's noise figures are derived from Wind Prospect's own noise assessment of the Green Rigg turbines. As such the noise levels were assessed at Waterfalls Farm, which is significantly further away from the Green Rigg wind farm than the proposed development. As a result, the noise levels at the proposed development are likely to be higher than the predicted levels and will require a much larger attenuation than the proposed level.
The developer then makes the remarkable admission that an operating wind facility -- even if in compliance with existing noise standards -- is likely to trigger problems for people nearby, particularly those not restricted to a dwelling specially insulated from turbine noise.
"Noise from the permitted wind energy development will be very likely to provoke complaints, and this will place both the Environmental Health department and the wind farm operator in an impossible position: a complaint about noise could be found to be justified, and construed as a noise nuisance, even though the wind farm was operating lawfully within the constraints of its planned conditions."
They concede that visitors to the holiday center should be "reasonably expected to sit outside to enjoy the relative peace and quiet of the countryside" but any accommodation (i.e. mitigation) for turbine noise will have no effect on outdoor noise levels.
Turbine noise complaints are not new to Wind Prospect Developments. Wind Prospect is the same developer who erected the eight turbines (16 megawatts) at Deeping St Nicholas Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom. Turbines at this project are sited within 3200 feet of Jane and Julian Davis's farm. The Davis' abandoned their home due to turbine noise and recently filed a civil complaint with the United Kingdom judicial court.
 Editor's note: The proposed holiday center is built on the same parcels that comprise the Waterfalls farm ( see: property plans )
Back to top
They have names: Ann and Jason Wirtz, Gerry Meyer, Wendy and Perrin Todd, Barbara Ashbee-Lormand, Jane and Julian Davis, Rene Taylor, Carol Cowperthwaite, Phil Bloomstein, Sally and David Wylie, Cherly and Art Lindgren, Peggy Lowrey, Tom Shea, Gail Mair, Noel Dean, Jessica, Hal Graham, Tim Yancey, Daniel & Carolyn d'Entremont, Colette McLean, Charlie Porter, Todd Hutzell and hundreds more.
Many wish to remain anonymous; others have no idea how to get their stories heard. They live in different countries and different geographies including the United States, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand ... but all live directly in the shadows of an industrial wind energy facility.
Many supported the projects proposed in their communities and trusted their leaders when told they'd be part of the green movement sweeping the countryside with no harm to them. Most had no idea their lives would be changed for the worse after the towering generators moved in next door.
In 2005, the aggressive American Wind Energy Association published its Wind Power Myths vs. Facts fact sheet where it set the record straight on the impacts of wind.
1. Noise? quiet as a refrigerator.
2. Property values? no evidence of diminished value (in fact watch for your property value to increase).
3. Turbine collapse? Too rare to imagine.
4. Fire? see turbine collapse.
5. Blade throw? Get real.
6. Shadow flicker? Thirty-minutes a year. Deal.
7. Ice throw? Got it covered, the turbines shut down.
The list goes on covering effects on the natural environment, TV reception, tourism and viewsheds. And the industry's responses have not changed since 2005 despite the fact that more megawatts of wind are now installed within 1500-feet of residential dwellings than ever before and the number of people cited as being harmed by the turbines having rapidly increased in that time.
Last year, North American Windpower published a piece by Ben Kelahan titled "Prevailing against anti-wind sentiment" where Kelahan claims opposition groups "have borrowed the highest-priced tactics from corporate public relations and masterfully used the Web to circulate misinformation about the impacts of wind farms." He warns prospective developers that "all it takes is an emotional trigger on a critical local issue to start the flames of opposition" -- emotional triggers like health and safety.
At no point in AWEA's literature nor Kelahan's essay do the authors hint that those raising concerns may actually have a legitimate complaint.
Windaction.org recently learned of another family now living with the pain of wind turbines near their home. Their message, excerpted below, is simple, direct, and painfully familiar.
Our home in rural DeKalb County, IL is where we wanted to stay for good. We have put so much into our home to make it a place where we would love to live and raise our children, and unfortunately we are being forced to live differently. We have been bullied by a large industrial wind company (NextEra Energy, a subsidiary of Florida Power and Light (FPL)) and sold-out by the DeKalb County Board. FPL told residents that these wind turbines only "sound like a refrigerator." Well, we have found that this is not the case. Often times our yard sounds like an airport. We hear and feel the low frequency sound on our property as well as in our home. We are bothered by the noise, whistling, constant swirling movement, and shadow flicker. Complaining is not something that our family is known for doing and we teach our children to look for the positive aspects of life, but this has gone too far with the turbines. Someone needs to speak up. These industrial wind turbines should not be built close to homes. They should be at least a mile away to avoid these issues. We have 13 within a mile. The closest 2 are 1,400 feet away.
We encourage our readers to visit their blog and understand what this family is living with. The experience of many of those listed in our first paragraph above can also be found under Windaction.org stories.
None of these writings are the work of propagandists or pricy public relation tacticians. Rather, these are the honest voices of people damaged by the wind industry and who feel compelled to speak out. Their goal is modest: to find help for themselves, their families and neighbors and to save others from the horror they now live with.
Back to top
In August 2007, First Wind, LLC received approval from the Vermont Public Service Board to erect sixteen 2.5 megawatt wind turbines in Sheffield, Vermont. Residents of Sheffield, neighboring Sutton, and others in the region fought the project from the beginning. And when First Wind was issued a NPDES storm water permit in 2009 from the State, the permit was appealed . The appellants argued that First Wind failed to identify the full extent of the area of disturbance, impacts to streams and stream biota, and violated the VT Water Quality Standards.
In advance of the Environmental Court proceedings, First Wind approached the appellants and others who opposed the project seeking settlement discussions.
A draft agreement was prepared by Kurt Adams1, executive vice president at the company. It allowed for a $500,000 settlement to be paid over 20 years and allocated according to proximity to the project. The expectation was that those living closest to the project would receive more money; those further away would receive less.
Adams explained that the payment represented the "financial component" for sound easements only and that no consideration would be given for other negative effects caused by the turbines. In fact, a clause in the agreement specifically released the company from any and all actions, claims, or suits that might arise due to impacts of the project except those attributable to negligence of First Wind or its affiliates.
Adams also required that the stormwater appeal be dropped.
The parties overwhelming opted not to settle. Aside from problems with the agreement itself, the parties refused to be placed in the position of approving the destruction of Sheffield's mountain tops and felt that by agreeing to the terms they would pave the way for industrial wind development throughout Vermont. It was also important to them that they preserve future options. "None in the group could tolerate the thought of signing the non-disclosure, non-disparagement clause in the proposed agreement, nor did they believe First Wind would be around for 20 years to make good on the payments," one resident told Windaction.org.
Windaction.org has learned that upon hearing no deal, Kurt Adams upped the offer to $2 million. Still no agreement.
The trial proceeded as scheduled, and good that it did. Expert testimony revealed that the area of disturbance impacted by the project would be 40% greater than First Wind claimed. Is this the reason Adams tried to settle now?
 Recent press accounts show that Kurt Adams accepted his job with First Wind prior to leaving his position as Chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. First Wind is the largest developer of wind in the State of Maine with 124 megawatts installed and more proposed. A law suit filed by residents living near First Wind's Mars Hill wind energy facility is still pending.
Back to top
Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc.1 ('CHD') and Ontario have a problem, or at least they should.
Prior to CHD's 67.5 MW Melancthon I Wind Plant coming online in March 2006, concerns about turbine noise and property value impacts were raised by residents in Melancthon Township two-hours northwest of Toronto. CHD assured officials the concerns were unfounded but almost immediately after the project went online complaints were filed. Nonetheless, CHD was back before both Melancthon Township and neighboring Amaranth that same month with a proposal for its Melancthon II project to include an additional 132 MW, 88 turbines.
With complaints coming in on Melancthon I, CHD conceded in July 2006 that it would delay Phase II for up to 12 months to accommodate community requests for a higher-level scrutiny of the proposal. Toronto Sun's environmental reporter Tyler Hamilton bemoaned CHD's decision citing NIMBY and arguing: "Given the dramatic environmental benefits of wind when compared to fossil fuel or nuclear plants, it seems unreasonable to submit these projects to the same level of scrutiny".
The Melancthon II project was ultimately approved and online by November 2008, but the proceedings were contentious particularly on the subject of noise.
Paul Thompson's front porch is located just 360 meters from the Melancthon transformer substation that services both projects. Prior to the second transformer being constructed for Phase II, Thompson complained the constant hum emanating from the substation was audible both outside and inside his dwelling even with the windows closed. He made it clear at public hearings on Melancthon II that the noise was intolerable. With both transformers in place, Mr. Thompson told Windaction.org the noise has required he move out of his house at night and rent other accommodations.
CHD responded insisting that "...all noise level measurements taken near the transformer and on neighbouring properties have been compliant with noise guidelines issued by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment" and that if there are damages from the transformer, which it denied, those damages are the result of Thompson's 'abnormal sensitivity'.
But not everyone agreed with CHD.
Thompson approached the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation ('MPAC') to request a reduction in his property assessment. His home was assessed at $255,000, a figure he would not have disputed but for the substation noise. The MPAC acknowledged his property was negatively affected but made no adjustment to his home's value. In fact, MPAC testified that "the noise was loud enough to cause significant interference with a telephone conversation he [their representative] had with Mr. Thompson".
Thompson appealed to the Assessment Review Board ('ARB') and in September 2008 the ARB ordered his property valuation be reduced to $127,000, 50% below market value. The decision was not released until the end of 2009. In their deliberations, the ARB stated "There is evidence that noise contamination exists without any apparent cure."
Tyler Hamilton weighed in on the ARB decision, as well. This time he chastised Canadian Hydro Developers for not doing a better job siting the substation and warned all other developers they "can't afford to make mistakes". It's doubtful Hamilton will ever consider the concerns raised by residents as anything more than NIMBY cries. But one fact cannot be denied. When Ontario passed its Green Energy Act in 2009, the Provincial Government sided with Hamilton and others that higher-level scrutiny of wind siting was unreasonable -- the fallout from that Act has only just begun.
 Now TransAlta Corporation
Back to top
Last September, Concerned Citizens to Save Roxbury and others filed an appeal of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's (MEDEP) final order approving the Record Hill wind energy facility proposed for Roxbury, ME.
The appeal challenged the permit on a number of important issues including MEDEP's reliance, in part, on claims made by Maine's Center for Disease Control that there is "no evidence in peer-reviewed medical and public health literature of adverse health effects from noise generated from wind turbines other than occasional reports of annoyances."
The near identical conclusion was published in the industry-funded report released earlier this month which stated that while noise and vibrations emitted by industrial wind turbines may be annoying the towers posed no risk to human health and any allegations of adverse health effects were as yet unproven.
We were particularly struck by how both sources characterized turbine noise as merely 'annoying' prompting us to investigate further.
According to Dr. Michael Nissenbaum, the word 'annoyance' has been "misinterpreted by the wind industry and the Maine CEC to mean an inconsequential disturbance" thus failing to comprehend the health significance or severity of the 'annoyance' in medical terms.
"Substitute 'disturbance' for the word 'annoyance'", he said, "and things look different."
Dr. Alice Suter, the distinguished acoustician in the area of hearing conservation and noise control appears to support Dr. Nissenbaum's position. In her 1991 paper entitled "Noise and Its Effects" she wrote:
"Annoyance" has been the term used to describe the community's collective feelings about noise ever since the early noise surveys in the 1950s and 1960s, although some have suggested that this term tends to minimize the impact. While "aversion" or "distress" might be more appropriate descriptors, their use would make comparisons to previous research difficult. It should be clear, however, that annoyance can connote more than a slight irritation; it can mean a significant degradation in the quality of life. This represents a degradation of health in accordance with the World Health Organization's (WHO) definition of health, meaning total physical and mental well-being, as well as the absence of disease."
We asked acoustics expert George Kamperman, who has over 50 years of experience in the area of community noise, to help us understand what Dr. Suter meant by her statement that other descriptors "would make comparisons to previous research difficult."
He responded with this important historical perspective:
In the mid-50s (last century) BBN performed numerous community noise surveys. Residents were requested to answer a simple questionnaire to rate their outdoor environmental noise exposure on a scale from one to five. A rating of "1" meant the noise level was acceptable and a rating of "5" was recorded by persons very upset with the noise level outside their home prompting repeated calls to complain.
Two different noise acceptance rating scales evolved from the noise surveys. The initial presentations showed the percent "Highly Annoyed" (%HA) versus noise level (dBA). The field survey responses at "1" translated to 0% HA and responses of "5" became 100% HA. Over the next couple of decades the percent "HA" evolved into "Community Reaction" ranging from 'No Overt Reaction' to 'Vigorous Actions with Threat of Legal Action'.
Fifty years ago noise 'annoyance' seemed an appropriate term.
This was also a couple of decades before OSHA. We were not exposed to jet aircraft except in the military. We did have guns and drop forge hammers but very little ear protection was even available. Our primary concerns were adequate sound isolation in multifamily housing and commercial office buildings plus good speech communication in lecture halls.
Mr. Kamperman added: "Dr. Nissenbaum has suggested wind turbine noise generates sleep 'disturbance' and not simply sleep 'annoyance.' I find this to be a very accurate distinction. The CanWEA report has sidestepped the obvious difference between noise annoyance and the noise disturbance associated with wind turbine noise immission."
According to Mr. Kamperman, Dr. Suter, Dr. Nissenbaum, and the WHO, the word 'annoyance' is an important technical term whose meaning should not be taken lightly. It would seem both MECDC and the wind industry are missing this point entirely.
Nonetheless, using the nomenclature offered by Mr. Kamperman, most would agree the individuals cited in this story are '100% HA'.
 Mr. Kamperman is a Bd. Cert. Member Institute of Noise Control Engineers, Fellow Member Acoustical Society of America, and Member National Council of Acoustical Consultants.
Back to top
On November 17, the island community of Vinalhaven Maine celebrated the dedication of its 3-turbine community wind facility. The $14.5 million project, which was overwhelmingly supported by members of the local electric cooperative, was touted as a grand success. But before the celebratory speeches concluded and the glee of singing children faded, residents living within a half-mile of the facility made it clear the pulsating noise reverberating in- and outside their homes was unbearable.
George Baker CEO of Fox Island Wind LLC, the man credited as the 'creative force' behind the project, admitted in press accounts that "a small - but not insignificant - number of neighbors are concerned about the sound".
'Concerned' is an understatement after listening to some of these neighbors during a WERU 89.9 FM radio interview aired on December 19.
Vinalhaven resident Ethan Hall, who lives half a mile from the towers, described how there is no place on his property where he can get away from the noise, day or night. According to Mr. Hall, Baker reassured him last spring that at 1000-feet from the turbines the noise would be no louder than a "quiet conversation in a living room".
Is it possible Baker could be that ignorant of turbine noise?
Unlikely, considering that Fox Island Wind hired Resource Systems Engineering to evaluate the risks at the site -- the same firm that modeled the sound levels for the General Electric 1.5 megawatt turbines erected in Mars Hill, Maine and who conducted four seasons of post-construction sound surveys after the eighteen families near the project complained of oppressive turbine noise. The Fox Island wind farm uses the same GE turbines.
Fox Island Wind, in collaboration with GE and Maine's Department of Environmental Protection ("ME-DEP"), is now conducting surveys at the affected properties. While we hope Baker will make every effort to mitigate the problem, his only obligation is to determine whether the project is operating in compliance with its State permit. We know that after ME-DEP declared the Mars Hill facility in compliance, the agency dropped all involvement and the families had no choice but to seek relief in the courts.
In their radio interview, the Vinalhaven residents expressed their sincere wish that other communities would learn from their situation and work to avoid the same problem. Windaction.org has the same wish -- and their message is not a minute too soon.
Communities worldwide are working on relaxing their ordinances to allow for turbines, including a number of coastal communities in Maine's neighboring States of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It's time to listen to the voices of experience -- those not monetarily vested in the turbines -- before millions in public and private dollars are spent and the lives of many more people are permanently disrupted.
Back to top
Over the weekend, the UK papers broke the story that government officials suppressed the findings of a 2006 study on wind turbine noise and its effects on nearby residents.
The study, prepared by acoustics noise and vibration consultants Hayes McKenzie Partnership (HMP), was used to support the position that existing Government wind farm noise guidelines from 1996 were adequate and that turbine noise posed no health risks for neighboring dwellings. However, draft versions of the document obtained by Mr. Mike Hulme of the Den Brook Judicial Review Group revealed that the final published report removed earlier recommendations that stated:
1. night time wind turbine noise limits should be reduced from 43dB to 38dB, and,
2. in the event that the turbine noise has a discernible beating character, the limit should be further reduced to 33dB.
These newly revealed recommendations are consistent with the World Health Organization's ("WHO") guidelines for nighttime noise levels published in October which state:
"Based on the systematic review of evidence produced by epidemiological and experimental studies, the relationship between night noise exposure and health effects can be summarized here . Below the level of 30 dB, no effects on sleep are observed except for a slight increase in the frequency of body movements during sleep due to night noise. There is no sufficient evidence that the biological effects observed at the level below 40 dB are harmful to health. However, adverse health effects are observed at the level above 40 dB, such as self-reported sleep disturbance, environmental insomnia, and increased use of somnifacient drugs and sedatives. Therefore, 40 dB is equivalent to the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) for night noise."
We note that wind developers typically advocate for noise limits at project sites ranging between 45 and 55 dB as measured at night at the outside wall of nearby homes -- well above WHO guidelines.
Despite these recommendations, a new report funded by the Canadian (CANwea) and American Wind Energy Associations (AWEA) has concluded that noise and vibrations emitted by industrial wind turbines may be annoying but pose no risk to human health. It further states that "allegations of adverse health effects from wind turbines are as yet unproven." The expert panel that compiled the report also agreed that "the number and uncontrolled nature of existing case reports of adverse health effects alleged to be associated with wind turbines are insufficient to advocate for funding further studies."
It may be that adverse health effects due to proximity to wind turbines is not yet proven but to turn a blind eye to testimonials now pouring in from across the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Asia is unimaginable. We are reminded of the assertions made by the cigarette industry in the 1950's when reports surfaced that smoking could lead to lung cancer, including the quote used in the title of the article, "We believe the products we make are not injurious to health."
Interestingly, David M. Lipscomb PhD, one of the experts who contributed to the CANwea and AWEA report held a very different view of noise induced annoyance in June 2000 in his testimony before the State of Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council on a proposed electric generating facility.
When asked at what sound levels he would expect to see reactions of effects of noise he stated:
"Surprisingly small sound levels can cause certain reactions. For example, sleep studies have shown that subjects will shift two or three levels of sleep when the environmental sound is increased only 5 dB. Thus, a person in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM), the fifth stage of sleep, when the bedroom sound level is 35 dBA, will shift out of that essential level of sleep when the sound increases only to about 40 dBA. As a result, this negative health effect is known to lead to chronic fatigue and irritability."
The question of noise is front and center in the minds of most who are being asked to consider a wind plant in their community. And the wind industry's insistence on dismissing the issue is proving a losing strategy. This most recent report, coming on the heels of the WHO's guidelines and revelations of suppressed documents in the UK, is further proof that the industry prefers to manipulate public impression than act responsibly. As with the cigarette industry, the preponderance of evidence will become undeniable.
 dB refers to Lnight,outside, the night-time noise indicator (Lnight): the A-weighted long-term average sound level as defined in ISO 1996-2:1987, determined over all the night periods of a year.
Back to top
This week, USA Today explored the renewables debate as it applied to public lands. In the article, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the man responsible for protecting and providing access to our nation's natural and cultural heritage, declared his Department the "real department of energy". In fact, staff at the Interior Department, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are working at his direction to fast-track the release of millions of acres of public land for a massive deployment of renewable energy projects. Developers from around the world are lined up waiting to take advantage of the Obama administration's ‘hurry-up and get it done' renewables policy.
Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC argued in the Wall Street Journal this month that the push for more renewable-energy projects was necessary to curb the country's dependence on foreign oil and its greenhouse-gas emissions. Statements like Mr. Grumet's fly around with such regularity that, at this point, no one, including the Journal, bothers to question their accuracy.
In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that just 2% of the U.S. electric industry is powered by oil. The bulk of our electricity is sourced from coal, nuclear power, and natural gas. And anyone who caught a T. Boone Pickens' ad on television in the last year would know that eighty-percent of the natural gas consumed in the U.S is produced domestically with virtually all of the remaining 20% imported from Canada. As for carbon emissions, we encourage readers to reference energy expert Tom Hewson's report published this summer entitled "Calculating wind power's environmental benefits."
As the debate intensifies, Windaction.org is witnessing a growing backlash against alternative energy coming from most areas of the country. People who have raised concerns about property values, health effects, the adverse impacts to wildlife etc. are responding to years of being marginalized and dismissed as NIMBY ("not in my backyard"). The clash over whether to produce ‘nonpolluting domestic energy' or protect our natural environment is seen as a false choice borne out of a pie-in-the-sky belief that wind and solar can reliably power a substantial segment of this country.
The degradation these enormous sprawling industrial complexes bring to our cultural and visual resources is least understood. Our colleagues in Texas describe West Texas today as an alien landscape where one can drive for miles and miles and miles (and miles) and see nothing but wind turbines. The nighttime experience is even more surreal with the blinking red lights.
New Mexico artist and engineer Bill Dolson described his resistance to the appearance of "wind farms" as simply the fact that they are large, man-made structures imposed on an otherwise unmolested natural landscape.
His objection, he says, "is really more anthropological than aesthetic. Perhaps because of my training I have couched my objections in aesthetic terms, but really it is something else. What distresses me is a sense of the violation of the natural landscape by the works of man. It seems absolute to me, that no matter whether one likes or dislikes the visual appearance of wind facilities, that they are inherently and irrevocably artificial works of man and not elements of the natural landscape. Whether their presence hinders or improves the appearance of that landscape is really immaterial, because that landscape has forever been altered from its virgin condition. And that is my concern and my objection."
Washington's "hurry up and get it done" renewable energy policies coupled with the billions in taxpayer money available to anyone who shows up leaves no time for communities, businesses, or governments to consider the consequences of our actions. A policy director at a large U.S. utility told Windaction.org "we either get on the train or get run over by it." The renewables train has certainly left the station. The question is how many towers need to be erected, how many view sheds and cultural resources marred, how many dollars squandered and how many lives tainted by poor decisions before the train slows to a controllable rate.
Back to top
On March 27, 2009, residents of Mars Hill living within 3600 feet of First Wind's wind facility filed a civil complaint in Maine's Superior Court seeking relief from the "significant harm" caused by First Wind and others by the construction and operation of the site. Medical professionals recognize the health problems related to the turbines at Mars Hill are valid.
The past two and one-half years have been a trying and difficult time for the families of Mars Hill and their decision to file the suit was not an easy one. But it is also clear to Windaction.org that the State of Maine has washed its hands of Mars Hill, placing its pursuit of wind energy development ahead of the health, welfare, and safety of its residents. And the State's continuing down this path in Roxbury, Maine.
Here's the history: Shortly before the Mars Hill wind project went online in March 2007, problems of intrusive sound levels were reported despite repeated assurances by developer, First Wind, and town officials that there would be no noise. Andrew Fisk of the Bureau of Land & Water Quality at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (ME-DEP), the agency which approved the facility, responded by requiring First Wind to conduct sound surveys during four seasons of operation to determine whether the project was in compliance with its permit. The permit allows the project to produce nighttime noise levels of 50 decibels at sensitive receptors near the homes. Resource Systems Engineering (RSE), who designed and conducted the pre-construction noise modeling study for First Wind was also engaged to conduct the subsequent monitoring studies.
When RES delivered its first sound survey report in June 2007, the residents, and others, raised questions related to the protocols used. ME-DEP hired Warren Brown of EnRad Consulting to peer-review and validate the survey work. Mr. Brown identified problems with the methodology employed by RSE but determined the findings to date were still substantially in compliance with the permit conditions.
RSE implemented some adjustments and the last two surveys were conducted in winter and spring 2008. It was not until December 5, 2008 that Warren Brown issued his final report to the State; the families received their copy of Brown's report on December 17, 2008 one day prior to a face-to-face meeting scheduled between the Mars Hill residents, First Wind representatives and Andrew Fisk to discuss Brown's findings. Other attendees at the meeting included Richard James of E-Coustic Solutions , an acoustics engineer engaged by the families to help sort through the noise issues, and Lisa Linowes of Windaction.org.
Despite having only one day to review Brown's findings, the families were well aware that doubts about the project's compliance remained. Even in his vaguely worded report, it was apparent Brown still had concerns:
"It is the opinion of the reviewer that this 4th assessment of the project demonstrates compliance at nearly all bordering protected locations, except the protected location adjacent MP-8, as established in the Control of Noise rules and the variance given in Department Order L-21635-26-A-N/L-21365-TG-B-N, dated June 1, 2004. ...In instances where operation levels approach or exceed regulatory limits testing methodologies have not been sufficiently refined to adequately isolate operation sound levels."
And Rick James raised the point that RSE's sampling of turbine noise at 5 second intervals, outside the protocol defined under Maine State law which requires 1/8 of a second intervals, would mute, or even mask short duration repetitive sounds (thumping, whooshing, popping) generally accepted as a characteristic of all modern industrial wind turbines.
Despite these and other serious questions regarding the adequacy of the sound surveys, Fisk announced at the outset of the December 18 meeting that he had approved and mailed on that day, a letter to First Wind notifying the developer that the project was in compliance with its permit.
We disagree with Mr. Fisk.
And it's quite possible so does Mr. Brown. Meeting minutes taken during a March 5, 2009 conference call with Maine's Public Health Director Dr. Dora Mills, Andrew Fisk, Warren Brown and others reveals a very different situation. Here, Mr. Brown highlights concerns with existing studies and states "Wind turbine noise needs more investigation!" (exclamation included).
What's more intriguing from the meeting minutes are the statements by Dr. Mills who appears to be quarreling with Brown over whether turbine noise has any adverse health effects. While Mr. Brown is steadfast in raising his concerns, it is disconcerting to see how Dr. Mills carefully scripted her June 21 public comments after knowing what she was told just three months before.
Today we learned that the Record Hill wind energy facility in Roxbury Maine received conditional approval by the Maine DEP to proceed. Based on the brief glimpse afforded us by the meeting minutes, we can only guess what the internal debates were like within ME-DEP prior to ‘green-lighting' this project. What is obvious, however, is that Maine has picked its sides, and we can expect Roxbury to be a repeat of Mars Hill.
Back to top
The divide between wind energy proponents and those seeking to protect the health and welfare of individuals from the ill-effects of the towers is increasing.
News accounts are published almost daily from around the world highlighting the serious problems of turbine noise and related adverse health effects, yet wind proponents like Ryan Schryver of Clean Wisconsin insist such reports are the work of a small, but vocal minority of people hell-bent on keeping turbines out of their viewshed. In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio's Joy Cardin, Schryver dismissed health and safety concerns as exaggerated and argued that the focus on the issue was merely a tactic by wind power opponents in Wisconsin to encumber future proposals.
Perhaps Mr. Schryver is unaware that the health problems reported are not limited to Wisconsin. Or worse, he may believe there is a worldwide underground effort to coordinate the voices of those harmed by the turbines. We hate to disappoint, but there is no grand conspiracy in the works. The fact is there are legitimate problems with turbines sited too close to where people live. And the failure of governmental permitting agencies to acknowledge and address the issues will not silence those seeking to protect their families and communities.
Back to top
The public push for renewable energy solutions has quickly filtered into the business and personal market and more and more communities are finding themselves confronted with some of the same land use issues we see with utility-scale turbines. Establishing appropriate siting standards to address minimum lot size, maximum tower heights, property line setbacks, and noise levels are essential in ensuring adjacent properties are not harmed and the health and safety of the public are maintained.
In a few instances, communities made the conscious decision to move slowly, enacting moratoria until reasonable regulatory protections are developed. But this is not the norm. Rather, we are finding communities racing to adopt land use laws aimed at inviting the turbines but with little regard for the impacts. In an extreme example, the State of New Hampshire applied the heavy-hand of "governance" and imposed standards on its communities that prohibited "unreasonable limits" on turbine installations related to tower height, setbacks, and noise. In every case where regulations were pushed through to accommodate turbine use, including in New Hampshire, Windaction.org found little justification for the standards adopted.
This reckless approach to permitting small wind systems was certain to lead to a court case, and that's exactly what happened in Libertyville, Illinois.
The residents of Libertyville, IL have been struggling since April with the decision made by Libertyville officials to permit Aldridge Electric to erect a 50 kilowatt Entegrity wind turbine to help power the business. The 120-foot structure is located as close as 250-feet1 to a residential property. Despite assertions by Aldridge Electric and officials of Libertyville that the turbine would be quiet and blade/shadow flicker would not be a problem, in fact, the noise and other nuisances have proven unbearable to the neighbors.
In May, Chicago Attorney Richard Porter filed this motion on behalf of the residents seeking a temporary and permanent shut down of the turbine. He argues in the filing that procedural errors made by Libertyville officials in approving the special permit violated his clients' rights of due process and that the operating turbine has, and continues to endanger the health, safety, comfort and general welfare of the public.
Lake County Judge Mitchell Hoffmann, in his initial ruling last June, granted the injunction to turn the turbine off. Last week Judge Hoffmann issued his final compromise ruling where he confirmed the turbine was negatively affecting the neighbors and ordered that turbine operation be restricted to weekdays only during the hours of 9am to 3pm.
This action by the Illinois court should be applauded.
It remains to be seen whether the Illinois courts would consider similar action if the case involved an industrial wind facility and the opportunity for millions in county revenues at stake. We may find out soon enough.
A group of Illinois residents is suing Dekalb County over its recent decision to permit NextEra (formerly FPL Energy) to construct and operate a massive industrial-scale wind energy facility adjacent to their homes. Although the Dekalb County residents are not living with the impacts of the towers yet, they, like their counterparts in Libertyville, have fully documented procedural irregularities that paved the way for the project's approval.
1 A resident of Libertyville supplied Windaction.org with the corrected distance of 250-feet.
Back to top
Earlier this month, Dr. Michael A. Nissenbaum, a radiologist at the Northern Maine Medical Center, conducted interviews with fifteen people living near the industrial wind energy facility in Mars Hill, Maine. The purpose of the interviews was to investigate and record the health effects on those living within 3500-feet of industrial-scale turbines.
On March 25, 2009, Dr. Nissenbaum presented his preliminary findings before the Maine Medical Association. The data, which he characterized as alarming, suggest the residents are experiencing serious health problems related to shadow flicker and noise emissions from the turbines near their homes. The onset of symptoms including sleep disturbance, headaches, dizziness, weight changes, possible increases in blood pressure, as well as increased prescription medication use, all appear to coincide with the time when the turbines were first turned on (December 2006).
Every individual interviewed by Dr. Nissenbaum reported that his or her quality of life had been negatively affected by the turbines. The residents all expressed new or increased feelings of stress, anger, irritability, depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. Quotes cited in the presentation included "Nobody will help us", "No one cares", and "It's very hard watching my child suffer".
While some deficiencies exist in the study as Dr. Nissenbaum details in his presentation, aspects of his findings stand out as being immediately significant. In an interview with Windaction.org, Dr. Nissenbaum asserted "The results for sleep disturbance, headaches, anger, feelings of hopelessness, and incidence of depression symptomatology in this group are so high that despite the small number, and the lack of a control and tests of statistical significance, they jump out at physicians as obviously being significant. The statistical significance tests would just be confirmatory in this case - gilding the lily, if you will".
He added "I did not even get into the issue of the sixteen children who live there. The WHO (World Health Organization) has identified children, along with the elderly, as being particularly susceptible. This would require a fair amount of time, and special expertise, as children manifest in many ways besides, or instead of, simple sleep disturbance including disturbed learning, acting out, etc."
The Medical Staff of Northern Maine Medical Center released a statement in March 2009 calling for the careful siting of wind turbines. Dr. Nissenbaum included an excerpt from that statement in his presentation as follows: "The State of Maine has a vast, unpopulated hinterland. There is little need to site industrial wind developments in proximity to residential communities if there is a risk of negative health effects. Quality of life, quality of place, and a healthful environment should be the right of all residents of Maine, including those of the rural north".
On December 18, 2008, Andrew Fisk of Maine's Department of Environmental Protection informed the residents the State had sent a letter to First Wind stating the wind facility was “currently in compliance with the Control of Noise rules". The State of Maine has washed its hands of the problems of Mars Hill, leaving the families to suffer.
Back to top
Last week, First Wind (formerly UPC Wind) hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at its newest wind farm in New England, the Stetson wind energy facility located in Danforth, Maine. The event celebrated completion of the 38-turbine (57-megawatt) facility and was attended by 100 state and local officials including Maine's Governor Baldacci, construction company representatives, and local business owners.
The Governor addressed the crowd by praising his administration's proactive agenda on wind power development and the State's willingness "...to change for the future while safeguarding its natural resources."
Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner thanked First Wind for its investment and called the company "tremendous stewards of our environmental resources and, most importantly, the public trust."
The public fawning by Maine's officials is typical of what we've come to expect from Baldacci and other politicos in Maine and its neighboring States of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but in this case one needn't dig too deep to realize the "feel-good" messages belie the harsh realities surrounding Stetson.
The Stetson wind project involved two separate permit applications submitted to two different State regulatory bodies. The primary application covering the wind farm itself was submitted to and approved by Maine's Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC). The second, known as the "Line 56 Project", detailed construction of a 38-mile, 115 kV (Line 56) transmission line from Stetson Wind to the Keene Road substation in Chester, Maine and was approved by the State's Department of Environmental Protection (ME-DEP).
According to the "Line 56 Project" application, the 38-mile line involved impacts to 81.1 acres of wetlands including crossing the Penobscot River, the Mattagodus Stream Wildlife Management Area1, and the Mattawamkeag River twice! Windaction.org wonders whether Governor Baldacci was even aware of what his ME-DEP approved when he praised Maine for "safeguarding its natural resources". Impacts to the natural environment notwithstanding, First Wind described the aesthetic impact of building Line 56 as ‘Low' despite the fact that 173 dwellings were located within 300-feet of the line.
But the situation surrounding Stetson is more dire.
In June 2007, three months prior to First Wind submitting its application for permission to construct Line 56, the final draft copy of the Interconnection System Impact Study was released detailing the local- and grid- wide impacts to the New England power grid should Stetson feed 57 MW to the grid. The findings of the study were clear.
The System Impact Study asserted Stetson would have "no significant system impact to the stability, reliability, and operating characteristics" of the New England transmission system but that conclusion tells only part of the story. The study also showed that the existing transmission Line 64, into which Line 56 would feed, was at full capacity (151 MW) servicing Brookfield Power's 126 MW hydroelectric system and Indeck's 25 MW biomass power plant - both base load renewable generators. With the introduction of Stetson energy into Line 64, energy output from Brookfield and/or Indeck would have to be significantly curtailed resulting in a 0 MW net gain in renewable generation for the region. Put another way, Stetson Wind, an intermittent unpredictable generator, could displace existing reliable base load renewables.
In its March 13, 2008 letter to the ME-DEP, Brookfield Power New England LLC correctly stated through its attorney Matthew D. Manahan that "It is not in the public interest for new intermittent renewable generation to be constructed and to pass over Line 56 if it simply displaces existing renewable generation - that can provide capacity to Maine - on another transmission line, Line 64."
Regardless the environmental, visual and transmission impacts of Line 56, ME-DEP granted First Wind the permit.
It's not certain how much, if any of Stetson's 57 MWs of wind energy will ever reach the New England power grid, but according to a recent article in the Bangor Daily News, the ISO-New England and Maine state officials assured Brookfield and Indeck that the established power generators' needs would come first when the Stetson Mountain project goes active. Brookfield Renewable Power Inc.'s general manager told the paper "In layman's terms, they [First Wind] were going to have to take a back seat to our transmission needs." That may be true, but Windaction.org wonders whether First Wind's banker, HSH Nordbank, who wrote a letter endorsing First Wind and the Stetson proposal to ME DEP is aware of this fact. And did Governor Baldacci know this last week when he bowed before the massive towers.
Still, none of these issues have dampened First Wind's plans to build Stetson II, a 17-turbine 25.5 MW facility. According to published documents submitted to LURC in November 2008, Stetson II will connect to the same substation as Stetson I and has no need for additional transmission. (The same holds for First Wind's proposed 60 MW Rollins Wind project.)
First Wind's Stetson II (and Rollins Wind) will further exacerbate the congestion on Line 64, and its energy may never get to the New England grid.
But apparently, First Wind is confident it will still get Maine's permission to build Stetson II.
Windaction.org has learned First Wind has already taken delivery of Stetson II's seventeen turbines. These photos (photo1, photo2) dated December 20, 2008 show the turbine components on the Stetson Mountain leased property and at the old staging area for Stetson I.
With powerful wind proponents like Governor Baldacci and First Wind's Chief Development Officer Kurt Adams (former chairman of Maine's Public Utilities Commission, Maine's primary regulator of transmission infrastructure), First Wind has no reason to sweat the hard questions. But to be safe, Bill LD 199 was introduced in the legislature to squash all possible local obstacles. The summary of LD 199 states:
"The bill grants the state-level wind power siting authority, which is the Department of Environmental Protection or the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission depending on the location of a given wind power development, sole jurisdiction for approving the construction and initial operation of a wind energy development. Specifically, the bill prohibits any other state or local governmental entity from requiring any approval, permit or other condition for the construction or initial operation of a wind energy development that has been certified or permitted by the wind power siting authority."
Contrary to Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner praise of First Wind as "tremendous stewards ...of the public trust", in fact, First Wind, and those Maine officials entrusted to protect the environment and the health, safety, and welfare of the residents have shown nothing but contempt for the public trust.
Unfortunately, it will be Maine's citizens and the greater New England region who pay the price for Baldacci's ignorance, Kurt Adams audacity, and First Wind's arrogance.
1The Mattagodus wetland system includes one of New England’s most ecologically significant fens (groundwater-fed wetlands), at least ten endangered and threatened species including the Clayton’s copper butterfly (which only occurs at ten sites in the world), and a rare mayfly species whose only known occurrence is in Maine.
Back to top