The debate surrounding wind energy development has reached a near fevered pitch particularly in the last few months. Below are just four of many stories Windaction.org is closely tracking, which together suggest the debate is becoming even more divisive.
Noise: George Hessler of Hessler and Associates, and a handful of other sound experts, are regularly
relied upon by wind developers to prepare pre-construction noise modeling
studies intended to predict noise levels a wind facility will
produce if built.
Invariably, Hessler et.al. report the same conclusions -- that turbine noise (usually at 45-50 decibels at receptor sites) will be at, or lower than,
background noise levels in the community, and any noise produced by
the turbines will likely be masked by the sound of the wind itself.
With 1200 MW of wind now installed in New York, and a growing body of
noise complaints, New Yorkers know better than to
trust their quality of life to Hessler's promises.
The residents of
Cape Vincent, New York, hired Dr. Paul D. Schomer of Schomer &
Associates Inc., to evaluate Hessler's work and to conduct his own background noise survey . Dr.
Schomer is chairman of the International Organization for
Standardization working group on environmental noise, chairman of the
American National Standards committee on noise, and holds other
leadership roles in noise measurement. His findings identified "tricks" used by Hessler to arrive at pre-determined
conclusions. In Schomer's summary he explains how Hessler permitted
summertime insect noise to contaminate the sound surveys to show
background noise levels as high as 45-50 dB(A). In fact, Schomer's own survey
showed noise levels in Cape Vincent to have an overall level of 30 dB (arithmetic average using A-weighted L90 levels). This included day, evening and night sound levels.
Windaction.org encourages all communities now reviewing
pre-construction noise studies by Hessler and others to read Schomer's
report and understand the damaging implications of Hessler's findings.
Aesthetics: Several weeks ago, Windaction.org posted an opinion
piece by Stephen Bendit which appeared in the Denver Post. In his
article entitled "Thinking twice about wind energy," Mr. Bendit recalls
his experience hiking and camping at the Pawnee Buttes in Northeastern
Colorado. He describes the 100-mile escarpment running east and west
near the Wyoming and Nebraska borders as "an endless open landscape,
wildflowers galore, a profusion of birds and wildlife, and endless
stars at night with no light pollution."
When he arrived this year to hike and camp he found a very
different place. At the trailhead he found windmills "as
far as the eye could see."
Heading further east all the way to Sterling
Colorado he "could not find one bit of the plateau without windmills."
Seventy-five percent of the formation was "visually torn up" in
Bendit's words. With nothing left to see, he turned around and went home.
If there is any doubt of what Mr. Bendit saw, this picture should
prove the point. And now the land he once camped and hiked is forbidden
territory , literally.
Those of us content to pay our utility company a small sum for
the assurance that wind generated electrons are flowing on the grid
would benefit by reading about Mr. Bendit's experience and looking at
the pictures. Our open wilderness areas once believed sacred and safe from
industrialization are now open for sale to wind developers. Sadly, we suspect most Americans have no idea how threatened our natural heritage is, in the name of renewable energy.
Energy Policy: Windaction.org has been reporting on Ontario's "Green Energy Act", an all-inclusive environmental law intended to expand renewable energy development in the Province, and streamline the siting process. Premier Dalton McGuinty hailed the law and pronounced "NIMBY is dead". Province-wide siting standards now overrule local bylaws and the Ontario provincial government is making sure, once and for all, that local debates on wind energy are silenced.
This month the Ontario government promulgated proposed new rules for the siting of wind projects including minimum setback distances of 550 meters from dwellings, and requirements to monitor and address low-frequency noise and vibrations from the turbines.
Windaction.org believes these initial rules show a good first effort by the Ontario government to understand and respond to the widely reported health effects of turbines on those living near the facilities. Yet, in a surprising piece by The Toronto Star the editorial board called the proposed rules an about-face by McGuinty that will undermine wind energy development and embolden an "alarmist, anti-wind lobby". Windaction.org can't help but wonder what entity met with the paper's editors just prior to this rant being published. Perhaps it was IPC Energy who we are told is canvassing Ontarians asking that letters be written to say the proposed setbacks exceed what's necessary.
Health effects: Windaction.org has reported on Dr. Michael Nissenbaum's work involving residents living near the Mars Hill wind energy facility in Mars Hill, Maine. Since presenting his preliminary findings before the Maine Medical Association, Dr. Nissenbaum expanded his study to further validate his research. In May, he published an editorial calling on the State of Maine to halt further permitting of wind farms until studies of their harmful effects can be completed.
Rather than meeting with Dr. Nissenbaum to understand the methodology of his research, or better yet, meeting with those now harmed by the wind turbines in Mars Hill, the State's medical director, Dr. Dora Mills opted for politics as usual and posted her "findings" on the question of health effects in an editorial.
Dr. Mills argues that Maine's "highest-in-the-nation rates of asthma and cancer are thought to be at least partially due to pollution from our dependence on fossil fuel". Apparently, she's concluded that since the general suffering and poor health of Maine's residents is "at least partially due to" fossil fuels, the State should not investigate the health impacts of turbines near where people live. This is a surprising commentary given that Maine's peak summertime electricity consumption is one of the lowest nationwide at around 2200 MW and that renewables comprise a whopping 32% of the total installed electricity supply in the State. Even if fossil fuel were "at least partially" responsible for the ill health of Mainers, is it appropriate to erect turbines on every ridgeline before we fully understand the effects on people and property?
In her piece, Dr. Mills attributes great faith in Maine's noise laws to protect residents from excessive turbine noise. However, she fails to acknowledge that Maine's DEP permits the Mars Hill facility to exceed allowed noise levels. And, despite the problems of Mars Hill, the State changed nothing when it approved the Stetson and Rollins Mountain wind projects.
Unfortunately, Dr. Mills sounds more like a wind advocate than the objective medical professional hired to protect overall health of Maine's residents.
Individuals like Mr. Hessler, Premier McGuinty and Dr. Mills can be found worldwide; their actions and words deserve close scrutiny as the wind debate escalates.