PENN FOREST TWP., Pa. - Penn Forest Township zoners heard the testimony of an acoustics expert Monday night who said that an application for 28 wind turbines in the township may not meet noise requirements in the township’s zoning ordinance.
Robert Rand of Rand Acoustics LLC testified in the latest of a series of zoning hearings in Penn Forest Township as the municipality’s zoning hearing board weighs whether to approve the application of Atlantic Wind LCC, which is proposing to install the turbines.
Atlantic Wind proposes locating these turbines on land along Hatchery Road, owned by the Bethlehem Water Authority, a plan that has garnered considerable contention from residents who oppose the turbines for various reasons, including the effect they could have on the local environment.
Rand was sworn in as an expert in acoustics and noise measurement on behalf of objectors to the project. Throughout the course of the hearing, Rand suggested that the projected noise levels of the proposed turbines may exceed the maximum level of 45 dBa, or decibels adjusted. He said the calculations used by Atlantic Wind’s acoustics expert, Mark Bastasch, relied on a metric called Leq, which is an average sound level, according to Rand.
Rand said that the sound level for the proposed turbines should be measured using the Lmax metric, which measures the the maximum level of a noise source, because of the language in the township’s zoning ordinance, which reads as follows:
The audible sound from the wind turbine(s) shall not exceed 45 A weighted decibels, as measured at the exterior of an occupied dwelling on another lot, unless a written waiver is provided by the owner of such building.
Rand said average noise levels don’t paint the whole picture when it comes to the effects of the wind turbines.
“Average noise levels mean some noise levels are going to be higher and some are lower,” Rand said. “By definition, when you have an average over a period of time, unless that source is absolutely ruler-flat, some noise levels are going to be higher.”
Rand said that in his experience, the noise generated by wind turbines are not flat in nature. He also put together a model with Lmax metrics that displays sound levels, with number acquired from Bastasch’s original prediction, that place the maximum sound levels above limits in the township’s zoning ordinance.
This was a point that attorney Jim Preston pressed Rand on. Preston represents the Bethlehem Water Authority, which owns the land the wind turbines are proposed for. He pointed out that Rand said an accurate Lmax number would require a physical operating structure to be collected, adding that Rand himself could not have come up with an accurate number, since the wind turbines don’t currently exist.
“So how did you get a measurement that can only be taken from an existing facility for a facility that doesn’t exist? That’s my question,” Preston asked.
Rand said his number was a “reasonable estimate.”
The zoning hearing board made no decision on the turbine application Monday evening and scheduled a continuation of the hearing for next week: Monday, July 23, at 6 p.m. at the Penn Forest Township Volunteer Fire Company #1.
Township drafts wind turbine ordinance
Penn Forest Township officials have put together a draft ordinance to monitor wind turbines in the township, but even if it is passed, the ordinance would not apply to any current applications, including Atlantic Wind’s proposal.
The ordinance aims to regulate future wind turbines that are proposed as a property’s principal use, setting regulations on height and setbacks, while also requiring analyses on the effects of the turbines on bats and birds, as well as the impact of shadow flickering on nearby residents.