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Company rep: turbines causing problems in WV raised no issues in OK, TX

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines Comments Off on Company rep: turbines causing problems in WV raised no issues in OK, TX

Local news coverage of a recent meeting about the troublesome Pinnacle Wind Farm in West Virginia reveals some interesting exchanges between residents and Brad Christopher, site manager for the 23-turbine array, which is being run by Edison MIssion Group (EMG).

In particular, Christopher stressed that two other wind farms run by EMG, using the same model of turbines, have had no noise issues, but that these, in Oklahoma and Texas, are not built on mountain ridges.  Christopher stressed, “I don’t like it (the noise) any more than you do.”

EMG is planning to install mufflers on the turbine cooling fans, but the noise many neighbors are describing may not be related to the fans.  One neighbor, Richard Braithwaite, mentioned “a hammering sound, like thunder, when the wind is out of the west;” Christopher said that may well be blade noise, and “there is not too much to do about that.”

Another said that before construction began, an representative of the developer had “stood in my yard and guaranteed to me that there would be no noise.”

It appears that EMG and the wind farm developer, US Wind Force, may have been assuming that noise levels would closely mimic those of its wind farms in Texas and Oklahoma.  Unfortunately, ridge-top turbines are more apt to experience inflow turbulence, which increases noise output and can cause bursts of louder sound, much as described by Braithwaite. Dave Friend of US Wind Force said that a sound study predicted noise output “well below” what neighbors say they’re hearing. This may be a good example of the ways siting practices that work in ranch country may not be as appropriate in other regions; not only are community noise expectations different, but noise output and propagation can be very different in complex terrain than in flat ranch and farm country.

As covered earlier on AEInews, over twenty families living on the side of the mountain are being bothered by the noise; WV state noise regulations allow sound up to 55dB, and the site was designed to just meet that limit.  As neighbor Kenny Mason stressed, “We just didn’t know the windmills would be so noisy, and now we have to live with them.”

Oregon county tweaks 2-mile setback exemptions to address state objections

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Last June, Umatilla County adopted wind farm siting rules that required a 2-mile setback from homes and towns, but allowed homeowners to waive that requirement if they so desired.  This approach is similar to what AEI and others have been recommending, in that it protects rural landowners from unwanted sound while allowing construction closer to residents who don’t mind hearing turbines more often or more loudly. Note: Those encouraging such “larger setbacks with readily-obtained waivers” approach suggest various minimum setbacks, ranging from 3000 feet to 2 or 3 miles; 2km (1.25 miles) is a common suggestion.

The county rule was quickly challenged, and the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) recently sent some aspects of the rule back to the county for clarification. The LUBA didn’t object to the 2-mile setback, but said that the county cannot designate the power to waive the setback requirement to individuals or towns.  Over the past month, County Commissioners have been working to come up with new language that addresses LUBA’s concerns.   They considered options including imposing the 2-mile setback with no waivers, granting variances by request from landowners, and establishing specific standards for granting waivers.  In the end, they chose to have variance requests use the county’s existing variance process, by which individuals or towns can request variances to any county regulations; the county then considers the request and makes the decision about whether to grant the waiver.  This should meet the LUBA’s objections, while maintaining the original intent of the rules, which aimed to balance concerns about maintaining rural amenity with allowing wind farms to build near willing neighbors.  According to Umatilla County Planning Director Tamra Mabbott, “The county clearly adopted a policy in support of wind development.”

As reported in the East Oregonian:

Bend attorney Bruce White, representing a local resident who wants to lease land to a wind developer, disagreed and argued the comprehensive plan issues are not just a checklist to work through, but represent a fundamental bias against wind energy in the county.  “The problem with that is you can have clear and objective standards, but if they’re so onerous — and in this case we believe they are — then whether they’re clear and objective or not does not encourage wind energy development,”?he said. “What this does, basically, is tell wind energy developers to go somewhere else.”

Commissioner Dennis Doherty, after discussing policy issues with White for a half-hour, said he understood the attorney’s stance. But he said finding a balance between state demands for renewable energy and the quality of life for those living near wind turbines, motivated his decision to continue on the path the commissioners started on in June.


I’m a TV star — oops, you missed it!

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Last month I got a call from a local TV news reporter in DC who said she’d scoured the nation for someone to discuss wind farm noise issues who didn’t appear to have a dog in the fight, and all she came up with was lil’ ol’ me.  She’s covering the ongoing issues at a wind farm in West Virginia where most of the nearby neighbors are being startled at how intrusive the noise from a ridge-top wind farm has been since it began operating this fall.  We had a good phone talk, similar to many I have with reporters or county commissioners trying to make sense of the seemingly antithetical tales being told by folks on each side of the issue.  She then arranged for a local TV news cameraman to capture a ten-minute interview on film; it all went quite smoothly, especially considering that I’d never done anything like that before.

Well, the piece was eventually finished, and it offers a pretty good look at the situation.  About halfway through the three-minute piece, I show up to share my esteemed wisdom.  And half a sentence later (after a very high-tech display of AEI’s logo), I’m gone!  So don’t watch this to get a full picture of my perspective on the whole thing, but it’s worth a look as a decent quick picture of the types of controversies that are playing out in many communities:

View more videos at:

NSW to audit sound of wind farms as new guidelines are finalized

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New South Wales is initiating an independent audit of sound levels around the three existing large-scale wind farms in the state.  While the wind farms have previously been found to be complying with their noise limits, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI) has continued to receive neighbor complaints.  The new audit will commence within a month and is expected to last until August; it will engage an independent noise consultant to determine noise levels, including low-frequency noise, and will also assess other issues that are part of the wind farms’ consent conditions, including visual amenity and any changes in flora or fauna.

The planned audit triggered vehement protest from wind advocates.  NSW Greens Member of Parliament John Kay called the move part of “a holy war against renewable energy,” saying the government response to complaints is “victimising wind farms” that are crucial to Australia’s greenhouse gas reduction strategies. Another wind proponent, Luke Foley, said the government was “pandering to flat-earthers” who are opposed to wind energy and addressing climate change.  The owners of the three wind farms all officially welcomed the audit, though one noted, “Given that these wind farms have already passed the most stringent noise assessment, we can only assume that there must be some political motivation to undertake further testing.”

The audit takes place within a larger context that’s likely responsible for much of the gnashing of teeth: in December, the DPI released draft planning guidelines for new wind farms in NSW, which are currently open for public comment through mid-March, with the results of the audit likely to shape the final version.  The draft proposes that any new wind farm will need to gain the approval of all residents within 2km; this provision is based on the numbers of complaints that have arisen at distances where the noise is quiet enough to meet noise guidelines but still loud enough to spur widespread discontent in local communities.  Victoria passed a similar 2km veto-power law this year, though Minister of DPI Brad Hazzard notes that the NSW proposal is not as absolute, as wind farm proponents can to take their plans to a regional planning panel if community opposition persists. Hazzard also stressed that his department remains committed to meeting the Australian target of 20% renewable energy by 2020; working more closely with neighbors should not preclude successful project development.  There are 17 applications for new wind farms in the works in NSW.

Canadian sonar heard in US critical orca habitat

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HMCS OTTAWA 300x207A Canadian frigate used its mid-frequency active sonar this week during a training exercise in Haro Strait, north of San Juan Island and south of Vancouver Island.  The sonar emissions from the HMCS Ottowa (right) were picked up by whale researchers at Beam Institute, who raised concerns about sonar use in an area designated by the US as critical habitat for orcas. You can read a detailed report from Beam, including sonograms and MP3 files of the sounds heard, at their website. They note that “the peak power frequency is consistent with the 2-8 kHz frequency range specified for the SQS 510 sonar system, which is manufactured by General Dynamics Canada. Each ping had high intensity receive levels for ~0.5 second duration and pings were separated by about one minute.”

According to the Seattle Times:

The frigate was in Canadian waters at the time, said Lt. Diane Larose of the Canadian navy.  But the Ottawa’s sonar can travel 4,000 yards — more than two miles — and the sound was picked up by instruments in U.S. waters. Larose said the Canadians are well aware of sonar’s potential to hurt killer whales, which communicate by sound at similar frequencies. In 2008, the Canadian Navy adopted a policy requiring the use of radar, passive acoustic systems, underwater listening devices and night-vision goggles to make sure marine mammals aren’t present when sonar is deployed. “We take this very seriously,” Larose said. “It’s a very well-thought-out policy.”

Scott Veirs of Beam Research said that their monitoring network had tracked both transient orcas and endangered southern resident orcas in the area within 24 hours both before and after the incident. “This was a fairly high-risk event as far as we can tell…it’s concerning to me that the U.S. Navy has voluntarily refrained from unnecessary testing and training in the inland waters of Washington state, but the Canadian navy apparently still does,” he said. “The nightmare scenario is that you turn on sonar not knowing they are there and essentially deafen them either temporarily or permanently.”  Ed. note: Beyond this worst-case scenario, the use of this high-intensity sonar in waters close to designated critical habitat goes against the purposes of designating such protected zones; the US has banned all boat activity in some parts of the habitat, with the goal of assuring that the whales are not discouraged from using this region, one of their primary feeding grounds.

Interestingly, a commenter on the Beam Reach website notes that the Canadian Navy’s safety zone for their mid-frequency active sonar is 4000 yards, or over two miles.  Whether they can effectively detect whales at that distance, especially at night, is highly questionable. The Seattle Times clip above mistakenly presumes that the sounds travel only that far. In fact, this is just where they tend to drop below the sound levels considered likely to seriously disrupt behavior; mid-frequency active sonar can be heard for tens of miles, and in the complex underwater landscape of where this event took place, is likely to create dramatic peaks and drops in sound levels as the noise bounces from islands and the seabed, making it difficult for animals to know how to reduce their exposures.

Serendipitous study: whales relaxed in shipping lull after 9/11

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Ocean, Shipping Comments Off on Serendipitous study: whales relaxed in shipping lull after 9/11

Ship and whaleA fascinating new study provides the first direct evidence that shipping noise may increase stress levels in whales.  During the days after the World Trade Center attacks, global shipping was halted; a team of researchers studying right whales in the Bay of Fundy decided to go ahead and continue collecting fecal samples, and were struck by how peaceful it was: Rosalind Rolland recalls that day and those following were like a primal ocean scene, “There was nobody out there except for us and the whales.”

In 2009, Rolland realized that another researcher, Susan Parks, had recordings of noise levels for the days before and after 9/11, and so they joined forces to see whether the samples taken from whales on those days showed any changes in stress levels (fecal matter contains stress hormones that can be measured).  As it turns out, the days after 9/11 mark the only time during Rolland’s five-year study that stress hormone levels were markedly lower than the overall average, and corresponded to a dramatic reduction in noise, especially low-frequency noise.

““This is what many of us had been looking for,” said Christopher Clark, director of the bioacoustics research program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who was not a paper co-author. “Here is the first solid piece of evidence that says there’s a link between noise level and stress.” Clark noted stress has long been tied to longevity, reproduction, disease and other key health indicators in whales. Researchers have long speculated that noise could be a stressor for ocean creatures, but there is no practical way to test a correlation, since ocean noise is nearly omnipresent in most areas.

The fact that this is an opportunistic study does mean that it’s unlikely to be considered solid proof, or to influence ocean noise policy.   As Dr. Rolland noted, “These are after all 50 tonne animals so they don’t make terribly easy things to study…Past studies have shown they alter their vocalisation pattern in a noisy environment just like we would in a cocktail party, but this is the first time the stress has been documented physiologically.”

Dr. Ian Boyd of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, home to many top ocean noise researchers expressed uncertainty that such a short time period and small sample “shows what is claimed.”  Boyd is one of a group of researchers advocating for a Quiet Ocean Experiment, in which large portions of ocean would be quieted for brief periods, allowing for more comprehensive studies of animal behavior and physiology before, during, and after the experimental periods.  To implement this idea, global shipping routes would need to be shifted for the duration of the experiment.

Offshore wind farm pile driving raises hackles in UK

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PiledrivingConstruction of a wind farm a bit over a mile from shore near Redcar, on the northeast coast of England, has raised the hackles of local residents. At issue is the unexpectedly loud sound of pile-driving at the site; construction of the turbine foundations entails the construction of foundations that extend 32 m (about a hundred feet) into the seabed, according to this summary of its EIS.

This local news report quotes many local residents who were shocked at the intensity of the repeated pulses of noise from the pile-driving:

Newcomen ward councillor Chris Abbott said: “One resident described it as sounding like someone was standing in their back garden, banging a drum continuously.” Neil Short, a 40-year-old depot sales manager of Coatham Road, said: “The noise echoed through the house. I’d been at work since 4.30am so to come home to listen to that wasn’t good.”

The construction site is in about 20m/60ft of water; it’s not clear if the sound is propagating out of the water and through the air, or along the seafloor and out into the air as it reaches shore. Of course, these construction noises will be relatively temporary. A spokesman for EDF Energy Renewables said that they are monitoring sound levels and are within permitted limits; he also noted that “to help minimize potential longer term disruption,” they’ll be reducing the installation period, so may need to work at night, which is part of what triggered so many complaints.  (Ed. note: reducing the time needed to hire the pile-driving platform, pictured above, is undoubtedly also a budgetary decision by the company.)