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Tubular wind turbine foundation much quieter to install offshore

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Ocean, Wind turbines Comments Off on Tubular wind turbine foundation much quieter to install offshore

As countries around the world gear up to expand offshore wind development, one of the major concerns of ocean biologists is the exceedingly loud noise of pile driving during construction. Studies suggest that some ocean species move at least 20km from turbine construction areas, and in areas with lots of planned construction (such as the North Sea), it’s possible that large swatches of shoreline could be impacted each summer for many years.

PREONmarine 2

A new mounting system from the French firm Vallourec uses a series of thin tubes to anchor three octagonal “feet”; these are inserted in to holes drilled only 20m into the seabed, rather than the 60m that piles are driven into the seabed, supporting the huge concrete foundations used in today’s standard construction technique.  Vallourec claims that construction noise is limited to about 75dB, as compared to pile-driving’s 200dB (though I suspect they’ve neglected to correct the 75dB for measurement in water; even the resulting 138dB would be a moderate noise by comparison to pile driving).  The initial press release and website does not give a ready sense of how the cost of the new “PREON Marine” system compares to traditional pile-driving and foundations.


Japan commits to floating offshore wind

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, News, Ocean, Ocean energy, Wind turbines Comments Off on Japan commits to floating offshore wind

In order to compensate for the abandonment of many nuclear plants, the Japanese government has set its sights on the abundant wind resources off its coast.  A 15MW pilot floating wind turbine project is under construction not far from Fukushima; if all goes well, the project could expand to as large as 1000MW.  Along with smaller pilot projects in Norway and Maine, the Japanese effort will be a key player in moving floating offshore wind forward.

Currently, capital expenditure is about $1.7 million a megawatt for an onshore wind project and $5.5 million a megawatt for offshore, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance; floating offshore designs are still under development, raising initial costs even higher.  Over time, though, the cost is expected to come down enough to support widespread deep water floating wind farms; a feed-in tariff program promoting clean energy allows projects to receive higher-than-market rates as the sector develops.  Floating turbine designs are larger than onshore turbines, and can take advantage of stronger, steadier winds; foundation systems for floating turbines are much smaller than bottom-mounted near-shore foundations, minimizing impacts on the seabed and reducing the noise impact of construction.

US east coast seismic survey EIS draft released

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, News, Ocean, Seismic Surveys 1 Comment »

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management (BOEM) has released the Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement that is the first step toward oil and gas development off the east coast.  The PEIS assesses the impacts of geological and geophysical (G&G) activities, primarily seismic surveys and test wells.

OCS seismicI’ve yet to dig into the PEIS to examine its alternatives or proposed mitigation measures, but a quick look at maps illustrating applications already received from oil and gas exploration companies affirms that the entire east coast could become an active seismic survey zone (the map at left is one of nine applications; there is much overlap among them).

UPDATE, 3/30/12: While those maps look impressive, both the International Association of Geophysical Contractors and the American Petroleum Institute have issued statements that surveys are unlikely to take place until the path opens for actual leases to be issued; the decision was already made to not issue any Atlantic leases during the current 2012-2017 planning period.  The applications for surveys currently on file were submitted during a period in 2008 when a long-standing Presidential order excluding oil and gas development on the Atlantic coast was lifted. “Without an Atlantic coast lease sale in their five-year plan, theadministration’s wishful thinking on seismic research has no ultimate purpose,” said Erik Milito, upstream director at API. Chip Gill, IAGC President, stressed that “contrary to the statements [by US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar and BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau], we do not expect seismic surveys to be conducted for years, and thus we don’t expect it to be available to help the federal government evaluate the resource base anytime soon.”

(and now back to our original post):
While very few animals are killed or injured by air gun sounds, behavior can be affected for tens of miles, and airgun sound can be heard (and so drown out some distant communication) for hundreds of miles.  I just returned from a BOEM workshop on the effects of ocean noise on fishes and invertebrates, where scientists shared research on reduced fish catch rates near surveys (the fish move away for a few days or weeks, then gradually return), and attempted to come up with a shared understanding of how to investigate whether ocean noise can affect fish communication, larval or egg development, or other aspects of ocean ecology (so far, there is little direct evidence of impacts, but some concern remains about masking of sounds fish use for many purposes, and the possible negative stress impacts of chronic noise exposure).

From looking at the maps of existing applications to do surveys (download pdf of rough maps of all 9 applications), it’s immediately apparent that BOEM could work to minimize duplicating of efforts by several companies.  It may be that there will be areas that are clearly inappropriate for oil and gas development (eg, key fishing grounds or other biologically important areas), or seasonal exclusions to reduce impacts on spawning or migration.

Of course, there’s also the bigger-picture climate change question of whether we really want to be continuing to pull more oil and gas from the ocean in the years after 2020 anyway; any new leases will be issued after 2017, with development following years later.  Meanwhile, BOEM is working hard to lay the groundwork for renewable energy development in offshore waters, targeting areas for wind, tidal, and wave energy systems.  For now, continuing to plan for oil and gas development is part of the Obama administration’s “all of the above” approach to meeting America’s future energy needs.

For more on the Draft PEIS, see BOEM’s PEIS website, which includes links to download the documents and submit comments, this press release from the Department of the Interior, and this blog post from NRDC (which stresses that quieter alternative technologies for oil and gas exploration are expected to be commercially available in 3-5 years).

AEI invited to shape renewables conference agenda, NOAA ocean noise mapping effort

News, Ocean, Science, Wind turbines Comments Off on AEI invited to shape renewables conference agenda, NOAA ocean noise mapping effort

My dance card is filling up for the spring!  AEI’s years of working hard to play a constructive role in public and professional dialogue about policy responses to noise-related environmental issues has been rewarded with two invitations that I’m very excited about.

The first was an invite to server on the Wind subcommittee of the program committee for this year’s Renewable Energy World North America conference.  The big event takes place in December, but this week the program committee began its work with a conference call, and during April we’ll be assessing presentation proposals and coming together to meet for two days in Orlando.  I’m honored and pleased that the good folks at Renewable Energy World, the premier trade magazine for all renewables, thought that my input would be valuable.

Chronic Noise NE US oceanI’ve also been invited to participate in a small, invitation-only symposium being convened by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management) to gather feedback on NOAA’s recent efforts to engage in ocean sound and cetacean distribution mapping, and to discuss ideas about how to use and develop these new tools to inform future ocean management decisions.  As a long-time advocate of more concerted mapping of current human sound in the oceans, I’m especially excited to participate in this event. We’ll gather in DC for two days in late May.  I got the good news on this invitation earlier this week while attending a BOEM workshop on the effects of noise on fish and invertebrates; I hope to post a brief summary of the proceedings later this week.


Wind farm health, historian featured in my recent Renewable Energy World pieces

Health, Human impacts, Wind turbines Comments Off on Wind farm health, historian featured in my recent Renewable Energy World pieces

This winter, I had a couple pieces published by Renewable Energy World that I neglected to link to here.  They’re both typical AEI looks at wind energy: seeking the sweet spot in which wind power generation can continue to become a bigger part of our energy mix, while avoiding negative impacts on nearby neighbors.

The first was a piece highlighting the recently published history of wind power, written by Robert Righter, which I also covered in this earlier post.  Righter, who wrote an earlier history of wind in the 90s, is a big booster of the industry, which makes his strong and repeated calls to avoid siting close to unwilling neighbors all the more striking, and powerful.  He doesn’t come out with a setback distance he’d recommend, but at one point seems to suggest it would likely be in the range of a mile or more, at least in some situations.  Read that piece on Renewable Energy World here.

And, a couple weeks later, they ran a longer-than-usual piece on health effects being reported near wind farms.  I’ll have a long post here in the next couple weeks that takes a close look at recent research in communities being especially affected by wind farms, most by clearly cautionary researchers.  Perhaps surprisingly to some wind activists, even most of these highlight the stress-related symptoms being reported, with very little emphasis on direct exposure impacts; they also tend to estimate that health effects are likely to be occurring in a relatively small minority of folks within a mile or so (the estimates range from 5-20%), often a subset of the much larger proportion reporting significant annoyance.

As always, these REW pieces generate a lot of engaged commenters; check out the comment streams for more from many perspectives.  This link shows all the articles I’ve published on REW.


Welch wind farm neighbors ask for night-time shut downs of turbines within 2km/1.25mi of homes

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines 1 Comment »

Neighbors of the Alltwalis Wind Farm farm near Carmarthen, Wales, met with the Welsh Government Petitions Committee as the next step in their quest to regain a measure of night-time quiet.  Several residents spoke of their difficulty in sleeping, and having to obtain prescriptions for sleeping pills. As one resident stressed, “We should not be expected to take drugs to get a decent night’s sleep.”  The residents who were quoted in this local press article live 800-900m (a bit over a half mile) from turbines.

About a thousand people have signed a petition asking for turbines within 2km (1.25 mi) of communities to be shut down from 10pm to 6am, and those 1.5km (4900 ft) from individual homes to be shut down after 6pm.  The current wind farm consists of ten turbines, two of which the company has reportedly shut down in response to the noise complaints; several more developments in the planning process could add as many as 80 more turbines to the region in the coming years.

Statkraft, which runs the wind farm, issued a statement affirming that sound reading taken in the community affirm that “the wind farm continues to legally operate within the conditions laid down by the local authority when planning consent was granted,” and that it has worked closely with neighbors, the local council, and the wind turbine supplier to address noise issues, including replacing a gearbox.  Statkraft said it would be providing information to the Petitions Committee in response to complaints made at the recent meeting.

This appears to be another example of a common occurrence: a wind farm operating within the noise limits set by local authorities, yet still disturbing a significant proportion of the nearby population; in this case, enough people to spur a thousand to sign a petition asking for night time shut downs (we can probably presume that not all of them are personally being bothered, with many signing in empathy for those who are).




Ocean noise assessment needs to look past dB, to context of exposure

Bioacoustics, Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Ocean, Science, Seismic Surveys, Shipping, Sonar Comments Off on Ocean noise assessment needs to look past dB, to context of exposure

A paper recently published in Conservation Biology suggests that current ocean noise regulations are likely not providing sufficient protections against impacts on marine life.  The authors note that current regulations are based on preventing direct physical injury from very close exposure to sound, while considering behavioral impacts to decrease consistently with greater distance, or the “zones of influence” approach to noise impact assessment.  However, some key impacts, such as interruptions in feeding or temporary abandonment of important habitat, are not accounted for.

Rather than fully summarizing the paper here, I’ll turn you over once again to Caitlin Kight of Anthropysis, who has recently been providing excellent coverage of anthropogenic noise issues as part of her larger focus on human impacts in the natural world.  Please see her full post to get the whole story; here’s a teaser:

In a previous study on behavioral responses of marine animals to noise, one of the authors of the current paper found that the “zones-of-influence approach did not reliably predict animal responses.” Furthermore, we know from terrestrial studies that a variety of additional factors–an animal’s past experience and conditioning, current behavioral state, acoustic environment, and type of exposure, to name a few–all affect the extent to which it will be impacted by noise pollution.

…(Studies in terrestrial and ocean environments have shown that) noise can have more subtle, but equally important, effects on wildlife. For instance, abundance and diversity may shift as animals flee from, or learn to avoid, particularly noisy areas; individuals may alter their behaviors in counterproductive or even dangerous ways; and noise may make important acoustic signals difficult to hear, even in the absence of actual deafness. In short, the researchers write, the current marine noise concept “ignores a diverse suite of environmental, biological, and operation factors” that can impact both perception of, and response to, anthropogenic noise. Thus, they argue, it is necessary to overhaul the system and “[incorporate] context into behavioral-response assessment.”

Ellison, W.T., Southall, B.L., Clark, C.W., and Frankel, A.S. 2012. A new context-based approach to assess marine mammal behavioral responses to anthropogenic sounds. Conservation Biology, online advance publication.

5-yr wind farm health study begins in Ontario

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Researchers from the University of Waterloo are planning to begin canvassing several Ontario counties this spring, marking the beginning of a multi-year effort to assess health-related changes in the vicinity of wind farms.  The research program in Renewable Energy Technologies and Health will include a wide array of scientific, technological, and health-related topics surrounding wind, solar, hydro, and bio-energy. The health-related surveys will be overseen by epidemiologist Philip Bigelow, who has spearheaded similar projects assessing appropriate noise thresholds for other common community noise sources.

Bigelow“This one is actually a little different,” says Bigelow, “because you have this continuous noise and you have the wind changing, of course, but you have this continuous thumping and swishing, and that’s really irritating to people.”  Bigelow notes that, “when you average it all out, wind turbines are going to be worse than traffic noise for annoyance, and that’s already been well established because of the character of it.”

To balance the study, a group of people who don’t live anywhere near turbines will be included. Bigelow said the team ideally hopes to study people in areas where turbines are planned, then follow up with them after the turbines are up and running. “Those people we really want to follow up with.”

The study will assess low frequency and audible noises as well as vibration; field measurements of turbine noise will take place, with an extensive GPS mapping component, as well. After an initial round of surveys, Phase Two of the research will involve bringing in a registered nurse and physician to head a field study.  “They will actually go talk to residents and administer a symptom and physical impact checklist,” said Bigelow.  “They will then do an assessment and collect some biological materials like saliva to look for biological stress,” including sleep studies that will measure both awakening and non-waking arousals.  Phase Two will involve a smaller sampling of residents identified during the Phase One surveys.

The eventual value of this study will depend on how successful researchers are at achieving a representative sample of local residents.  This will require both researchers and citizens to come at it with as open a mind as possible.  Bigelow’s introductory comments to local newspapers, as quoted above (see the two links in the first sentence for much more), indicate an good understanding of the situation, including the roles of annoyance, stress, and sleep disruption; one comment mentioned in passing needs clarification, though.  The Owen Sun-Times noted that he said he wanted to find participants who don’t have an agenda; while I can understand this concern, due to the extreme polarization triggered by the issue across rural Ontario, I would hope and expect that the study would involve a truly random sample, and not exclude people who are upset because of symptoms that may have cropped up for them.  Equally troubling, at least one other health survey in Ontario was met with widespread distrust among those with health concerns, leading some to urge residents to not participate.  If either the researchers or anti-wind activists limit participation by the significant proportion of the population that has previously been engaged in this issue, the integrity of the survey’s results would likely be affected.


NYC residents join “sense of place” chorus of resistance to wind turbines

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As regular reader will know, I tend to have a lot of empathy for quality of life and sense of place concerns raised in rural communities considering wind farm development, especially as related to even moderate levels of new audible noise in tranquil rural landscapes.  But I was quite shocked to read today that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ambitious energy plans are also causing pushback on these same merits.

The prospect of (tiny) 55-foot turbines on rooftops of buildings ten stories or taller caused one local preservationist to pipe up, “What about the noise?” and “That’s such a visual blight.”

Even the prospect of facades bulging with extra inches of insulation and shade awnings to reduce air conditioning use spurred gnashing of teeth. “It’s going to open a Pandora’s box,” said one resident.   As for rooftop greenhouses, some fear these structures could be used not just for local food production but perhaps as party spaces or other uses.  Imagine: partying in New York City!

Perhaps as a decidedly rural denizen who often feels city folks just don’t get why moderate noise could be an issue in the country, I’m equally insensitive to the subtle aesthetic pleasures of urban life…..but, I gotta say, yeah, I just don’t get it!

Read more at DNAinfo Manhattan Local News

Michigan town says “no” to wind farm

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MerrittA 75-turbine wind farm that would span parts of three Michigan counties will be 9 turbines smaller, after Merritt Township Planning Commission voted to not issue permits to allow construction of turbines.  The Merritt commission did grant permission for a substation and underground cables that are part of the wind farm’s infrastructure, but decided against allowing nine 466-foot turbines.  Commissioners visited wind turbines in three nearby townships, and apparently based their decision primarily on concern for rural quality of life in their township. “They studied it thoroughy,” said John McQuillan, Merritt Township attorney. “That’s why the Planning Commission is appointed to make this decision.”

Merritt adopted an ordinance in 2010 requiring a quarter-mile setback from homes and roadways; a local community group had been pushing for an increase to a half-mile. NextEra, the wind farm developer, had removed nine turbines from their plan, and moved nine others to meet the quarter-mile standard.  “It’s astonishing,” said a NextEra spokesperson. “We showed them how we had adhered to all of the regulations of their ordinance, and they completely disregarded the rules that they had set in place.”

At the Planning Commission meeting, a petition was presented containing 453 signatures from local residents opposing construction in their township. While health and property value concerns were raised, at the meeting Annette DuRussel stressed simpler quality of life issues, stressing that “Merritt Township residents have the right to a good night’s sleep, a scenic view that is currently unobstructed – the list goes on and on.”

“The community is divided and the issue is getting hotter as the date to make a decision gets closer,” said Dave Schabel, Merritt Township supervisor, before the meeting. “It’s very controversial and has torn families apart, turned brother against brother….It’s hard for them,” Schabel said, referring to the Planning Commission. “They’re just average people in a pretty hot spot, and they are trying to get as much information as possible to make an informed decision — hopefully we can put the community back together.”

Dee VanDenBoom, Merritt Township resident, had been looking forward to seeing a turbine on his neighbors property, and felt that those opposing it were only “thinking of their own comfort;” he was disappointed with the decision but is hoping the community can move forward.”We’re peacemakers,” VanDenBoom said. “I hope that people can come together as friends and neighbors again.”

The comment of another local supporter, who will be hosting turbines near his home in a neighboring township, points to one of the factors in the Merritt commission’s decision: so many people living in the vicinity of the wind farm. “Merritt is different than Gilford because there are more houses in the area, but still, I’m disappointed.”

Good local coverage:
Prior to the meeting here; initial article after the meeting here; and followup to the decision here.

Related: Another northern Michigan town, Lake Township, voted down a proposed wind farm ordinance on primary day, February 28; the ordinance included setbacks of 1500 feet and sound limits of 45dB, both fairly typical of many US siting standards.