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Two dozen families struggling with noise at Pinnacle Wind Farm

Human impacts, News, Wind turbines Comments Off on Two dozen families struggling with noise at Pinnacle Wind Farm

The State Journal, a West Virginia business magazine, recently published a comprehensive article updating the situation at the Pinnacle Wind Farm in Keyser, WV, where more than two dozen families continue to struggle with noise from 23 turbines atop a steep ridge line (see earlier AEI coverage).  

At the beginning of June, the state PSC dismissed a complaint by neighbor Richard Braithwaite, which asked for turbines to be shut down at night, saying that because no sound conditions were placed on the site certificate issued by the PSC, it has no jurisdiction to consider such complaints.  Spot measurements taken at Braithwaite’s home measured 45dB, well below the 56dB state noise limit; Braithwaite has regularly measured higher sound levels both inside and out, and a PSC staffer who visited agreed that the noise was “very prominent” at times.  In dismissing the complaint, the PSC noted that while it would not step into the situation, the neighbors could seek recourse through a nuisance claim in civil court; the neighbors are considering such a step.

This week, Gary Braithwaite (Richard’s brother) filed a new complaint, asking for a full shut down of the project.  It’s unclear how this complaint may differ procedurally from the earlier one in ways that could change the PSC’s lack of jurisdiction.  Meanwhile, the article also updates the progress that Edison Mission Group, the wind farm developer, is making on their plans to install sound-reduction louvres on the turbines, which is expected to reduce routine sound levels by about 7db; it’s unclear whether this will reduce noise issues, since for many neighbors, it seems to be blade noise that is most problematic. UPDATE, 7/7/12: The PSC has dismissed Gary Braithwaite’s complaint, noting its similarities to his brother’s complaint.

For those following this and similar community noise response situations, the full article is well worth a read.

Offsore oil development expanding in remote Arctic seas

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, News, Seismic Surveys Comments Off on Offsore oil development expanding in remote Arctic seas

The Anchorage Daily News ran a  great, detailed piece on the expansion of offshore oil and gas development in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas north and west of Alaska.  It’s well worth reading in full.  The nut of the story is that Shell Oil, which has conducted seismic surveys in the northerns seas for the past few years, is gearing up to drill their first new exploratory well in over a decade.  If they find the oil they expect to, further seismic exploration and drilling is likely to follow in these remote waters, home to many species of whales.  Bowhead whales are especially sensitive to noise, especially cow-calf pairs, and have been found to give seismic surveys a wide berth.

Oil companies have been doing extensive research into the seasonal distributions of whales (especially belugas and bowheads), and have agreed to suspend operations in late August to accommodate the Alaskan natives traditional bowhead hunting season.  Meanwhile, Chris Clark, the Bioacoustics Research Program director at Cornell says, “There are unanswered science questions.  It’s not clear what happens if a whale hears 1,000 of the explosions from air guns, or where it will go if an area is saturated with the sound. In addition, scientists are only beginning to study the effects of the sound on fish and other animals that make up the whole ecosystem.”

Go read the whole article!

Motorcycle noise in National Parks: take it slow

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I just came across a fascinating piece on Oregon Public Radio’s EarthFix site, in which author Ashley Ahearn, a rider herself, discussed motorcycle noise in National Parks with Karen Trevino of the NPS Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division.  

Trevino notes that most of the excessive noise on roads comes from bikes with aftermarket exhaust parts, while the vast majority of motorcycles pose no special noise problems.  Ahearn’s bike “sounds like a Singer sewing machine,” according to one of the enhance Harley owners that the author talked to outside a biker bar near Mount Rainier National Park.  That may be what Trevino and her NPS cohorts wish all bikes sounded like, but that’s not the case.  In the video below, the NPS charted the sound footprint of a single motorcycle traveling along the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park; the Park Service has found that bikes can be heard up to 18 miles away in some situations.

MotorcycleNoiseVid from EarthFix on Vimeo.

Trevino says that while the NPS is gathering data, there are no plans to impose restrictions on motorcycles in National Parks.  Rather, the NPS is partnering with motorcycle associations to ask riders to stay in smaller groups, not accelerate excessively and respect parks’ quiet hours.

Sheep dog affected by wind turbine wake pressure?

News, Wind turbines 6 Comments »

This is the most substantial report I’ve yet seen suggesting that an animal is directly affected by some aspect living near a wind turbine.   In this case, the wind farm company requested that a vet examine the dog after the owner contacted them about a dramatic behavior change in one of his working sheep dogs after nights in which the wind blew from the turbine direction.  Like many human reports, the effect occurs only in particular wind conditions; I wonder whether it’s similar to some wind farm neighbors who experience ear pressure and popping when downwind from turbines, perhaps due to air pressure differentials in the turbine wake, or due to a particularly strong physiological reaction to low frequency noise.  Many other reports of effects on farm animals have been more general, making it hard to preclude other possible causes.  Of course, as in humans, such dramatic effects appear to be relatively rare, but worthy of noticing. 

The report was originally published in the Hamilton Spectator on June 24, but doesn’t seem to be available on their website any longer.  The bulk of the article is reprinted below:

Veterinarian Dr Scott Shrive, from Hamilton Vetcare, said he examined a Kelpie working dog from a client that was quite concerned about the behaviour of the dog. “It is usually very active, alert and an excellent working dog, and it has become very withdrawn and this is more evident when wind is coming from the same direction that the wind turbines are in,” he said.

“The dog is reluctant to come out of its kennel when the wind is coming from that direction – it won’t work, they can’t get it to work, it won’t even jump up on the vehicle, but on days when there is no wind, so when the turbines aren’t working, it goes back to normal, it comes out of its kennel it is happy to work all day like it normally does.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Court approves smaller Goodhue wind setbacks; hurdles remain

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The Minnesota Court of Appeals has issued an expedited ruling that affirms a 2011 Minnesota PUC decision to issue a permit for the Goodhue wind farm using smaller setbacks than the county requires.  While the county requires a 10-rotor diameter setback from non-participating neighbors (about 2700 feet, or just over a half mile), the PUC let the project move ahead with setbacks of about 1600 feet.  The Court ruled that the PUC can supersede county rules when it has “good cause.”  The court documents say the 10-RD setback “would essentially prevent all wind energy projects in Goodhue County,” which was apparently the core good cause for overruling the county ordinance.  (Ed. note: I’m not sure whether the county standard allowed for easements to build closer to willing neighbors; such easements offer a way to allow projects to proceed while minimizing noise impacts on neighbors who especially value rural quiet.)

Strangely, the Court said that it had seen the 10 rotor diameter rule as a “zero-exposure standard;” in fact, a half mile would not avoid audibility or ocassionaly intrusive noise , especially at night, though it would reduce the number of homes experiencing relatively louder sound exposures.  There are roughly 200 homes within the 1600 to 2700 foot zone.  Many of the more substantial negative impacts reported by wind farm neighbors occur in this range.

While National Wind, developer of the 78-megawatt project, aims to begin construction within weeks, in hopes of being operational by the end of the year in order to qualify for expiring production tax credits, hurdles remain.  The PUC rejected the company’s eagle monitoring and protections plan in February, and the developers have been planning to obtain an optional take permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect themselves in the event of that a bald eagle may be killed.  A bird and bat protection plan is also still pending, and National Wind had earlier said that legal uncertainties had affected their ability to attract investors.  In addition, the Coalition for Sensible Siting, which lodged the appeal ruled on here, may well choose to continue their challenge to the State Supreme Court; they have 60 days in which to lodge that final appeal.

Update, 8/6/12: CSS has decided not to appeal. This article also suggests that due to outstanding wildlife permits, as well as legal action by some land owners who are trying to void their leases, project developers have stopped pushing to build this year, and are awaiting resolution of these issues, as well as the possibility of a one-year extension to the production tax credits.

Local coverage of the latest developments:
Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester Post Bulletin
Pioneer Press

Earlier AEI coverage of PUC deliberations and initial appeals is here

Salmon shortage stresses orcas more than boat noise

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A new research study of stress hormones in Puget Sound orcas shows that the whales actually were under less stress at times of higher vessel traffic – at least when their key food source, chinook salmon, was abundant.  Only when salmon were scarce did boat noise seem to increase stress levels.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said he wasn’t surprised by this, noting that there were far more orcas years ago when there were also more fishing boats, with the whales not seeming to mind the boats’ presence.

Sam Wasser, director of University of Washington’s Department of Biology Center for Conservation Biology, said the study points to the importance of putting fish first as managers look for the priority management steps, amid reducing toxins and pollution, vessel noise and improving food supply, for orca recovery.

“If you are a manager, you really want to know what are the relative importance of those, and how do they interact, and our study did that; it found that fish are the most important,” Wasser said.

Ed. note: While these results confirm what most have long known, that declining salmon runs are the major factor in recent orca declines, it’s also worth noting that during times when salmon are less abundant, boat noise did increase stress levels in the orcas.  While perhaps a secondary factor, boat noise remains a chronic feature of orca life, with measurable changes in stress at times when food is not abundant.  This supports the initiatives underway in recent years to try to moderately reduce noise and other impacts by requiring whale watching boats to stay farther from whales.  Earlier research has also suggested that foraging for salmon in boat noise may cost whales more energy than foraging in quieter conditions.