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Australia wind farm noise issues spur Senator, acoustician to dig deeper

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Two pieces of wind farm noise news out of Australia this week, both of which address health concerns.  Residents near the Waubra wind farm in Victoria, which began operating in February 2009, have been affected by the noise, some to the point where they’ve moved away.  A recent report by the federal government health office came to the familiar conclusion that there is no “direct, causal” link between wind farm noise and health effect, but as is common in these reports, little attention was directed toward looking at indirect impacts of sleep disruption or annoyance, and the authors of the report did not meet with any of the people who have experienced changes in their health after wind farms became operational.

In response, a Melbourne Senator has called for further inquiry. Senator Steve Fielding noted that “I think it’s only fair that if a cluster of symptoms arise in a local population at approximately the same time we owe it to the people to take a closer look,” said Senator Steve Fielding. “We all want to live in a clean environment, but we need to make sure it’s not at the cost of the local population who have to live near wind farms. It may be the case that we need to set out guidelines as to how close wind farms can be built to someone’s home, but I wouldn’t want to pre-empt any Senate inquiry.”

Meanwhile, one of the residents who had to move from his house, Noel Dean, commissioned a sound assessment by an independent acoustical engineer, Robert Thorne.  Thorne has submitted his findings to several regulatory agencies in recent months; there has been no significant challenge to his findings from wind farm developers, though he has responded to some specific critiques in his final report, which was just released.  Thorne’s report includes detailed sound measurements taken at the Dean residence; the results largely affirm that infrasound is well below audible levels, while also showing that the turbine sound spectrum (how loud the turbine is at each frequency) is often weighted toward lower-frequency audible and inaudible infrasound frequencies.  He finds a strong pulsing character to the noise, and notes the many meteorological factors that contribute to variability in actual sound levels that are not fully captured by current sound models. The report also contains a section assessing health effects, with good reference to other studies; his conclusion is that “Adverse health effects such as sleep disturbance, anxiety, stress and headaches are, in my view, a health nuisance.” Thorne takes some of the government reports to task for being incomplete assessments, and themselves not peer-reviewed.  The report concludes with a section assessing vibration, which is present, but well below levels considered problematic.  Addendums include a detailed assessment of noise complaints at several wind farms, including the Te Rere Hau wind farm in Palmerston North, New Zealand, where noise issues have occurred at far greater ranges than are observed elsewhere (surprisingly severe impacts are reported at distances of 2100-3100 meters, or almost two miles).

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