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Ohio “wind energy killing” setbacks: reports of wind’s death were greatly exaggerated

Human impacts, Wind turbines Comments Off on Ohio “wind energy killing” setbacks: reports of wind’s death were greatly exaggerated

windenergygraphicOnce again the wind industry has been caught crying wolf about reasonable and workable setback increases.  In 2014, the Ohio legislature tweaked the state’s wind farm siting standards to require setbacks of 1300 feet from neighboring property lines, rather than from neighboring homes.  Wind energy advocates gnashed their teeth, with an executive of the national trade association, AWEA, claiming that “This would kill further wind energy development in Ohio unless the governor vetoes it,” while the CEO of wind developer Apex Clean Energy chimed in that with such odious setbacks, Apex “will have no choice but to take its investment and its business elsewhere. ”

Get ready for a shock, AWEA: Amazon, not phased at all by the setbacks, has announced plans to build a 100-MW wind farm to power two new distribution centers in Ohio.  And, in a late-2014 review of the status of 11 projects that are in the pipeline, it was federal tax credits and lapsed state renewable energy incentives that were cited as current challenges, not the setbacks.  While it’s quite possible that previously-approved projects are proceeding under the old setback rules, the same statewide overview notes that “several other companies, including Apex Clean Energy of Virginia, are acquiring lease rights and working on plans.” (Wait, what? Yup, the same outfit that just told us the setbacks ruined everything so they’d be taking their toys and going home still have four Ohio projects in the pipeline.)

It’s disheartening to see the wind industry employing these same shopworn scare tactics about moderate setbacks; no matter what the proposal, if it’s an increase over something that has been on the table, it’s decried as “killing” the possibility of wind energy in the area.  Anything over the 750-1000 foot setbacks that the industry prefers is considered extreme; in Ohio, claims that the old 1300-ft to homes setback was among the most stringent in the nation are practically a joke, with 1250-1500-foot limits now becoming the norm, and many areas going much further.  In Minnesota, a 1500-ft setback was eagerly embraced in lieu of a proposed 2700-ft rule; in Maine, a 2000-ft setback was deemed perfectly workable by a developer who was fighting a change to 4000-ft, after which they switched gears and pinpointed a 35dBA noise limit as the real “deal killer.”

Indeed, nighttime noise limits of 35dB or less can mean that setbacks will need to be large enough (4000 feet or more) to rule out development in most communities.  Still, it’s entirely reasonable for some towns to choose such low noise limits, or setbacks of a half mile or more, if the priority is to preseve the rural character of place and assure that few if any residents will hear turbine noise on a regular basis.  Ideally, these more restrictive rules would also include the option that wind developers can obtain noise easements from neighbors who are willing to live closer to turbines (often in return for a financial payout, either one-time or annual).  And guess what?  The much-decried Ohio rules do allow individual landowners to waive the setback requirement, if they wish to; this may be part of why so many projects are still happening.  It’s time for the wind industry to stop moaning about setbacks meant to preserve some semblance of rural character, and begin making peace with the fact that not all communities will make the same choices about opportunities for economic development.

Looking ahead in Ohio: Even as Amazon, Apex, and others proceed with their plans in Ohio, representatives from several northwestern Ohio districts have introduced a bill to let counties supersede the state rules and revert to the old setback standards on a case by case basis. (Will it surprise you to hear that it’s in this very region where Amazon is happy to build with the current rules? I thought not….)  So far, there does not seem to be any active reconsideration of the other key element of the 2014 rule changes in Ohio, a 2-year freeze of the state renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) at 2.5%—foregoing the planned 1% annual increases toward a 2025 goal of 12.5%—while the legislature reviews the RPS program. Presumably, a decision will be made during the coming year whether to revert to the old schedule or adopt new, lower targets.

UPDATE, 1/29/2016:  While I’m not tracking all the news related to new projects, a couple of things caught my eye recently.  Two companies, including Apex, abandoned plans for wind farms in Ohio, though the news reports, and perhaps the formal notices filed with state regulators, don’t specify why; there are many reasons that proposed project aren’t completed, including the financial health of the companies themselves, and the fact that they often do preliminary work in many more places than they ultimately choose to build.  Relatedly, the Scioto Ridge Wind Farm, which was among those supposedly threatened by the new Ohio rules, is still under development; on January 26, the project’s Facebook page recently posted a local news article about an agreement reached between Everpower and a local opposition group, which reduced the number of turbines from 176 to 107; such reductions sometimes involve a move to bigger turbines, and it’s unclear whether the footprint is smaller (and so some setbacks larger) under the agreement.  Nonetheless, another local group has vowed to continue fighting the plans.

AEI Updates Special Report on Wind Energy Noise Impacts

Effects of Noise on Wildlife, Health, News, Science, Wind turbines Comments Off on AEI Updates Special Report on Wind Energy Noise Impacts

Just a quick note to say that I did the first major update to AEI’s Special Report on wind farm noise today.  I added several key new pieces that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.  The report aims for AEI’s typical sweet spot of providing a comprehensive yet concise overview of all the key issues, presented in a balanced way, with links to source material and advocates on all sides of the issue. The report can be viewed online here, or downloaded as a 33-page pdf here.

Half Mile Setback Not Enough for Oregon Wind Farm

News, Wind turbines 1 Comment »

Increasingly, local regulators are settling on a half-mile setback for wind turbines, despite many reports of noise issues beyond that distance.  At the Willow Creek Wind Farm in Morrow County, Oregon, local residents raised concerns in November when the developer’s noise models indicated that the farm would not meet the relatively stringent 36dB noise limit.  The company responded with new noise modeling that indicated they would indeed be quiet enough to meet this standard.  However, once the turbines began turning in December, neighbors found that the typical promise of not being any louder than a refrigerator in the kitchen “was a crock,” and they fired up their own hand-held decibel meters, regularly recording levels of 40-50dB, peaking to 67dB at the worst.   The county is now requiring the company to do real-world sound measurements.  The nearby neighbors insisted they aren’t against wind towers and are all for green energy, just not so close to their homes. “If they had just used a little foresight and moved these back a little farther…,” Michael Eaton said wistfully, “but they didn’t.”

Read more at East Oregonian, 3/7/09 [READ ARTICLE] The Oregonian, 3/25/09 [READ ARTICLE]

Canadian Wind Farm Lowers Property Values Nearby; Now Rated Same as “Industrial Areas”

News, Wind turbines 1 Comment »

In one of the first tests of wind advocates’ repeated claims that wind farms do not lower property values, a couple on Prince Edward Island asked for a reassessment, and found that their property had lost 10% of its value, solely due to the presence of wind turbines nearby. A spokesperson with the tax department said a handful of other residents living next to wind farms in West Prince also received lower assessments. Although the criteria for assessing property values doesn’t specify turbines, the department felt the properties near windmills should be treated the same as properties near industrial areas. Beverly Howard says there are now five new turbines within sight of their home, the closest about 500 metres away. “If you’re sitting out on your deck, they’re noisy, if you’re out gardening they’re noisy,” she said. “We can’t hear the surf anymore in the summertime; all we hear is windmills.” Source: CBC Canada, 12/23/08 [READ ARTICLE]
[See AEI Special Report: Wind Turbine Noise]

AEI Wind Turbine Noise Report Now Downloadable

Health, Human impacts, Wind turbines Comments Off on AEI Wind Turbine Noise Report Now Downloadable

The Klondike Wind Rush is underway, and while wind energy is a crucial wedge in the emerging renewable energy mix, some nearby neighbors of wind farms are reporting noise levels that are higher and more disruptive than they’d been led to expect.  Simple noise models suggest noise should be inaudible beyond a quarter mile or so, but residents between a half mile and mile are quite often finding the noise intolerable.  What is going on?  This question is just the sort of thing we love here at AEI: a chance to dig in and get a big-picture view that moves beyond the strident and self-assured voices of advocacy groups on both sides of an issue.  The result, published online in March 2008, was the AEI Special Report: Wind Turbine Noise Impacts.

This report is now available as a downloadable, printable document.  Running to 30 pages in the pdf format, the report provides a comprehensive overview of issues being addressed by local planning commissions as wind energy companies seek new sites for this piece of our energy future.  We’ve also put together an 8-page pdf version that is useful as a quick overview for the public and local officials.  

See for the full online report (continually updated), along with links to download the 30-page and 8-page pdfs.

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Whale Fins Inspire Quieter, More Efficient Fans and Wind Turbines

Science, Wind turbines 2 Comments »


Humpback whales are the inspiration for a new approach to blade design being used in fans and tested for wind turbines. The bumps along the edge of the whales’ long fins had long been considered an anatomical anomaly, but a biology professor in Pennsylvania has shown that they channel water across the surface of the fin in ways that create more maneuverability and power. Dr. Frank Fish has formed WhalePower to develop new industrial designs based on this discovery; the results are a sharp break from previous attempts to make fan and turbine blade edges as smooth as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Towns Seek Setbacks for Wind Turbines to Protect Residents from Noise, Companies Concerned

News, Wind turbines Comments Off on Towns Seek Setbacks for Wind Turbines to Protect Residents from Noise, Companies Concerned

Across the eastern and central United States and Canada, small towns are writing ordinances to govern wind farm development, grappling with uncertainty about reasonable buffer zones to assure that residents will not be disturbed by turbine noise. In recent months, stories about several specific wind farms that have caused noise complaints have circulated more widely, raising local concerns elsewhere about the common practice of using 1000- to 1500-foot setbacks (with Mars Hill in Maine and Allegheny Ridge in Pennsylvania being the most commonly cited). The research and testimony of two doctors, one in New York and one in Italy, and several acoustics consultants, all of whom advocate for much larger buffers between large turbines and residences, are beginning to influence local towns to adopt more stringent ordinances, which energy companies say will severely limit their abilty to find suitable sites for wind farms. Read the rest of this entry »

Pennsylvania Couple Sues to Stop Noise from Wind Farm

Human impacts, News 1 Comment »

 Todd and Jill Stull of Portage, Pennsylvania have sued the operators of the Allegheny Ridge Wind Farm, alleging that the turbines near their homes create noise in excess of local regulatory limits. Attorney Bradley Tupi, representing the Stulls, alleges in the lawsuit that Gamesa Energy misrepresented to local officials the noise levels from the turbines to get approvals for construction of the wind farm. “They assured the officials in the township in question that the turbines would be quiet. Read the rest of this entry »

Wisconsin Country Implements Strict Noise Regulations on Wind Turbines; Company Declares “War to End All Wars”

Health, Human impacts, News Comments Off on Wisconsin Country Implements Strict Noise Regulations on Wind Turbines; Company Declares “War to End All Wars”

Calumet County, in eastern Wisonsin, recently faced a dilemma that is increasingly common in rural America: an outside company had appeared in their region, planning to build wind farms and seeking permits. Many local governmental bodies have taken a cursory look at complex reports submitted by companies, taken assurances of “no noise” at face value, and later regretted not learning more. The Calumet County Board of Supervisors took two years to consider the issue, and in March instituted a carefully considered ordinance to govern wind farm development that is exceedingly (perhaps even excessively) weighted toward protection of local residents from noise impacts. Read the rest of this entry »