AEI Spotlight Report
Wind Farm Noise: 2009 in Review
Research, Public concerns, and industry trends
[Wind Farm Noise: 2009 in Review (pdf, 700k)]
Click on this link to open as a pdf in a new window
or, right-click and choose "download linked file"
The Acoustic Ecology Institute's first annual Spotlight Report on recent developments in wind farm noise uses the approach that has worked well for ocean noise in recent years, and brings it (mostly) ashore, presenting a relatively straightforward look at science and policy developments over the past year. The link above leads to a pdf version of this 35-page report that you can download (or view in your browser if you're a glutton for punishment). Here's what you'll find there:
- Nature of the noise issues: Widely occurring noise and sleep disruptions
- Scope of the problem: Few wind farms generate complaints
- Noise limits: Useful targets, though hard to count on
- New research of note: Effects of wind farms on neighbors / Sound propagation, wind shear, acoustics issues / Effects on wildlife (10 pages, summarizing 22 papers and reports)
- Social considerations: Local social constraints and national social choices
- The Science/Experience Paradox: Reconciling the divide between reassuring research results and the
life-changing impacts reported by some neighbors
- Looking Ahead: 2010 and beyond
The report is full of active links to source material, including research papers, news reports, and websites of advocates on both sides of the issue. The Introduction, reproduced below, will give you a sense of the content.
But first, here's the quick version, courtesy of Wordle.net, where you, too, can plug in all the text from any document or web page and generate a "word picture" of the content, based on how often each word appears. (I omitted the words "wind" and "noise" because they were so common that they were huge in the Wordle).
See AEI's Gallery at Worldle for more images, in a larger size.
During 2009, the Acoustic Ecology Institute has been tracking public concerns about wind farm noise, while also studying new research papers and industry trade journals and reports in order to get up to speed on this emerging controversy. AEI’s approach has been the same as we’ve taken to ocean noise issues since 2004: to do our best to cut through the rhetoric and hyperbole from advocates on both sides of the issue and get a clearer sense of the state of understanding of these noise impacts, in order to help inform emerging public policy choices. With wind farm noise, as with ocean noise, the more we learn, the more obvious it is that there is much we still do not know. And, it’s not nearly as simple as either side in this increasingly rancorous debate appears to think it is.
This AEI Special Report serves as an update and supplement to my initial work on this topic from late 2008, still available on our website at AcousticEcology.org/srwind.html. While the focus of this report is to digest what we learned in 2009, it also will include some over-arching themes and bigger-picture context that I hope is useful as an introduction to those who are new to the consideration of the effects of wind farm noise on people living nearby. Some of these themes have emerged over the course of this year as I’ve learned more, and have been introduced on AEI’s news and science feed at AEInews.org.
The key messages of this report can be boiled down to four themes.
- First, it is clear that many people, in all parts of the country, have been dramatically impacted by the noise of wind farms near their homes. To dismiss all these people as cranks, or as hyper-sensitive social outliers, does a disservice to constructive public discourse, and short-circuits our opportunities to learn from their experiences as we continue to develop new wind farms.
- Second, it is also clear that wind farm noise is truly not that bothersome to most people who hear it or live near it, and that the vast majority of wind farms never generate any substantial ongoing noise issues. Concerns that dominate public discourse and activist web sites can seem to accentuate the hardest to quantify issues (such as direct health effects, especially of low-frequency noise), while magnifying the extent of problems as communities consider new wind developments.
- Third, the nature of the sounds made by wind turbines make it especially difficult to rely on reassuring “noise limits” as proposed by states, counties, or townships. Several factors contribute to this dilemma. Noise propagation varies greatly with changing wind and atmospheric conditions; there are many different ways to average noise recordings, some of which can lead to noise levels much higher than local officials may think they are allowing; the pulsing nature of turbine noise is inherently more attention-grabbing and more easily disruptive than road or industrial noises; and finally, there is much we have yet to learn about the factors that create the most troublesome turbine noises, including pulses and low-frequency sound.
- And fourth, and perhaps most important yet least appreciated: we are facing some social choices that may be difficult to make. While broad-brush studies report no simple cause-effect between wind farm noise and various measures of impact (health, annoyance, property values), it is also clear that a minority of those nearby do often experience dramatic, negative impacts. How many such affected neighbors are we willing to accept? 5%? 20%? We can no longer pretend this more affected minority doesn’t exist; it’s time to choose how much to adapt wind farm planning — or operations — in response to these impacts.
I invite you to be in touch with any comments, suggestions, or critiques of what you read here. I also encourage you to read this report with an open mind and let your own understanding of these issues expand to include some new perspectives. We’re all learning as we go!
Jim Cummings, Executive Director, Acoustic Ecology Institute
[Read or Download the 25-page AEI Spotlight Report: Wind Farm Noise: 2009]
Links for more detailed information
The Acoustic Ecology Institute is the most comprehensive national clearinghouse for information on sound and the environment. We focus largely on ocean noise and public lands management, and also have smaller programs dedicated to education and the interface between science and sound art. AEI’s website offers a wide spectrum of reliable information, including links to websites for advocates on all sides of key issues. Our online Special Reports are designed to offer a solid “ten minute version” on key issues, with links to source material and more in-depth information.
To receive occasional news updates (3-4 times/year), contact Jim Cummings
AEI Wind Energy Noise Impacts background report, 2008
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