Noise Complaints

The final word on how well all these rules work must be the experiences of the neighbors. If their sleep is disturbed, or they are physically suffering, or they can no longer have an outdoor barbecue, or they can no longer sever and build – you cannot in good conscience argue that the rules are adequate. You just can’t. Perhaps you could argue that wind turbines represent a greater good and thus this is a price society is willing to pay. If that is so, then that price should fall on society, not on the individuals. After all, their home is very likely a large part of their assets and the loss of it is often is a real life-changing event. Unfortunately, as the number of projects increases and the turbines get closer to people’s houses, the number of complaints keeps rising. Many of these reports are just heart-rending and are referenced below.

Proponents and the industry tend to dismiss them as coming from whiners and nimbys, absolutely convinced the complainers have some other agenda besides noise. As Upton Sinclair once observed, “It’s hard to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it.”

Many wind farm installations cause no complaints. But how many are too many? And should those who profit from the project have any obligation to their neighbors, whose homes (and lives) may be ruined? You can also wander over to my Health topic to read and weep.

One thing we don’t know is how many of the participants themselves are having noise problems, as they are often contractually prohibited from complaining publicly. Nor do we always hear of those homeowners who have been bought out by the developer, as those agreements generally include a gag clause. Even the non-participants are often reluctant to speak out, lest they destroy even further the value of their home.

There are no national noise standards in North America. The provinces/states generally have noise rules, and quite often the local government has the final say within bounds provided by the state. Thus the rules vary greatly, but there are only a very few local locations that provide what I would consider adequate protections. The following regions have all had substantial problems, perhaps because they have the unfortunate combination of good winds and relatively high rural population density. Given my location, I’ve been watching Ontario quite closely and thus I have the most information about it, but I’ve come across enough other reports that I wanted to include as well. This is just a sampling, as only the government or the industry would have the resources to build a complete listing, and neither is interested in doing so and releasing it.

Update, August 2010.  Most of the links below went to wind-watch.org, as newspapers very often don’t keep their stories online, and wind-watch was very good about copying the articles in their entirety and keeping them.  Unfortunately, wind-watch’s database had a catastrophic failure and they lost the last two year’s of news items.  So I’ve removed the links to wind-watch, and if I can find the original references I’ll put them back.  I can personally attest that all the “unlinks” below were legitimate media stories.

Ontario

Ontario now (mid 2009) has 8 major wind farms in operation. All but Prince have had complaints.  CTV’s W-FIVE ran a series that presents the general noise issues in Canada.

  • Port Burwell (aka Erie Shores) looks like at least one house has been bought out. More problems. And more. This letter was written in response to comments by Ontario’s chief medical officer, is a strong indictment of Ontario’s stance on health issues. This letter is heartbreaking to read.
  • Melancthon has had a large number of complaints, including the Frasers and the Marshalls, who made it onto CTV television. Barbara Ashbee and Dennis Lormand have written this hard-hitting letter and this follow-up and this plea.  Finally the developer, CHD (who also developed Wolfe) was forced to measure the noise. Those studies remain mostly confidential, but I managed to obtain a chart which shows just how loud these suckers are.  CHD has bought out at least 6 homes, and you can safely assume it wasn’t out of charity.  Needless to say, the buyouts included gag clauses, so now CHD is claiming there have been no complaints at Melancthon. This is cynicism at its worst. While Barbara can’t talk about the buyout, she can still write letters.
  • Kingsbridge 1 has caused enough problems (I read of one family moving out) that Kingsbridge 2 has been put on hold. At least one big lawsuit has been filed.
  • Ripley has been among the most problematical in Ontario, despite a 700 metre setback. Here’s an account of the problems; six families have moved out. Here’s a letter from one of the victims. And an article. And more. Note how incurious the Ontario MOE seems about all this. Sill More.
  • Port Alma, which also has a setback of 700 meters, has been relatively complaint-free, at least in comparison with Melancthon or Ripley. But not entirely. From the project itself, there is this blog. Read and weep.
  • Kincardine has just come online, mid-December 2008. Update, February 2009 – apparently there’s problems there too. And more are showing up.
  • Wolfe Island had the dubious distinction of forcing one family out before even starting operation late June 2009. During its first month of operation the noise issues had already spread into NY, several miles away.  I live close to Wolfe and have heard reports of problems but nothing significant has been published yet.

Northeast U.S.

Upstate New York has been a hotbed of wind turbine activity.

  • Cohocton

Pennsylvania has a couple of projects that have problems – Meyersdale and Juniata Township.

Maine’s first major project was Mars Hill, where the problems have all by themselves slowed down wind farm development in New England.

Vinalhaven, part of the Fox Islands, installed 3 turbines in a community project to cut their electricity costs. Unfortunately, their experience with the noise is all too similar to everyone else’s. To be fair, the developers did respond. Update – the local radio station interviewed (60+ mb!) some of the Vinalhaven residents for almost an hour – it is worth listening to. These are the voices of real people with a real problem. If there’s ever a resolution, I’ll post it, but I’m not holding my breath. Experience shows that when there’s this much money involved, a few neighbors are expendable. Read/listen and believe.

Upper Midwest U.S.

Wisconsin was an early adopter of wind energy, and had some problems early on.  Unfortunately they haven’t taken the steps that would protect their citizens.

International

  • On the Canadian national scene, one story is the Pubnico, Nova Scotia wind farm, where a Mr. d’Entremont complained about the noise problems. The industry tried to ignore him, but finally an engineer was dispatched, who promptly discovered that the problems were real. The money sentence is on page 19. However, under certain wind and atmospheric conditions when background sound would be expected to be low, the measured sound levels were found to exceed the criteria [of  Ontario – Nova Scotia not having any standard] and expected background sound by up to 13 db. 13db – that’s slightly over a 4-fold increase in the noise level! And it throbs every 0.8 seconds, almost in sync with your heart. A more detailed analysis by a professional yielded equally damning results, albeit presented more professionally.
  • From England, a well-written account of one couple’s experience of living 930 meters from a turbine.
  • From Germany (8 minutes and 8mb) here’s a BBC radio report that highlights a couple whose lives have been affected by nearby turbines.
  • Those wussy Japanese have been complaining as well.
  • So have Australians (Backup Link) and the New Zealanders.

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