October 31, 2014

Wind turbine noise study stirs debate

A state lawmaker wants to put all wind turbine projects on hold in the wake of a study from the Public Service Commission. Four acoustical consulting firms ran tests around a wind farm in Brown County. Representative Andre Jacque said they found that the turbines generate low-frequency noise. “Previous standards as far as decibel levels don’t really apply when you’re talking about low-frequency noise, because it’s below the hearing threshold,” said the De Pere Republican. “But it is certainly something that, as this test showed, can be sensed. And it is something that can lead to very debilitating health effects.”

Tyson Cook, staff scientist for Clean Wisconsin, said the study found no links between turbine nose and health effects. “It didn’t try to look at potential causes of these self-reported health effects,” said Cook. “One of the outside consultants did interview people about their health impacts. That was included in the study, but there certainly wasn’t any link between the low-frequency noise and those health impacts.”

Still, the study did reach a conclusion that more research needs to conducted into low-frequency noise near wind turbine sites:

“The four investigating firms are of the opinion that enough evidence and hypotheses have been given herein to classify LFN and infrasound as a serious issue, possibly affecting the future of the industry. It should be addressed beyond the present practice of showing that wind turbine levels are magnitudes below the threshold of hearing at low frequencies.” 

READ: PSC report on Shirley Wind Farm (PDF)  

The study did detect low-frequency noise at one of the three homes measured near the Shirley Wind Farm. Jacque wants the PSC to suspend all wind turbine projects. “Wind siting can be done responsibly,” he said. “But this is an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately, before we continue to have these real effects that my constituents have been dealing with.”

Clean Wisconsin’s Cook said that would be premature. “It’s unfortunate that this study has been mischaracterized,” he said. “The study itself did not have any recommendations about wind siting.”

While the study was funded by the PSC, a developer with plans to operate a wind farm in St. Croix County will pick up the costs. Emerging Energies has proposed the Highland Wind Farm, which if approved would generate power from 41 500-foot turbines.

WHBY’s Mike Kemmeter contributed to this report