Wind Energy & Sound Concerns

Wind energy opponents often cite possible health effects from turbine noise as a reason to oppose wind development. In 2009, the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association established a multidisciplinary scientific advisory panel to review current literature on the perceived health effects of wind turbines. The panel’s conclusions are:

  • Subaudible, low-frequency sound and infrasound from wind turbines do not present a risk to human health.
  • Sound from wind turbines does not pose a risk of hearing loss or any other adverse health effect in humans.
  • Some people may be annoyed at the presence of sound from wind turbines. Annoyance is not a pathological entity.
  • A major cause of concern about wind turbine sound is its fluctuating nature. Some may find this sound annoying, a reaction that depends primarily on personal characteristics as opposed to the intensity of the sound level.
  • Wind plants are generally quiet.

 

It is typically possible to have a normal conversation at the very base of an operating wind turbine. The sound heard from wind turbines at a distance, as with other local sources of sound, is affected by many factors –including the wind direction, meteorological conditions, vegetation, and other barriers.

Site-specific acoustic models can anticipate sound levels at nearby receptors for consideration during project siting. The sounds emitted from wind turbines can be mechanical, from internal equipment such as the gearbox or yaw drive, or aerodynamic, from air moving past the rotor blades. Current turbine designs effectively reduce mechanical sound through soundproofing; therefore, the aerodynamic sound, often described as a “whooshing” sound, is generally heard.

 

More Information

ABC Radio. (July 28, 2013). It Isn’t Weird to Believe in Wind Turbine Syndrome (audio)

Ketan Joshi is a research and communications officer at Infigen Energy, a renewable energy company. In this audio segment he’s exploring the argument that taking up an odd pseudoscience isn’t as weird as it may seem, due to the way that human beings think about science and risk and the cognitive biases that catalyze this thinking.

Aiolos Engineering Corporation. (2007). Acoustic Consulting Report, Prepared for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment: Wind Turbine Facilities Noise Issues (PDF)

The Ministry of the Environment of Ontario commissioned this review to assess the appropriateness of the Ministry’s approach to regulating noise impacts of wind turbines.

American Wind Energy Association. (2009). Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects – An Expert Panel Review

In response to concerns, the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations established a scientific advisory panel in early 2009 to conduct a review of current literature on the perceived health effects of wind turbines. Following review, analysis, and discussion of current knowledge, the panel reached consensus on its conclusions, including: There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.

Chapman, S. (June 4, 2013). Wind Farm Factoids: The VAD Non-Disease. Simon Chapman, Professor in Public Health at the University of Sydney, examines vibroacoustic disease (VAD).

Crichton, F.; Dodd, G.; Schmid, G.; Gamble, G.; Petrie, K.J. (March 2013). Can Expectations Produce Symptoms from Infrasound Associated with Wind Turbines? This report concluded that healthy volunteers, when given information about the expected physiological effect of infrasound, reported symptoms that aligned with that information, during exposure to both infrasound and sham infrasound. Results suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.

National Public Radio. (April 2, 2013). Could Wind Turbines Be Toxic to the Ear?

NPR examines Wind Turbine Syndrome.

Resonate Acoustics. (July 18, 2013). Macarthur Wind Farm Infrasound & Low-Frequency Noise: Operational Monitoring Results (PDF 5.3 MB)

An independent report by Resonate Acoustics demonstrates that there was no measurable change in the infrasound levels measured before and after construction of the Macarthur Wind Farm in Australia. The report was reviewed by internationally renowned low-frequency acoustic expert Dr Geoff Leventhall. AGL voluntarily commissioned this report to help alleviate community concern regarding noise.

Rogers, A.; Manwell, J.; Wright, S. (2006). Wind Turbine Acoustic Noise (PDF)

This report provides a summary of the basic principles of sound and its measurement, sound generation from wind turbines, sound propagation, as well as sound prediction methods.

 

Photo by BBC World Service