Have you heard the one about infrasound?

This is no joke!

Was it some sophisticated listening technology or the peer pressure which enabled a group of four acoustic experts to hear the pressure waves? 

The investigation was conducted without the co-operation of the windfarm operator at Duke Energy’s problematic Shirley Wind project in early December. It was at the behest of environmental lobby group Clean Wisconsin, but thanks to the intervention of attorneys Anne Bensky and Peter McKeever for the citizen’s group Forest Voice and attorney Glenn Reynolds for the Town of Forest it was decided that instead of relying solely on wind industry and Wisconsin Public Service Commission favourites, Hessler Associates Inc., the noise testing included independent acoustics experts, Dr. Bruce Walker (Channel Islands Acoustics), Dr. Paul Schomer (Schomer and Associates Inc.) and with experience measuring infrasound inside homes, Robert Rand (Rand Acoustics) funded independent of the PSC by the people of Forest, Wisconsin, who also engaged Richard James, to provide additional analysis testimony on the testing results..    

Three subject homes, at approximate distances of 1100 feet, 3500 feet and 7000 feet, were found to have measurable infra and low-frequency sound from the wind turbines with levels varying inversely with distance. The peak acoustic energy was found at the Shirley Wind’s Nordex Turbine blade passage frequency of less than 1 Hz.

Acoustician Rick James, well-known to many in Ontario for his expert testimony at ERT hearings, had great interest in this largely Wisconsin PSC-funded study. Two of the subject homes had been abandoned by clients of his due to adverse health effects reported from the time the wind turbines began operation.

During the course of the investigation internet research yielded a 1986 US Navy study which showed that physical vibrations at frequencies of 0.05 to 0.9 Hz in flight simulators induced motion sickness in pilots, the 0.2 Hz range being worst and close to the blade passing frequency of future large wind turbines.  This provided the basis for further interest in correlating frequency levels and adverse effects.  In his analysis of the report James remarked on the significance of a graphic prepared by Rob Rand,

“This is an important chart for showing how the conclusions for this PSC study of a single wind utility has implications for other wind utilities using other makes and models of wind turbines.”

He also states publicly,

“The argument that infrasound produced by modern upwind wind turbines does not have sufficient amplitude to reach the threshold of hearing (set for steady pure tones, not the complex mix of tones emitted by wind turbines) raised by the wind industry through its experts like Dr. Leventhall and the many acousticians and others who parrot his opinion is now discredited.”

The ground-breaking research of Dr. Alec Salt which warned, “What you can’t hear can hurt you”, has been validated in the group’s overall conclusion that:

“The four investigating firms are of the opinion that enough evidence and hypotheses have been given herein to classify Low Frequency Noise 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 thresholds of hearing at low frequencies.”

It is possible this wonderful progress came about purely as a result of Dr. Walter’s sophisticated equipment making simultaneous multi-channel, wide-bandwidth, high-precision recordings and later analysis possible, for it does seem likely that Hessler with his inadequate equipment alone would have found no evidence… again?
It is also possible that there was a complex collegial dynamic at work consistent with Acoustical Societies’ professional code of ethics which typically encourage collaboration and free exchange of ideas.

In an interview on Wind Wise Radio (the original 2 part interview can be found here part 1 and here part 2) acoustician Steven Cooper, whose precise Low Frequency sound measurements at 18 Australian homes identify what he calls the “wind turbine signature” of 0.8 hertz and associated harmonics, told of the response to his article ‘Wind Farm Noise – An Ethical Dilemma for the Australian Acoustical Society?’, a not-so-subtle reminder to his colleagues, of the Australian Acoustical Society’s dictum:

The welfare, health and safety of the community shall at all times take precedence over sectional, professional and private interests.

Cooper’s sardonic observation to Wind Wise Radio interviewers:

“There is a deafening silence from acousticians, in Australia here, about it, because most probably a large number of them look at that article and  realize that all I have left out is their name,…. If I put their names in, there’s a very large list.

All the people that have looked about doing dBa and talking about dBa, and doing all their assessment in dBa now realize maybe that wasn’t the way to go, because they didn’t think in terms of the real world whereas, the consultants that you’ve dealt with, they’re out every day solving problems so they’re not sitting in an ivory tower, they understand how you do these measurements, they understand things like frequencies and it just stares them in the face that they know there’s something’s wrong. Now if the one thing which can occur from my work is people to realize dBa is not the answer, then I have really achieved something.”

Sadly the achievement of ‘A Cooperative Measurement Survey and Analysis of Low Frequency and Infrasound at the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County, Wisconsin’ whether the effect of peer pressure or moral suasion, appears to have been transient.  

Hessler took issue with Representative Andre Jacque, Republican – DePere, who called on the Wisconsin Public Service Commission to issue an emergency rule to immediately suspend the permitting process for wind projects due to the finding of “dangerous levels” of wind turbine-generated low frequency noise or infrasound at the Shirley Wind Project.  He objected to the use of the phrase “dangerous levels” saying Jacque “mischaracterized” the findings,    

Hessler quibbled,

“Although hypotheses were discussed by some team members, nothing was actually discovered that would explain to any degree the health complaints reported by residents … current indications are that the levels of low frequency noise from the project are quite low and nothing was found that would suggest a problem.”

Hessler Associates recommendations did include a limit of 39.5 dBa at neighbouring homes on non-participating properties; still audible spectrum only but a concession nonetheless.

Pro-wind organization, Clean Wisconsin announced ‘Study finds no link between wind farm sound and health impacts‘ even though that was never the job of acousticians to identify.

An even more scurrilous opinion piece ‘Science proves that wind energy is safe for Wisconsin‘ written by John Anderson and Joe Sullivan, earned a scathing indictment from Representative Jacque:

“The wind energy lobby doesn’t care about families and children currently being harmed or about future families that will be harmed by 500 foot industrial wind turbines. They are not listening, they are either uninformed or are deliberately misrepresenting the facts; it appears they don’t care.

They cite the Massachusetts Health Study as a source to support their erroneous claim. This study says that wind turbines have the ability to harm people’s health. Yet, they claim just the opposite.”

This sort of irresponsible behaviour is so common in the world of wind it provokes acoustician Rick James to remark on its pervasiveness during a Wind Wise Radio interview, he points out that:

“…minds behind behind the business plan, that they have known since day one, that putting wind turbines, particularly the modern industrial or utility scale wind turbines, that have been promoted for the last ten years, the one and a half Mega Watt and larger wind turbines, they knew that putting those close to people, posed a risk, and they literally set out plans for developing guidelines, for example:

The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) and Government put out a set of guidelines called ETSU-R-97 that were supposed to help in making decisions as to how close wind turbines could be to communities and individual residences, but when you look at that standard you see that it was very carefully tweaked so as to avoid identifying almost every single problem that we now know wind turbines produce, for example the initial assumption from that study was that wind turbines don’t produce blade swish, and therefore the tests that were set up de-emphasized any noise from blade swish; the decision was that wind turbines don’t produce infrasound and therefore the standards specifically required that all data be displayed as dBa which never shows you infrasound or even low frequency for that matter.

It was a standard that, in my opinion, was developed to give the appearance of a scientific process, for making decisions as to where utility-scale wind turbines could be installed, that had been tweaked so that it was really nothing more than junk science.  It gave the impression of a scientific method to arrive at the conclusion, but the real intent of it was to focus on all the types of noise that wind turbines do not produce and because of that emphasis it was possible to conclude that wind turbines could be as close as 1000ft to homes.”

James referred to his experience in other industries where there was concern for the brand name and iterative improvements to prevent repetition of past mistakes which would lead to bad press for the company.  No such learning curve and no such accountability seems to exist for the Wind Industry which is miraculously able to placate the media with decades-old talking points which reference rigged guidelines and results based on smaller turbines.

The NASA and DOE commissioned research by Hubbard and Shepard during the late 1980s, published in 1990-91, warned about the potential of larger modern upwind wind turbines, problems with Low Frequency sounds, and  wake effects… information which was available to the Wind Industry and which it did not use.  Sick-Building Syndrome research related to large fans was also somehow ignored. James and other expert witnesses have repeatedly pointed to these early warnings in their testimony.
Rick James gives some the benefit of the doubt, small though it may be, saying

“It’s a whole other thing when your peers, the acousticians who have the same understanding, the same depth and breadth of background, choose to ignore that, and to grab onto the talking points that there are no problems and then use their skills to try to prove that.”

He points out that,

“The goal of the study was not to make the connection between health and noise it was to collect quality samples so that others could analyze them and try to make that connection”

James also articulates the concept of “listening radius”, almost poetically evoking the rural pleasure of reaching out acoustically to one’s natural environment where the true background sound levels may be 18-25dBa. Music of Nature celebrates the natural acoustic environment, and may help convey why a “collapsing listening radius” is seen as such a profound loss.  He points out that distinctive wind turbine noise is distinguishable even in high wind conditions and also that

“Because of the way logarithms work, a few short term high level events during a background sound test bias the number all the way up.”  

Rick James discussed both the Shirley Wind Farm and his own report on the St. Columban Wind project where he warns that it will not comply with even existing O.Regs.  Acoustics expert Rick James’s report on the proposed St. Columban Wind project by St. Columban Energy LP ( a division of US-based Veresen) reveals that the company’s noise modelling is deeply flawed and that the project will in fact exceed the noise levels prescribed in Ontario’s (inadequate) noise regulations for wind power generation projects.

James’ conclusion features four statements:

  • “The sound power data does not include confidence levels as per protocols from the IEC and ISO;
  • The noise prediction modelling was not carried out in accordance with the protocol in ISO 9613-2;
  • It did not represent the “worst case” noise impact as prescribed by the Ontario Government’s guideline document for wind “farms”;

and, last,

  • The combined effect of the errors means that this project will exceed the noise limit of 40 dBa.

These findings are critical: it shows the wind power developers are not doing a creditable job of properly assessing noise impact, and that this project would have proceeded without proper expert oversight of the developer’s environmental assessment.”

Continue reading at windyleaks, and/or view the report (.pdf) 

And yet more and more evidence piles up to the seeming indifference of Government:  

Press release february 3, 2013:

Industrial wind turbines shatter Environmental guidelines
Grey Highlands, Ontario

New scientific measurements reveal that industrial wind turbines (IWTs) in Ontario routinely exceed acceptable noise limits set by Ministry of Environment (MOE) guidelines.

Five typical sites in central Ontario were independently monitored using precision sound recording instruments.

Two sites provided background sound levels with no exposure to wind turbines. Three other sites were adjacent to turbines with distances ranging from 0.6 to 1.4 kilometres between the IWTs and the measuring instruments. These are beyond the 550m distance set by MOE.

The data shows that when wind turbines are present, the associated sound pressure levels are repeatedly higher than Government guidelines permit during the day, evenings and late at night.

The study results suggest that the model used by the MOE to predict sound pressure levels substantially under-estimates levels of industrial wind turbine noise. This implies the problem is generalized and not merely confined to each test site under study.

The analysis reaffirms hundreds of subjective reports from residents living near wind turbine installations about daily disturbances.

Two policy aspects are key for investigation; the location of turbines relative to dwellings (i.e. their relative setback), and the validity of current MOE noise guidelines. Both policies influence citizen well-being and require review.

Nicholas Kouwen

Full report:

Nicholas Kouwen, “a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.”

As this report warns, the government’s “policies influence citizen well-being and require review.”  

It reiterates the plea implicit in Rick James’ remark:

“I have a real difficulty, knowing that there are people who have had to leave their homes, who are living in trailers, or their relatives’ basements or whatever, to deal with this while their local Township or State Government or Provincial Government continue to ignore the fact that these problems are real… SOMETHING needs to be done quickly.”


About lsarc

LSarc is grassroots protection of Lake Superior through citizen science and volunteerism.  If you are interested in preserving intact ecosystems and restoring biological integrity of the Lake Superior watershed using the scientific method to test hypotheses and research, then you are LSarc LSarc is proud to be a member of the John Muir Trust and the 60th member organization of Wind Concerns Ontario
This entry was posted in Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Ontario Electricity Sector, Ontario Politics, Renewable Energy, Wind Power, Wind Turbine Health Effects and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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