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Towns Move to Prevent Noise Problems with Wind Turbines

January 19, 2013

Will towns be able to make regulations for wind turbine noise more stringent than the state standard? The 10 decibel over ambient (background) noise regulation is the current standard applied by the Mass Department of Environmental Protection. It is their role to protect people from air pollution, including noise. (For more about qualities of turbine noise, click on this chart.)Acoustics and Wind Turbine Noise

But a regulation being considered by Bourne, Falmouth, Scituate and Kingston would lower that level to six decibels for wind turbines. A draft regulation being considered by three of those towns would also include regulations to account for the “whooshing” nature of turbine sound, as well as regulations for infrasound, or sound that is inaudible to humans.

Ariel Wittenberg, writing in South Coast Today, notes Fairhaven’s interest in adopting a stricter noise ordinance. In Fairhaven health board member hopes for stricter turbine regulations, Wittenberg quotes health board member Barbara Acksen’s comments.

Acksen said that [DEP] approach is inadequate, adding that “even if the turbines don’t violate state law, people are still being affected.”
“Many people in different communities have found that this 10 decibel level is not appropriate to account for turbine noise,” she said.
The draft regulation being considered by Falmouth, Scituate and Kingston was written by Westboro-based attorney Christopher Senie, who often represents community groups in zoning disputes.

Scituate had an earlier regulation which limited noise levels to 3 and 5 dB(A), but changed it to the state standard. This was upon the recommendation of two current MassCEC employees, Andrew Brydges and Peter McPhee, who at that time were working as consultants for KEMA (an international energy consulting firm, now part of DNV KEMA). The change was encouraged in order for the town to successfully site a wind turbine.

KEMA – Town of Scituate Community Wind Project Feasibility Study April 2008 Tech Environmental Acoustic Study of Scituate
“The noise level allowances during turbine operation are 3 dB above ambient noise when ambient noise is 45 dB or below, and 5 dB above ambient noise when ambient noise is 45 dB or above. These noise level requirements are, in KEMA’s opinion, relatively strict and may lead to significant hindrances in the development of a wind turbine if they are not modified or waived.” (p.62)

“Considering changes to the Town’s existing wind energy conversion system bylaw in the areas of noise, using the Massachusetts Model Wind Bylaw as a reference. Specifically, the Town should consider setting allowable noise increases to 10 dB above ambient noise levels as measured at the nearest property line, consistent with DEP noise regulations” (p. 58).

“The town of Scituate has recently amended their By-Law, Section 740.6 Noise Level Standards. It is now identical to the MADEP regulations…”(p.5)

“Project sounds should not be audible indoors anywhere.”* (p.1)

*TV Interview with resident who is located 3,500 feet away from the turbines: “You can still hear the noise inside your home with the windows closed,” Scituate residents say wind turbine is too loud.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2013 11:06 am

    Boards of health in Bourne, Falmouth, Scituate, Fairhaven and Kingston (to name only a few) are being pressed for relief from residents. The impetus for the escalation of health concern is born from inadequacies of zoning regulations recommended by wind energy promoters. These promoters “hoodwink” communities into believing that ‘big wind projects are the NEW “Goose that lays Golden Eggs”. The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center authored a state supported Wind Turbine Model Bylaw (regulatory tool) for municipalities considering wind energy projects. This is heralded as the State standard, yet more and more local boards of health are finding themselves in a quandary. This “rotten egg” then becomes an unfortunate Political issue. In Falmouth, this health issue has no business being addressed by any board other than Health!

    Health concerns of residents fall squarely under the jurisdiction of the a board of health. Some health board member realize this. Others choose to shirk their responsibilities. The level of acceptable health afforded to residents cannot be measured by, nor should be subject to, municipal budget or climate action impacts. Falmouth, being only one example, needs to recognize the Wind Turbine Option Process (WTOP) as only a distracting ‘side show’ in the State’s three ring circus (DEP,DPH, Governor’s Office). The problem requires the solution be dealt with, head on – where it belongs, under the “Big Tent”.. under the jurisdiction of local Boards of Health.

  2. Chris Kapsambelis permalink
    January 20, 2013 10:49 am

    There are decibels and there are decibels!

    There is dB(A), dB(C), dB(G), and dB(Z). Then we have the different statistical metrics, L90, L10, Leq, Lmax, Lmin, and more.

    There are sound characteristics, steady, Impulsive, modulated, whoosh, bang, and more.

    All of this creates so much confusion that in the absence of experience in Acoustics by local boards and compliance officials, which is more the rule than the exception, whatever standard is adopted using the decibel as measure can be manipulated to produce any answer developers, who pay for compliance studies, wish.

    The best metric for compliance setback is distance. Distance in meters or feet is something anyone schooled in third grade arithmetic can comprehend. The panel of experts hired by the state found that the typical wind turbine generates 103 dB(A) of noise. At 400 meters (1,300 feet), the noise level drops to 40 dB(A) which they considered safe. We know from the Falmouth MassDEP measurements that at 1,300 feet the noise level was in excess of 50 dB(A). From the Impact Study we also learn that doubling the distance reduces the noise level by 6 dB(A). So at 2,600 feet we can expect 44 dB(A) of noise.

    The MassDEP in letters and reports has admitted that their current protocol understates wind turbine noise and needs revision. It is reasonable to assume that this error is at least 2 dB(A).

    Going back to our third grade arithmetic, 44 + 2 = 46. So, if we want to reduce the dB(A) noise level to the expert’s finding of the safe 40dB(A), the distance needs to be doubled again to 5,200 feet.

    For those of us that have progressed beyond the third grade, that is almost a mile. Acoustic experts will be quick to tell us that the problem is not that simple, but in fact it is that simple, and local boards will be doing themselves, and the residents they have sworn to protect, a favor by adopting wind turbine setbacks of a mile or more.

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