Are wind turbines too loud?

In the feud between wind energy and noise pollution, Caithness Energy pays Oregon residents to keep quiet about excessive noise from their proposed wind farm.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

After one Oregon wind farm grapples with unhappy neighbors and noise pollution laws, another company moves to ensure tolerance for their turbines with cash.

Invenergy's 48 wind turbines whirring in north-central Oregon have been creating quite a stir. Since the 72-megawatt wind farm Willow Creek began operating last year, some residents have been complaining of sleepless nights, anxiety, headaches and nausea. They've been blaming their condition, sometimes referred to as "wind turbine syndrome," on the pulsing noise emanating from spinning turbines near their homes. Others don't seem to mind.

Some noise solutions discussed have been to shut certain turbines down at night. In May, the Morrow County Planning Commission gaveInvenergy, the company that runs Willow Creek, six months to comply with Oregon's noise pollution laws.

William Yardley reports in Saturday's New York Times:

Oregon is one of a growing number of places that have drafted specific regulations restricting noise from wind turbines. The Oregon law allows for noise to exceed what is considered an area’s ambient noise level by only a certain amount. But what those ambient levels are is sometimes disputed, as is how and where they should be measured.

And while state law limits turbine noise, the state office that once enforced industrial noise laws, housed within the Department of Environmental Quality, was disbanded in 1991, long before wind power became a state priority.

Caithness Energy is constructing a bigger, 900-megawatt wind farm next to Willow Creek. According to the New York Times, the company is taking preemptive action to avoid conflict over the decibel levels of their 32,000-acre Shepherd's Flat wind farm. Caithness Energy is paying residents to sign noise easements. The contracts would basically waive their right to officially complain about noise from the 338 Shepherd's Flat turbines that will start whirring in 2013.

The amount to keep quiet? $5,000.

In April, I discussed efforts by the Air Force to shut down the Shepherd's Flat wind farm due to its possible interference with a radar station 50 miles from the site.

While reports of wind farms psychologically affecting their neighbors have occurred in countries across the world, more research on whether a direct connection exists between the noise and vibrations of windmills and ill health is needed. Whether $5,000 will help people sleep at night also remains to be seen.

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Image: Flickr_HBT
: New York Times

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