With today’s heightened awareness about energy and our dependence on foreign oil, we are being lured with a promise of bountiful, cheap electricity if we simply harvest the energy from the wind. As is true with everything in life, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Communities across the country are learning from past mistakes (the hard way) that one of the greatest struggles with wind turbine development is in community noise disturbances – or noise pollution. So, what can be done about it?

In a democracy, we trust our representatives to protect the rights and well-being of each individual and to protect each person and their property from irreparable harm. The regulation tools that our representatives and governments have to protect the individuals are zoning and noise ordinances. However, in addition to protecting each individual’s rights, our representatives are interested in providing for the greater good of the community’s energy needs and winning independence from foreign oil reserves; additionally, the development, employment, and tax revenues associated with having a wind farm in their constituency is also attractive. Can you trust your local politicians to ensure this issue is properly settled before a 400 ft tall wind turbine is planted in your backyard?

We need to ensure that individuals do not suffer health issues as a result of exposure to the noise that wind turbines make – similar to regulations for our drinking water. However, when it comes to annoyance and disturbance, there are really two issues embedded in this debate:

  1. People are different. Some individuals will be annoyed or disturbed by sounds that do not affect others. It is impractical to set regulations that would ensure that no person would ever be annoyed or disturbed by the sound of an industrial wind turbine installation. So, what level of (probably average) annoyance or disturbance is acceptable, and by what percentage of the population is this average annoyance reasonable to legislate to?
  2. What objective measures of wind turbine noise are needed to establish a performance criteria for the wind farm developers such that there is reasonable expectation that intent of issue 1 above is met?

The answer, my friend (to steal from Bob Dylan) is blowin’ in the wind; or, in other words, we don’t know (yet). Currently, noise regulations vary dramatically from state to state and county to county.  With the application of appropriate research,  we can eventually come to some standardized set of noise guidelines for wind turbine noise.

At Acoustics By Design, we pride ourselves in solving the human side of the equation when it comes to noise control and the human perception of sound. One of our goals is to participate in the research and development end of this debate, so we can establish appropriate standardized guidelines for wind turbine noise. Even though wind turbine energy will never be a “free lunch” per se, we want to help make it as “free” as possible, with broad community acceptance.

ABD Engineering and Design

ABD Engineering and Design is one of North America’s leading independent acoustical consulting and AV design firms, serving clients across the United States and Canada, as well as other international markets from offices in Grand Rapids, MI and Portland, OR. Our specialized acoustical engineering and AV design practices help architects, building owners, engineers, facility directors, and municipalities design spaces, environments, and systems for optimal acoustical and audiovisual performance. Our consulting practice areas specialize in all aspects of architectural acoustics, environmental and industrial noise and vibration control, and audiovisual systems design.

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