“She didn’t count on the noise”

January 4, 2009


Painting by Grant Wood (1930), with adaptation

—Calvin Luther Martin

“I recently spoke with a homeowner who lives on the Number 5 Road in Chateaugay, NY.  Her farm is surrounded by the newest crop of turbines.”   So begins a letter by a lady named Flossy Powell.  Ms. Powell submitted her letter to RiverCityMalone around Christmas time.

Flossy’s letter is disturbing.  It describes the experience of an acquaintance in Chateaugay (NY) who now finds herself surrounded by (what appears to be) the Noble Chateaugay Windpark.

Initially, while they were being constructed, she told me she was willing to give the turbines the benefit of the doubt. She’d read a bit about them, pro and con, but was waiting for the actuality before judging.

Unfortunately, she said, she had not counted on the noise factor. She told me that the “whomp-whomp-whomp” noise emanates from the turning blades, from the ground, from everywhere. She said it is impossible to get away from the noise and vibration; it’s a physical presence you can feel constantly.

So far their farm animals seem to be unaffected by the racket, but she and her family can’t ignore it and have to endure it since they own the farm and had not planned to move away. She said, Who would buy it anyway, surrounded by all those giant noise makers?

First of all, we thank Flossy for sharing this with RCM.  The North Country needs more people like Flossy Powell.  People of courage and integrity.

Compare Ms. Powell’s report to the following, taken from a wind developer’s website.

Are modern wind turbines noisy?  No. … At a distance of 750 to 1,000 feet a modern wind turbine is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room (American Wind Energy Association). … At 1,000 feet, the sound of a modern turbine is practically indiscernible over the background noise associated with the environment in which a turbine is placed. Very often, one of the loudest background noises is the wind itself!

Noble Environmental Power wrote this.  It’s quoted verbatim from Noble’s “Wind fact sheet #5: Are modern wind turbines noisy?

Something doesn’t add up.  Compare the key passages, side-by-side.

She told me that the “whomp-whomp-whomp” noise emanates from the turning blades, from the ground, from everywhere. She said it is impossible to get away from the noise and vibration; it’s a physical presence you can feel constantly.  She and her family can’t ignore it and have to endure it since they own the farm and had not planned to move away. She said, Who would buy it anyway, surrounded by all those giant noise makers?
Chateaugay homeowner, as reported by Flossy Powell

Are modern wind turbines noisy?  No. … At a distance of 750 to 1,000 feet a modern wind turbine is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room (American Wind Energy Association). … At 1,000 feet, the sound of a modern turbine is practically indiscernible over the background noise associated with the environment in which a turbine is placed.
Noble Environmental Power

Something definitely doesn’t add up.

Noble’s not alone in its claims.  Here’s what the American Wind Energy Association (a consortium of wind developers) says about turbine noise.

Today, an operating wind farm at a distance of 750 to 1,000 feet is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room…. The best test is to simply experience the noise from a turbine for yourself. You will find that you can stand directly beneath a turbine and have a normal conversation without raising your voice…. In general, wind plants are not noisy, and wind is a good neighbor.

The British Wind Energy Association waxes poetic about it.  Think, says BWEA in a soothing voice, of “a flowing stream.”  Think of “the noise of leaves rustling in a gentle breeze.”  Or get out your pipe and imagine the charm of a “reading room of a library.”

Wind turbine noise, old chap?  Merely “the rustling of trees.”  BWEA calls this poetry, “Noise from wind turbines: The facts.”

Compare the wind developers’ facts with these facts, written by a realtor living in Shelburne, Ontario (Canada).  Barbara Ashbee, by name.  While the rest of us were celebrating New Year’s eve, Barbara was sitting before her computer composing the following letter to the Ontario Minister of the Environment, the Honorable John Gerretsen.

Before reading the letter, first a little background on Barbara’s living situation:

We live in the country in a raised bungalow on 1 acre, and are very happy with our lives. I am a realtor, with a background in building supply sales, and Dennis [my husband] and his brother own a swimming pool and spa business covering all aspects of the business from their retail store, to installations and maintenance.

We are pretty happy and not really stressed about anything.

We were vocal about the proximity of these windmills to our house, but it fell on deaf ears.

We now have 11 turbines in easy view, and the closest is approximately 470 meters [1542 feet] behind our house, and another about the same in front of our house. I am not sure of its distance. And there are some to north and south. Our house faces east and our backyard, west. Our kitchen and master bedroom are on the back (west) side of the house.

They started testing them a few at a time at the end of November, early December 2008. Once they started up full time the problems started.


“Haying” by Grant Wood (1939)

Now the letter, dated December 31, 2008.

Hon. John Gerretsen
Minister of the Environment
12th Floor
135 St Clair Ave W.
Toronto ON M4V 1P5

Dear Sir:

I am writing this letter to urge you to put a hold on these wind farms until your ministry does a lot more investigating.

I am hearing people in the industry say that there are no ill health effects and minimal noise is emitted. Well, come to my house Mr. Gerretsen. Stay here for at least a week, so you can experience the full array of noise and vibration level we have to live with. This sound changes with wind speed, blade direction and atmosphere, ranging from a constant irritating low hum/vibration, to a never-ceasing jet flying overhead, to sounding like the house has literally been dumped into a running washing machine. Try to function with minimal sleep, so disturbed you find you are working in a mental fog. The windows are closed up tight this winter. Yes, this is winter, and yet we can hear the noise inside. Would you be able to entertain your guests or have a family barbecue on your back deck in the summer, with a tower of whooshing, gyrating noise just 450 or so meters behind you, sir? Maybe you could get used to the ringing in the ears that my husband now has to deal with.

Please don’t suggest we move. Who is going to buy my house, standing in the middle of a wind farm with noises so loud you won’t be able to sleep at night? If the wind comes from the east, not the west, then there is the one in the front to “soothe” you to sleep at night. Would you buy my house, sir? I don’t think so. There are laws in place to protect the buyer, sir, where we would have to disclose any deficiencies regarding our property. This noise would definitely count and it is the right thing to do to let people know what they are getting into. It is called, being ethical. Where was the disclosure from the company who put these turbines in so close to me? Why are there different laws for them?

This government is allowing something to take hold of the entire province without full knowledge of the effects on people, and is letting these wind corporations run … through this province like madmen.

Let me give you my own personal view of what seems to be going on with this process.  Landowners/farmers are approached by energy corporations with offers of annual sums of money that may be very hard for a landowner/farmer to resist, and they tell them that this province needs green energy and what a wonderful contribution they are making, and they get them signed up. They do not knock on the door of the neighbouring non-participant landowner and give them the information that they need to decide if they can continue to live there. These homeowners really don’t matter and they certainly don’t want or need them slowing the process. They send a letter, and maybe a flyer. No need to register it. If it gets lost, well, what can you do?

So, Mr. Farmer in the middle of the project doesn’t want to participate? Maybe they tell them how all of their wonderful neighbors have been signed up to host windmills, and that if they don’t they will be surrounded by them anyway, so why miss out on the income everyone else is getting? But they need to make a decision before it’s too late. Then make sure they get that amendment to the official plan to allow renewable energy/windmills, and reassure the township that they too will be receiving a generous sum of money annually that they can put to good use.

How am I doing so far? Well, looks like everything is in order now…let’s have a meeting. It doesn’t really matter what concerns or rights anyone has to their property; they will get talked around and maybe even a good old blank stare when answering. What’s that? Those turbine sites seem too close to you? Well, we’re sorry but it is all compliant with the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), so please don’t worry about it. If it’s been approved by your government, then they know what’s good for you.

And so they continue and they are erected. And my husband and I do our best to embrace the intention of the windmills, and watch with wonder as roads are built and huge trucks with police escorts deliver these wonderful pieces of environmental art. And then I look out my back window and I look out my front window and look how close they are and think, “Wow…they are really close. I hope they aren’t too loud.”  Perhaps I can put up with the drastic change to my view all around me for the sake of green energy. I want to help the country and the environment too.

And then they start them up…

So what is it that you are complaining about? You can hear noise? We’re sorry that it is bothering you. These new turbines don’t make much noise. As a matter of fact, the Generation Development page of the Ontario Power Authority says, “Manufacturers of modern wind turbines have … reduced noise levels to that of a quiet whisper.”

A quiet whisper? Oh, please…

We’re sorry they’re keeping you awake, we are told, but we can assure you we are compliant with the MOE, and they say this noise level is fine.

Well, thank you for your insight, but knowing this doesn’t help us get to sleep. And so they decide to do a noise study. Can we put you up at the nearest hotel so you can get some rest, we are asked? Thanks but no thanks. We are not willing to leave our pets and it is Christmas. Well, all we can do is offer. Can you please shut down [the] one closest to us at night so we can at least get some sleep? Sorry, it is not within my authority to do that, we’re told. How about that noise study? Let’s get some measurements taken.  Gee, about half of the windmills were shut down when the attended readings were taken. There was little wind, and the ones that were running were facing due south, the least invasive direction to our home. Noise study is over. Please, can you just shut down that one windmill from 12 am to 6 am? Sorry, cannot do it.

Do you smell a bully here, Mr. Gerretsen?

You people have created this mess. It’s time for our leaders to stop this ridiculous green charade, with these thugs traipsing through our townships and counties. How can you leave decisions like this up to small municipalities, who know nothing about wind farms and noise levels?

Why not take some time, read the reports on health issues, talk to the people, find out what is going on in your province?  You should be ashamed at the way your citizens are being treated. What do you have to say to the people that have been pushed out of their homes? I am all for green energy, my friend, but not at the expense of the well-being of people. What can be so difficult about finding and purchasing vacant land, making sure it’s clear of homeowners and erecting these turbines where they aren’t going to bother people, pets and livestock?  Or at the very least, create realistic setbacks.

What is going on is just insane. With all due respect, please get your collective heads out of the sand and start investigating. Talk to everyone, not just the ones writing the letters, or the farmers that are happy to have an additional income.  Talk to the non-participant homeowners, who may not know where to turn to or how to approach the issue. How about talking to the farmers that feel they have been misled and are now without a voice, or the homeowners who find themselves in the middle of the farms with no input whatsoever? Chances are they are afraid to speak, lest they lose everything they have worked for.

Yes, sir, that would be me:  afraid to speak out because I can’t live here anymore and no one is going to buy a bungalow in a wind farm. What am I supposed to do? Our retirement home is ruined, thank you very much. While you’re at it, talk to the homeowners in the Ripley area. I hear things are pretty tough there. Don’t ask me their names; I don’t know them, because they are too afraid to speak out. Not all of us are able or feel free to speak up, sir. Some of your constituents don’t know which way to turn.

I thank you for your time and hope you can see past the whole goodness of green, and make the effort to investigate the other truths about wind energy. I am sure there must be other options to the placement of these farms. You have a wealth of knowledge in this province, and it is at your fingertips.

Sincerely,

Barbara Ashbee-Lormand
335498 7th Line Amaranth,
RR # 1, Shelburne, Ontario L0N 1S5
Canada

So, why don’t people “hosting” wind turbines complain about the noise/vibration causing sleeplessness, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, cognitive & memory problems, tinnitus, and so forth?  Well, to start with, it’s legal.  Legal, you ask?  Yes, it’s included in their lease contract.  Leaseholders agree to allow the wind developer to make this noise and vibration.  The following is quoted verbatim from two sample contracts:

A non-exclusive easement for audio, visual, view, light, flicker, noise, vibration, air turbulence, wake, electromagnetic, electrical and radio frequency interference, and any other effects attributable to any Project or Operations. (From Wind Energy Company A’s leaseholder contract.)

An exclusive easement to permit the Wind Power Facilities located on the Property, on adjacent property or elsewhere to affect the Property, including without limitation visual and non-visual and audible and non-audible effects.  (From Wind Energy Company B’s leaseholder contract.)

You get the picture.  In addition turbine leaseholder contracts typically include a paragraph much like this, taken from a local contract.

Confidentiality. Owner shall maintain in the strictest confidence (i) the terms of (including the amounts payable under) this Agreement, (ii) any information regarding Developer’s Operations and (iii) any other information that is proprietary or that Developer requests be held confidential, in each such case whether disclosed by Developer or discovered by Owner (“Confidential Information”).

Developers call it a “confidentiality” clause.  The rest of us call it a “gag” clause and interpret it to mean, Thou shalt not publicly say anything derogatory about the turbines on thine land.

Added to the noise easement and gag clause, there’s of course the money.  The money’s real handy and welcome.

Developers don’t stiff just the leaseholder; they’re also fond of something clever called a Good Neighbor Agreement, which basically buys the silence of non-participating landholders.  For a modest annual sum neighboring property owners agree not to publicly complain about matters such as noise & vibration.  (Evidently Mrs. Ashbee didn’t sign one of these.)

In the arithmetic of wind developers, noise easement + gag clause + money = silence from leaseholders.  And, Good Neighbor Agreement + money = silence from non-leaseholders.  That pretty well ensures the property holders won’t complain.  Even if they’re inclined to, the fear of revealing the noise toxicity of their home to prospective buyers will keep most of them quiet.

Except for thorns in the flesh like Barbara Ashbee and the lady in Chateaugay.

We are told that how we react to a given noise may be influenced by our attitude towards the noise source, our state of health and well-being, our personalities, education, income, previous exposure, ad nauseum. Does the transportation noise problem disappear if we all learn to love driving and flying, or the industries that make these activities possible? Would I have been less disturbed by the subway project if I appreciated what the TA [NY City Transit Authority] was doing for progress? Is a 90-decibel jackhammer really less of a noise because it takes place during the day, or because I’ve heard one before? It is relatively simple to measure the physical quality of the noise signal, its decibel level, frequency distribution, duration, number of occurrences per unit time, etc. It is virtually impossible to measure the significant human response to noise. Schemes for predicting complaints and evaluating annoyance responses are crude guidelines, their effectiveness questioned even by noise specialists.
—Robert Alex Baron, The Tyranny of Noise (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1970), p. 34.

Anyhow, now you see why wind developers call their product Clean, Green, and Renewable.

» Clean = they’ve legally stripped you of your right to complain
» Green = money
» Renewable = payoff money is renewed annually and, besides, the contract is renewable at the will of the wind company

 
From www.plataformahorta.org, with appreciation

One last item before we wrap up this story.  This is the dirty little game wind developers play when they take the mayor and town board on the bus trip to Fenner, to “listen for yourself how quiet these turbines are.” (“The best test is to simply experience the noise from a turbine for yourself. You will find that you can stand directly beneath a turbine and have a normal conversation without raising your voice” American Wind Energy Association.)

Take a look at the diagram below.  Notice the well-known noise shadow pattern from an elevated noise source–such as a wind turbine.

Park the mayor and town board “directly beneath a turbine” (AWEA) and yes indeed, you can “have a normal conversation without raising your voice.”  (We suspect this is occasionally assisted by the simple yet effective expedient of turning off the turbine generators while the mayor and board are present.)


From Richard Bolton, Environmental Compliance Alliance, with appreciation

Burke has just elected a new town supervisor.  Albert Johnson.  We wonder if he’s going to let himself be foxed into visiting Fenner to stand beneath the turbine and … listen for himself (wink wink).

We suspect he’s too smart to fall for the old Fenner Trip scam.  We can imagine Arnold saying no thanks to Fenner and suggesting, instead, that the developer arrange for him to stay for a week with the lady and her husband in Chateaugay who say they’re going nuts from the noise & vibration.  (Maybe Arnold can persuade Don Bilow to join him.)

You and I both know there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell the developer will arrange this.  Fenner trip, yes.  Chateaugay houseguest, no.

Next time you drive through the turbine wasteland of Franklin & Clinton counties, play Bob Lucas’s Green Energy Blue on your iPod and ask yourself how many Barbara Ashbees live there.


From “The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1893)