Wind farm noise myths-acousticians can’t convince some people… what else is new?

Noise is one of the many complaints people have against wind farms. Increasingly, acoustics professionals have to explain to the public that based on recent studies on wind farm noise (compiled in a book here), so far there has been no link to the noise causing any direct physiological harm to humans (but other animals? I don’t know). But the myths abound and persist and it’s very difficult to convince people that they don’t cause harm.

This article in ReNew Economy outlines some of the difficulties faced by acoustics professionals dealing with a wind farm development in Tasmania.

The Coalition recently called for requirements that all wind farms to provide “real-time” noise monitoring, with the findings immediately publicly available.

But ongoing monitoring wind farm noise is extremely difficult, Delaire said, adding, “There’s a lot of background noise – birds, cars etc etc. You can’t necessarily link noise level to wind farm noise. That’s the critical part here.”

In an airport, for instance, continuous noise monitoring is deployed, but the signal-to-noise ratio is high making it easier to measure. This is not the case for wind farms.

Wind farms generate electricity with wind – and wind turbine noise is difficult to measure when wind speeds are high. (Have you’ve heard what it sounds like when you blow into a microphone?) What might be required is a long-term study of noise in an area, on the order of a year or longer, to get representative noise levels under typical wind speeds, and comparison to the noise levels measured over a year with the wind turbines. I wonder how easy (difficult) it would be to get that study performed.

Members of communities close to wind farms often claim turbines harm harm their health, but in 2011 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) concluded: “There are no direct pathological effects from wind farms,” and “low level frequency noise or infrasound emitted by wind turbines is minimal and of no consequence… Further, numerous reports have concluded that there is no evidence of health effects arising from infrasound or low frequency noise generated by wind turbines.”

NHMRC is continuing to investigate the impact of wind farms on human health. Its systematic literature review, along with any revisions to its previous statement, is expected to be released for public consultation in the second half of this year.

This agrees with the studies I’ve read. And there are many current ongoing studies happening (like this one by the Canadian government). Time will tell what those future studies will reveal – I’m willing to bet that they find no ill health effects on humans. But if they do, I’m okay with that – I want to make sure we are making a safe space for people to live in.

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