A Noisy Argument Against Wind Power…

January 29th, 2008
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Wind turbines have been popping up all over the place and in many cases those who live in the area around these massive structures find out that they’re not as low-impact as they are claimed to be. Wind turbines have a tendency to create a distinctive kind of sound which can be quite powerful around wind farms with multiple turbines towering hundreds of feet in the air. The noise is a combination of the turbulence that occurs around blade tips, which typically are moving faster than the wind that passes through as well as the pressure wave which is caused by the blades spinning through the current of air, slicing it and creating a localized vortex.

Some of the wind pushers will say that the sounds are not very loud and show videos or sonic measurements to offer as evidence. The problem with this is that the noise which wind turbines create cannot always be appreciated in such cases. In many cases, the sound borders on “infrasonic” and therefore cannot be easily heard by the human ear. This does not make it any less of a problem, however. Infrasonic oscillations can be very annoying because even if they are not directly heard, they can cause objects to reverberate with very noticable sounds. The constant wosh-wosh-wosh can also be felt like deep bass and the harmonics can also be audible, even if the original frequency is not. Some research exists that such infrasonic oscillations can have detrimental effects, but that’s not entirely well established.



Regardless of whether or not there are physical effects of the wind turbines, there’s one thing that is impossible to deny: It’s very very very annoying to live with a constant WOOSH WOOSH WOOSH and the THUMP THUMP THUMP that can be felt in one’s chest and though sometimes discrete, is omnipresent and unwavering. Animals seem to be effected as well. It can effect sleep and the general psycological wellbeing of those in the area. In this case one might say that this is a case where psychology is causing people to manifest symptoms which may be “all in their head,” but this hardly invalidates the complaints, since unlike the cases of cell phone towers or other alleged sources of aggravation, these are admittedly based on the annoyance factor and there’s that they are detectable.

In the end, this argument, like many others, would be of little consequence if wind power were capable of producing large amounts of usable energy. The fact that areas around wind farms may becomes far less desirable for homes and businesses is a price which could be accepted in exchange for clean energy. The problem is that they do not produce the kind of energy which can realistically be expected to make a significant difference. Thus, in addition to the high cost of constructing these turbines, the heavy impact on quality of life and property values of those unlucky enough to reside in their immediate area must be added to an already very one sided cost-benefit ratio.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 29th, 2008 at 7:38 am and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, Enviornment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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22 Responses to “A Noisy Argument Against Wind Power…”

  1. 1
    Paully Says:

    Good point buzz: It is definately something people live with even if it does not show up as well in a video or recording. I’ve been around these things too and I can’t imagine living there. Best analogy: Think of being very close to a large low-flying helicopter. That very low thump-thump-thump pocketa-porcket sound is similar. Just take away the sound of the engines and the other more audable aspects. Also it’s a lot larger than a helicopter so it’s a larger area effected. It’s a much slower thuuuuump—- thuuuuuump— thuuuuump too but it will drive you crazy just the same. Not so bad if you visit. But imagine it day and night every day and night. It’ll about drive you to suicide!


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  2. 2
    Otto Says:

    Wind is not of as much use as it would seem to some. This is disappointing but it is the reality which needs to be accepted. The promotion of wind in Germany has not been fruitful to the extent which it was foreseen to be or even close to it. It is a topic which is kept at a low profile.


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  3. 3
    Jim Strathmeyer Says:

    So it seems to me that somewhere someone built some wind turbines too close to some houses and they’re trying to use it to discredit all wind power, much like anti-nuclear power zealots will harp one a few number of accidents. There’s a bunch of these things near the middle of the Pennsylvania turnpike and there doesn’t seem to be anything else for miles around, and I’ve never heard any sound from it.

    How far away does this affect occur? Seems like something that should be included in such an article.

    “but this hardly invalidates the complaints, since unlike the cases of cell phone towers or other alleged sources of aggravation, these are admittedly based on the annoyance factor and there’s that they are detectable.”

    Wow, doesn’t this invalidate the entire article? Reminds me of an old alt.folklore.urban story: “So I went out to our giant radio antenna today where I was met for a nearby farmer and he says, ‘Since they put that thing up I’ve been feeling horrible and have gotten really sick,’ so I said, ‘Well then I have bad news because I am here to turn it on.’”


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  4. 4
    Mike Cermak Says:

    Um, sorry, no. Doc, I’m gonna have to call you on this one. It’s unfortunate that you chose to use that worthless piece of YouTube drivel to try to drive your point home, since it’s nothing more than recitation of anecdotes, without any real substance behind them (what were the results of their “sound test”?). I suggest you and your readers Google for the terms “wind turbine infrasonic noise”, and then we’ll talk further. That search will pull up a host of research items, including:

    http://www.wind.appstate.edu/reports/06-06Leventhall-Infras-WT-CanAcoustics2.pdf

    which is an excellent discussion of the topic, and clearly differentiates frequency from sound pressure, while also pointing out an aspect of wind turbine operation that MAY, in fact, be of concern (but has nothing to do with infrasound). I live in Cleveland, OH, where we have a functioning wind demonstration project on our lakeshore, and I may just need to do a little informal research and eat lunch next to it one day…


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  5. 5
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Jim: No the difference between the cell tower and the wind farm is that the complaint about the cell phone tower is that the radio waves make people sick by some unknown means. It’s not that the cell phone tower buzzes all the time or has a giant strobe light ontop. That would be a different matter. The difference would be if the farmer said “Since they put that radio tower up I can’t stand the goddamned sight of it and every time I look out my window that crazy blinking red light on it just is annoying as hell” It’s a valid concern to say that a cell phone tower is ugly. That’s why they don’t like putting them up right infront of a historic old house or some similar place with known scenery.

    The “infrasound” is not a hazard to health as much as it’s the point that it is annoying by secondary sounds. If you have sound which is bellow the threshhold of human hearing it can be very damn annoying anyway when everything buzzes. Ever driven by a car with crazy subwoofers? you don’t so much hear the “thump thump thump” as you hear the “buzz buzz buzz”

    The point has little to do with the wind turbines being not worth the trouble simply because they are noisy. That would be a non-issue if they were actually worth a crap. I know the turbines you are talking about. (I think) as I do remember passing a massive wind farm while driving back from Pittsburgh a while ago. I’m not sure exactly what that wind farm is though.

    The problem is that the cost benefit analysis ratio is so stacked. Even a small cost is going to push it further when the benefit is so minuscule as to be insignificant. Disturbing a few people is hardly worth the benifit: A few megawatts of highly unreliable power for the cost more than any source of electricity except solar.

    If one wanted to oppose nuclear energy on the grounds that “that big concrete dome is ugly and the cooling towers block my view. Also the fact that they had to chop down a lot of trees to make room for the plant” is entirely valid. That’s not in dispute. There’s no accounting for “it’s not pretty and it annoys me.” It’s a weak criticism in light of the fact that a plant puts out a lot of energy. If it put out a few watts of power… well then the eyesore argument seems to be a bit more credible.


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  6. 6
    Bennikins Says:

    If the argument is not that they cause some illness but simply “I hate the sound of them and they annoy the hell out of me” then yes that is 100% true and just plain obvious. I have been around them and I think that the noise would be very hard to live with day in and day out. If you are within a few hundred yards then yes you can notice it. I also heard a lot of people complaining that in the early morning if the windturbines are to their east and the sun rises behind them then they get the effect of the morning light flashing or strobing because of the shadow. I can totally see how that would irritate the hell out of me if I woke up to that.


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  7. 7
    DV82XL Says:

    The broader issue here is not that some windmills irritate some people now. The issue is can this factor be ignored if they become as ubiquitous as a major sources of power? And the answer to this is no.

    The sheer number of installations that would be needed guarantees that all of the problems with this source will multiply. Not only noise, but impact on birds, the subsequent impact on the ground biota from the lack of birds, dangers from slung blades, micro-climate impacts all of these will take on significant magnitude.

    It’s just a consequence of scale.


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  8. 8
    Mister Fusion Says:

    If you honestly think that infrasound is no big deal, I would invite you to live within about a mile and a half or less from an industrial wind turbine. You can’t hear infrasound? Maybe not, but you can hear your shutters, your siding, your screen door, your windows and everything else that is not tied down rattling whenever there is a strong wind gust.

    They installed a wind farm in a town not far from me in Texas. It’s not even one of the bigger ones and everyone there can’t stand the goddamned thing. They started off all supporting it. Everyone bought into the big claims of how it would lower their taxes by providing income to the town and how it was going to help the environment and lead to better electricity rates. They now think they’ve been conned and a lot of people are fighting to get it removed.

    Some people who live two miles or so away it doesn’t make a sound most of the time, but on a windy night every few minutes they hear the damn roof and the damn siding and everything else just sounding like it’s about to come apart. You don’t think it can make you sick? Oh just try not getting a good nights sleep for a few days and we’ll see how healthy you are. You might also think that having a blade shadow cut across your property every 30 seconds and sweep across your living room while you’re trying to read the paper. I bet you’re going to say you can live with that kind of thing and it’s no big deal, right? Yeah, it’s no big deal for the first few days. By the fifth week you’ll be on the edge of suicide!


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  9. 9
    Fabio Says:

    This should be an issue very easy to fix. Wind turbines should not be placed closer than 1500 mt to any inhabited house (I do not think this could halt the industry, exception done for very crowded countries, where wind turbines are not a good choice anyway). But the wind power industry (and greenpeace as well…) denies any acoustical impact. I have some friends here in Italy who had a turbine (120mt high) placed at 150mt from their summer house. They had to escape!!!
    I think that the diffusion of wind energy will be one of the strongest point for nuclear energy. Many people who were against nuclear are starting to think “maybe nuclear is better than hundred of thousands of this things”. Obviously wind power it is not an alternative, anyway but the environmentalist are saying this absurdity…


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  10. 10
    DV82XL Says:

    In 1998, Norway commissioned a study of wind power in Denmark and concluded that it has “serious environmental effects, insufficient production, and high production costs.” Denmark (population 5.3 million) has over 6,000 turbines that produced electricity equal to 19% of what the country used in 2002. Yet no conventional power plant has been shut down.

    Because of the intermittency and variability of the wind, conventional power plants must be kept running at full capacity to meet the actual demand for electricity. Most cannot simply be turned on and off as the wind dies and rises, and the quick ramping up and down of those that can be would actually increase their output of pollution and carbon dioxide. So when the wind is blowing just right for the turbines, the power they generate is usually a surplus and sold to other countries at an extremely discounted price, or the turbines must be shut off.

    In fact 84% of western Denmark’s wind-generated electricity was exported (at a revenue loss) in 2003, in other words, Denmark’s glut of wind towers provided only 3.3% of the nation’s electricity. But if the actual net contribution is calculated, wind actually met only 1.7% of Denmark’s total demand because the amount of power used by the turbines themselves is typically not accounted for in the usually cited output figures.

    Despite their being cited as the shining example of what can be accomplished with wind power, the Danish government has canceled plans for three offshore wind farms planned for 2008 and has scheduled the withdrawal of subsidies from existing sites. Development of wind plants in Denmark has effectively stopped.

    However because Danish companies dominate the wind industry, the government is under pressure to continue their support.


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  11. 11
    Thomas Says:

    Folks have told me stories about the WOOSH WOOSH WOOSH sound of the blades, but I didn’t believe it until now. Thanks! Now that I don’t have to investigate it for myself, life can go on.

    Thomas :)


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  12. 12
    vic silverfish Says:

    Good points. And we all know that coal-fired plants are compleatly silent and have no impact on the surrounding neighborhoods, just like coal mines!

    There are numerous, valid issues relating to wind power (or any other power source), but none of them seem to be insurmountable. Modern turbines make less noise, and slapping appropriate sound regulations would encourage the development of better blade tips. You can’t tell me that the country that invented the nacho can’t overcome this one!

    Same deal with a ton of other green technologies – there are problems, but most of them seem to have a solution within our grasp. Breeder reactors (hardly new) to deal with nuclear waste, for example, or some of the thermal solar projects, rather than dorking around with inefficient solar cells.

    This is America, dammit! We are the best engineers in the world, and you nay-sayers who think we can’t do it can bite my arse!

    /vic


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  13. 13
    drbuzz0 Says:

    America, despite being able to put a man on the moon and all kinds of other fun and wonderful things cannot create a turbine which extracts more energy per cubic meter of air than there is per cubic meter of air. Air has a low density. It doesn’t move very fast most of the time. You can’t predict when it will move fast and not.

    There’s a very dirty seceret with wind and that’s the capacity factor and reliability of the energy. If they say they are building a “2 megawatt wind turbine” – one that’s as tall as some skyscrapers they mean “it can generate 2 megawatts at full tilt but it’ll generally do about .6″ Now here’s your other problem: Those .6 megawatts can’t be counted on. You can have it vary from zero to maximum and back down in a short period of time. Even the best areas have occasional variations. This includes the “Stalled high pressure system.”

    Now here’s the problem: As a grid operator if you have 95% wind reliability that means 5% of the time you’re up s***t creek when the power cuts out for just a few seconds by just a bit. If it’s only making up a small portion of your generating capacity, okay you can handle that with the running reserve you generally keep. But if you loose more than even 2% or so on a high demand day even briefly…. well you’re in trouble!

    Remember 2003 in the US a minor power line went down in the midwest and brought most of the east coast to a blackout? yeah bad stuff. You loose power from generators like that and the utility control room is going to look like mission control for apollo 13: Imagine people running around and on the phone with power plants trying to keep things going. If you loose some power for a minute or so you’ll start to see voltage drops. Then things start to slow down.. then the phase starts slowing.. then the system starts loosing sync. BAD BAD BAD…

    If it gets bad enough: Imagine transformers catching fire and generators grinding to a hault as they fight enormous torque that tries to tear them apart. Okay… usually it doesn’t get that bad, but it sure could.

    So how do we deal with the fact that we have wind that might cut out any time? We need to keep out generators running like the wind ain’t even there. Basically you “idle” your power plants in “Spinning reserve” Does this save energy? Well, the plant will use slightly less fuel while spinning without load, but you have to maintain a good head of steam too.. So really, you loose 90% of the wind energy to nothing…

    So how do you fix this? Most wind energy gets sent to something to store it. For utilities, this means “Pumped storage.” HORRIBLY inefficient. Thus you’ll need like five times the massive turbines…

    as far as I am aware the only example of a grid-stable wind project that did not need to have running reserve was demonstrated in Japan. They used onsite energy storage. Basically some absolutely massive sodium-sulfur batteries and they also experimented with flywheels and other schemes for buffering it.

    It was a small project though. And it was not exactly cheap. No amount of R&D could make it cheap either because when it comes down to it you just need massive batteries. Or you could use massive tanks of compressed air or something (which is also a horrible way of storing energy effectively)


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  14. 14
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Oh by the way… I’m not saying this because I’m just anti-wind or something. Actually when I started to learn about the actual energy production of wind a few years ago I felt like crap… like everything i had been taught for years was false.

    believe me, I wish it were different. I really do. It sucks bigtime that wind is such a crap source of energy. I wish it weren’t the case. but I don’t make the wind, I just report on it.


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  15. 15
    vic silverfish Says:

    drbuzz – these are fair comments, but no one is advocating a switch to 100% wind. In a giant grid like the US, you could spread your generators out and put them in reliable wind areas (sea shore, mountain ranges)
    and get a decent chunk of constant power from the system, if not from each individual turbine.

    You can generate power for about the same cost as a gas-fired plant (~$0.075/KWH IIRC) but not nearly so cheap as coal ($0.04/KWH). No worries, if you look at spot costs during summer peak use, all of the sudden wind becomes a little more viable.

    Will this replace coal? Probably not. I think thermal solar, nuclear, and tide/wave generation are the way to go, and the only ways that can be ramped-up to industrial scale. Wind, hydro, geo-thermal all play a role, as will improved efficiency and transmission.

    At the end of the day, we’ve got to stop putting carbon in the air. The ONLY way to do this is to invent our way out of it, and that’s going to have to be the western world inventing it, making it practical for the emerging world to use. If we can cross the economic threshold, all of the treaties in the world become irrelevant. I am of the opinion that this technology should come from the US. It’s going to be created by someone, and we’ll miss the boat (again)

    /vic


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  16. 16
    drbuzz0 Says:

    I’d be open to wind except I’m not yet convinced it really has the potential to make much difference. First we do really need some storage mechaism even if you have them spread out because having the generating capacity fluxuate from one side of the grid to the other is not going to be good either.

    Ultimately I’d say that if you are going to spent $100 billion and build hundreds of thousands of wind turbines and the return on that is that it creates 1% of the energy in the US… well you may as well not bother because that’s not going to make much difference and if you pay that much for every 1% you’ll never get anywhere.

    I’d say that from what I’ve seen of wind and solar (including solar thermal) they don’t have it to be a base load source. And for the time being, focusing on secondary sources is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Nuclear can provide all the energy we need. We know it can. It’s proven. We have the technology now. We can build a major plant in three years groundbreak to power output. We could do it in two years if we had an accelerated schedule. it provides gigawatts of power. It’s proven economically sustainable and 100% doable.

    I’d rather focus on that now because it has the highest return on investment and there’s no speculation involved.


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  17. 17
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Oh yeah, one other thing. as far as enviornmental problems: Coal. Get rid of that. Priority number 1. By far. Oil midigation is a pretty distant second.

    The stuff coal does to all aspects of the environment from mining to transport to air quality to coal ash… it’s horendous on the local and global level. It’s almost unfathomable how bad it is. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think “I simply cannot believe a civilized country would do that.”

    I am far less concerned about the pollution from cars and trucks or from heating homes and such then from coal. Those are important too, but they won’t drive us to doomsday for some time on their own. Coal… coal and the problems it causes the environment keep me up at night…


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  18. 18
    Fabio Says:

    Vic, you usually do not have wind during the periods of summer peak request (and neither in very cold days). And wind does not replace coal (it does not replace any kind of conventional power plant, if not in very limited measure), in Germany they are building coal plants like crazy. So you will have both wind turbines and coal plants. And yes I think noise (and bird kills, as well) are minor problems easily resolved with good regulation but you can not change the math. And the math says that you get very little energy in a totally unreliable way and needs lots of spaces. You are not saying to switch to 100% wind, but Greenpeace is saying this.
    And remember that every penny you put in subsidizing wind turbines is not going in something more useful.

    For Drbuzz0: your number are very optimistic. Here in Italy we have been building wind turbines for more than ten years (after we shut down our nuclear reactors together with our brains) , and we have never reached a 20% load factor (always between 16-19%). And while you build more turbines the average load factor is decreasing because the most windy spots are occupied firsts. This is very dependent on country. Also wind turbines need an over sized infrastructure (i.e. power lines able to deal with the power surges typical of windy days) usually paid by the public. The strange thing is that usually environmentalist are campaigning against road and power lines building, but if the purpose is servicing a wind power plant they suddenly change side and are campaigning for!!!! They also signed a pact with the wind industry lobby saying it is OK to build wind power plants inside the national parks.


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  19. 19
    Detox John Says:

    Wind power is good although it looks a bit bulkier compared to solar cells. i am trying to build a small wind generator at home too.


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  20. 20
    Franklin Says:

    We have quite a little wind farm in the gorge (one of the windier places) here in Oregon. I was really happy about it until I found out how little it produced in the summer (windy season) and the fact the lines stay energized caused the windmills to consume MORE than during the winter (calmer season) than they produced netting a LOSS of power. Somebody made a lot of cash building them and all we have to show for it is another bill and beautiful scenery covered in mills. I’m not a tech or an expert so I don’t know if there are any solutions but at this point I’m done being excited about wind power.


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  21. 21
    Bacnet Says:

    Wind Power is one of the best alternative energy sources that we should utilize, it is very clean and non-polluting. I built a small wind generator at home which can power small appliances.


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  22. 22
    http://octaviofnek.crowdvine.com/posts/39236132 Says:

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    and give you a shout out from Humble Tx! Just wanted to say keep up the
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