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The lamentable tale of the non-existent wind turbine

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Today, Graham Lloyd, Environment Editor at The Australian, published an article [paywalled], warning us of the dangers of low-frequency noise from wind turbines. That the turbine referenced is non-existent is a fluttering, ethereal afterthought – an irrelevant whimsy, to be sure.

Lloyd instances a report as an example of the threat wind turbines pose to the human race:

“A Proposed Metric for Assessing the Potential of Community Annoyance from Wind Turbine Low Frequency Noise Emissions”

“Our experience with the low-frequency noise emissions from a single, 2-MW MOD-I wind turbine demonstrated that, under the right circumstances, it was possible to cause annoyance within homes in the surrounding community with relatively low levels of LF-range acoustic noise.”

Sounds convincing, right? The MOD-I wind turbine was a downwind NASA prototype, built in 1978, and removed in 1981. The paper itself was published in 1987. This is 26 years ago (before the internet was commercially available, and around the time Microsoft Windows was released). From the Wiki page:

“Low-frequency noise from the heavy truss tower blocking the wind to the downwind rotor caused problems to residences located close by”

1979_02503.jpg 2000 KW KILOWATT WIND TURBINE IN BOONE NORTH CARO

The wind hits the tower first, and then the blades. This is an old wind turbine. This is not the same as a newer wind turbine.

Modern wind turbines are upwind, rather than downwind, and as such, don’t have the same characteristic problem cause by the tower being in front of the rotor.

There are no downwind wind turbines in Australia.

The South Australian EPA recently released a comparative report on low-frequency noise emissions from modern, upwind turbines, unmentioned by Lloyd in his article:

“Overall, this study demonstrates that low frequency noise levels near wind farms are no  greater than levels in urban areas or at comparable rural residences away from wind  farms. Organised shutdowns of the wind farms also found that the contribution of the Bluff  Wind Farm to low frequency noise levels at Location 8 was negligible, while there may  have been a relatively small contribution of low frequency noise levels from the Clements  Gap Wind Farm at frequencies of 100Hz and above”

Lloyd does elaborate that instancing a 26 year old report referring to a prototype, nonexistent wind turbine that was never installed in Australia isn’t quite right:

‘Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said the study was not relevant to modern turbines. “This is the equivalent of taking a study about Ataris and applying it to the latest iPads,” Mr Marsh said.’

So why report a decades-old piece of research on a prototype wind turbine like it’s breaking news? It’s a technique Lloyd has used before. Have a look at these sentences from an article published in April 2012:

“Village resident Neil Daws is concerned his chickens have been laying eggs with no yolks. Ironically called wind eggs, the yolkless eggs can be explained without wind turbines.
But together with a spike in sheep deformities, also not necessarily connected to wind, reports of erratic behaviour by farm dogs and an exodus of residents complaining of ill health, Waterloo is a case study of the emotional conflict being wrought by the rollout of industrial wind power.”

By simply presenting two completely irrelevant facts in close proximity, Lloyd lets the reader assume the two are linked. You can literally do this with anything you want. You’re limited only by your imagination:

“Physicians found in 1702 that drilling a hole into someone’s skull to remove evil spirits was largely unsuccessful. This revelation shows that modern neurosurgery is extremely dangerous”

So where did Lloyd get this 26-year-old scoop

“Yeah, the government and industry knew all about this shit in the 1980s.  It’s now 2013, and the  government and industry are still pretending they don’t know about this shit. Are you angry, yet?”

Oh yes, it’s our old, profane, hyperbolic friends, windturbinesyndrome.com, attempting to stimulate rage by distributing outdated research on prototype machines. Lloyd claims:

“The research was sent by an American acoustics expert to Australian wind health campaigners and has now been published internationally.”

Well, no, it was already published internationally. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere….you get the idea. It’s an old piece of research, that’s been mindlessly re-hashed by anti-wind groups and picked up by Lloyd with motivated glee.

In the absence of evidence of any harm from wind turbines, awkwardly and unashamadely shoe-horning irrelevant, outdated research into contemporary media is, presumably, the last resort for both bile-flecked clipart-ridden blogs like WTS.com and one of Australia’s biggest news outlets.

This article was originally published on Ketan Joshi’s blog, Some Air. Reproduced with permission  

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  • AK

    I’ve always thought Grahm Lloyd’s title should be Anti-Environment Editor

  • thin_king

    Spot on AK, the guy is, as far as I can see, nothing short of an enemy of the planet.

    As for the newspaper he writes in, since it represents the interests of transnational corporations over and above the well-being of the people of Australia, I now only ever refer to it as “The Bloody UnAustralian”. (Stopped reading it when George Megalongenis quit)

    Bare-faced propaganda, opinion without analysis and outright agenda driven lying for breakfast anyone?

  • George Papadopoulos

    Well Ketan, does low frequency noise induce annoyance or mass hysteria? Am I hysterical tonight thinking that I can hear wind turbines rumbling away or am I hearing the noise/vibrations from the wind turbines in the region?

  • lisalinowes

    Oddly, your complaint misses the two points of Mr. Lloyd’s reporting — (a) that LF sound emissions from turbines should be surveyed inside people’s homes and not at the outer wall and (b) LF sound emissions are disturbing to people. Simple as that. The age/model/design of the turbine used to investigate the question in 1987 are irrelevant. What is relevant is that the methodology used to detect LF emissions is likely faulty. Why does that spike such anger from you?

    • Bob_Wallace

      What would make LF sound appear inside homes if it is not detected at the outer wall?

      Of course, LF emissions can be disturbing to people. If they are loud enough to be detected.

      Un- wad your bloomers. Worry about how burning coal is making your summers very hot and your floods very deep. Worry about the health damage caused by burning coal.

      Worry about real problems.

      • lisalinowes

        Your response indicates you did not bother to read the 1987 paper. I recommend it. In any event, I am not interested in a political debate. I’m merely pointing out the science that is being ignored by the poster.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’ve read the paper.

          Downwind turbines did cause noise problems. I’ve been around some, they were noisy.

          We do not use downwind turbines.

          This is 2013. 1987 was 26 years ago.

          Coal-powered steam trains produced a lot of harmful coal smoke.

          We no longer use coal-powered steam trains.

          The trains we now use to not emit coal smoke.

          The wind turbines we now use to not cause noise problems like downwind turbines did. “Did”, as in the past.

          • Leith Elder

            Upwind turbines cause noise problems too. Here’s your proof:
            http://www.acoustics.asn.au/journal/2012/2012_40_1_Doolan.pdf

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yes, upwind turbines do make some noise. No one has said that they don’t. But the amount of noise made by upwind turbines is not unlike other noise sources found in the environment as the paper you linked shows.

            Near turbine noise was 50 dB. Quite living room conversation is about 50 dB.

            Downwind turbines were noisy boogers.

          • Leith Elder

            dBA tell you nothing.

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, tells me a lot. I’ve got a basic knowledge of acoustics. It’s a bit rusty, but still functional.

            It wouldn’t take you long to learn the basics. One of the most important concepts to grasp is the inverse square law. It’s all fairly simple physics.

          • Bob_Wallace

            No, tells me a lot. I’ve got a basic knowledge of acoustics. It’s a bit rusty, but still functional.

            It wouldn’t take you long to learn the basics. One of the most important concepts to grasp is the inverse square law. It’s all fairly simple physics.

          • Leith Elder

            If dBA tell you a lot you know nothing about acoustics

          • Bob_Wallace

            A-weighting is the most commonly used of a family of curves
            defined in the International standard IEC 61672:2003 and various national standards relating to the measurement of sound pressure level. A-weighting is applied to instrument-measured sound levels in effort to account for the relative loudness perceived by the human ear, as the ear is less sensitive to low audio frequencies. It is employed by arithmetically adding a table of values, listed by octave
            or third-octave bands, to the measured sound pressure levels in dB. The resulting octave band measurements are usually added (logarithmic method) to provide a single A-weighted value describing the sound; the units are written as dB(A).

            Wiki

          • Leith Elder

            Really? Don’t waste my time troll!

    • Ketan Joshi

      Lisa,

      The report Graham Lloyd cites states an indoor annoyance threshold of 67-76 dB(C) for the downwind wind turbines. I understand this is actually objectionably high – so it’s odd that yourself and Lloyd would be advocating an outdated and possibly injurious indoor annoyance threshold.

      Regardless, the South Australian Environmental Protection Agency published a comparative low-frequency noise study, in which they measured wind turbine noise inside a bedroom. They measured 25-45 dB(C) inside a bedroom, which is significantly lower than the threshold you indirectly advocate by citing the 1987 report.

      The SA EPA Report:
      http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/xstd_files/Noise/Report/low_frequency.pdf [PDF]

      Attached screenshots – the indoor thresholds you cite in the 1987 report, and figures 12 and 13 from the Environmental Protection Agency report.

      You are correct in stating that low-frequency noise can be an issue.

      You are incorrect in asserting that non-existent wind turbines are a concern for Australian citizens.