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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 3, 2009

New Scotland mulls wind law as residents raise concerns about noise and light

By Saranac Hale Spencer

NEW SCOTLAND — Drawing equally fervent voices from each side of the argument, wind energy is heralded by some as a key component of a renewable energy program, and by others as a dangerous and unsightly scar on the landscape.

The gusty crest of Helderbergs, stretching through several towns, falls partly within New Scotland.  Some landowners in town were approached by Shell Wind Energy about a year ago when the Texas-based company was planning to build at least two dozen industrial-scale wind turbines in the area.  It has since backed down from its plans, but other companies have expressed interest and some residents are curious about erecting private windmills to power their homes.

Last spring, the town began exploring issues around the siting of turbines.  It hired Todd Mathes, of the law firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, to advise it on drafting a law to govern the placement of turbines in town.

A public hearing in September on the draft law drew a crowd, largely from neighboring Hilltowns that are also facing potential wind-energy development.  Several people expressed concern over the set-back requirements, which include a distance of 1,500 feet from residences and a distance of either one-and-a-half times the total height of the turbine or 500 feet, whichever is greater, for wind energy facilities, which are defined as producing more than 10 kilowatts of energy to deliver to the power grid.

According to maps provided by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and AWS Truewind, some of the areas in New Scotland that have the most potential for high energy yields already have communication towers on them.  Structures owned by Verizon, Newport Television, WMHT Educational Television, Capital Region Broadcasters, Nextel of New York, WRGB Broadcasting, and US Sprint Communications, among others, are perched along the highest points of the escarpment in New Scotland.

“Generally, any large structure, whether stationary or moving, in the vicinity of a receiver or transmitter of electromagnetic signals may interfere with those signals and degrade the performance of the transmitter/receiver system under certain conditions,” according to NYSERDA.  “When sited between a radio, television, or microwave transmitter or receiver, wind turbines, like most vertical structures, can sometimes reflect portions of the electromagnetic radiation in such a way that the reflected wave interferes with the original signal arriving at the receiver.”

New Scotland’s draft law requires “an assessment of potential electromagnetic interference with microwave, radio, television, personal communication systems, 911 and other wireless communication” as part of the draft environmental impact statement for wind energy facilities.

Flicker and noise

“This is woefully inadequate,” Sean O’Connor of Berne said of the draft before speaking passionately about his family’s experience with what is called flicker effect from a neighbor’s windmill.

As the blades of the machine turn, they block the sun, which creates a flicker where the shadow falls.  When his neighbor erected a windmill, O’Connor said, the rooms in his house would pulse with the spinning of the blades.

“Flickering lights have proven to be a risk to those suffering from epilepsy, and are known to be a cause of migraine headaches,” says a Michigan State University study.  “Irish guidelines state that the height and movement of wind turbines may distract drivers of motor vehicles and that turbines should be set back from the road by up to 300 m (990 feet) depending on circumstances.”

For wind energy facilities, the New Scotland draft requires “an assessment of potential shadow flicker at off-site residences” and that “wind turbines shall be located in a manner that minimizes shadow flicker on residences.”

According to a May 2009 study from the Minnesota Department of Health, “The most common complaint in various studies of wind turbine effects on people is annoyance or an impact on quality of life. Sleeplessness and headache are the most common health complaints and are highly correlated (but not perfectly correlated) with annoyance complaints. Complaints are more likely when turbines are visible or when shadow flicker occurs. Most available evidence suggests that reported health effects are related to audible low frequency noise.”

People’s sensitivity to noise varies widely, the report says.  One of the main sources of noise from wind turbines is aerodynamic noise, which “is caused by wind passing over the blade of the wind turbine. The tip of a 40- to 50-meter blade travels at speeds of over 140 miles per hour under normal operating conditions. As the wind passes over the moving blade, the blade interrupts the laminar flow of air, causing turbulence and noise. Current blade designs minimize the amount of turbulence and noise caused by wind, but it is not possible to eliminate turbulence or noise.”

The report, entitled “Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines,” goes on to say that “aerodynamic noise from a wind turbine may be underestimated during planning. One source of error is that most meteorological wind speed measurements noted in wind farm literature are taken at 10 meters above the ground. Wind speed above this elevation, in the area of the wind turbine rotor, is then calculated using established modeling relationships.”

New Scotland’s draft law provides that the sound pressure level generated by either a wind energy facility or a small wind energy facility, which produces less than 10 kilowatts, will not exceed 45 decibels adjusted to an A-weighted curve at off-site property boundaries.

On the same scale, the World Health Organization recommends 30 dB (A) for “a good night’s sleep,” the report says.

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