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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects
by people living near wind turbines who are affected by noise and shadow flicker.
As with any machine involving moving parts, wind turbines generate noise during operation. Noise from wind turbines arises mainly from two sources: (1) mechanical noise caused by the gearbox and generator; and (2) aerodynamic noise caused by interaction of the turbine blades with the wind. As described below (see “Noise Levels”), noise of greatest concern can be generally classified as being of one of these three types: broadband, tonal, and low-frequency.
The perception of noise depends in part on the individual—on a person’s hearing acuity and upon his or her subjective tolerance for or dislike of a particular type of noise. For example, a persistent “whoosh” might be a soothing sound to some people even as it annoys others. Nevertheless, it appears that subjective impressions of the noise from wind turbines are not totally idiosyncratic. A 1999 study (Kragh et al. 1999) included a laboratory technique for assessing the subjective unpleasantness of wind-turbine noise. Preliminary findings indicated that noise tonality and noise-fluctuation strength were the parameters best correlated with unpleasantness (Kragh et al. 1999).
Broadband, tonal, and low-frequency noise have all been addressed to some degree in modern upwind horizontal wind turbines, and turbine technologies continue to improve in this regard. With regard to the design of a wind-energy project, one is generally interested in assessing whether the additional noise generated by the wind turbines (relative to the ambient noise) might cause annoyance or a hazard to human health and well-being.
Noise impacts also can result from project construction and maintenance. These are generally of relatively short duration and occurrence but can include equipment operation, blasting, and noise associated with traffic into and out of the facility. These are not addressed in detail in this section. In the following, a brief review of wind-turbine noise and its impacts is presented along with suggested methods for assessing such impacts and mitigation measures.
Noise from wind turbines, at the location of a receptor, is described in terms of sound pressure levels (relative to a reference value, typically 2 × 10–5 Pa) and is typically expressed in dB(A), decibels corrected or A-weighted for sensitivity of the human ear. Note that there is a difference between sound power used to describe the source of sound and sound pres-