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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects
sure used to describe the effect on a receptor. The sound power level from a single turbine is usually around 90-105 dB(A); such a turbine creates a sound pressure of 50-60 dB(A) at a distance of 40 meters (this is about the same level as conversational speech). Noise (sound-pressure) levels from an onshore wind project are typically in the 35-45 dB(A) range at a distance of about 300 meters (BWEA 2000; Burton et al. 2001). These are relatively low noise or sound-pressure levels compared with other common sources such as a busy office (~60 dB(A)), and with nighttime ambient noise levels in the countryside (~20-40 dB(A)). While turbine noise increases with wind speed, ambient noises—for example, due to the rustling of tree leaves— increase at a higher rate and can mask the turbine noise (BLM 2005a).
In addition to the amplitude of the noise emitted from turbines, its frequency content is also important, as human perception of sounds is different at different frequencies. Broadband noise from a wind turbine typically is a “swishing” or “whooshing” sound resulting from a continuous distribution of sound pressures with frequencies above 100 Hz. Tonal noise typically is a “hum” or “pitch” occurring at distinct frequencies. Low-frequency noise (with frequencies below 100 Hz) includes “infrasound,” which is inaudible or barely audible sound at frequencies below 20 Hz.
Mechanical sounds from a turbine are emitted at “tonal” frequencies associated with the rotating machinery, while aerodynamic sounds are typically broadband in character. Mechanical noise is generated from rotating components in the nacelle, including the generator and gearbox, and to a lesser extent, cooling fans, pumps, compressors, and the yaw system. Aerodynamic noise, produced by the flow of air over blades, is created by blades interacting with eddies created by atmospheric inflow turbulence. This broadband aerodynamic noise is generally the dominant type of wind-turbine noise, and it generally increases with tip speed. Both mechanical and aerodynamic noise often are loud enough to be heard by people.
With older downwind turbines, some infrasound also is emitted each time a rotor blade interacts with the disturbed wind behind the tower, but it is believed that the energy at these low frequencies is insufficient to pose a health hazard (BWEA 2005). Nevertheless, a recent study by van den Berg (2004, 2006) suggests that, especially at night during stable atmospheric conditions, low-frequency modulation (at around 4 Hz) of higher frequency swishing sounds is possible. Note that this is not infrasound, but van den Berg (2006) states that it is not known to what degree this modulated fluctuating sound causes annoyance and deterioration in sleep quality to people living nearby.
Low-frequency vibration and its effects on humans are not well understood. Sensitivity to such vibration resulting from wind-turbine noise is highly variable among humans. Although there are opposing views on the subject, it has recently been stated (Pierpont 2006) that “some people feel disturbing amounts of vibration or pulsation from wind turbines, and can