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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects
count in their bodies, especially their chests, the beats of the blades passing the towers, even when they can’t hear or see them.” More needs to be understood regarding the effects of low-frequency noise on humans.
Guidelines for measuring noise produced by wind turbines are provided in the standard, IEC 61400-11: Acoustic Noise Measurement Techniques for Wind Turbines (IEC 2002), which specifies the instrumentation, methods, and locations for noise measurements. Wind-energy developers are required to meet local standards for acceptable sound levels; for example, in Germany, this level is 35 dB(A) for rural nighttime environments. Noise levels in the vicinity of wind-energy projects can be estimated during the design phase using available computational models (DWEA 2003a). Generally, noise levels are only computed at low wind speeds (7-8 m/s), because at higher speeds, noise produced by turbines can be (but is not always) masked by ambient noise.
Noise-emission measurements potentially are subject to problems, however. A 1999 study involving noise-measurement laboratories from seven European countries found, in measuring noise emission from the same 500 kW wind turbine on a flat terrain, that while apparent sound power levels and wind speed dependence could be measured reasonably reliably, tonality measurements were much more variable (Kragh et al. 1999). In addition, methods for assessing noise levels produced by wind turbines located in various terrains, such as mountainous regions, need further development.
Mitigation Measures and Standards
Noise produced by wind turbines generally is not a major concern for humans beyond a half-mile or so because various measures to reduce noise have been implemented in the design of modern turbines. The mechanical sound emanating from rotating machinery can be controlled by sound-isolating techniques. Furthermore, different types of wind turbines have different noise characteristics. As mentioned earlier, modern upwind turbines are less noisy than downwind turbines. Variable-speed turbines (where rotor speeds are lower at low wind speeds) create less noise at lower wind speeds when ambient noise is also low, compared with constant-speed turbines. Direct-drive machines, which have no gearbox or high-speed mechanical components, are much quieter.
Acceptability standards for noise vary by nation, state, and locality. They can also vary depending on time of day—nighttime standards are generally stricter. In the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only provides noise guidelines. Many state governments issue their own regulations (e.g., Oregon Department of Environmental Quality