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Wind Power: Invisible Emissions

Wind Turbine Madness by Gogh - R J Stephens Any body who’s ever felt the approach of a train before they even heard it, or who’s heard the distant rumble of thunder (from lightning they can’t even see), can easily grasp how the persistent power of low-frequency energy/sound can travel for surprisingly long distances. This physical fact is at the root of a growing issue with Wind Power. Unfortunately, this is also an unpopular subject for discussion because it invokes images of hypochondria, psychosomatic symptoms and other prejudices about mental health, as well as the worst kind of self-serving NIMBYism.

More importantly, many us who seek clean, renewable energy options are often all too eager to dismiss any rational discussions around issues that might seem critical of wind power, in our zeal to follow a more direct path towards self-actualized sustainability.

Yet those are still aren’t valid reasons to avoid addressing the realities of wind-generated power, while searching for better solutions as a result. Even amidst the  rush to ‘Green’ Ontario’s power grid through the the most politically expedient, yet possibly short-sighted methods possible, there are still issues that need to be addressed. At the very least, the results of pushing ahead with green plans at all costs will surely become more clear in hindsight.

Just the Facts

Windmill Repair by DustyReins, on Flickr

Windmill Repair by DustyReins

The fact is…Wind powered turbines and generators are inherently predisposed to producing a considerable amount of turbulence and wasted mechanical energy and these byproducts escape as heat and environmental sound pollution. Leaving aside the unique maintenance issues presented by accessing oil and bearing housings held in many separate locations high above ground level,  let’s pause to at least consider the effects of un-remitting low frequency sound which are only now starting to yield their unexpected results…Please keep in mind that this is a well-meant exercise because nobody will seek solutions to issues if they are still too busy trying to deny the existence of a problem.

What’s that sound?

Fact. Wind turbines generate sound that can travel long distances. If your home became constantly filled with a barely perceptible hum you might start to think that (by comparison) the sound of a clearly audible dripping faucet would be comfortingly audible and clear, rather than reminding you of some evilly inspired subconscious torture method designed to slowly and inexorably drive you mad…Eventually. The solutions to this depend upon coming up with entirely new blade and mechanical designs and damping mechanisms. The alternative is to place turbines well-offshore, and lay underwater power distribution…Which puts offshore wind into an extremely expensive cost/yield bracket both for installation and maintenance, and greatly distorts the true value of such green energy, while funneling subsidies away from more immediately viable solutions.

In short, off-shore wind platforms have yet to demonstrate theri cost effectiveness, but I think most of us have our fingers crossed in hopes that the Danes, Dutch adn Germans will be able to scale this up into viability.

Personal Property Values

Meanwhile back on the homefront…We have more immediate concerns with wind power to contend with.

First we have to consider that your home’s value was likely drop considerably once the rest of the world figures out what you have already long-suspected. That houses near windmills experience worse noise than living next to railway lines, because even trains can’t run constantly and that the other 99-point-whatever percent of the time that they aren’t rolling past,  you can live in relative peace.

Wind power is Still a Maturing Technology

University of Adelaide acoustics researchers are investigating the causes of wind turbine noise with the aim of making them quieter. “Wind turbine noise is controversial but there’s no doubt that there is noise. Finding ways of controlling and reducing this noise will help us make the most of this very effective means of generating large amounts of electricity with next to zero carbon emissions.”

“We know generally what causes that noise – as the turbulent air flows over the sharp edge of the blade it radiates sound much more efficiently, so the noise can be heard at some distance,” said Dr Doolan.

“What we don’t yet understand, however, is exactly how that turbulence and blade edge, or boundary layer, interact and how that makes the noise louder.

“If we can understand this fundamental science, we can then look at ways of controlling the noise, through changing the shape of the rotor blades or using active control devices at the blade edges to disrupt the pattern of turbulence and so reduce the noise.”


How do you fix what you can’t Measure?

A 2009 memo from a Ministry of Environment officer, obtained by Wind Concerns Ontario, said the Liberal government imposed noise limits as it approved wind farms, even though it has no way to tell if they comply with the limits.

“MOE currently has NO approval methodology for field measurement of the noise emissions from multiple noise sources,” wrote the senior environmental officer. “As such there is no way for MOE field staff (and I would submit anyone else) to confirm compliance or lack thereof with the noise limits set in the approvals.”

Wind Concerns’ spokesman John Laforet claims that the memo is proof the Liberal government isn’t telling the whole truth about wind farms.


Moving Forward

Please feel free to comment on any other measures that are being taken to address these concerns, so that a bigger picture can be painted which includes solutions as well as complaints…Thanks





Offshore wind:



  1. MoS
    25/02/2011 at 5:38 PM

    WTF does the transmission of train vibrations have to do with windmill noise? Are you just pulling this out of your ass? If you feel an oncoming train before you hear it, you’ve got your head pressed to the rail. You’re experiencing the transmission effect of the iron rail itself. And just why is it do you think that sometimes you hear thunder without seeing the lightning? There are a few explanations for that, none of which have a damned thing to do with windmills. If you want to critique wind energy,try not to flush your credibility down the crapper with your opening hypotheses.

  2. Steve Pickering
    26/02/2011 at 8:22 AM

    It may be true that wind turbine generators “waste” energy, but the energy is free and infinite. I have the feeling that Ontario’s decision is bound in Canada’s suicidal compulsion to provide the U.S. with oil from tar sands. A hopeless exercise, that uses clean natural gas to produce heavy, polluting crude oil and wrecks the landscape.

    Offshore wind does not cause house prices to fall through noise. There is no reason to waste any energy from offshore wind – there are many ways to store the energy, especially in a country blessed with hydroelectric sites.

    Expensive? yes, now it is, but if the potty idea of pumping CO2 from coal-fired power stations is brought to fruition, wind will suddenly become price competitive.

  3. 26/02/2011 at 3:07 PM

    Steve. I’m having trouble figuring out how wind turbines in Ontario have any relationship to oil and natural gas in Alberta. If you could enlighten me, I’d appreciate it.

    “Offshore wind does not cause house prices to fall through noise.” How did you ever come to this conclusion? Typical house prices within earshot drop 30-40%, all the way to 100%. See McCann, Gardner, Luxemberger.

    “there are many ways to store the energy.” No there are not, just hydro. The one significant storage pool that exists is Lake Erie, which is already in use.

  4. Steve Pickering
    26/02/2011 at 5:13 PM

    You are in Canada, right? Any country that has fossil fuels seems to be hell bent on trashing renewables, or trying to promote Carbon Capture and Storage.

    We have lots of WTGs in Denmark, and house prices have not fallen. In fact, in such a tiny country, we manage to keep WTFs away from houses. Surely in such a mighty province such as Ontario, you could probably find out how to do that too.

    So, Lake Erie is not big enough to store water? I don’t think so.

    Anyway, let’s continue to rely on the health of the Saudi King, or the mental health of a ruthless dictator to control the destiny of our economies, shall we? Because these guys with the oil have got us by the short and curlies.

  5. 27/02/2011 at 6:02 PM

    Hi Steve, thanks for the reply. You are in Denmark? Then you might know little about the situation in Ontario. The Canadian government has little control over wind turbines, so it is up to the Provincial governments to set policy regarding them. Ontario’s present government is hell-bent on more wind turbines, even passing legislation that prevents local governments from having any input into them. So for Canada your first paragraph is not accurate. Even turning to the U.S., they have lots of fossil fuels, and are also hell-bent on wind energy. So far you are 0-2.

    In would seem obvious that a low-density area like Ontario could find places to put wind turbines where they didn’t bother people. But that costs more money, and the wind developers have been very successful at getting everything from the government they want. So the turbines get put up quite close to homes, and in large numbers. 200MW projects are the norm, the turbines are packed very tight, and homes are within 500 meters. Noise levels are correspondingly higher, way above the regulatory limits (the limits are 40 up to 51 dba, with actual readings into the mid 60’s not uncommon), but the government seems uninterested in enforcing them.

    Lake Erie, as I mentioned, is large enough to store energy, and it is already being used in this fashion. But there’s competing uses for the Lake, and lots of governments involved, not to mention two countries. I don’t know how practical it would be to use it for both countries’ wind energy plans. Strangely, I haven’t heard much discussion of it, so there must be some issues.

    And last, what in the world do wind turbines have to do with oil? Almost no oil is used to generate electricity (small single-digit percentages). Even if we we 100% powered by wind, we’d still need oil.

  6. Steve Pickering
    01/03/2011 at 4:49 AM

    “And last, what in the world do wind turbines have to do with oil? Almost no oil is used to generate electricity (small single-digit percentages). Even if we we 100% powered by wind, we’d still need oil.”

    The price of oil dictates the price of energy, whether or not it is used directly in the generation of electricity or not. In the world I want my kids to inherit, we will base our energy use exclusively on non-fossil fuels, and to me that means mainly electricity.

    There is enough “free” energy around and we just have to make that investment to devise ways of capturing it, storing it and using it.

    I didn’t realise that you view Alberta as almost a separate nation, but doesn’t it make you wonder why relatively clean natural gas is used to extract relatively dirty oil from the tar sands there?

    I am not a gung-ho environmentalist with a paid up subscription to Greenpeace. I simply feel compelled to comment on what I see as farcical policies and actions.

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