Heaton-Harris, Wind Turbine Noise & Amplitude Modulation Study, UK Nov 2014

Chris Heaton‐Harris MP (Daventry, Conservative) House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA, November 2014

Foreword & Objectives

“There are big gaps between the way in which opposing stakeholders see the issue and scale of noise from industrial wind turbines, in particular the phenomenon of Amplitude Modulation (AM).

On one side Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the wind industry believe they can proceed with planning applications and development of industrial wind farms guided solely by ETSU‐R‐97 and its companion Good Practice Guide. They claim the incidences of complaints about noise and AM are rare and that planning conditions and statutory nuisance are the best remedy.

On the other side wind farm neighbours and concerned people, both in my constituency and those of fellow MPs, tell us this is not the case on the ground. They cite numerous examples of householders suffering from sleep deprivation and associated health issues as a result of wind turbines, and of feeling disempowered to take action or complain. They also say ETSU‐R‐97 is outdated, provides inadequate protection to individual householders and is in serious need of overhaul or replacement. They claim the issues and incidence of AM are not understood by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs), Local Environmental Health Protection Officers (EHOs) and the Planning Inspectorate. They are also concerned that Statutory Nuisance is not an effective tool to combat this problem.

There is a third factor that seriously concerns me. This is the lack of professional agreement on the underlying science of AM, its cause and how it should be managed at all stages in the planning process. Planning or legal precedents can be created by argument between professional representatives of both sides with a limited understanding of the science before a planning inspector or judge with even less understanding of it.

My early August letter to LPA Chief Executives had a number of objectives. First, to ensure they were aware of the concerns of our constituents and the range of problems being caused by wind turbine noise in general. Second, to bring to their attention the disputed issue of AM and to provide them with sources of information for their EHOs. Third, to quantify the incidence of actual noise and AM complaints to allow comparison to counter claims by opposing stakeholders”.

View of a turbine at Cotton Farm Wind Farm, Graveley, St Neots, Cambridgeshire

Key Findings

This Study provides an insight into the current views of Local Planning Authority (LPA) professionals on how to prevent, control and mitigate industrial wind turbine noise including the phenomenon of amplitude modulation (AM) that gives rise to most complaints. The questions were:

  • Have you received noise complaints;
  • Have you received AM complaints; and
  • If yes, how do you deal with them?

In this Study responses from LPA professionals to these questions are quantified and mapped, mitigations are analysed, and assessments are made about how LPAs deal with AM at all stages in the planning and enforcement processes. Gaps and omissions are highlighted.

  • Way‐Forward. There is a high level of awareness amongst LPAs of the issues and debate on AM. LPA executives are keeping themselves informed through public They recognise that AM in industrial wind turbines is as yet an unresolved issue but appear to act in ignorance of the judgement of the Court of Appeal in the Den Brook case. Some LPAs show strong confidence in ETSU‐R‐97 and its companion Good Practice Guide. Others challenge its validity and are seeking a more robust way to deal with AM at all stages in the application and development process. They are calling for objective science based guidance on measuring and testing, nationally set agreed standards which are consistently applied and proven mitigations for AM. There are many frustrations with the current arrangements.
  • Size & Scope. In England, of the 203 responses to question 1, 54 LPAs have received complaints about noise from industrial wind turbines. This should not be interpreted as 27% of wind farms giving rise to noise complaints; many of the LPAs which reported no complaints may well have no operating wind farms in close proximity to housing. Of the 54 LPAs, 17 have also investigated complaints about Amplitude Modulation (AM). Over 600 individual complaints had been received with the majority being in the five year period 2010‐14. The main clusters of complaints are in the East of England, East Midlands, West Midlands, North West and South There are less in the South East, one in Yorkshire and the Humber and one in the North East.
  • Inconsistent & Inconclusive. Not only are incidents of AM more frequent than the wind industry hitherto has claimed, the progress with resolving them is There are inconsistent approaches to dealing with AM across the country. Some LPAs have agreed curtailment of operation with the wind turbine operators while investigations continue, others have only proceeded with investigations. None of the LPAs described a working mitigation for AM other than curtailment. Some LPAs have taken a proactive approach on AM by investing time and effort with developers at the pre‐application stage.
  • Broader Issues. A significant part of the public debate on industrial wind turbine noise generally, and on AM specifically, is about protecting the health and well‐being of the public who are wind farm neighbours, but there were no mentions of this factor by LPA respondents. There is an indication that wind farm neighbours who are well organised in local groups and with professional support can make better progress with their complaints than others. On the other hand, scatter gun complaining may not be effective. There is also a hint of a ‘silent majority’ who suffer in silence in the absence of knowing how to complain, or because of a fear of adverse implications, for example, they would have to disclose any complaint if they wish to sell their house. For communities a barrier to complaining might be the fear of adversely affecting community funding from wind turbine operators. This leads to the conclusion that a ‘community charter’ would be valuable for all sides.

Read the entire Study →