Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines – Minnesota Dept of Health Report
Author: Minnesota Department of Health, May 2009
Thorough overview by the Environmental Health Division of the Minnesota Department of Health of noise and flicker problems from industrial wind turbines:
Wind turbines generate a broad spectrum of low-intensity noise. At typical setback distances higher frequencies are attenuated. In addition, walls and windows of homes attenuate high frequencies, but their effect on low frequencies is limited. Low frequency noise is primarily a problem that may affect some people in their homes, especially at night. It is not generally a problem for businesses, public buildings, or for people outdoors.
The most common complaint in various studies of wind turbine effects on people is annoyance or an impact on quality of life. Sleeplessness and headache are the most common health complaints and are highly correlated (but not perfectly correlated) with annoyance complaints. Complaints are more likely when turbines are visible or when shadow flicker occurs. Most available evidence suggests that reported health effects are related to audible low frequency noise. Complaints appear to rise with increasing outside noise levels above 35 dB(A). It has been hypothesized that direct activation of the vestibular and autonomic nervous system may be responsible for less common complaints, but evidence is scant.
The Minnesota nighttime standard of 50 dB(A) not to be exceeded more than 50% of the time in a given hour, appears to underweight penetration of low frequency noise into dwellings. Different schemes for evaluating low frequency noise, and/or lower noise standards, have been developed in a number of countries.
For some projects, wind velocity for a wind turbine project is measured at 10 m and then modeled to the height of the rotor. These models may under-predict wind speed that will be encountered when the turbine is erected. Higher wind speed will result in noise exceeding model predictions.
Low frequency noise from a wind turbine is generally not easily perceived beyond 1/2 mile. However, if a turbine is subject to aerodynamic modulation because of shear caused by terrain (mountains, trees, buildings) or different wind conditions through the rotor plane, turbine noise may be heard at greater distances.
Unlike low frequency noise, shadow flicker can affect individuals outdoors as well as indoors, and may be noticeable inside any building. Flicker can be eliminated by placement of wind turbines outside of the path of the sun as viewed from areas of concern, or by appropriate setbacks.
Prediction of complaint likelihood during project planning depends on: 1) good noise modeling including characterization of potential sources of aerodynamic modulation noise and characterization of nighttime wind conditions and noise; 2) shadow flicker modeling; 3) visibility of the wind turbines; and 4) interests of nearby residents and community.
To assure informed decisions:
◾Wind turbine noise estimates should include cumulative impacts (40-50 dB(A) isopleths) of all wind turbines.
◾Isopleths for dB(C) – dB(A) greater than 10 dB should also be determined to evaluate the low frequency noise component.
◾Potential impacts from shadow flicker and turbine visibility should be evaluated.
Any noise criteria beyond current state standards used for placement of wind turbines should reflect priorities and attitudes of the community.