Falmouth Municipal Turbine Noise Within Acceptable Range

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 09/28/10

While the town’s current 1.65-megawatt wind turbine does not exceed legal noise thresholds, the addition of a second one at the Wastewater Treatment Facility on Blacksmith Shop Road will come close to doing so and may even surpass both the state and local levels under certain conditions.

As a result, the town may have to take steps to mitigate the noise, although what those will be have yet to be determined.

Yesterday afternoon at Town Hall Assistant Town Manager Heather B. Harper told a group of roughly 25 residents, including many living less than a mile of the first turbine that became operational in March, that her office would continue to work with the neighbors to come up with solutions to address their concerns. But she said that would not halt the construction of the second turbine, which is currently being built.

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Since it was erected in March, residents have had mixed feelings about the state's first municipal wind turbine.

She estimated it would take 12 to 18 months for town officials “to really determine what the impacts are and what the mitigation strategies might be.”

For some residents that was not sufficient.

“It never stops,” said Terri Pentifallo-Drummey of Blacksmith Shop Road. “You feel it on your chest... We are getting no relief from it.”

Colin P. Murphy of Blacksmith Shop Road asked what would happen in the middle of the night if the turbine exceeded acceptable noise levels. “Who is going to enforce that?” he asked.

Ms. Harper responded by noting that her office has worked with neighbors since they began complaining about the turbine and its impacts in May. The town hired consultant Harris, Miller, Miller & Hanson of Burlington to determine whether the sound produced by the machine exceeded a 10-decibel increase of ambient sound, which would put it in violation with state noise guidelines. On top of the state limits Falmouth has its own bylaw that limits overall noise to 40 decibels.

In June the town’s consultant began a serious effort at studying the noise issue. The firm selected two long-term sites, studied them over a period of 10 days, and four short-term sites, studied at 10-minute intervals, all sites in close proximity to the wind turbine. The study accounted for sound levels when the turbine was both operational and shut down to record background sound levels.

And, finally, readings were taken at various times of the day, from the afternoon when background sound is highest to late night and early morning when the background sound is the lowest at 28.8 decibels.

Acoustical engineer Christopher Menge presented the findings of that study to residents yesterday afternoon. While the current wind turbine does not come close to violating the state’s 10-decibel increase, Mr. Menge said its sound is discernible.

And that will increase with the addition of the second wind turbine, he said, with computer models showing that the turbine sound comes close to surpassing state thresholds at three specific locations where data was collected in June.

Those locations included 124 Ambleside Drive where the report predicts a 9.96 decibel increase; a 9.6 decibel increase at 27 Ridgeview Street; and a 9.2 decibel increase at 211 Blacksmith Shop Road. In that scenario the wind speed is calculated at 4.4 meters per second.

“It is not exceeding 10 decibels, but it is certainly approaching it,” he said.

At two homes at the end of Ambleside Drive, Mr. Menge said the town could be in violation of the state’s acceptable thresholds when wind speeds are in the range of five to six meters per second in the early morning hours when ambient noise is the lowest.

“You may be slightly getting over the 10-decibel level,” he said. “Whether it is 10 decibels or 11 decibels, we are a borderline case.”

At the two Ambleside Drive homes, he said, the sound may constitute a “classic violation” of the state’s permissible noise levels.

The model also predicts in the report that the two turbines would also increase noise levels at certain properties above the 40-decibel level allowed in the town’s regulations.

In addition to the time of day, Mr. Menge said wind speed plays a factor in how discernible the noise generated by the turbine will be. At higher wind speeds, he said, “the background noise tends to be enough to cover up the audible noise of the turbine.”

At wind speeds between four and six meters per second, he said, is when the noise of the turbine will be most audible.
In addition to his firm’s report, area residents commissioned their own study conducted by Noise Control Engineering Inc.
of Billerica.

The firm’s vice president Michael Bahtiarian explained that its study differed from the town’s in that it looked at quick samples, focused on seconds instead of minutes, at the home of Neil P. and Elizabeth L. Andersen of Blacksmith Shop Road, who are among the residents upset with the turbine and how it has impacted their lives. He also took samples at a reference point on Brick Kiln Road.

Mr. Bahtiarian said his study showed spikes in noise levels, caused by the wind turbine that would peak above 40 decibels and then return below that level. He compared it to an air conditioning unit in a neighbor’s home that might operate at different speeds, ranging from low to medium to high to super high, which could be more of a nuisance than one remaining at a constant setting.

While the turbine disrupted residents’ lives, attorney Christopher G. Senie of Westborough said his goal is to ensure future turbine projects do not pose the same impacts on others living in Falmouth.

Mr. Senie, who represents several of the residents in the Blacksmith Shop Road area, said he was in the process of crafting a bylaw related to wind turbines that the town will hopefully adopt as a way to promote green energy while not infringing upon personal rights.

The noise study conducted by the town, he said, shows the inherent conflicts with wind turbines.

“It is a very difficult problem. Are we in violation or not? That is your job to deal with,” he said to the public officials, adding that land use can be a difficult problem to deal with. He said adopting a bylaw would be one way of addressing the issue, which he was confident they would want to resolve.

2 Responses to "Falmouth Municipal Turbine Noise Within Acceptable Range"

  1. It is now obvious that both town and state regulations on wind turbine noise are flawed.

  2. I treasured Autumn on Cape Cod. I dreamily recall the autumn Cape experience. It’s a secret bliss shared amoungst the year-rounders and easily recounted by most of the readers. But, this be a warning to Brewster, Bournedale and the like. It’s a story, if heeded, that will allow continued anticipation and contentment with the Cape gift of autumn. This is a story about the "other side".   As you read and hopefully continue to study wind energy, you will see the poor economics of this type of green energy.  It will not stop nor replace nuclear, coal or oil.  It cannot stop increasing emissions.  And wind energy carries its own set of pollution which is detrimental to humans and animals.  Health effects caused by low-frequency noise and shadow flicker is a side affect, yet not the worst.  EMF (Electromagnetic Field (EMF) and dirty voltage are far worse! Diary accounts of my Autumn (compare these entries to your Fall experiences) - emailed the Falmouth Wind liason to report this sound disturbance. last time we reported a disturbance, Kate didn't respond for 4 days. The town project manager’s response then.. that the sound is nothing out of the ordinary and there is no mechanical problem - now they just ramped back up again and blades are pitched into the wind causing the chopping/low frequency/pulsating noise. this is our home, our life. we are heartbroken over this. - the turbines just slowed down and the noise level has decreased. this is a reoccurring theme with living next to turbines. they ramp up, then back down, then back up again....and the cycle continues. it is not something you can get used to. maybe someone out there, if I make enough noise, can do something about the turbine noise. this is something that we did not choose to live with and hope we don't have to endure for much longer. - Yesterday we were outside. Beautiful Autumn day. Pitched horse shoes, harvested the final fruits of the garden. Just a gorgeous day to be outside. The turbine going all day. They would ramp up and then back down. Some moments were tolerable and others not. At times our property was filled with a turbulent turbine noise. The sound bounces off the back off the house, seeming to elevate the noise and is a nuisance. The pulsating/chopping sound over and over again is something that we have not gotten used to. Nor the low frequency droning noise that fills our property. This is a drastic change from what we were used to. 12 months ago it was peaceful. The way life in the woods should be and that's why we chose to live here. Now, it's not pleasant to be outside many times. - the past two nights the turbines were creating a lot of noise. it was difficult sleeping and I don't feel as productive during the day. it is very stressful. - currently the turbines are creating a lot of swishing and low humming noises. the sound bounces off our home (which elevates the noise). I just came inside from walking the dogs down to the firetower. the pulsating/chopping noise is so irritating (emailed the Falmouth wind liason to report this nuisance). our windows are opened. as I'm typing this, i'm hearing the noise from the turbines. it's not a deafening sound, but a pulsating constant droning noise. - we don't have a 'normal' life setting now. one moment we'll have a peaceful woodland setting, the next moment we hear light swooshing, the next moment sounds like a jet plane sitting in our yard, the next moment it is silent, the next moment is a pulsating humming noise.... this is not something that you can get used to. - Turbines were on (lightly spinning) and off most the day. In the afternoon, the turbines started to pitch fully into the wind and the noise was up and down for a while. Last night was ok for sound. This morning, sound is bad again this am. - We have been gone the past few days on a family trip to decompress from a busy summer. being away from the turbines was nice and we slept well. we came home last night and the sound was bad. trying to sleep last night was difficult, especially coming from sleeping with peace and quiet for the last few nights. it was a beautiful 75 degree night. we opened our bedroom windows to let the breeze come in, but the turbine noise was a nuissance. the pulsating chopping sounds over and over again is something you can't get used to. so, we closed the windows on the north side of the house. it helped some, but then we were left with a low frequency droning noise that cut through into our home. so, we were hit with another major nuissance. today is the first day of school. School and children noises waiting for the bus when I walk the dogs.. now it sounds like we lived in an industrial complex and not in the peaceful country. how much is Falmouth having us put up with: major sound disturbances, flashing red lights, loss of sleep, constant motion....would they be willing to live with this? and, for 20+ years? we're on day 183 out of a potential 7300 days of torment.   If this wind energy was truly "GREEN," it wouldn't have a negative effects on people and/or animals.  If harmless, the wind developers/industry should prove this to us.  Show us the data from post studies done on existing wind turbine developments here in Massechusetts, Maine or better yet, the UK or Denmark.  Show us post studies on property values, health effects, wildlife, agriculture, ground voltage levels, livestock and the environment.  Where are these studies? I challenge you to study the wind industry!  Experience the truth! "Wind Energy is "Green Politics" and NOT a "Green Solution"!  We are trading one type of pollution for another.

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