New noise limit would end turbine development, say advocates

Lowell wind

Green Mountain Power’s 21-turbine wind project on Lowell Mountain. File photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

State regulators have proposed new sound limits for wind turbines that some renewable energy proponents say would effectively ban new utility-scale turbines from Vermont.

The rules say turbines could produce no more than 35 decibels at night when measured outside nearby homes. That is about half the perceived loudness of the current exterior sound limit of 45 decibels.

Public hearings

The Public Service Board will be taking public comments on the proposed sound rules through May 11. The board will hold two public hearings May 4, one at 9:30 a.m. at 112 State St. in Montpelier, and another at 7 p.m. at Montpelier High School.

Some homeowners near wind energy projects say they welcome the scaled-back sound limits.

“It could be better, but given the history of the noise from turbines being ignored by the (Public Service Board), this is a huge step in the right direction,” said Melodie McLane, of Georgia, who lives less than a mile from a four-turbine project on top of Georgia Mountain.

But some advocates of wind power say the rules would keep Vermont from reaching its renewable energy goals.

The Public Service Board is writing the rules in response to Act 174, which the Legislature adopted last year. That law requires the board to study wind turbine sound and come up with a rule improving on what’s currently in effect.

The law does not instruct the Public Service Board to ban turbines, said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, the chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, where Act 174 originated.

“There’s no hint of a moratorium” in state statute, Bray said.

“Clearly we didn’t ask for a moratorium on wind,” he said. “We simply asked for their best thinking on what would make these acceptable on a working landscape.”

Bray said he’s unsure how the board arrived at a 35-decibel limit. As a legislator, he’s tried to “keep a respectful distance” as the rulemaking process moves along.

“But they took a lot of expert testimony,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a basis for their numbers.”

The board has conducted numerous workshops and hearings on wind turbine sound standards — which is as legislators hoped, Bray said.

Chris Bray

Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison. File photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger

“They really dug into this and took a lot of testimony,” he said. “That’s exactly why we engage in rule-making … (for) the in-depth, expert analysis that is literally beyond the expertise of the Legislature, and that’s why we engage the appropriate departments and agencies to do the work (of rule-making).”

The 35-decibel limit is also significantly lower than the 40 decibels proposed in a “discussion draft” of the rules that the board released in January.

Because decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, the pressure of a sound wave doubles with an increase of 3 decibels. But because of imperfections in the human ear, the loudness is perceived to have doubled with an increase of about 10 decibels, said Les Blomberg, executive director of a national nonprofit based in Montpelier called the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse.

It’s unclear why the board so dramatically reduced the proposed sound limits since January, said Sarah Wolfe, a clean-energy advocate with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

Public Service Board representatives did not respond to requests for comment on the rules.

The proposed new sound limit would effectively ban any further wind energy development in the state, Wolfe said.

The rules do not explain how the board arrived at the 35-decibel limit. Wolfe said none of the sources in a list of citations provided with the rules contain a rationale for a 35-decibel limit either.

That’s troubling, said Olivia Campbell Anderson, executive director of the industry group Renewable Energy Vermont.

“It disregards the science provided by experts, and the published studies about the impacts of sound,” Campbell Anderson said of the 35-decibel limit.

“We’re confused as to why the science is being ignored,” she said. “We don’t ignore science in Vermont.”

Campbell Anderson said the proposed sound limits would spell trouble for some residential-size wind generators as well.

The smaller generators don’t need to meet the 35-decibel limit if their distance from the nearest home is at least 10 times the turbine’s height. “I’m not aware of any small turbine on the market that can meet that sound limit,” Campbell Anderson said.

Neighbors have not complained to the state about the 155 residential-size turbines already in Vermont, Campbell Anderson said.

Wolfe said the nighttime sound limit is especially problematic because that’s when wind energy is most needed and most abundant. Vermont is windier at night, and wind energy fills a supply gap when the sun goes down and solar panels stop generating power, she said.

“The sun shines in the day, and the wind blows at night,” Wolfe said.

The state’s comprehensive energy plan calls for 90 percent of the state’s energy to be supplied from renewable sources by 2050 — a goal legislators are working to establish in statute.

“We’ve looked at the numbers, we’ve looked at the facts, and we cannot get to that goal without wind power,” Wolfe said.

Blomberg, whose group advocates for greater silence, said the proposed rules aren’t the best way to achieve it.

The separate sound limits for daytime and nighttime will cause needless expense and confusion, because they regulate not the equipment but how it is operated, Blomberg said.

If wind turbine operators must dial back generators at night, they will need to invest in expensive monitoring. In addition, lawyers, hearings and acousticians will be required to evaluate nighttime operations.

These costs will be passed on to Vermonters, either through electricity rates or more oversight by state agencies.

“We have wasted so much money on noise,” Blomberg said. “You can regulate noise much more cheaply.”

A better approach would be to simply prescribe distances that are appropriate between wind turbines and residences, Blomberg said.

This approach is available for small turbines (150 kilowatts or smaller) under the proposed new rules, but not for larger turbines that typically sell power to utilities.

Vermont has already put itself in a tricky position. Extreme opposition to wind farms makes communities afraid of hosting them, Blomberg said.

“Because (regulators) haven’t done a good job of making sure that wind facilities fit, in the past, there isn’t a community that’s going to willingly take these,” Bloomberg said.

Wind developers have contributed to the problem, he said.

Individual developers who have tried to maximize revenue from their projects at the expense of neighbors, Blomberg said, “have kind of poisoned the acceptability of wind, and that’s bad for us, because we need them.”

Mike Polhamus

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  • Melodie McLane

    “Wolfe said the nighttime sound limit is especially problematic because that’s when wind energy is most needed and most abundant. Vermont is more windy at night, so wind energy naturally fills a supply gap that solar generators leave once the sun goes down, she said.

    “The sun shines in the day, and the wind blows at night,” Wolfe said.”

    No kidding, the neighbors of existing projects have been trying to tell the Public Service Board this for years. It is indeed more windy at night, thus the turbines operate at a higher rate of speed, producing the highest noise levels when neighbors are trying to sleep. I thank the Public Service Board for finally listening to us and proposing lower night time noise levels in order to protect the health of neighbors of future projects.

  • Willem Post

    Bray says he is not sure how the PSB arrived at the 35 dB nighttime limit.
    It actually is very simple.
    Denmark’s code and those of other countries have had that limit, or lower, for some years.
    Here is my article on the subject, which has been widely distributed all over the world, including to Senator Bray.
    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/wind-turbine-noise-adversely-impacts-nearby-people-and-animals-1
    The PSB after some years finally decided to do what is right and put the American people first, not Aberdrola, not Vestas, not Goldwing, etc.
    With that limit, the nighttime indoor limit of about 30 dB or less , windows closed, even in summer, is more readily achieved.
    I am on my iPad, but will respond with more detail to morrow.

  • bobzeliff

    I am very concerned about the 35db limit. It is an extremely low level of sound.

    I have to wonder what the results would be if Vermont embraced the 35db limit on all public sound. Let us consider limiting the noise from our interstate highways to 35db!
    Or limit that level of noise in our down towns. Or evan in our public schools.
    After all, not only noise at higher levels than this is a severe distraction but some (not me) claim it causes adverse health effects.

    If so, we should should limit all public areas to this level.

    Of course this is an absurd proposal. It is equally absurd to apply it to wind energy unless the the purpose is to close wind energy down. That is the goal of some.

    If Vermont really does want to outlaw wind power..say so.
    Couching it in complex sound measurement will waste a lot of money and be a windfall (pun intended) to un ending litigation.

  • lisalinowes

    The PSB’s draft noise rules are consistent with what we are seeing throughout New England and the rest of the country. If VPIRG and other wind surrogates find them unreasonable, then it is likely Vermont does not have the appropriate landscape to support modern turbines.

    • Paul Drayman

      I believe that Vermont generally is only marginally feasible for wind generation with a few location exceptions, but newer design lower wind speed 500′ towers have helped to capture wind at a level where it is a little more available.
      The Vermont Legislature decreed that we will be 90% renewable by 2050 and a large number of “environmentalists” believe, with encouragement and marketing from the wind industry, that wind energy is the way to achieve this goal. With this encouragement, the allure of REC’s and the PSB (new noise level limits may affect some future proposals) have facilitated this wind development targeting rural areas which consume minimal electric power, but have little power to fight and must bear all of the negative consequences of these sites.
      I feel that those are the reasons that the wind industry, comprised of in-state, out-of-state and out-of-country developers have focused their efforts, which include advocacy of legislation, on Vermont.

  • kathryn marshall

    https://www.thearchimedes.com/

    How about this new Dutch design for windmills: The Archimedes. It claims it is bird and bat friendly, produces more energy than traditional turbines, looks better, is QUIET, and doesn’t feed the wind power industrial complex.

  • Sally Collopy

    Ms. Campbell Anderson states: “We’re confused as to why the science is being ignored,” she said. “We don’t ignore science in Vermont.”

    The truth is that the science of how unhealthy industrial wind turbines are has been being ignored for years. I applaud Governor Scott for putting people before profits.

    Below is a link to a recently written article by Helen Schwiesow Parker, PhD, LCP, regarding science deniers in the wind industry and government. It is excellent and I sincerely hope you’ll find the time to read it. The last 6 or 7 paragraphs sums it up perfectly, but there are also some links that are very relevant to read.

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/03/08/science-deniers-in-the-wind-industry/

    The third paragraph has a link “adverse human health effects”. This was published July 26, 2013 and references the many adverse health effects outlined by Physicist N.D. Kelley, who served as the principal scientist (atmospheric physics) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center from 1980 to 2011.

    Another link that should be explored is the one below. This is a 3 part series on this human health travesty.

    https://www.masterresource.org/windpower-health-effects/secret-silent-wind-power-peril-1/

    Below is a excerpt from the link above.

    “Disregard for Turbine Health Impacts: A Longstanding Problem

    Neil Kelley was principal scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
    Wind Technology Center from 1980 until 2011. During the Windpower ’87 Conference, he presented one of many similar studies published in this decade by acousticians working under grants from the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DOD), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

    Their findings quickly became a hot topic. Infrasound (inaudible) and low-frequency (audible) noise (collectively referred to as ILFN) produced by Industrial-scale Wind Turbines (IWTs) directly causes adverse health effects, experts stated. The disturbance from the turbines is often worse indoors than outside. “Far from becoming inured to the disturbance, people become increasingly sensitive to it over time,” they noted.”

    • JohnGreenberg

      Sally Collopy:

      “I applaud Governor Scott for putting people before profits.” Please explain how the governor figures into this decision at all. From what I can see, this is a decision of the PSB, whose members were all appointed before Governor Scott came to office. What does the governor have to do with this?

      • Sally Collopy

        Mr. Greenberg,
        I say that about Governor Scott because he’s keeping his campaign promises. He has always said he will put people before profits, he cares about Vermonters. To be completely honest, me and my husband wanted an outright, immediate ban on these carbon producing, people and environment destroying industrial machines, but knew that wasn’t going to happen. I have no “proof” that Governor Scott is directly involved in any decisions being made regarding industrial wind, except for the fact that he continues to say we don’t need ridgeline wind. And, as we all know, a Governor appoints people with their goals, ideals and standards that he/she wants them to live up to. I’m just so grateful that we finally have a Governor with integrity.

  • Hilton Dier, III

    35 decibels is what I just got measuring the sound level in my basement. Even the wind in the trees exceeds that level. It’s ludicrous. People interested in forest preservation should be glad the PSB doesn’t regulate tree noise.

    To Bob Zeliff’s point – we accept noise levels much higher than that from all the other sources in our environment. It reminds me of when I stopped in Chateguay NY to look at one of the 1.5 megawatt turbines there. A friend and I walked a few hundred yards across a hay field to where a turbine was spinning. We had to go most of that few hundred yards before the sound of the turbine was louder than the noise of cars on the road.

    There was an interesting study of wind turbine noise done in Europe where the researchers found that the visual impact of turbines was more important than the actual dB level. People who could see the turbines but experienced lower sound levels rated the sound higher than people who experienced higher sound levels but couldn’t see the turbines. There is psychology involved.

    • Melodie McLane

      Mr. Hilton, you can’t compare the noise you heard or didn’t hear from a quick visit to one turbine. Did you visit just one turbine? More turbines equals more noise. Was it operating at full capacity? The faster they run, the more noise they make. Were you downwind of the turbine? The wind pushes the noise downwind. Did you try sleeping downwind from the turbine? The winds are typically higher at night, thus more noise.

      Regarding the study you mentioned – I’m a neighbor of the Georgia Mountain Wind project. Honestly, I could care less what the turbines look like, I just want to be able to sleep at night. I’m not looking at them when I’m trying to sleep, so there goes your psychology.

      I would highly recommend that you spend a fair amount of time next to a project with more than one turbine, running at full capacity, downwind, at night when you are trying to sleep. Then let’s talk.

    • Paul Drayman

      That’s all interesting, but has little to do with living 24-7/365 with wind turbines. About the time that the Lowell Project was being planned, a friend and I drove to New York in the same area you mentioned and for the purpose of seeing up close and listening to the sound. They are majestic marvels of advanced engineering. Most of the wind fields I have seen in New York are on relatively flat, sparsely populated land. We actually walked right up to a tower that was turning. At that time, the sound was much less than we expected. After our trip we were more open-minded to and less anxious about the Lowell development. The view from our home is now altered and is worse than we had hoped.
      After the towers were built and running, another friend who had been quite neutral, but lives in the vicinity of the Lowell towers called me and asked me to come and listen to the incredibly loud sounds that were being created by the towers. Admittedly, she had also become unhappy with the change from the natural mountain scene of her family’s home and farm to a view of the towers. I guess the point of my comment is that a casual observance of the effects of wind towers on a population or environment doesn’t make it.

  • Ken Egnaczak

    Why don’t the regulators just tell us the basis for the 35 decibel decision ??? Isn’t that called transparency ??

    • Stephen Ambrose

      I have posted the basis.

      • Willem Post

        Stephen, acoustics consultant,
        Please state your views on the 5dB annoyance penalty.
        It would enlighten lay Vermonters.
        Denmark and others have it in their codes, already for years.
        http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/wind-turbine-noise-adversely-impacts-nearby-people-and-animals-1

      • JohnGreenberg

        Stephen Ambrose:

        “I have posted the basis.”
        Where? In your comment below?

        If that’s what you mean, you haven’t answered the question Ken Egnaczak asked.

        The question was the basis for THIS decision. You posted information from WHO
        and “international standards.” Your language seems to admit
        that you do not know what the PSB’s basis was: “The PSB APPEARS to have
        recognized ….” (my emphasis)

        In other words, you’ve posted some information and then made an assumption
        about the PSB. The PSB should clarify how and why it adopted the
        standard.

        Additionally, since you brought it up, the WHO recommended standard is 40 dB
        for outside night noise. See
        http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/43316/E92845.pdf, p. 110.
        “Night Noise Guidelines for Europe,”
        2009.

      • Ken Egnaczak

        Thank You

  • waltermoses38

    The abuses and high-handed attitude, dismissal of the health issues by the Klein, Shumlin, Shap Smith and the Vermont Special Interest Group, Paul Burns et al, have had the effect of poisoning their own nest. Now the time has come for them to evaluate their own mistakes and to admit that they have perfected the art of failure. But, I fully expect them to full speed ahead, and hopefully end up in the dustbin of VT history.

  • Felicia Scott

    A night time decibel rating of 32 would be better. A daytime decibel rating of 40 is also reasonable. 5,000 feet from a property line is constitutionally proper as all of a property is affected by over-industrialization. The most appropriate action would be not to allow industrial projects that communities don’t want and that cause serious harm to the environment.

  • Stephen Ambrose

    Noise complaints occur when the sound level increase interferes with normal human activity. The most sound-sensitive human activity is typically at night when people sleep. People hear and respond to the maximum noise levels. The World Health Organization (WHO) has done extensive research that found diminished sleep quality structure indoors at Lmax 35 dBA, waking up at Lmax 42 dBA, and outdoor Leq 30 to 40 dBA for non-wind turbine noise sources.

    International standards established recommended noise level guidelines; ISO-1996-1971, rural 25 dBA & suburban 30 dBA; ANSI-S12.9, P4, rural 30 dBA “compatibility”, 35 dBA “marginally compatibility” and 40 dBA “Non-compatibility”.

    Noise complaints confirm; 1) noise regulations too loud, 2) noise consultants did not assess for an adverse community response, 3) wind turbines need to be quieter with greater setback distances from neighbors.

    The PSB appears to have recognized that they were misled and responded by correcting some of the errors and omissions in the wind turbine noise limits. The PSB is encouraged to to simplify the compliance assessment methodology to avoid data manipulation.

    Stephen E. Ambrose, INCE Board Certified Emeritus

  • paulkenny

    Folks, wind development is over in the United States. Iberdrola NA, along with Amazon has stopped ALL future turbine construction in NC at Amazon’s data center on 22,000 acres. The plan called for “hundreds” of turbine towers. Why? Donald Trump and his
    commitment to end all federal wind subsidies. See Feb 27th Wall Street Journal. Bad
    news for the Vermont wind developers and the land owners who lease back to these developers and great news for Vermonters who care about the quality of life here. The 90% renewable energy goal
    better not count on wind turbines to reach that lofty target.

  • Mary Daly

    If you have ever been to west Texas you will know there is actually a place where wind turbines would work. Lots of wind, wide open spaces and few people. The cows don’t seem to mind the noise. Vermont is not a place for giant wind turbines because of the noise AND the effect on our pristine views.

    • Paul Drayman

      I also believe that most of the reason the developers choose the rural and mountainous regions in Vermont, is that they are more financially feasible and included in that is less public resistance and there are few if any building development regulations in sparsely populated areas. I do understand that higher elevations have more wind generally,however, I believe there is a lot of wind available for these 500′ towers on the shores of Lake Champlain. (How likely is that to happen?) Anyone know for sure? Much closer to Burlington, where the demand for electric power is high. Of course, voters in that area, the majority of whom are pro-wind, would have a fit if their neighborhoods were turned to wind fields.

    • Glenn Thompson

      BINGO!!!! Having been through West Texas and other remote places in the country. This is the only proper location for wind turbines. In some areas in West Texas, there isn’t even any cows.

  • Frank Haggerty

    Cape Cod Times – Wind Turbine Editorial – “Here We Go Again ” Wind Turbine Fiasco- Falmouth- Plymouth- Bourne

    http://www.capecodtimes.com/opinion/20170311/spinning-wheels

    • Matthew Davis

      Nowhere in VT are wind turbines sited that close to residential areas.

      • Christine Lang

        I’m not sure how close those turbines are in Massachusetts, but in Vermont they have put turbines as close as 3600 feet (Georgia) and are now proposing to put some as close as 1800 feet (Swanton).

        • Matthew Davis

          Looks like 5 residences within 1500 ft. in the case of the Plymouth/Bourne project. However, the owner of the project lives closest and has had no issues with sound.

      • Steve Woodward

        Matt, I am curious as to what your opinion is on “how close is too close?” If Christine Lang is correct in her assertion that Swanton Wind is proposing to erect turbines 1800′ or even 2800′, would you be willing to admit that is a bit too close? I am interested in what you think is a reasonable setback. I feel that if this allowed, then anything goes. More and more people will be affected, thus creating a major backlash. And if that happens, there will be no desire among the populace to embrace the 90 percent by 2050 goal. Unless Chris Bray gets this passed into law. Which means any and all local control will cease to exist.

        • Matthew Davis

          I actually don’t know enough about the specifics of this project at this point to have an opinion. I do think that if the landowners want to pursue the process, they they should be able to do so. I also think that there is so much misinformation being spread about wind projects, in many cases intentionally, that it has tainted the whole conversation. What I am especially curious to know is that given the NRPC is proposing 21 MW of wind in the region, where do they think it should be sited? There are certainly advantages to siting where Swanton Wind has proposed… so where is a better location?

          • Steve Woodward

            If you don’t know enough of the specifics for this particular project, perhaps it would be beneficial to get up to speed on them. But wait, every time the developer is pressed for details, they can’t give “specifics.” The landowners certainly should be allowed to pursue whatever they want. But us as neighbors deserve full transparency as to what is proposed. Starting out by erecting an illegal MET tower certainly sent up a red flag to us that this was going to be anything but transparent.
            Although it is true that the plan does include 21 MW of wind power for the region, that particular ridge is not considered a viable location due to a “high value habitat block.” There are maps that have shaded areas on them. Take a look for yourself. This is only one of the many reasons that this project should be denied a CPG.
            I do agree that there is a lot of misinformation out there, so I choose to get mine by visiting and talking to actual neighbors of wind farms.

  • Jim Walsh

    Good Afternoon,
    I am writing to point out a major problem with this article as I read it. The article cites 35 decibels (dB) throughout and people are quoted in decibels (dB) even Chris Bray chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. I am positive all the PSB rules in regards to wind noise revolves around dBA, Mr. Ambrose is the only poster that I see who references dBA. For educations sake, I would ask Mike if he would rewrite the article and explain the difference between dB decibels and dBA, because they are very different. To add to the conversation 35 dBA is the German nighttime standard. In Denmark the highest standard allowed is 42 dBA. In regards to height, 10X total height is the Oregon, Poland and Bavaria Germany standard. Last year the Bavarian Constitutional Court upheld the 10X setback when it was contested.

    Jim Walsh

  • Richard Mann

    News from Ontario, Canada.

    The problem is Wind and Solar are not reducing C02 and our government
    will not admit this costly failure. Ontario’s professional Engineers,
    those tasked with generation, transmission and billing, have reported
    the problem. our government continues to build more wind and solar.

    Reference: “Ontario’s Electricity Dilemma – Achieving Low Emissions
    at Reasonable Electricity Rates”. Ontario Society of Professional
    Engineers (OSPE). April 2015.

    (Archived at: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ospe.on.ca/resource/resmgr/DOC_advocacy/2015_Presentation_Elec_Dilem.pdf )

    Page 15 of 23. “Why Will Emissions Double as We Add Wind and Solar Plants ?”

    – Wind and Solar require flexible backup generation.

    – Nuclear is too inflexible to backup renewables without expensive engineering changes to the reactors.

    – Flexible electric storage is too expensive at the moment.

    – Consequently natural gas provides the backup for wind and solar in North America.

    – When you add wind and solar you are actually forced to reduce
    nuclear generation to make room for more natural gas generation to
    provide flexible backup.

    – Ontario currently produces electricity at less than 40 grams of CO2 emissions/kWh.

    – Wind and solar with natural gas backup produces electricity at
    about 200 grams of CO2 emissions/kWh. Therefore adding wind and solar to
    Ontario’s grid drives CO2 emissions higher. From 2016 to 2032 as
    Ontario phases out nuclear capacity to make room for wind and solar, CO2
    emissions will double (2013 LTEP data).

    – In Ontario, with limited economic hydro and expensive storage, it
    is mathematically impossible to achieve low CO2 emissions at reasonable
    electricity prices without nuclear generation.

  • Richard Mann

    Here is a “time line” showing the history of Wind Turbine Noise
    problems, going back as far as 1979. Each entry provides documentation:

    http://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline/latest/embed/index.html?source=0Ak2bgr7C0nhPdGR3S1lEekU3T3p4ZDhUNDdRV2Y2ZkE&font=Bevan-PotanoSans&maptype=toner&lang=en&height=650

    1979 “First complaints received from a dozen families within a 3km radius of turbine”.

    1981 “Wind turbine operation creates enormous sound pressure waves”

    1982 “Closed windows and doors do not protect occupants from LFN”

    1982 “NASA research on human impacts provided to wind industry”

    1985 “Hypothesis for infrasound-induced motion sickness”

    1987 “Wind industry told that dB(A) unsuitable to measure LFN emissions from wind turbines”

    2004 “Wind industry knows noise models inadequate” (from Vestas)

    2011 “Vestas knew that low frequency noise from larger turbines needed greater setbacks”

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