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WI study finds low frequency noise serious threat from wind farms

A press release from Garvey McNeil & Associates, S.C. 


Low frequency noise emitted by industrial scale wind turbines is a serious issue that could possibly affect the future of the wind industry. That is one of the conclusions of a study recently filed with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The Report suggests that very low frequency noise from wind turbines may cause motion sickness-like symptoms in some people exposed to noise frequencies.

 The study, titled, “A Cooperative Measurement Survey and Analysis of Low Frequency and Infrasound at the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County, Wisconsin” was jointly authored by four acoustical engineering firms, one of which has derived significant income from wind turbine development projects. The study, funded in part through intervenor compensation granted by the Public Service Commission to Clean Wisconsin, an environmental advocacy organization, and Forest Voice, Inc., a citizen’s group, was conducted at the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County, Wisconsin, a 20 megawatt project that consists of eight 2.5 megawatt wind turbines that stand nearly 500 feet tall.

In response to testimony from residents living close to industrial-scale wind farms that they have been forced to abandon their homes because of significant health problems that began after the wind farms went into service, the Public Service Commission provided partial funding for a study of low frequency noise at the homes. The health complaints include nausea, dizziness, headaches, vertigo, ear pain and pressure, sleeplessness, and feelings of malaise. The residents testified that their health symptoms disappeared when they left home and were not near wind turbines, and returned when they went back home. Some testified that they can sense whether the nearby turbines are operating or not, regardless of whether they can see them.

That testimony came in a hearing on whether the Commission should approve the Highland Wind Farm project in St. Croix County that proposes to use similar turbines and which was developed by the same investors behind the Shirley project. If built, the proposed Highland Wind Farm will have 41 turbines.

Dr. Paul Schomer, one of the participating research acousticians, recommended that the Highland Wind Farm should not be approved at this time. “The Shirley situation must be further tested and better understood, and there must be a way to predict health problems like those in Shirley,” he wrote.

This study is groundbreaking effort to collect accurate data on whether wind turbines larger than two megawatts generate low frequency noise that could be adversely affecting the health of nearby residents. Low frequency noise is at the lowest range of sound audible to humans, below 200 Hz. Infrasound is acoustic energy below 2- Hz, and is often inaudible, but is thought to be detectable by the human body.

The study was a cooperative joint effort conducted in December 2012 by five acousticians. Some of the five have generally testified in support of industry, and others have opposed wind turbines near occupied buildings, arguing that noise, low frequency noise, and infrasound have the potential to harm public health. Three parties involved in the Highland Wind Farm docket – Clean Wisconsin, Forest Voice, Inc., and Town of Forest – sponsored the study.

This study confirms the allegations that wind turbines do in fact produce acoustic energy that may be inaudible but which can adversely impact people. The researchers were unanimous in urging further study.

“This study makes it clear that more research is needed before the Public Service Commission should consider granting a permit for the Highland Wind Farm. The risk of putting more families at harm is too great. Highland has five times the number of turbines as Shirley Wind,” said Brenda Salseg, spokesperson for Forest Voice, a group of citizens in St. Croix County who oppose the project.

“We have said from the beginning that industrial scale wind turbines produce inaudible noise pressures that can harm families when the setback distances from homes are too short,” Salseg said. “The Commission’s responsibility is to protect the health and safety of the public. If this project is approved, and similar problems occur in Forest, it will make future wind projects in Wisconsin very suspect. The Commission should deny the project as designed to protect the residents of the Town of Forest from the serious problems experienced by folks in the Shirley project.”

The complete study can be accessed over the Internet at: It is PSC REF # 178263.