Falmouth's Wind One (foreground) has been dogged by complaints from abutters about adverse health impacts.
Some wind turbines spend their lives spinning in peace, while others generate more complaints than electricity. So what differentiates the troublesome turbines? As yet, there’s no good answer for that question. And that’s what Steve Ambrose says has him so interested.
Last spring, Ambrose and fellow acoustic engineer Robert Rand conducted a brief study of sounds produced by a privately-owned wind turbine in Falmouth, MA. One neighbor has complained vehemently about the turbine, which is of the same make and model as the embattled town-owned turbines located less than a mile away at the wastewater treatment plant.
Of course, there have been previous sound studies. Two consultants – one hired by the town, and one hired by disgruntled abutters – conducted sound studies of Falmouth’s Wind 1 in fall of 2010. But those studies, as with most sound studies, focused on audible sound (in tech-speak, A-weighted sound or dB(A)). Meanwhile, the debate about whether and how wind turbines cause the health woes of nearby neighbors has largely come to focus on the possible role of infrasound, sound waves that are too low-frequency to be heard by most people.
So Ambrose and Rand set out to measure the low-frequency sounds generated by one of the turbines. They set up shop at the home of Sue Hobart, who has been vocal in her complaints about the privately-owned turbine near her house, and prepared to spend a couple of long, fairly mundane (they’ve done this plenty of times before, mind you) days and nights with their equipment. Instead, they almost immediately began to suffer symptoms similar to motion sickness – headaches, nausea, lethargy, and anxiety – that they say made it difficult to even do the job they came to do.
Much of the report, released in late December, focuses on the personal experiences of Ambrose and Rand, and that is what has generated the most comment from both sides of the debate (see here and here for examples). But, in the end, what I found most interesting – potentially game-changing – were their sound data.