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Organized Sound and Noise

While studying electronic music at the University of Maine, I became fascinated with the works of Karlheinz Stockausen, one of the most brilliant composers of the twentieth century. More than his works, however, was the illumination he brings to the very essence of sound itself, which Stockausen studied not just in classical, traditional methods, but also with investigations into the foundations of modern acoustics, and in breaking completely new ground, synthesizing sounds from the familiar, or strange, to the otherwordly.

In this lecture shown below, Stockhausen illuminates the role of conscious or organized sound on its effect on the listener.

Karlheinz Stockausen’s May 1972 lecture to the Oxford Union on “Four Criteria of Electronic Music”:

A comment about noise from Rand Acoustics: What is noise, then? What we often experience as noise might be fairly thought of as sound that is made unconsciously, without a thought to its effects. When noise is produced as a byproduct of a operation for profit, the conundrum for the neighbors becomes clear. The noise-producers are acting deliberately to make a profit; how can it be that they are also acting unconsciously to create the noise they make?


Silence: A rare commodity in our noisy world. Valued by some, treasured by a few, unknown to most. Increasingly, silence is becoming a rarity. Indeed, as one hears the inexorable march of progress across the soundscapes of Maine, the sounds of Maine’s pastoral silence, the sound of a quiet summer’s morning… the still time at twilight… the deep quiet during a long winter’s night, is fast being replaced by the ever-present, irregular whining and whumping of wind turbines. Catch the silence while you can. Be informed… Maine is on the move. What was Vacationland is now becoming something else entirely.

Captured in a brilliant if, for some, bewildering performance by John Cage in 1952, silence in the day to day world is as foreign to many people as the places in which it may, from time to time, still be found.

John Cage’s original performance of 4’33”:

A recent performance of 4’33” by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Lawrence Foster, conductor:

Wind Turbines: State of Maine not responsible?

It’s not always easy to figure out exactly what it is that the Legislature unanimously affirmed, in the recently enacted Maine Revised Statute Title 35-A, Chapter 34-A: EXPEDITED PERMITTING OF GRID-SCALE WIND ENERGY DEVELOPMENT.

For example. It appears that the law as enacted expressly disallows enforcement of the law by the State DEP. Perhaps you can see what I’m talking about here. Under the section entitled, “35-A §3456. SITING CONSIDERATIONS FOR SMALLER-SCALE WIND ENERGY DEVELOPMENT IN ORGANIZED AREAS”, the legislature approved the wording submitted to them as follows,

“3. Enforcement of standards. Following certification under this section and during construction and operation, the standards in subsection 1 for a wind energy development subject to certification under this section may be enforced by the municipality in which the generating facilities are located at the municipality’s discretion pursuant to Title 30-A, section 4452. The department is not responsible for enforcement of this section. [ 2007, c. 661, Pt. A, §7 (NEW) .]”

It’s fascinating really. I’d love to be wrong on this one. Would someone, anyone care to write in and clarify that this doesn’t mean the State DEP is not responsible for enforcement of its own law?

And if this is the way the law was intended, how the heck did that happen? Who can seriously believe that 100 percent of the legislature thought it was a good idea that there be no State oversight of a State-permitted facility?

Wind Turbines: What does “pro-wind” mean anyway?

While growing up in Maine our family operated on a tight and balanced budget, buying carefully and within our means, which were modest.

As an independent investigator of noise emissions, the focus here has been precisely on that- wind turbine noise emissions. What are the levels, what is the sound character, how annoying is the sound, what criteria or maximum permissible limits make sense, among other considerations.

However as an electric ratepayer and taxpayer, a keen eye is always looking for the best and lowest cost options for electric power. It feels good, financially speaking. As a society (and as ratepayers and taxpayers) it seems fair and true to say that we expect stable, reliable power at the lowest possible price. With this basic approach to finances, it does seem puzzling now, this “rush” to wind power in some quarters. It is clear that an unreliable, intermittent power source that costs significantly more that existing electric energy sources would simply not be prioritized, especially when reliable and much lower-cost renewable energy is available. Speaking as a ratepayer, not an acoustical consultant, elevated rates (due to any technology) when there are lower rate options would certainly be questioned in this household when the monthly bill comes in.

When asked in community forums whether “pro-wind” or “anti-wind”, this puzzlement arises.

Is the question related to noise emissions and asking for a kind of general, summary judgment, when that is inappropriate? Is it related to noise and property rights- the noise unheeding of property line boundaries? Are they asking if the lack of engineering noise controls make the wind turbine technology unsuitable everywhere in Maine or are there places it can be sited with sufficient distance?

Is the question related to the almost childlike wonder some people appear to experience when seeing these large blades rotating in the air, like the joy experienced from the little spinning toy windmills purchased at the dime store many years ago? That is, are they asking “pro-joy” or “anti-joy”?

Is the question related to the significant financial costs for wind being required now by law (with threat of penalty if not purchased) and costs passed onto the ratepayer and taxpayer- do these taxpayer-borne financings feel good to the pocketbook? Is it related to the price increases of each kilowatthour- do those feel good to the pocketbook? If they don’t feel good, is that “anti-wind” and- is that a “bad” thing?

Is the question related to “jobs” when two countries, Spain and Denmark, determined independently that something like two jobs are lost for each job created in wind power generation? Does that make sense for Maine? If losing jobs doesn’t feel right, is that “anti-wind” and- is that a “bad” thing?

Is the question related to Maine’s quality of place, the rural and winderness quiet that people seek out in Maine for vacation, recreation, rejuvenation, and even as a place to live- when wind turbines have been fast-tracked for multi-gigawatt deployment across the length and breadth of our mountains and shores? If that doesn’t feel right or doesn’t match one’s vision of Maine, is that “anti-wind” and- is that a “bad” thing?

Meanwhile, other folks focusing on the financials have come up with some summary facts which are included below. They further add to the puzzlement. If these facts are accurate, then how can the intelligent folks running for governor have any question at all as to what we should be doing with our valuable tax money, resources, and what people used to call, Vacationland?

Puzzling indeed.

The focus on noise emissions and potential impacts on public health continues. In this household, the vote this November will be directly related to the best available understanding of the candidates’ thinking on the issues- who will work to ensure that, the lowest-cost, reliable electricity for Maine, Maine’s quality of place is preserved and promoted, and taxpayers and ratepayers are not saddled with financing a costly, intermittent, unreliable technology- whatever that technology is.

As an independent investigator, this question of “pro-wind” or “anti-wind” will be left to those asking, to ponder.

10 Ways Today You Will both Contribute Money to Wind Developers and Create Foreign Jobs


The total cost of wind turbines and transmission upgrades, as envisioned by recently enacted Maine law, will be $7 billion. Via electric rates and taxes, Mainers will pay for this, but it will produce less than 700 megawatts of electricity.

Policymakers in the federal government have determined that certain energy sources are more desirable and less viable than others, so government incentives are granted to various energies. Here are the federal taxpayer subsidies paid by energy source in dollars per MW/Hour:

Natural Gas and Oil $.25
Geothermal $.92
Hydroelectric $.67
Coal $.44
Nuclear $1.59
Wind $23.37

1. Wind projects can take the “cash in lieu of investment tax credit” or the 1.9 cent production tax credit. For example, in 2009, First Wind, Maine’s most active wind developer, took over $100 million of federal taxpayer “cash in lieu” monies. In 2009 $849 million (or 84%) of US subsidies went to overseas companies.

Iberdrola of Spain took $545 million through its American subsidiary. Almost all of the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on US wind projects was for wind turbines, blades, and nacelles which were manufactured in foreign countries.

2. Wind developers also take a federal subsidy of 2.1 cents in renewable energy credit per kilowatt produced. Taxpayers bear this cost.

3. Despite creating imperceptible numbers of jobs, wind projects in Maine routinely get Tax Increment Financing and Community Benefit Arrangements which reduce their property tax obligations, thereby passing on tax burdens to other taxpayers.

4. Wind power is unpredictable, intermittent, and cannot be stored. So it must be used or lost as it is generated. The nature of this electricity requires an overbuilt grid that can handle these wild fluctuations and thermal stresses. Additionally, wind power is sited remotely, far from load (end users) so transmission costs are exacerbated even while electrons are lost in the distance traveled. Utilities build these unnecessary power lines and charge their ratepayers for the cost.

5. The only way that wind power can grow and still preserve system reliability is with grid expansion, like CMP’s $1.4 billion transmission upgrade (MPRP). Ratepayers will pay for this upgrade – as well as similar upgrades in the other New England states – through their electric bills.

6. In order to meet New England’s anticipated 12,000 MW of wind power buildup, the New England ISO forecasts building 4,320 new miles of transmission infrastructure with midrange costs between $19 and $25 billion. Ratepayers will get the bill.

7. Utilities are under pressure to acquire renewable energy (or credits) from wind farms in order to comply with the state Renewable Portfolio Standards. For each missing megawatt hour of renewable energy where the mandated percentages are not met, nearly every state in New England imposes a fee that is collected by each State’s Public Utility Commission (PUC). The cost for either the renewable energy credit or the compliance fee is passed on to ratepayers in the form of higher electricity bills.

8. Current requirements mandate penalty payments for not meeting minimum renewable generating capacity levels. Penalties are currently 6 cents per Kw/Hr, escalating with inflation. Maine’s CMP & Bangor Hydro are presented with the incentive to sign with Maine wind generators to expensive long term contracts, or risk paying penalties with nothing to show for it. Maine ratepayers get the bill either way.

9. In the Pacific Northwest the Bonneville Power Authority overbuilt wind power for export to California, a state that mandated more renewable consumption. This critical mass of wind power is so difficult for the grid’s ISO to manage, it necessitated initiation of a surcharge on wind power which will be passed on to ratepayers. Maine’s buildup for Southern New England users could result in the same outcome.

10. Since Maine’s statutory wind generation goal will be intermittent and will largely produce off-peak and off-season, the ISO-NE will have to procure quick-start generation to back-up wind and to balance the grid. Not only does this require maintaining excess capacity in traditional generating plants like natural gas, it renders such traditional plants inefficient as they constantly start and stop, like city versus highway driving. Aside from increasing emissions, these combined capitol generation costs and inefficiency costs are shared among grid participants (socialized). They are not paid by the renewable generators, but by ratepayers.

10 Ways Today You Will both Contribute Money to Wind Developers and Create Foreign Jobs

Rollins Wind: Can There Be High Annoyance?

Recently a chart was created for predicting the percent of the community highly annoyed by wind turbine noise. Previous research showed that wind turbine noise is much more annoying than transportation noise at much lower sound levels [1].

The equation underlying the annoyance siting chart can be used to predict the percent of the community highly annoyed versus distance, based on the sound levels measured or predicted for an industrial wind turbine facility.

In the chart below, the predicted sound levels versus distance were charted for the proposed Rollins Wind facility, levels obtained from the applicant’s publicly available application document. Also charted were the measured highest hourly average sound levels at Mars Hill, obtained from the project files available at the Maine DEP.

The chart below illustrates the predicted percent of the community highly annoyed for the proposed Rollins Wind Facility, computed using the peer-reviewed equation developed by Pedersen and Waye by distance from the nearest turbine.

The chart illustrates what common sense suggests and what real world experience has already shown at Mars Hill, Freedom, and Vinalhaven. The percentage of the community that is highly annoyed by wind turbine noise levels is predicted to be high near the turbines and lessens with distance. Up to a two-mile setback appears necessary to minimize community disruption.

Has the potential for high annoyance due to industrial wind turbine noise been discussed in the Rollins Wind application process?

This high annoyance prediction method is based on 150kw-600kw wind turbines (smaller than those being installed in Maine) and does not factor in detailed effects of Maine topography. Taller turbines with longer blades may exhibit deeper amplitude modulation than those studied by Pedersen and Waye. In hill-valley or mountainous areas, the sound level versus distance may be channeled and elevated relative to the results from computer modelling. Higher sound levels and high annoyance could be sustained at farther distances than expected.

“Annoyance with wind turbine noise was associated with psychological distress, stress, difficulties to fall asleep and sleep interruption.”

1. Pedersen, E. and K. Persson Waye. 2004. Perception and annoyance due to wind turbine noise: A dose–response relationship, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 116: 3460–3470.

Blade Icing Noise: Accounted For?

Blade icing can increase wind turbine sound levels as much as 5 decibels higher than quoted operating sound levels. Manufacturers may insist that their wind turbines don’t ice up. Right out of the crate, wind turbines blades with manufacturer-applied coatings might be resistant to icing. Give anything a year or two exposure to the elements, dust, bugs, hail, salt, and rime in Maine, and then see what happens.

Have wind facility permit applicants in Maine incorporated an icing noise factor of 3 to 5 dB in their noise predictions as a conservative design measure to ensure compliance with State regulations during winter months?

Background: “In cold climates, with sustained temperatures below 32○ F., atmospheric icing conditions are common. The northeast U. S. has the highest incidence of icing in North America. Due to their aerodynamic shape significant rime ice buildup can occur on turbine blades in cold weather and high humidity conditions. This effect is similar to the rime icing of airplane wings. The ice can build symmetrically and then be extremely difficult to detect. Even a low buildup of ice can disturb the aerodynamics of air passage over the blades and create higher noise emission due to increased turbulence. Generally blade noise is the predominant noise source and can be increased 3-5 dBA due to this rime ice, or other changes to the airfoil surface as due to insect accretion or dirt accumulation.” (Seifert, Henry, Technical Requirements for Rotor Blades Operating in Cold Climate, Deutsches Windenergie-Institut, 2003). – from Assessment of the Sound Level Study for the Mars Hill Wind Farm, Bolton, 2007.

Rollins Wind: Might The Model Be Low?

Sound level versus distance on semi-log paper has been for many years one of the best ways to review noise emissions and potential impacts from a power generation facility. Yesterday I took a look at the Rollins Wind Facility predictions at nearby residences and, levels measured near the Kibby facility this year as well as the existing Mars Hill operational data compiled for the Maine DEP. The resulting chart is shown below. It raised several somewhat technical points for me right away.

– I understand Rollins will use the same wind turbine as Mars Hill, the GE 1.5MW. Is it appropriate to compare the Oakfield prediction to actual noise emissions documented at Mars Hill? Or to Kibby’s 3MW Vestas, with their similar, blade-sweep aerodynamic noise production?

– Are the predicted noise levels at nearby residences in the ranges associated with sleep disturbance, as well as adverse health impacts especially for risk groups (children, elderly, those with pre-existing conditions or disease), according to peer-reviewed medical evidence compiled and published by the World Health Organization in their Night Noise Guideline (NNG) of October 2009?

– Is the existing Maine DEP night noise limit of 45 dBA adequate to protect the public health in the area?

– Does the data comparison to WHO health thresholds suggest that a setback distance of over two miles would be needed to minimize sleep disturbance and prevent adverse health impacts for risk groups; children, elderly, those with pre-existing conditions or disease?

Oakfield Wind: Might The Model Be Low?

Sound level versus distance on semi-log paper has been for many years one of the best ways to review noise emissions and potential impacts from a power generation facility. Recently a comparison was developed from the Oakfield Wind Facility predictions at nearby residences and the existing Mars Hill data compiled for the Maine DEP. The resulting chart is shown below. It raised several points right away.

– Both sites use the same wind turbine, the GE 1.5MW. Is it appropriate to compare the Oakfield prediction to actual noise emissions documented at Mars Hill?

– Are the predicted noise levels at nearby residences in the ranges associated with sleep disturbance as well as adverse health impacts for risk groups (children, elderly, those with pre-existing conditions or disease), according to peer-reviewed medical evidence compiled and published by the World Health Organization in their Night Noise Guideline (NNG) of October 2009?

– Is the existing Maine DEP night noise limit of 45 dBA adequate to protect the public health in the area?

– Does the data comparison to WHO health thresholds suggest that a setback distance of over two miles would be needed to minimize sleep disturbance and prevent adverse health impacts for risk groups?

Is Noise Pollution a Taking?

The Takings Clause
“…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that private property shall not be taken without just compensation. Ultimately, takings issues have ended up in the courts. Case law on this clause has been convoluted and contradictory determining when, where and how a “taking” has occurred and what “just compensation” shall be made. In other words, people including judges have differed, at times strenuously, about takings.

However, it is generally accepted now, with case law in place for airport noise pollution and others, that noise pollution travelling onto a private property is a taking of property value requiring just compensation.

Since 1989, the State of Maine Chapter 375.10 Site of Location Development law scribes “protected location” areas 500 feet in radius from a residential home. In other words the existing State law treads inside private property as far as noise pollution goes. Under Chapter 375.10, if the property dimensions are sufficiently large and the 500 foot radius ends within the property, in the remaining area of the private residential property, the developer is allowed 10 dB higher noise immissions. This “feature” of Chapter 375.10 is at variance with most noise ordinances and regulations in the United States and abroad, which recognize and utilize the property or “lot” line as the legal property boundary for noise limits.

Consider the potential difficulties for a hypothetical property of 10 acres, if for example, the owner decides to allow his son to build at some future date a house on a portion of the land not within the 500 foot radius. (See sketch below-added 9/10/2010 for clarification.) During a permitting process for a new development near this residential property, the noise to be permitted is controlled by distance or engineering to the State standards for the protected location- but outside the 500 foot radius around the existing house, the developer may exceed the State night noise limits, up to 10 dB higher (to the daytime limits which apply around the clock). In this scenario, noise impinging on the father’s house is controlled, but noise impinging on the son’s (future) house could be 10 dB higher. That is allowed under Chapter 375.10. Were the State noise regulation (or local noise ordinance) to be based on a property line limit, as is the case with most noise regulations, noise at the son’s future house would be controlled to night noise limits as well because the developer would have to meet the regulation’s night noise limits everywhere along the property line.

This potential noise pollution issue could apply as well to someone who used their property for a home business (yoga center, writing retreat, and so on), after a nearby development permitting, on some portion of their property outside the 500-foot radius used during the permitting process. The enjoyment or use of the private land could be compromised by excessive sound levels on the portion outside the 500 foot radius around the existing structure.

In effect, this noise permitting feature of Chapter 375.10 has the potential to take future use, enjoyment, or quality of life from a property whole, dependent of course on a number of factors regarding lot size, distance and noise engineering options exercised during a development.

For property rights advocates, of whom there are many in the State of Maine, this little understood feature of the State noise regulation may bring concern. Has the State circumvented the Fifth Amendent’s takings clause? What vulnerability to lawsuit and legal expenses do town officials personally face if they pass a noise ordinance that reaches inside someone’s property and by doing so degrade enjoyment and quality of life; rather than using the property line for noise limits, as is the norm? Are town officials prepared for the financial and emotional costs of legal battle?

There is an additional concern for property owners wishing to sell a portion of their land: it may become impossible to sell once that land is polluted by noise day and night. To whom do they turn to seek just compensation? The developer? The selectmen? The State? And how will they recover their legal costs if they take on such an arduous task as a compensation lawsuit? Are landowners prepared for the financial and emotional costs of legal battle?

These issues stand distinct (well not entirely distinct) from the problem that the Maine Chapter 375.10 noise regulation applies only to some developments (the Wind Facility in Freedom, Maine is a baffling “exemption”). Further, the sound limits in Chapter 375.10 are considered outdated, based on an urban noise pollution issue involving Merrill Transport in Portland, Maine in the late 1980s. The sound limits are inappropriately high for the 98 percent of Maine that is rural, and far too permissive given the comprehensive research on the health effects of noise pollution in the last few years.

It appears towns should think very carefully before adopting the approach voted in by the State Legislature in 1989.

Wind Turbines: No Bang For The Buck?

My rule of thumb is 60 acres per megawatt for wind farms on land.

— Tom Gray, Director of Communications and Outreach, American Wind Energy Assocation

There have been serious questions raised in Maine as to the costs and revenues of wind turbine facilities large and small. Actual financial performance apparently has not been revealed to any substantive extent. Not only is this rather baffling- wouldn’t the wind producers want people to know how well they are performing- but also, there would seem to be some requirement at least in the public arena for a degree of transparency in these matters. After all, a large percentage of the investment capital is coming from the taxpayers.

Perhaps the financial performance figures will remain cloistered until such time as public outcry forces these data into the open. However, it is simple now to evaluate wind turbine performance in terms of power rating versus land use, specifically, by evaluating output to land area affected by noise pollution for various power generation systems.

From a noise pollution viewpoint, an ideal power generation system is efficient, producing very little noise and vibration as waste by-products; or, it is a good neighbor, being quiet by design or incorporating noise controls to limit off-site noise pollution. For the same output, a wasteful design requires more land area or distance to reach a low enough noise level to be a good neighbor.

In the chart below, nuclear, fossil (coal, oil, natural gas) and wind turbines technologies are compared. It should be evident that the nuclear designs show by far the highest efficiencies, with the shortest distances and the largest outputs. Wind turbines on the other hand, appear to be by far the most inefficient from a noise pollution and land use standpoint, requiring substantial distances with meager power output compared to their nuclear and fossil counterparts.

Note: This chart was produced by scaling sound level versus distance for each power plant surveyed. No adjustments were made for plant capacity factors; with wind far lower than nuclear or fossil, we would expect increased vertical spread between wind and other technologies. Neither was adjustment made for tonal or short duration repetitive sound (SDRS) components as sound character data were not available for the nuclear and fossil units, only sound level in dBA at 1000 feet. Since nuclear and fossil plants tend to produce steady state noise, and wind turbines surveyed in Maine display tonal and SDRS components, one could expect that the nuclear and fossil plants require less distance to be good neighbors than shown on this chart. Thus both capacity factor and sound character would serve to increase the disparity in land use efficiency between wind and other plant designs.