Author Archives: rwrand

Noise vs Harmony

Maine used to be called Vacationland. With the fast-tracked proliferation of hundreds of awful-sounding industrial wind turbines in Maine’s beautiful mountains and along our precious seashores… who will want to visit. Gone they will be, the tourists, the outdoors enthusiasts… once quiet hamlets nestled in the valleys deserted and empty, rendered useless, once bucolic wilds lorded night and day by the mindless chaotic threshing of untamed works for profit.

Meanwhile, there are those who work singly and together to create incredible, harmonious sounds that uplift the soul.

We are at a crossroads each moment where we choose what we want to create in this world with our work, our play, and our lives.

What are YOU choosing? When all is said and done, what will you be remembered for? What legacy will you leave in your name?

Annoyance: A degradation of health

During my discussions in rural communities of the effects of noise on people, I’ve noticed some confusion and misunderstanding about what annoyance produced by noise impacts really is. I relate below an excellent explanation including a quote from Dr. Alice Suter, one of the most important contributors to our modern understanding of acoustics and noise effects on people.

I notice that “activity interference” and “disturbance” are more easily understood by people here in the US.

So the next time someone attempts to minimize, laugh off, or suggest that annoyance is not a medical concern… you will know differently.

The word annoyance is often misinterpreted by the general public … as a feeling brought about by the presence of a minor irritant. … in the medical usage it exists as a precise technical term and defines annoyance as a mental state capable of degrading health.

Suter (1991) presents a formal definition of annoyance:

“Annoyance has been the term used to describe the community’s collective feelings about noise ever since the early noise surveys in the 1950s and 1960s, although some have suggested that this term tends to minimize the impact. While “aversion” or “distress” might be more appropriate descriptors, their use would make comparisons to previous research difficult. It should be clear, however, that annoyance can connote more than a slight irritation; it can mean a significant degradation in the quality of life. This represents a degradation of health in accordance with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health, meaning total physical and mental well-being, as well as the absence of disease.”

From the web site of the Acoustical Society of America:

Dr. Alice Suter

Alice’s contributions to the Society have been numerous. In the Spring of this year, Alice stepped down as editor of Echoes, the Society’s popular and popularized publication about interesting happenings in acoustics. She has served as Echoes editor since 1991, and as co-editor in 1990 – its year of inception. Over that time, Alice conceptualized, organized, produced, and oversaw the publication of the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter Echoes each year, about 30 issues total.

Some of Alice’s other notable contributions to the Society include service on: the Executive Council, 1986-89; the Committee on Public Relations since 1988 – serving as Chair from 1988-94; the Technical Committee on Noise 1980-89, 1991-94, and 1995 to present; and the Technical Committee on Physiological and Psychological Acoustics 1976-79. At the regional level of the Society, Alice was elected President, Vice-President, and Secretary of the Cincinnati Chapter among years during 1989-1992. She became a Fellow of the Society in 1987.

Other professional organizations have also commended Alice’s work in acoustics. From the National Hearing Conservation Association she received the Outstanding Leadership and Service Award and the Outstanding Hearing Conservationist Award. She is a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Alice began her career in acoustics after earning an M.S. in education of the deaf at Gallaudet. During the 60’s and early 70’s, her focus was clinical audiology – initially working as a clinical and subsequently supervisory audiologist at the Washington D. C. Department of Health, then moving to the DC Veterans Administration Hospital as a clinical audiologist while pursuing doctoral studies in audiology at the University of Maryland, and later becoming Director of the Audiometric Assistant Program of the National Association of Hearing and Speech Agencies. She received her Ph. D. in 1977.

Work on hearing conservation and noise control were central to Alice’s career from the mid 70’s on. It was during this time that she became influential in noise criteria development, regulation, and public policy. She was Senior Bioacoustical Scientist at the Office of Noise Abatement and Control, US Environmental Protection Agency from 1973-78 and Senior Scientist and Manager – Noise Standard, US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 1978-82. At OSHA, she made a vital contribution toward preservation of hearing health in US industry; she was principal author – overseeing development and preparation – of a significantly strengthened enacted amendment to OSHA’s noise standard for hearing conservation programs. Her last tour of regular employment, 1988-90, was as a Visiting Scientist in Research Audiology at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health where she originated and implemented research and information for dissemination on hearing-protection and – conservation programs.

Throughout the 90’s (in addition to editing Echoes), Alice has worked as a consultant and writer in various areas of hearing conservation and noise for clients in medicine, industry and government. Her clients have included the World Health Organization, citizens’ groups, and government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.

Various professional organizations that have benefited from Alice’s participation during her career include the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation, for which she was on the Board of Directors from 1984-86, and also served as a Certified Course Director. For the American National Standards Institute, she was on the Acoustical Standards Management board and four different working groups concerned with noise, its measurement, or hearing conservation, among the years of 1978-91. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association enjoyed Alice’s service in various ways, including membership on five different committees and a task force. Alice continues to serve on the Publications Committee of the National Hearing Conservation Association and also participated on the Executive Council from 1984-87

Noise: Caveat emptor

Caveat emptor. How often have we heard that? Would you buy a car based on “average” fuel consumption, and then act surprised if you consume more fuel than you expected? We pride ourselves, do we not, when we are smart buyers, when we educate ourselves as much as possible.

If you’re involved in a review of a new facility, make sure you understand the full extent of the potential noise levels. I will warn you right now: the developer and the manufacturers may not know! Testing “standards” and test stand conditions may differ from and, end up hiding, the true extent of the noise produced “in the real world.”

Always wonder what a manufacturer is hiding when they use A-weighting.

Always wonder what a manufacturer is hiding when they use averaging.

The A-weighted sound level does not contain the low frequency information. Averaged data do not show the peak or maximum sound levels produced by the equipment. Most community noise issues involve low frequency or peak, impulsive noise impacts. Field measurements of similar facilities may be essential to understand the low frequencies, the peaks, and the time-varying noises that equipment produce “in the real world”. Insist on unweighted data. If the manufacturer doesn’t have peak or maximum levels, insist they be furnished, preferably from a similar facility.

–thanks to for the quotable quote! -ed.

Building Bridges with Music, not Noise

In my thirty-plus years of working in acoustics, I’ve found that noise tends to divide communities, polarize noise-producers and neighbors, even neighbors with neighbors, and generally creates.. a nuisance.

It takes an extraordinary amount of personal responsibility for someone who creates noise to acknowledge the problems and get cracking on being good neighbors. An extraordinary amount of personal responsibility, or maybe a lawsuit. Meanwhile they’re driving their neighbors nuts.

You see, what I’ve come to realize is that a certain portion of the population really doesn’t have any appreciation for the value in being a good neighbor. I guess it falls under the phrase, “It takes all kinds.” It might be a very different world indeed if people who are good-neighbor challenged understood that their right to swing their fist, acoustically speaking, ends at their property line. What a concept!

So what’s on the flip side of this record… is it– over time, with a lot of discussion, noise-producers will start to act like good neighbors. Or– people who are good at being good neighbors will take over the projects that produce noise. I’m not sure either of those tunes has been written yet. One way or another, there’s a lot of patience, and bridges, to build.

On the other hand, unlike noise, music can build community. Rather than dividing, music can unite. (I’ll look forward to the e-mails about loud outdoor concerts.)

Here’s a quote from Maine’s Rick Cormier in response to someone who said that drum circle novices should take lessons before participating in drum circles and not consider themselves “drummers”. Think on it, and enjoy.

“…I think that this issue depends on the intention of the circle. If the purpose of the circle is to play great traditional African (or Middle Eastern or Latin, etc) music, then by all means the drummers should be trained so that they have a clue as to what they are doing.

On the other hand, if it’s a freestyle community drum circle like mine the intention is different. We drum to create an atmosphere of spirituality or healing or sociality or creativity or fun… whatever the participant comes to get. Most of our newbies drum quietly and don’t disrupt the circle. They soon develop the ability to hear the improvised music and interact effectively with it. They learn by doing, by watching. They ask questions. They develop their sense of tempo. They learn to hold down the beat while more experienced drummers play lead. They learn to embellish effectively. They learn when to step into the foreground and when to recede into the background. They intuitively learn what’s best for the music. All that’s required of me is patience… and the relinquishing of control.

As recorded music first became accessible… people stopped singing in their homes and while they worked. People who sang for its own sake… for their own enjoyment… heard voices like Caruso’s and became embarrassed at the sound of their own voices. I find that sad. That kind of thinking has become ingrained in our culture. Our society makes it very clear to our children who should be playing music or sports… who should be drawing or dancing… We’re here to achieve not to enjoy.

In freestyle circles we learn to trust ourselves and one another… to play with joy… to take risks… to make time for ourselves… to allow others to be heard… to allow others to be different… to allow others to grow… to allow ourselves and others to make mistakes: All lessons of great value.

Creating a community where it is safe to express oneself without words… Where one can grow in so many ways, connect with others, learn, and laugh… building bridges between people instead of walls… That’s our intent.”

—Rick Cormier, author of Freestyle Community Drum Circles.

Wind Turbines: NOT “Pollution-Free”

If you’ve read my posts and published articles you’ve gleaned some understanding of the noise pollution created near the large, three-blade industrial wind turbines being proliferated across the formerly beautiful and quiet lands of Maine.

Some visiting my site appear incensed at my cautions about this technology, insisting we must do something to reduce pollution from other power generation technologies such as coal, and touting wind technology as a pollution-free alternative.

Now, I already know that wind technology is not pollution-free. It produces noise pollution, a world-around formally recognized and serious health impact, within a locale around each turbine of perhaps a mile, and that locale increases in size for multiple-turbine facilities especially near water or in hill-valley topography. Yet: did you know that the wind turbines require very large quantities of so-called “rare earth” metals to form the large magnets in the generators? That these metals are mined? That these mines are a total ecological disaster, directly affecting the health of thousands of people living nearby?

It appears that wind turbines pollute heavily from inception through operation.

With the instant availability of news reports on the internet, how could anyone maintain an allegiance to this technology and this industry- unless they are profiting from it?

If you are incensed at my cautions and feel wind technology is indeed, “pollution-free,” perhaps you should read this news article. We’ll get back to noise pollution, my area of interest, in the next post. Thanks for reading. May you find this useful.


-a comment on the news article from Ontario…

…A story by Simon Parry and Ed Douglas in the Daily Mail, Jan. 29, describes a horrific toxic stew brewing in China as a result of our search for the great, green holy grail. … The toxic lake left behind after mining for “rare earth metals” needed for the turbines’ magnets is creating an environmental boondoggle of epic proportions. … The city of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, is home to more than 90% of the world’s rare earth metals.

The story quotes retired farmer Su Bairen, 69: “‘At first it was just a hole in the ground,’ he says. ‘When it dried in the winter and summer, it turned into a black crust and children would play on it. Then one or two of them fell through and drowned in the sludge below. Since then, children have stayed away.’”

Plants withered. Livestock died.

“Villagers say their teeth began to fall out, their hair turned white at unusually young ages, and they suffered from severe skin and respiratory diseases. Children were born with soft bones and cancer rates rocketed,” says the Mail.

Still gung-ho to go green?

Every time I see a new turbine I’ll think of those children dying horrific deaths. And I’ll hang my head in shame at the environmental disaster we’ve created. Twitter: @ChrizBlizz

International Noise Awareness Day – April 27, 2011

People in quiet rural areas of Maine are starting to lose that precious quality of place that defines the Maine outdoors- the natural quiet, as hundreds of miles of industrial wind turbines are fast-tracked into operation. Maine residents are joining the ranks of millions, perhaps billions, around the world who are being impacted by industrial and transportation noise pollution. Although most people don’t think about it until they are losing sleep or hearing, noise pollution is a serious health problem, all the more so for children, elderly, and those with disease or preexisting conditions. What is all the more remarkable about the noise pollution advancing across the Maine soundscape is that like water and air pollution, noise pollution is entirely preventable.

The New York Center for Hearing and Communication founded International Noise Awareness Day to promote awareness of the dangers of long-term exposure to noise.  Join the NHC and professional organizations, community activists and individuals around the world in celebrating the 16th Annual International Noise Awareness Day on April 27, 2011.

The content in the NHC’s online Noise Center will give you information and direction you’ll need to be part of this important global initiative. Should you need further guidance or assistance getting started, please contact Nancy Nadler at the Center for Hearing and Communication in New York at (917) 305-7810 or click here to send an email.

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