"Can you sleep listening to this?" (Wisconsin)

Sep 9, 2008


Larry Wunsch and his wife live in Byron, Wisconsin, within the perimeter of Invenergy’s Forward Wind Energy Center (Fond du Lac & Dodge Counties).  The wind farm began operation in 2008 and consists of 86 General Electric 1.5 MW SLE turbines.

Click, above, to experience the shadow flicker and noise this family is subjected to, while noting that the sound recording cannot pick up the low frequency noise.  Hence the recording misses much of the noise/vibration spectrum that people complain about and that appears to lie at the basis of Wind Turbine Syndrome.   (Be sure your speakers are turned up.)

Veteran noise engineer George Kamperman, Board Certified in Noise Control Engineering by the American Institute of Noise Control Engineering, wrote the following commentary after listening to this video clip.

There is a must-see-and-hear 9 minute DVD by Larry Wunsch at his home in Byron, Wisconsin.  Turn up the volume on your computer and listen either through earphones with good uniform base response, or listen from a full frequency range sound system.

You may be shocked by what you hear. The wind turbines make a roaring sound like a jet aircraft. The wind turbines radiate an excessive amount of low frequency energy, and this is the primary reason for our new approach (see How Loud Is Too Loud?) for determining wind turbine setback from dwellings.

Whenever you read about noise levels in the media, the decibel (dB) numbers are frequency weighted (dBA). The term is the “A-weighted” sound level. This frequency weighting discriminates against low frequency sounds, somewhat similar to human hearing response at low sound levels. The wind turbine industry has taken advantage of the phenomenon to show wind turbines produce sound levels no higher than the sound from “a gentle breeze rustling leaves of a tree” or “a small flowing stream” or “the refrigerator in your kitchen,” to cite just some of the examples argued by the wind turbine lobby. These examples are all plausible, and the industry probably has data to show it to be true.

What’s wrong with this picture? The wind industry examples definitely do not sound like the jet engine noise outside the home of Larry Wunsch! The problem is that wind turbines generate far more low frequency noise than high frequency noise where dBA is most sensitive. This is a dirty little secret the wind turbine industry has been hiding from the public.

To meet this challenge we have added (again, see How Loud Is Too Loud?) a requirement that both dBA and dBC noise data be published by the wind industry. The dBC frequency scale has a flat, uniform response throughout the audible range and thus is a better measure of any noise rich in low frequency sound. We propose wind turbine setbacks must meet both dBA and dBC limits.

I did an actual instrumentation analysis of the Larry Wunsch (YouTube) turbine noise recorded outside his front door. My measured noise characteristics agreed with the manufacturer’s claimed noise emission. Both sets of data show excessive low frequency noise outside the Wunsch home, and they show the dBC (broadband) turbine noise to be 13 dB higher than the dBA (high frequency) turbine noise.

Whenever dBC results exceed dBA results, it is a clear indication that low frequency noise not measured by dBA is in fact present. Noise engineers know this; the general public does not. The industry example of rustling leaves, above, would necessiate dBC one dB lower than dBA, which is clearly not the case outside Mr. Wunsch’s front door.

Behold the wind industry chicanery (deceit) when it pretends rustling leaves = whispering turbines. Rubbish!

Think of dBA and dBC as tone controls for listening to your favorite music. The treble control being the dBA, and the bass control being the dBC. A uniform random noise is often referred to as white noise. When you reproduce white noise and turn down the treble control (dBA) for reduced highs, and turn up the base control (dBC) for more “boom,” you end up with sound close to the wind turbine noise spectrum.

Or consider this illustration.  All propellers produce what’s often called a “haystack” spectrum, where the top of the haystack (peak energy in the spectrum) is determined primarily by the diameter of the propeller circle (twice a blade radius). Think of the whining sound of small model airplanes.  Next, think of the engine sound of an ultralight (single-person) aircraft.  In this case the engine sound has a lower frequency than the remote-control model airplane.  Next, think of the engine sound of a standard, single-engine plane.  A Cessna or Piper Cub, let’s say.  The engine sound is lower than the ultralight’s.  Finally, imagine a B-36 bomber aircraft, where the engine pitch is lower yet.

The point being, as the propeller-sweep-circle-diameter increases, the top of the haystack pitch, or frequency, shifts downward.

Now, graduate to wind turbines. The biggest of them all.  Huge propellers sweeping an enormous circle.  Propellers so big that the peak of the haystack (peak sound energy) is in the 10 and 20 Hz range–and the peak is no longer audible.  Even so, turbine propellers generate plenty of sound energy on the high frequency side, sliding down (increasing frequency) the high frequency side of the haystack, with the result that wind turbine sound spectrum continues to be very audible indeed.

The standard noise meter has had the same two, dBA and dBC, sound weightings since the instrument was invented (around 1940, I believe). The peak in the haystack spectrum for wind turbines is below the frequency range of both human hearing and the range of a standard sound-level meter (10 Hz to 20,000 Hz). In fact, the sound-level meter dBA response becomes increasingly less sensitive to sounds below 500 Hz (2 octaves above middle C on the piano), and has a uniform sensitivity at higher frequencies above 500 Hz. The dBC response, on the other hand, remains uniform thoughout all frequencies above 32 Hz (equivalent to the lowest note on a grand piano) to the upper limit of the instrument (which is 20,000 Hz). The low frequency roll-off below 32 Hz is standardized down to 10 Hz. Thus, this instrument is somewhat useful for near infrasound.

Wind turbines, by the way, do indeed produce infrasound, contrary to misleading statements by some acousticians. Since there is no ANSI (American National Standards Institute) or IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) standard suitable for dealing with wind turbine infrasound, Rick James and I have sidestepped the issue for the time being in our “How To” guide. Rural America will be flooded with wind turbines of questionable value long before a consensus emerges among noise engineers on dealing with wind turbine infrasound. Individuals and communities who are understandably suffering from the infrasound and low frequency noise of turbines cannot wait for ANSI and the IEC to catch up with their dilemma.  That’s why my colleague, Rick James, and I have jumped in and made do with the best off-the-shelf technology, instrumentation, and international noise standards currently available.  When health and homes are under assault, as the research of Dr. Pierpont and many others makes clear they are, it would be unconscionable for someone with my training to look the other way.

Somehow we need to convince government (including soon-to-be President Obama) that wind turbines must be kept away from people’s homes.  That many of these wind farms are in areas of marginal wind energy value makes this even more tragic. 

As you listen to the video, compare wind industry assurances about noise to what Mr. & Mrs. Wunsch are in fact experiencing.  (The inescapable conclusion drawn from Noble’s “fact sheet,” bottom of this page, is that Mr. & Mrs. Wunsch are suffering because they have a bad attitude toward wind turbines.  If they could somehow manage to fix their attitude—think sweeter thoughts—their torment would vanish.)

Well designed wind turbines are generally quiet in operation, and compared to the noise of road traffic, trains, aircraft and construction activities, to name but a few, the noise from wind turbines is very low. Outside the nearest houses, which are at least 300 metres [984 feet] away, and more often further, the sound of a wind turbine generating electricity is likely to be about the same level as noise from a flowing stream about 50-100 metres [164-328 feet] away or the noise of leaves rustling in a gentle breeze. This is similar to the sound level inside a typical living room with a gas fire switched on, or the reading room of a library or in an unoccupied, quiet, air-conditioned office….The sound of a working wind farm is actually less than normal road traffic or an office. Even when wind speed increases, it is difficult to detect any increase in turbine sound above the increase in normal background sound, such as the noise the wind itself makes and the rustling of trees.

In conclusion, the noise produced by typical wind farms is so low that they would not be noticeable in most residential areas in the UK. However, the areas suitable for such developments tend to be in quiet but exposed areas of countryside. A significant amount of effort is put into minimising any noise impact but it should be emphasised that typical noise levels are so low for a carefully considered site that they would normally be drowned out by a nearby stream or by a moderate breeze in nearby trees and hedgerows.  As said by the House of Lords in their Report on Electricity from Renewables, “Thanks to improvements in technology … , noise is no longer the issue it was.”  (Emphasis added.)

—above passages taken from the British Wind Energy Association, “Noise from wind turbines: The facts.” Prepared with assistance from the Hayes McKenzie Partnership, Consultants in Acoustics.

Today, an operating wind farm at a distance of 750 to 1,000 feet is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room…. The best test is to simply experience the noise from a turbine for yourself. You will find that you can stand directly beneath a turbine and have a normal conversation without raising your voice…. In general, wind plants are not noisy, and wind is a good neighbor. Complaints about noise from wind projects are rare, and can usually be satisfactorily resolved.  (Emphasis added.)

 —above passages taken from the American Wind Energy Association, “Facts about wind energy and noise.”

Are modern wind turbines noisy? No. It’s true that some older turbines designs were noisy. However, the wind turbine manufacturers have worked hard to improve turbine design. Modern wind turbines are much more efficient and make much less sound … nowadays, they are actually pretty quiet. A commonly used reference is that at a distance of 750 to 1,000 feet a modern wind turbine is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room (AWEA). While proper “setbacks” from homes are still essential, at 1,000 feet, the sound of a modern turbine is practically indiscernible over the background noise associated with the environment in which a turbine is placed. Very often, one of the loudest background noises is the wind itself!

So, one more time … are wind turbines noisy?  We often use the word “noise” to refer to “any unwanted sound.” It’s true that wind turbines make sounds … but whether or not those sounds are “noisy” has a lot to do with who’s listening. It’s also worth noting that studies have shown that a person’s attitude toward a sound–meaning whether it’s a “wanted” or “unwanted” sound–depends a great deal on what they think and how they feel about the source of the sound. In other words, if someone has a negative attitude to wind turbines, or is worried about them, this will affect how they feel about the sound. However, if someone has a positive attitude toward wind energy, it’s very unlikely that the sounds will bother them at all. (Emphasis added.)

 —above passages taken from Noble Environmental Power, “Wind fact sheet #5: Are modern wind turbines noisy?”

  1. Comment by Mario Colon on 01/25/2009 at 3:04 pm

    Hi Nina, forgot to mention in my last e-mail: Comments were meant for Mr Kamperman (I just finished reading his How To document).

    Also, I was surprised to see my pic on your site. I am sure there are many other individuals with more respectable credentials than mine. Perhaps I will forward some of my R&D for your reading and comments.

    You are in the forefront of many great events to come in your area of interest.


    Mario Colon

    Editor’s reply: Thanks for the gracious words, Mario. It’s been a long haul at this end.

  2. Comment by Diane on 01/31/2009 at 4:41 pm


    I was in the middle of researching this new industry (because I am a career-changer/job hunter at present) and am interested in possibly getting into the energy industry (or possibly environmental law). I have been curious about the wind turbines for a long time.

    After reading your website and listening to your video, I am appalled that the public is not being fully informed about this problem (of course, I read most of my news online…so I really do not know how much info. (like yours) has been getting out to the masses. Anyway, I give you a lot of credit for putting this info. online.

    I was wondering if you have already been garnering documented support wherever you can in the country for your dilemma and whether or not you have already presented this problem to Pres. Obama and V.P. Biden…or are you working on it? Sounds to me like you should have a lawyer working for you…asap.

    Did this project proceed even with your (or someone’s) input upfront to the planning committee regarding the necessary distance from these homes? (I admit here…I have only skimmed through your article quickly & will re-read it soon … but from what I have read and seen…) …even the constant flickering of the sunlight from those blades….I know that it must be driving you folks crazy. I know it would definitely bother me a lot!

    I would also be concerned about how it affects your property values (…despite the current economic situation…this certainly must also be a factor).

    Wow, what an eye-opener! Thanks for posting this information. (I am all for environmental and energy causes…but this seems to be a VERY inconsiderate project….and whoever was behind it…ought to spend a few days at your home to experience this first-hand! But I doubt that they will do that! — (I may have written to you in the past….not sure…I remember reading something about this…but this is the first time that I saw this video.)

    I wish I could do something to help you but there is nothing that I can do…except write to Pres. Obama about it…and since I do not own property that is in the middle of this dilemma…it won’t hold much water. I hope this matter gets resolved and soon. One would think that “what goes up can also come down” (or relocated)…right??

    Good luck to you. (Send me an update if this gets resolved….I’m curious to learn what happens with this.)


    (I’m in Green Bay, Wisconsin)

    Editor’s reply. Thanks for your commiseration. I’m sure Larry and his family would appreciate it.

    I can’t answer your questions, and I have no assurance Larry will see your letter. May I suggest you call him at (920) 356-0439. I believe this is his phone number. I simply did an address search on the Web for “Wunsch” in Byron, WI, and this turned up.

  3. Comment by Jim F on 03/31/2009 at 8:50 am

    A most interesting slice of information. Has anyone offered to counter your information i.e., as with data from the new generation wind turbines? Also has anyone supportive of the large wind turbines offered a sun screen for the “FLICKER”, which would drive most people insane. Additionally I would challenge any one in favor of these unnecessary large wind turbines (there are smaller ones with out the blades) Smaller newer wind turbines use a totally different technology. They have no significant wing spans, most of which are less than 15′ in diameter and have many addtional features that override the typical current monstrocities.

  4. Comment by Larry DiBona on 05/13/2009 at 9:25 pm

    I am grateful to be able to see and listen to the wind turbine on location, so close to your home. Here on Massachusetts and in particular Cape Cod the state gov’t wants us all to think, “Wind Energy.” In my town of Eastham the selectmen want this wind energy program to go forward as soon as possible.

    I will want to show the Selectmen/persons this video in hopes that it will clearly show the negative effects of such a “program.”
    I think the sound of the turbines is horrible enough. The “flicker” would drive me mad….

    Thank you,
    Larry DiBona
    Eastham MA

  5. Comment by David Dodge on 06/25/2009 at 2:22 pm

    Im waiting for the blade of one of those things to fail, causing the unit to fall apart catastrophicaly and cut a house and the people inside it into pieces.
    God Forbid. but if it does happen im sure the media will squash it.

  6. Comment by Bob Johnson on 09/30/2009 at 1:13 am

    About 5 years ago, driving on I 80 west of Laramie, WY, I came across a turbine farm. This was the first I had seen up close 1/2 mile or so, and I stopped. The noise outside of the car from the turbines was louder than the traffic. I didn’t note the wind direction or speed. The visual sight is pollution in itself. Your website is most informative, and enlightening. I plan on forwarding to everyone I know. The government and its ally, the minimal news media, are keeping this a secret, preparing to force feed this abomination down our throats, like everything else over the past 8 months. Fox News needs to hear from you!

  7. Comment by Anonymous on 07/26/2011 at 4:53 pm

    And our hearing has a non-linear greater sensitivity to louder low frequency noise. This is reflected in a noise metric like (Stevens Mark VII) PLdB, integrated from sones–you should try PLdB, it is better for low frequencies. Sonic booms (my particular expertise) for example are often 18 dB greater in PLdB than dBA, because of the large amplitude of low frequencies.

The comments are closed.