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Saturday, November 14, 2009


If a wind turbine spins on the prairie, and your ears are stuffed with money, can you still smell pig manure?


—Dennis Stillings



Of Noise and NIMBYs

Breaking news: NextEra management has admitted that there may actually be an acoustical problem at our farmstead: The wind turbine noise level is apparently higher than it should be.

This admission came in connection with a tour of our property by a number of the North Dakota congressmen composing the Energy Development and Transmission Committee (EDTC) that met October 21 in Valley City.  Both my wife Cathryn and I gave testimony at that meeting.

NextEra had already offered to do a measurement of sound levels on our property, but I had put them off saying, in effect, “We’ve already done a measurement with our ears—and the wind turbines are TOO LOUD!”  NextEra’s admission that something might actually be wrong with one or more of the turbines, or that we might possibly be situated in some sort of anomalous environmental conditions that would produce excessive noise, changed my mind about having some sound measurements taken.  A time was scheduled for a thorough measurement of our acoustical situation.

I give considerable credit to NextEra for this effort.  After all, we have, to this point, received more sensible consideration from NextEra than from either the members of the Energy Development and Transmission Committee or from the Public Service Commission.  The purpose of these august committees seems to be to defend (foolishly, if necessary) the wind turbines from interference from the pestiferous carbon-based featherless bipeds (humans) that infest the wind farms.  These government officials strain harder at spinning the problem of noise pollution than NextEra itself.  Politicians want to be seen to be green, and the wind turbines wave to everybody.

While giving testimony at the EDTC meeting I heard a couple of legislators muttering about “NIMBYs.”  NIMBY is an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard.”  This acronym, which has been used elsewhere in the United State since the 1980s, seems to be what North Dakota government officials and media got for Christmas last year.  This term is used to describe certain residents’ attitude to a proposal for a new development close to them.

Of course, non-NIMBY neighbors at a safe distance from the offensive development are free to preen themselves on their civic spirit without suffering any consequences, and they rarely offer to put themselves in the NIMBY’s place should opportunity arise.


In any case, we consider ourselves NIABYs (Not In Anybody’s Back Yard) since we regard Big Wind wind farms as an overpriced epiphenomenon arising from an unfortunate combination of political and scientific hubris and public ignorance.


Noise and Sound

“Sound” is a something that can be described in scientific and mathematical terms; “noise” cannot.  Noise, generally speaking, is unwanted sound.

In the next week or so, professional measurers of sound will be at our place measuring sound.  They cannot measure noise.  They will be measuring sound in decibels.  There are no units of measure for noise.  The sweetest music can become unbearable noise if it is an unwanted intrusion for its hearer.  The random sounds of a waterfall, a babbling brook, or ocean surf are experienced as very pleasant, even if they are experienced as being much louder than a wind turbine.  On the other hand, the monotonous drip, drip, drip of a faucet—a level of noise barely measurable—can keep one awake all night.

Comparing the noise of wind turbines to the sounds created by machinery in a farming environment is a bit thoughtless.  We know that such noises have a meaningful purpose relating directly to human needs, we know that they are seasonal and of limited duration.  We know that they announce the important work of farming and imply the production of something tangible and useful.  Wind turbines grind on whenever there is wind, their main efficiency being the production of tax credits.  As long as they exist, the sound of prairie wind will be modulated by their swooshing and pounding.

The qualitative aspect of turbine noise and matters of context are at least as important as decibel measurements.  This is obvious.  EPA standards and decibel measurements alone are the last refuge of nerds.

So what will the sound experts be measuring?  Sound.  Not noise.  The appeal to a scientific, “objective,” EPA standard of, say, 55 decibels maximum at a distance of 1400 feet as something acceptable is utterly meaningless!  This wind turbine noise standard is all misdirection and “sanctification by science.”  In genuine human terms, there is nothing real about it.


The Sound of Money

A pro-wind farm neighbor of ours with at least one wind turbine on his land puts it this way: “Sure, the windmills are noisy.  It’s like driving through Iowa, and you smell pig manure, and you say ‘God, that smells awful.’  The folks down there will tell you that that’s the ‘smell of money.’  Well, these wind turbines—that’s the sound of money!”

Too bad we all have to hear the auditory equivalent of pig manure.


Click here to email your elected representatives.


Avatar for September Standefer

My uncle is Jim Miller in Luverne, ND, has been fighting with representatives of these companies who have erected these horrid windmills in his “backyard”.  He cannot sleep and says it is like running an 18 wheeler engine constantly.  I was a truck driver, owner-operator, for 11 years and can attest that noise like that can get on your nerves and is stressful on a body.  Every time we had the opportunity, we would shut ours off to relieve ourselves of the constant noise, so I can truly sympathize with my uncle in dealing with something that he has no key to turn off! 

This is an expensive, special interest focused project that is ruining lives and livelihoods.  It is amazing how much hard working American citizens are being trampled on in this country, all in the idea of “green” energy.  You want “green” energy?  How about outfitting each home with solar panels and a system that renews itself without needing to be on a grid.  It will cut down on how many people are using the power plants and have them just for the big cities.  It can be done, alot of things can be done, but again, special interest groups who want money are always in the way.  And that is what it boils down to:  MONEY.

September Standefer on November 17, 2009 at 05:33 pm
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