Making Noise Over Wind

Figures released this week by a national wind power trade association would seem to indicate that the expansion of wind capacity proceeds apace. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reported that more than 4,000 megawatts of new capacity has been installed so far this year, a 38% increase over last year’s pace.

Even so, AWEA CEO Denise Bode seems mildly disappointed by the numbers. Citing a slowdown in manufacturing of turbine components, Bode described the industry as “swimming upstream.”

The contrary current may get even stronger if my recent visit to upstate New York is any indication. Arriving for a family visit, I found that I’d landed in the midst of an uproar over wind farms, both built and proposed. Several times a week, articles were appearing in the Watertown Daily Times, about how area residents from around the state are complaining of ill effects from the utility-scale wind farms nearby and bristling at plans for more.

Wind power has hit headwinds in the past over concerns about birds, bats and its effect on people’s views. In upstate New York, the current objection seems to be noise.

Giant wind turbines dwarf dairy farms in northern New York. Photo: Craig Miller
Commercial wind turbines dwarf dairy farms in northern New York. Photo: Craig Miller

At the Maple Ridge wind farm, billed as the biggest east of the Mississippi, I was rendered insignificant by 300-foot turbines, which tower over the farmland in Lewis County. Farther south, in New York’s Finger Lakes region, some turbines top 420 feet. More on this scale are being proposed to stretch out along the St. Lawrence River, which separates New York from Canada. Horizon Wind energy has already erected nearly 200 turbines on Maple Ridge, between the east end of Lake Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains.

Wind companies talk a lot about megawatts and numbers of households served and even tons of greenhouse gases avoided–but not so much about how big these things are. The Cape Vincent-based Wind Power Ethics Group has a graphic on its website that puts some of these numbers in perspective. It shows a 423′ turbine towering over a local lighthouse and the Statue of Liberty.

A truck hauling wind turbine blades navigates a turn onto Route 11 in northern New York. Photo: Chuck Miller
A truck hauling wind turbine blades negotiates a turn onto Route 11 in northern New York. Photo: Chuck Miller

When Californians think about wind farms, they may envision places like Altamont Pass and Tehachapi.  California pioneered wind power in the 1970s and 80s and most of the state’s windmills would barely make an impression compared to what’s going up around the country nowadays. California comes in fifth on the AWEA’s latest list of states with the most aggressive wind expansion (Missouri added the most capacity in the last quarter–New York didn’t even make the top 10).

Later this month, in a radio story for Climate Watch, I’ll look at the implications of this scaling-up as companies propose wind farms closer to populated areas in California, such west Marin County (more about that particular situation in our second Quest/Climate Watch television special, which premieres August 25).

Making Noise Over Wind 31 July,2009Craig Miller

3 thoughts on “Making Noise Over Wind”

  1. Not if the benefits of pollution vs noise induce grand mal seizures, lack of sleep, appetite, depression, and force people living downwind to abandon their homes, etc.,etc., as has been documented in several recent studies.

    Of course, there’s a fairly easy solution. Extend the blade shafts further away from the uprights and the most serious noise issues can be mediated.

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Craig Miller

Craig is a former KQED Science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to that, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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