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The sound of the wind

Woodcut by Paul Bloomer (click for link)Yesterday was spent at the first annual conference of Scotland Against Spin, the umbrella group for Scottish anti-windfarm groups. This was top quality stuff, with an excellent array of speakers with some amazing stories to tell. I'm going to pass some of these on over the next few days.

The theme of the conference was the cost of wind power, so much of the focus was on economics, but the final speaker focused on noise, and had presumably been added to give a bit of relief from the numbers.

Mike Stigwood is an acoustician. An ex-environmental health officer he now runs his own consultancy and has developed something of a specialism in wind farm noise and has uncovered some major problems with the official limits on noise levels. As I understand it, the guidelines are measuring average levels of noise, while wind farms emit sounds that ramp up and down as the turbines rotate. This "amplitude modulation" makes the sound particularly obtrusive and the fact that the rhythm changes constantly makes it hard to ignore too. You can get a sense of this at the example here (although note the caveats). After the talk people in the audience described having to abandon parts of their homes because of the constant drone, and Stigwood put out a call for people willing to testify about what they were going through.

We heard that trying to get a nuisance order is nigh on impossible, because it takes years and if there is any likelihood of success the windfarm owner can escape justice simply by transferring the ownership of the windfarm to a new corporate entity. If true, this is shocking. There was also mention of the government buying up problem windfarms to keep them running.

We also heard that Stigwood's attempts to argue his case in the academic literature have been rejected or edited into meaninglessness. We heard how the Institute of Acoustics working group appointed to look into the guidelines was packed with people who would give the right answer. These were all painfully familiar stories, further evidence, as if any were needed, of how inadequate academia is for informing policy decisions.

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Reader Comments (33)

You need to play a recording of the noise at appropriate locations - perhaps outside BBC studios or ministers' homes. I'm sure it won't disturb them.

Nov 25, 2013 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterA

I have given evidence at several wind farm public inquiries at which Mike Stigwood has given evidence on noise. Also we have had Dr Chris Hanning, the country's leading expert on sleep disorder resulting from noise and the consequential ill-health, giving evidence. The Planning Inspectors don't really understand any of the technical issues and brush the evidence on noise and ill-health aside. They are frightened of accepting that wind turbine noise is a real issue and that it can cause serious health problems, because if they did, very few wind turbines would be permitted in England (but not in the wilds of Wales and Scotland) and Government policy would be in disarray.

There is plenty of evidence obtained via FOI that the civil servants in DECC have been covering up the issue for years and have been funding research into the issue of noise to acousticians who work for the wind industry, or even allowing RenewableUK (BWEA as was) to do the research. In my experience, every acoustician I have come across who works for the wind industry, gives false evidence in planning applications and in planning appeals, whether held by written representation, hearing or public inquiry. These acousticians are making a very healthy living out of other people's misery and ill-health - which is fairly typical of people who work in the renewable energy industry in general.

Nov 25, 2013 at 9:19 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Phillip: Thank you for a report from the front line.

Nov 25, 2013 at 9:33 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Is there a way of finding out how many people who work in the 'wind industry' (sic) live close to their subsidy farms? It would be rather telling if none of them were within nuisance range of their industrial machinery.

Nov 25, 2013 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan W

"There is plenty of evidence obtained via FOI that the civil servants in DECC have been covering up the issue for years "

This is just another example of the inability of public administration to give an objective opinion on any matter whatsoever.

Nov 25, 2013 at 10:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterGordon Walker

There is a very good take on windmills in general at xkcd

Nov 25, 2013 at 10:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterivan

I've a question which isn't quite on-topic, but relevant, and I think needs a plain answer.
Windmills are patently rotating machinery, which topic is addressed substantially by occupational-safety legislation.
It generally specifies exclusion zones and guards (to stop things falling in or flying out). Nuisance is secondary to this.

Are windmills compliant with the Act? Or perhaps exempt?

Nov 25, 2013 at 10:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Shaw

This paper from epidemiologist Carl V Phillips is well worth a read.

Nov 25, 2013 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteveW

Peter Shaw. The issue of H&S with regards to wind turbines is a complex issue. The HSE is only concerned about H&S of workers. Risks to the public should be addressed by the planning authority, who generally dismiss the issue as they don't have the capability to address it properly. That is why wind turbines are allowed to be erected on school grounds and in other public places.

I have given evidence on risks to the public from inappropriately sited turbines (ie too close to railway lines and roads), but it is another issue that Planning Inspectors don't understand and thus dismiss such concerns. One was even stupid enough to claim that wind turbines are a safe technology.

Nov 25, 2013 at 11:07 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

There is a very important document, which needs a MUCH wider circulation, located here:

Wind Power Cost Benefit

You will see that wind power benefits to a grid depend on various assumptions made. For the Irish Grid (similar to ours) these calculations suggest that, making the most positive assumptions, wind power offers benefits up to 30% penetration. Making the worst assumptions, it can offer benefits up to 5% penetration. On average, we are talking about 10-15%. Beyond those figures, wind power is of NEGATIVE benefit - that is, it costs MORE in fuel and CO2 output to have wind than it would cost to just use fossil fuels.

The UK is planning to have 40% wind power by 2020.

Nov 25, 2013 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

I think the noise levels from wind turbines vary much with the design and size of the machine, and the number of them in close proximity. e.g. I have been close (200-300m) to the sole 900kW Enercon E44 machine on Tiree in a variety of wind conditions and it has always struck me as very quiet. (It is barely audible at 400m). The egg shaped nacelle is also not nearly so ugly as its bigger boxy cousins. But the 2.3MW machines I have been close to in Perthshire are hideous, in scale, aesthetics and noise pollution. One of my Dutch clients described his walk through SSE's Griffin 250MW wind farm as a journey into a zombie hell, quote: "it was like having been woken up from the dead", and the noise was appalling when I went to check for myself.

Griffin turbines killed two hen harriers in its first year of operation, something which the RSBP has kept very quiet about for some reason, and the wind farm also only operated with a an average 14% load factor in its first year, despite the assurances from the developers at the public inquiry that 25% would be the norm. But hey ho, SSE are milking the subsidies and who cares now that 30km of access tracks have been constructed over what was (before it became a 1980s tax evasion spruce forest) once one of the finest grouse moors in Scotland, all for an average output of a about 50MW, (1/20th of a typical gas or coal power station).

Nov 25, 2013 at 11:35 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

After a day of cycling through the Cotswolds (training for a tour of the south of France), I had the misfortune to choose a camp site within earshot of Ecotricity's solitary first turbine at Nympsfield. What unmitigated mental torture! The combination of noise and the strobe effect the blades gave to the moon were unbearable!

Anyone who has the misfortune to live anywhere near one of these things has my utmost sympathy!

Nov 25, 2013 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterHeide de Klein

The only time I was near a wind farm - in Spain - the wind itself was a far more apparent nuisance; not only uncomfortable but noisy too. I'd not want to live near such a windy place in the first place. So maybe people are somewhat selective with their concerns. I remember an artists impression of a proposed windfarm in the papers and it struck me that they were a darn site prettier than the pylons that were already there. There's a set of pylons near me and big ugly suckers they are. Of course it wasn't that long ago there were many complaints about headaches, cancer and all things in between because of the EM from pylons. After much investigation it all turned out to be just more enviro-scare hoohah. now pylons are the enviros best friends it seems. Of course the labour party used to be pro-coal too. Plus ca change....

Nov 25, 2013 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Dodgy Geezer: Thank you but the link should have been A Cost Benefit Analysis of Wind Power.

Nov 25, 2013 at 12:18 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Hard on people, hard on animals. I've wondered at the disturbance to the entire ecosystem surrounding the constant artificial noise pollution, and it was my plants who first whispered in my ear about the problem.

Nov 25, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

I've got another question.
You know all those offshore turbines - hundreds of the bloody things now - surely the time will come when a fully laden oil tanker will lose power and bump into one..? If so - what are the chances of a really big bang..?
I mean -- the sea used to be 'empty' (except of course for fully charted wrecks; rocks and sandbanks) - but its getting like an obstacle course round our coasts now...

Nov 25, 2013 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

Nov 25, 2013 at 2:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterfilbert cobb

lapogus - Griffin turbines killed two hen harriers in its first year of operation, something which the RSBP has kept very quiet about for some reason.........

In the USA some bird species have legal protection from bird munchers - US firm Duke Energy pays out over wind farm eagle deaths.

Nov 25, 2013 at 2:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJonMcD


Wild birds are protected from deliberate killing in the UK. That hasn't stopped the hen harrier from becoming all but extinct in England. They're so rare now in England that if a wind farm killed two, that might be that (obviously there is always the possibility of recolonisation from Scotland, but this not likely because of persecution).

Nov 25, 2013 at 3:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJit

JamesG 11:58am

An artist's impression may well make them look prettier than pylons; I have heard that said many a time. BUT, an artist's impression cannot show you how intrusive they are when the blades are rotating and are a visual distraction on an otherwise unmoving landscape. You tend not to notice unmoving things after a while. If the turbines are working and if there are more than one, the rotation of unsynchronised blades is not a pleasant visual scene to behold. That is why I object to them.

I haven't had any proposed near enough to my house to object on noise grounds, but would do as I sleep badly anyway and irregular whumping noises would drive me to distraction. I pity the poor buggers who have had them put up close to their homes and think it is high time the distances were amended. Philip Bratby would know better than I - weren't the ETSU regs drawn up by the wind industry? (so no conflict of interest there).

Nov 25, 2013 at 3:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

Just spotted a birds feather float gently to the ground past my window.
Am at sea level here in Carnoustie and my baro pressure is 1035mb.
Not a breath of wind here.
Just wondring how Salmonds Follies are doing today.
Are they importing fossil electricity to stop them siezing up?
I have forgotten the website.

Nov 25, 2013 at 4:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterpatrick healy


Yes, ETSU-R-97 was produced by the wind industry to provide a reasonable degree of protection to nearby residents, whilst allowing the wind industry to flourish. It had to be produced because the standard industrial noise regulations would have killed the wind industry at birth. ETSU-R-97 does not cover Excess Amplitude Modulation or infra-sound, the two types of noise which cause sleep disturbance and ill-health.

Nov 25, 2013 at 4:52 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Re the RSPB, when I had a grouse about bird kills by turbines this was part of the response I got:

Here in the UK we do not support every single wind farm/turbine
application, we actually oppose many of them. The available evidence
suggests that wind farms can harm birds in three possible ways -
disturbance, habitat loss (both direct and/or indirect) and collision.
Some poorly sited wind farms have caused major bird casualties,
particularly at Tarifa and Navarra in Spain, and the Altamont Pass in
California. At these sites, planners failed to consider adequately the
likely impact of putting hundreds, or even thousands, of turbines in
areas that are important for birds of prey.

I'd be interested in what they say about your Harriers, although I don't expect an admission that they should have objected to the planning application.

Nov 25, 2013 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS


Nov 25, 2013 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered Commenterfilbert cobb

I've got another question.
You know all those offshore turbines - hundreds of the bloody things now - surely the time will come when a fully laden oil tanker will lose power and bump into one..? If so - what are the chances of a really big bang..?
I mean -- the sea used to be 'empty' (except of course for fully charted wrecks; rocks and sandbanks) - but its getting like an obstacle course round our coasts now...

Can't see why it would be any worse than an oil tanker bumping into anything else.

Nov 25, 2013 at 5:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

I can. There is oil in the tanker and electricity in the wind turbine. Result: explosion.

Nov 25, 2013 at 6:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterstan stendera

@Patrick Healy,

I think this is the site you want.

Nov 25, 2013 at 8:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterivan

For years it has been clear that journalists take to govt. control like to ducks to water. It seems many academia walk like ducks as well.

Nov 25, 2013 at 9:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

At least here in the South West, we're starting to hear rumours of RWE pulling out of the Atlantic Array. That's one monstrosity less!


Nov 25, 2013 at 11:55 PM | Unregistered Commentermadrigaul

Thank you Ivan.
All those windmill taxes for so little return.

Nov 26, 2013 at 6:48 AM | Unregistered Commenterpatrick healy

As well as the noise problem there has been troubles with shards of ice being thrown off the blades.

Nov 26, 2013 at 8:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Cowper

Ah, the old peak to mean problem. The mean energy averaged over your whole body of a .22 rifle bullet is no worse than being slapped on the back.

So that's all right then.

Nov 26, 2013 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterLeo Smith

Here's the latest bulletin sent out by Mike today:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: MAS Environmental <>
Date: Tue, Nov 26, 2013 at 12:15 PM
Subject: Wind Farm - Amplitude Modulation controls finally accepted at 3dB

Dear all,

Recent research presented at three Planning Inquiries that were conducted in September, October and November (Starbold, Bryn Lleweln and Shipdham - decisions awaited) have hopefully exposed the misconceived arguments made by the Industry's acousticians' which have successfully avoided controls over wind farm noise impact for many years.

After more than 4 years of smoke screens, obfuscation and erroneous objections raising unrealistic concerns and placing barriers in the way of necessary controls over the wind farm noise called "Excess Amplitude Modulation", industry acousticians have finally admitted a planning condition is "necessary" and "reasonable". Excess AM is now shown to be neither rare nor only causing minor effects as claimed over the last few years, arguments that have successfully blocked planning controls leaving many communities exposed to serious noise impact. Research by ourselves and the Japanese have exposed this as a common and serious problem.

Dr Matthew Cand of Hoare Lea is part of the Renewables UK research team on EAM who were due to report their findings over 2 years ago but have continuously deferred this. He finally admitted after 2 hours of cross-examination, when being questioned over the need for a condition at the Shipdham Inquiry last week, that one was both necessary and reasonable. Dr Cand was also questioned over the Den Brook condition metric which was accepted in 2009 but rejected ever since and that was formulated by MAS Environmental with a 3dB(A) EAM limit. This has been subject to widespread industry attacks over the last four years, leading to its rejection by planning inspectors ever since the Den Brook decision. In response Dr Cand said "If I had to pick a number I don't think 3dB(A) is a bad number". In effect the Renewables UK research must support what we found four years ago.

These admissions follow years of unpublished work by Renewables UK, coupled with statements that no one knows the appropriate level. In September at the Starbold Inquiry arguments that the Den Brook condition was triggered by extraneous noise were dropped by the appellants and they accepted it was an incorrect argument. Following the Bryn Llewelyn appeal in October 2013 Dr Jeremy Bass of RES, the main opponent of the Den Brook condition said during a meeting:

"foolishly ... we went along the industry line that amplitude modulation is rare". He accepted the argument that it can be dealt with by statutory nuisance was wrong. He continued "I think that argument is completely exploded by the weight of evidence presented by Mike Stigwood in particular .... we are in a difficult position now ... the landscape has changed and I suspect .... in the future developers will no longer try the argument that AM is rare".

It is hoped decision makers will no longer receive erroneous arguments about the control of EAM and that conditions following the Den Brook metric are now applied to all future consents. There also needs to be a mechanism developed by Government for applying it to existing wind farms. Emerging evidence from the Japanese studies suggests a stricter limit may arguably be necessary but at the present time it is safe to consider the Den Brook metric as a means of controlling wind farm noise.

We also hope decision makers will now exercise particular caution with respect to arguments made by wind industry acousticians and that those who raise concerns over wind farm noise, in the main, do so legitimately.

If anyone seeks further information on appropriate forms of control of this common noise problem they can visit our website at for more information or email us direct.

Kind regards Mike Stigwood

Nov 26, 2013 at 8:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterLinda Holt

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