Quality of life: Homeowners concerned about turbine flicker, noise
Note: This is the fourth story in a series about proposed wind farms and how they affect Seneca County.
Living with visible shadow flicker in their homes as well as noise — audible and inaudible — are two quality-of-life concerns of residents in eastern Seneca County who would have wind turbines near their property if two proposed wind farm projects are constructed.
Two proposed wind farm projects are in the works in Seneca County — Seneca Wind Farm and Republic Wind Farm. A third wind farm, Emerson Creek, is proposed for Huron and Erie counties along the eastern edge of Seneca County.
“Evidence continues to increase regarding the potential health risks,” said Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner.
Shadow flicker is caused by turbine blades passing through sunlight as they rotate high above the landscape, each turbine casting shadows causing a strobe effect from different angles as the sun changes position.
Related to light, each turbine would have a flashing light at the top to make it visible to aircraft.
“At night these are all going to have blinking lights,” said Chris Aichholz, a Bloom Township resident and spokesman for Seneca Anti-Wind Union. “It’s just very worrisome. There’s a lot of things we’re really concerned about.”
On the list is turbine noise.
Greg Smith, a Bloom Township resident and spokesman for Seneca Anti-Wind Union, said the World Health Organization Oct. 9 released its first guidelines for wind turbine noise.
“They recommend that noise levels should be below 45 decibels to avoid adverse health effects such as hearing loss, tinnitus, heart problems and high blood pressure when subjected to extended exposure,” he said. On a map, he showed areas where 45-50 decibels are expected and other areas where 50-55 decibels are expected. Some of those areas are around Seneca East school.
Steve Shuff, of Eden Township, said he lives in a corner of the proposed wind farm, and he’s concerned about the impact wind farms would have on residents.
Speaking as a private citizen and not as a common pleas court judge, Shuff said he researched noise levels as listed in the application of Seneca Wind to OPSB and found them to exceed the 40-decibel threshold recommendation of the World Health Organization.
Property owners also are concerned about the health effects of infrasound, an inaudible “noise” below the level of human hearing.
“It’s low-level sound the human ear doesn’t pick up but it’s still there,” Kerschner said. “It’s especially troublesome to autistic kids.
“I’ve read European studies that talk about infrasound causing physiological problems in the organs,” Kerschner said.
“Google the term ‘infrasound’ to learn more about serious health issues that affect some people including headaches, nausea, dizziness and sleep disorders,” Smith said.
Also, there are safety issues when turbines malfuntion.
As an example, Aichholz said there is a woman near a wind farm in Van Wert County who had to deal daily with a turbine that wasn’t working properly.
“She basically was driven from her home,” he said. “A turbine had an issue and it made a sound like a siren.”
Another example cited by Smith was debris from a failed blade traveling 1,837 feet, “while our setbacks are 1,338 feet.”
Shuff said he found a related concern about ice being thrown from blades, causing danger to residents on the ground.
Another potential issue is ground water contamination, Shuff said, because well water is fairly close to the surface and the depth underground construction crews must go to anchor turbines in the ground.
“Why would you put anybody in harm’s way?” Kerschner said. “For the money. That’s the only reason.”
On the other side of the coin, Seneca Wind noted it is following all state regulations.
“The project has been doing environmental studies for several years and will comply with all Ohio regulations, including those pertaining to wildlife, wetlands, noise, flicker and setbacks,” said Dan Williamson, a spokesperson for Seneca Wind.
County Commissioner Shayne Thomas said the process a company must go through to build a wind farm mitigates the chances for health and safety issues.
“It’s important to note that, in Ohio, that’s regulated by the Ohio Power Siting Board,” Thomas said. “They are able to draw on all the resources in the state of Ohio and resources of the federal government to evaluate proper siting. So it’s not really, as a commissioner, my position to opine on their work.”
He said the OPSB staff does an investigation as part of the siting process.
“They have all these people at their disposal,” he said. “And they do. They bring all these people to bear on a particular topic.
“That process adds a degree of professionalism to the siting that should mitigate risks to health and safety.
“We’ve got a system in place,” Thomas said. “It’s not optional. We can’t opt out of the siting process.”