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The $150,000 turbine question: to sue or not to sue?

Cape Gazette of Lewes, Delaware

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How upset or concerned is the small coalition of Lewes residents that has taken exception to the University of Delaware's wind turbine? Led by spokesman Jerry Lechliter, who lives near the turbine, the coalition has determined it needs to raise at least $150,000 to hire an attorney to take its concerns to court. Lechliter, who has been beating the drums against the university and the turbine for several months, reiterated his concerns in a Cape Gazette article published May 10.

Are the problems the group sees with the turbine great enough to dip into their pockets to do battle with the windmill? According to the report, no lawyer has yet been hired, so the answer, at least for now, is no.

Lechliter and his coalition of residents who live near the turbine contend that the turbine creates noise levels that disturb

sleep, and negatively affect quality of life and property values. The group also contends there were irregularities involved in the permitting and other processes that led to erection of the turbine.

Lewes and University of Delaware officials, conversely, say the process was notorious and transparent with plenty of scientific studies in advance to ensure that construction and operation of the turbine wouldn't cause problems for the community.

Turbine champion Dr. Nancy Targett, in a recent letter to the editor, noted that in its first year of operation the turbine produced more than enough electricity to power the entire College of Earth, Ocean and Environment campus in Lewes. She also noted the university will soon announce a June meeting to provide a summary of the data gathered from the turbine operation and an overview of ongoing research.

A 2009 sound study commissioned by turbine manufacturer Gamesa, in advance of construction, determined that projected noise from the 144-foot whirling blades would fall well within Delaware noise limitations for residential areas. To create a comparison, ambient day and night sound levels were tested at four different residential locations around the planned turbine location including neighborhoods along Pilottown Road

and on Lewes Beach. Typical noises in those areas included wind, cars, human voices, birds singing and machinery operating. In December of 2010, responding to concerns expressed by nearby residents about noise from the turbine after it started operating, Gamesa commissioned another survey to study sound levels from the actual Lewes installation. That study confirmed projections from the first study.

The December studies involved placement of listening devices in the yard of a residence on Hoornkill Avenue, the closest residential neighborhood to the turbine. With the wind blowing briskly out of the northwest, and the turbine blades turning at maximum sound output levels, readings were taken during the afternoon and in the hour past midnight. A turbine operator actually turned the system on and off during the test periods so sounds could be recorded with the blades turning and with them stopped.

The monitors picked up the increased sound of the turbine. The report indicates the turbine sound increased the daytime ambient sound level by about 1.1 decibels and at night *he turbine increased the ambient noise level by about 2.9 decibels. Every 10 decibels is considered a doubling of the perceived loudness. The ambient sound level during the day, including the turbine

sound, was measured at 43 to 51 decibels, and at night between 41 and 45 decibels. The report stated that the turbine was inaudible during the daytime. "At night," according to the report, "the swishing sound characteristic of a wind turbine was slightly audible above background wind noise."

Those decibel readings fall well within Delaware's noise standards, which place the acceptable level for residential areas at 65 decibels during the day and 55 at night. Sound studies show a rock and roll band at 30 feet distance produces decibel readings in the 110 range and a jet plane passing overhead at 300 meters produces 105 decibels of noise. A vacuum cleaner produces about 70 decibels of sound, a whisper 20, and a calm night out in the country about 25 decibels.

I'm still intrigued by the noise I hear occasionally from the turbine, most recently while fishing last Sunday in Roosevelt Inlet and Broadkill River. Every time I've noticed the sound, I've been directly upwind from the turbine by at least a quarter to half a mile. That's counterintuitive to what I would expect and, according to the most recent report, also to what the monitoring scientists would expect.

They noted that conditions were ideal for the Hoornkill survey since all the tests were taken in a downwind situation. So why the upwind anomaly I've experienced?

Peter Guldberg, a sound specialist who was involved with the studies, said temperature and wind speed can affect sound waves. "Sound waves from turbines propogate out in all directions. They're usually louder downwind because in that direction the waves tend to get bent downward, toward the ground and where people are." He said it would be more likely to hear the turbine's sound waves upwind from it in light wind conditions, when the sound of the wind itself wouldn't be drowning out the noise of the turbine.

It's all about measuring and then studying the results. All along, the university has said the turbine installation would serve the practical end of producing clean energy but would also serve as a research project for studying turbines. We're in the thick of that now.

Original Publication Date: May 13, 2011



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