Nighttime Wind Farm Noise No Worse Than Traffic

One of the hallmarks of modern conservatism is their love of making up completely silly attacks, and sticking with them, no matter how much they’re debunked, or how many legitimate attacks may exist. By endlessly insisting that the Clintons are evil incarnate, we now have a sizable portion of the US that believes, without evidence, that Hillary Clinton regularly has people assassinated for getting in her way. It doesn’t matter that it’s nonsense invented by Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, it just matters that it has been woven into the tapestry of bullshit that has become conservative “common knowledge”.

Another such myth is the idea that wind turbines are too noisy. There are real reasons to be concerned about wind turbines, like their effects on local ecosystems. Here in Ireland, turbines built in peatlands, and the infrastructure supporting them, have resulted in at least one landslide. Likewise, one could point to the damage done to birds and bats, or even – maybe – the flickering effect of the blades when the sun is behind them in the morning or evening. The problem is that with the exception of the last point, all of the others require acknowledging that ecological harm is something worth considering.

Plus, you know, turbines are big fans, and fans make noise. Sometimes that’s all the “reasoning” that’s needed to make a bit of propaganda stick.

Well, it probably won’t persuade the right people, but some scientists looked into nighttime turbine noise and found that at worst, it’s comparable to normal traffic:

Short exposure to wind farm and road traffic noise triggers a small increase in people waking from their slumber that can fragment their sleep patterns, according to new Flinders University research.

But importantly, the new study also shows that wind farm noise isn’t more disruptive to sleep than road traffic, which was a little more disruptive at the loudest audio level but not at more common levels.

Sleep researchers at Flinders University have studied the impact of exposure to wind farm noise during sleep in three new scientific publications to better understand its impact on Australians.

The study played 20-second wind farm and road traffic noise samples repeatedly during participants sleep using 3 different sound pressure levels to compare their sleep disruption responses between the two different noise types.

On a separate night, the study tested if longer 3-minute noise samples, including very low-frequency wind farm infrasound alone, resulted in sleep disturbance.

The researchers also found that wind farm infrasound at realistic levels was not audible to the human ear during wake and produced no evidence of sleep disruption. These findings were presented at the International conference on Wind Farm Noise in Dublin on June 22, 2023 and are still to be journal peer reviewed.

The project took 5 years to complete and involved over 460 sleep study nights from 68 participants who each spent seven consecutive nights in the sleep laboratory.

I get the impression that this sort of thing is difficult to study.

I don’t know that I would call this conclusive, but it adds to the general thrust of past research – wind turbines certainly aren’t silent, but they’re no noisier than many other aspects of day to day life. I also appreciate that they specifically looked into the infrasound issue, because I’ve definitely seen people – usually NIMBY types – claiming that the real harm comes from sounds that humans can’t detect, but that mess with our bodies. Basically, some people think that these things are sonic weapons. The problem is that nobody has ever been able to detect any sounds that could cause harm.

These researchers clearly recorded what infrasounds do exist, and found that they don’t do squat, so it’s nice to have another bit of research in my back pocket for future use. It won’t help with the true believers or the paid propagandists, but it could be good for folks who’re just trying to figure out what’s going on. If nothing else, it might save someone from falling prey to the Wind Turbine Nocebo Effect.


  1. antaresrichard says

    All this bellowing about nighttime wind farm noise…

    My bedroom window in my youth was next to a six lane major thoroughfare. Directly across that street was the premiere emergency room for the city of San Francisco, and as the ER often had some police dealings, ambulances sirens were not the only wailing occurring at all hours*. To top matters off, the local fire station was a mere three blocks away and conducted regular practice runs to hospital in the wee hours of the morning.

    Thing of it is, I slept like a baby, and as a baby, I slept like a log.

    Wind turbine noise? Ho-hum.


    *’Bullitt’ (1968) shows one such ambulance run to the ER of which I speak. I was in fact, among the off-camera onlookers watching the scene being filmed.

  2. says

    Likewise, one could point to the damage done to birds and bats, or even – maybe – the flickering effect of the blades when the sun is behind them in the morning or evening. The problem is that with the exception of the last point, all of the others require acknowledging that ecological harm is something worth considering.

    I mean, I get what you’re saying here and you’re not wrong, but I would add that another problem is that unless they’re advocating going without electricity, then you have to compare the impact of the wind turbines to something else that generates just as many kWh. And except for solar, EVERYTHING harms bats and birds much more than the wind turbines.

    And that’s not even mentioning that domestic cats kill an estimated 1 to 4 BILLION birds annually. Wind turbines kill about 500k. We’re not looking to scale wind generation up to more than 20x it’s current value (it currently generates 10.3% of US electricity, so 20x would be 100% of all electricity after the US gains so many electric vehicles that the amount of electricity we’re using is double what we consume right now), which means that at most we’re talking about 1/100th the damage to bird communities that pet cats already inflict. But with a margin of error of 3 billion bird kills, the idea of a maximum of 10 million deaths from wind turbines is less than a rounding error on human caused bird deaths. (Unless, of course, we want to eliminate all pet cats.)

    And, of course, multiplying the % of electricity generated from turbines means that we reduce climate change and its effects on bird communities AND we reduce air pollution, including particulates, that have severe impacts on birds and bats.

    We save bird lives by installing wind turbines, and that’s a fact.

    You can also save bird lives by spaying & neutering local cats, including spaying & neutering both your pets AND any feral cats you come across.

  3. says

    All good points, and yeah, that’s why His Holiness only goes outdoors under supervision. That, and we’re pretty sure he’d get himself killed.

    @Dunc – it’s a fair point, and did occur to me, but traffic is something people are accustomed to living with, and honestly has less justification than wind power. The NIMBYs also often oppose roads near them, now I come to think of it.

  4. billseymour says

    One thing that jumped out at me is:

    The study played 20-second wind farm and road traffic noise samples … using 3 different sound pressure levels …

    Although they didn’t say so explicitly, it sounds like they’re assuming that wind farms and highways equidistant from the observer generate the same sound pressure levels.  Is that the case?  And did they measure that and I just missed it?

  5. robert79 says

    So it balances out? Electric cars are more quiet than fossil fuel burning cars (in fact, they have to be made more “noisy” so that people actually hear them and don’t get hit!) but to compensate we get some swoosh from the wind farms. Fine by me!

    As for @3 Crip Dyke’s comment about cats: it’s also about which birds get killed. I imagine (although I don’t know the stats) that wind farms tend to kill oceanic migrating birds who fly through open air, while cats kill small birds which hide in trees/shrubs/etc… and pigeons of course…

  6. says

    Now that I think on it, I’m also curious whether they played those noise samples on loop, or for 20 seconds at random intervals through the night? If it’s the latter, then it seems like the latter would discount the continuous nature of turbine noise.

    My own preference is for a dramatic increase in mass transit, and trains are absolutely noisy, so that’s another increase in noise that I’m in favor of.

    Cities would probably be more quiet, though.

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