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Government coverup about noise levels - From the Times Online website

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Officials cover up wind farm noise report

A Times Online article by Jonathan Leake and Harry Byford here

According to an article in The Sunday Times on December 13th, 2009 civil servants have suppressed warnings that wind turbines can generate noise damaging people’s health for several square miles around.

Apparently officials removed the warnings from a draft report in 2006 by Hayes McKenzie Partnership (HMP), the consultants, and they were completely missing from the final version of the report

The guidance from consultants indicated that the sound level permitted from spinning blades and gearboxes had been set so high — 43 decibels — that local people could be disturbed whenever the wind blew hard. The noise was also thought likely to disrupt sleep. The report said the best way to protect locals was to cut the maximum permitted noise to 38 decibels, or 33 decibels if the machines created discernible “beating” noises as they spun.

Because of the omission hundreds of turbines at wind farms across Britain have been allowed to generate much higher levels of noise, sparking protests from people living near them.

The HMP report was commissioned by the business department whose responsibilities for wind power have since been taken over by Ed Miliband’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Due to missing information - amounting to misinformation, the decision to keep existing noise limits is now official guidance for local authorities ruling on planning applications from wind farm developers. It has also been used by ministers and officials to support the view that there was no need to revise official wind farm noise guidelines and that erecting turbines near homes posed no threat to people’s health and wellbeing.

In 2007 Mike Hulme of the Den Brook Judicial Review Group, a band of residents opposing a wind turbine development close to their houses in Devon, submitted a Freedom of Information request asking to see all draft versions of the study. Permission was at first refused and they had to go via the the information commissioner’s office to get it.

The drafts show that HMP originally recommended the night-time wind turbine noise limit should be reduced from 43 decibels to 38, or 33 if they made any kind of swishing or beating noise — known as “aerodynamic modulation”. The HMP researchers had based their recommendations on evidence. They took noise measurements at houses close to three wind farms: Askam in Cumbria, Bears Down in Cornwall and Blaen Bowi in Carmarthenshire.

They found that the swish-swish signature noise of turbines was significantly greater around most wind farms than had been foreseen by the authors of the existing government guidelines, which date from 1996. They also found that the beating sound is particularly disruptive at night, when other background noise levels are lower, as it can penetrate walls.

In their draft report the HMP researchers recommended that “Consideration be given to a revision of the night-time absolute noise criterion”, noting that this would fit with World Health Organisation recommendations on sleep disturbance.

However, an anonymous government official then inserted remarks attacking this idea because it would impede wind farm development. He, or she, wrote: “What will the impact of this be? Are we saying that this is the situation for all wind farms ... I think we need a sense of the scale of this and the impact.” The final report removed any suggestion of cutting the noise limits or adding any further penalty if turbines generated a beating noise — and recommended local authorities to stick to the 1996 guidelines.

Hulme said: “This demonstrates the conflict of interests in DECC, because it has the responsibility for promoting wind farm development while also having responsibility for the wind farm noise guidance policy ... meant to protect local residents.”

Read the full article at Times Online.