Voices of the Future (8) - Wind Turbine Setback Regulation

by Ryan Conner
Majoring in Wildlife and Fisheries Science, graduating May 2016

After our guest lecturer, Mr. Barton, gave his amazing speech, I decided I was going to look into the regulation for setbacks of wind turbines. Mr. Barton went through PA’s model for setbacks, things like the nearest building or public road should be at least 1.1 times the total height of the turbine, and that the nearest occupied building should not be within 5 times the hub height of the turbine. These all seemed like reasonable restrictions, but then Mr. Barton mentioned that these were just guidelines and they were not actually mandatory. This instantly struck me as being strange. I could not believe that there were not actual regulations that needed to be followed, especially because I felt like it would be really unsafe to have a turbine right next to a house. That is what spurred my interest in looking into turbine setbacks, and the first thing I stumbled upon was this video.

The video really surprised me. I never really thought about the wind turbines causing problems to people’s health because of the load constant noise. Although I could not find the report that was mentioned to come out sometime this year, it seems like there is information defending both sides of the argument. On the one side, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) mentions that “these allegations of health-related impacts are not supported by science.” On the other side, in a review done by the Minnesota Department of Commerce on the international policies of wind turbine setbacks, they mention that noise limits are one of the most used means for determining the placement of the wind turbines. So in other words, many countries would have to believe that the noise from wind turbines can cause problems for humans.

After seeing all the regulation for other countries I had to see what type of regulation the United States had for the placement of wind turbines. In The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) report I found that only a very small portion of states actual have regulations that need to be followed and then a few like Pennsylvania have models that can be followed. A lot of them had no regulations at all. I just don’t understand why some states can basically ignore the risks of wind turbines (noise, shadow flicker, ice-throw, and blade and tower failure) while others have policies they have to follow. All states should have to follow some kind of setback regulations. It might vary for different areas because certain areas may need more or less distance for it to be safe, but there will still be regulation they need to follow. At the very least I feel that no buildings or roads should be within 1.1 times the total height of turbine. That way people should be safe from most of the harm except for the sound which is still not seen as a threat to human health.

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