Expert Says Noise Standards May Not Protect Residents Near Proposed Wind Farm

Dr. Phil Schomer, left, testifies before the McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday night. Attorney Phil Luetkehans, right, represents residents and property owners opposing the project. (Image Credit: Breanna Grow)

Dr. Phil Schomer, left, testifies before the McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday night. Attorney Phil Luetkehans, right, represents residents and property owners opposing the project. (Image Credit: Breanna Grow)

After six nights of testimony, there are still around 15 members of the public waiting to share their thoughts on a proposed wind farm northeast of Bloomington-Normal.

The McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) will reconvene Thursday evening for a seventh night of testimony before handing down a decision on Invenergy’s special use permit application. Hearings on the case began January 2.

Much of the testimony from rural residents near the project site has focused on noise, with homeowners concerned the continuous sound of the turbines could disrupt their everyday lives.

Attorney Phil Luetkehans said he represents a group of 52 McLean County residents and property owners opposing the project.

Luetkehans called on longtime acoustician Dr. Paul Schomer Wednesday evening to deliver expert testimony on noise levels of the proposed project.

Schomer testified he’s spent over 50 years working as an acoustician, dedicating the last decade to researching wind turbine noise. He currently serves as the Emeritus Chairman of the Acoustical Society of America.

Schomer said when he helped write the Illinois Pollution Control Board’s (IPCB) noise standards over 60 years ago, “Wind farms were never contemplated.”

The ZBA adopted the IPCB standard in its zoning ordinance for wind farms in 2016. Noise control engineer Michael Hankard used the same standard in his model of Invenergy’s proposed McLean County project.

Project opponent Ted Hartke asked Schomer whether the current noise standards would fully protect residents near the proposed wind farm.

“I don’t feel [the standards] are adequate for that purpose,” said Schomer.

In his January 4 testimony, Hankard told the ZBA his model predicts the loudest noise level anywhere on the project site would fall just below the IPCB’s night time limits at 69 decibels. However, most of the time nearby residents would experience much lower noise levels, Hankard said.

Schomer said the general consensus among his colleagues is the limit should be set around 40 decibels.

The ZBA’s zoning ordinance also requires wind turbines be set back 1,500 feet or three times the tower’s height from any occupied residence.

Schomer said he recommended increasing that setback to 3,300 feet.

“I have been to wind farms where I personally have talked with people...and there is a small percentage of people who are really bothered by wind farms,” said Schomer, adding annoyance plays a factor in assessing noise sources.

The ZBA will hear from all residents who wish to testify before voting on a final decision as early as Thursday evening.

(Correction: a previous article incorrectly identified the next hearing date in the case as January 29. Hearings resumed January 23.)