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NoiseMatters - Opinion

Banks, MPs Expenses & Wind Farms

Written By: Tony Holdich

With at least one bank failing to execute properly its business responsibilities and at least one MP failing to report honestly personal expenses, new focus is brought upon "professional" conduct. Trust placed in professionals by their clients arises from a presumption of honesty; trust is a legitimately held belief that ignorance will become informed, not exploited. Ignorance of dire back-office discipline and ignorance of "rules" governing expense compensation has (to my mind) no doubt been exploited by those we would have held to be "professional" and in whom we had invested trust. Although neither profession appears to have sufficient integrity to resign position with no further reward, hopefully it all ends with bankers and MPs.

With newly sensitised "honesty" and "professional" awareness, take a look at acoustic consulting. It's obvious to anyone that noise annoys and from there our professional obligation is to assist and inform and a professional does that not just by telling the truth; a professional does that by telling the whole truth, at least as he or she knows it. The ability to know what you don't know is an essential "professional" ingredient and demonstrably a professional should know everything. And if that's not the case, it's the job of other professionals to expose it, together with the nature of any "false flags" under which the "other side's" ship(s) might be sailing.

Off-shore wind turbine farm

Meanwhile, the design, installation and operation of wind turbines are a rapidly emerging industry; following in the vortex has been a proliferation of professional services including research and support of planning applications. Of course, the grant of planning permission is an essential step if such green and well intended investment is to take root. It's here, in particular, that we stumble across what appears to be a confusion regarding professional obligations. For those annoyed by noise arising from these machines, where trust is legitimately held in acoustics professionals, could we be classed as another failing "profession"?

Certainly not from the earliest sign, exemplary professionalism, which came in 2005 when ETSU-R-97 guidance, used to assess wind farm noise for planning applications, was severely criticised by an eminent acoustician (of which there can be only a handful).

In August 2007 our eminent acoustician resigned from a Government wind turbine noise working group. Whereas the working group's guidance to their client was to conduct research into aerodynamic modulation (the audible modulation of aerodynamic noise) so as to assist the sustainable design for wind farms for the future, the study the Government instead commissioned (the brief for which was not circulated to the working group) was subtly different. It did, however, allow Government to subsequently announce that a Salford University report "eases concerns over wind turbine noise" and that "aerodynamic modulation is not an issue for the UK's wind farm fleet".

Could it be that some of the work and/or the briefing of our profession has been cynically manipulated and might that have accordingly brought our professionalism into question?

Probably not; professional responsibility is, of course, to execute client's instructions. Wind Farming's uneven playing field, founded upon an allegedly dubious assessment procedure (ETSU-R-97) and an allegedly undercooked risk assessment concerning aerodynamic modulation noise (the Salford Report), means uncertainty becomes attached to the level of noise and disturbance likely to arise from wind farm development proposals.

Such uncertainty has thus become a key factor in the planning application and assessment process and from there rejection of numerous wind farm planning applications. Let's not be surprised. An obligation to work with poorly structured guidelines should not mean that planning applications are supported by anything less than the most robust and professional assessments practicable. Yet at least one acoustician, experienced in the field, under cross examination at a wind farm planning appeal has admitted to "not being proud" of work performed in support of the application.

It's important to recognise that public trust will prevail where an ability to identify the differences between right and wrong prevails over all other adversity; it is here that professionals, even when faced with demonstrably poor guidance, must see through the fog to deliver the whole truth at least as they are able to see it.

More Information

For more information about noise from wind farms please see: Noise From Wind Turbines