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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects
annual shadow variations may also be a part of the result (DWEA 2003b). A typical result might indicate, for example, that a house 300 meters from a 600 kW wind turbine with a rotor diameter of 40 meters will be exposed to moving shadows for approximately 17-18 hours annually, out of a total of 8,760 hours in a year (Andersen 1999).
Shadow flicker can be a nuisance to people living near a wind-energy project. It is sometimes difficult to work in a dwelling if there is shadow flicker on a window. In addition to its intensity, the frequency of the shadow flicker is of importance. Flicker frequency due to a turbine is on the order of the rotor frequency (i.e., 0.6-1.0 Hz), which is harmless to humans. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, only frequencies above 10 Hz are likely to cause epileptic seizures. (For reference, frequencies of strobe lights used in discotheques are higher than 3 Hz but lower than 10 Hz.) If a turbine is close to a highway, the movement of the large rotor blades and possible resulting flicker can distract drivers. Irish guidelines, for example, recommend that turbines be set back from the road at least 300 meters (MSU 2004).
Shadow flicker is not explicitly regulated. When a maximum number of hours of allowed shadow flicker per year is imposed for a neighbor’s property (such as 30 hours/year for one wind-energy project in Germany), this number refers to those hours when the property is actually used by the people there and when they are awake. Denmark has no legislation regarding shadow flicker, but it is generally recommended that there be no more than 10 hours per year when flicker is experienced.
Even in the worst situations, shadow flicker only lasts for a short time each day—rarely more than half an hour. Moreover, flicker is observed only for a few weeks in the winter season. To avoid even limited periods of shadow flicker, a possible solution is to not run the turbines during this time. Obviously, another solution is to site the turbines such that their shadow paths avoid nearby residences.
Since tools for estimation of shadow flicker are readily available, such calculations are routinely done while planning a wind-energy project. One such study was performed for the Wild Horse project in the state of Washington (Nielsen 2003). Using results presented in the form of shadow flicker maps and distributions, one can determine suitable locations for wind turbines. Recently, tools have become available (GH WindFarmer) that not only compute shadow flicker in real time during turbine operation, but also convey information to the turbine control system to enable shutdown if the