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Wind Energy, Noise Pollution
Living near wind turbines can be hazardous to your health.

A wind farm in Indiana

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Robert Bryce

The wind-energy lobby desperately wants to downplay the problems associated with low-frequency noise and infrasound. That’s not surprising. The industry has no solution for the noise problem, except, of course, to increase the setbacks between wind turbines and residential areas. But doing so would dramatically reduce the industry’s ability to site turbines (and collect fat taxpayer subsidies).

In 2009, the American Wind Energy Association and the Canadian Wind Energy Association commissioned a group of doctors to review the available literature on wind turbines and noise. The two lobby groups published a paper that concluded, “There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.” It also said that the vibrations from the turbines are “too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.” However, that same study also said that extended exposure to unwanted noise can cause a number of symptoms, including “dizziness, eye strain, fatigue, feeling vibration, headache, insomnia, muscle spasm, nausea, nose bleeds, palpitations, pressure in the ears or head, skin burns, stress, and tension.”

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To bolster its claims that turbine noise is not harmful, the wind-energy lobby is touting a study released in mid-January by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection that largely dismissed complaints about wind-turbine noise. But the authors of the Massachusetts report did not interview any of the homeowners who’ve left their houses because of turbine noise. Instead, they did a cursory review of the published literature.

Shortly after the Massachusetts report came out, Jim Cummings of the Acoustic Ecology Institute, a non-profit organization that tracks noise issues, wrote that the authors of the Massachusetts report “dropped a crucial ball” because they did not “provide any sort of acknowledgement or analysis of the ways that annoyance, anxiety, sleep disruption, and stress could be intermediary pathways that help us to understand some of the reports coming from Massachusetts residents who say their health has been affected by nearby turbines.”

Over the past few months, a spate of reports have been released that provide credence to the complaints being made by the Enzes and people like Janet Warren, who raised sheep on her property near Makara, New Zealand, until a wind project was built near her home. Noise from the turbines caused “loss of concentration, irritability, and short-term memory effects” that forced her and her husband, Mike, to leave their property in early 2010.

Among the most important of the recent reports is a decision issued last July by Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal regarding a wind-energy facility known as the Kent Breeze Project. Although the Canadian officials allowed the facility to be built, they said that

this case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree.

In other words, Canadian regulators have stated, on the record, that wind-turbine noise can harm human beings if turbines are built too close to homes. That finding was corroborated, again, in August, in a peer-reviewed article published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society. Carl V. Phillips, a Harvard-trained Ph.D. who now works as a researcher and consultant on epidemiology, concluded that there is “overwhelming evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents, usually stress-disorder type diseases, at a nontrivial rate.” That same issue of the journal carried eight other articles that addressed the issue of health and wind-turbine noise.



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