The modern wind industry, which emerged in the early 1980s, saw a downturn under Reagan, and re-emerged in the 1990s stronger than ever, has had a tumultuous history.
During the first part of 21st
century, the charge – that wind turbines killed birds – was largely dismissed
by industry experts, who said that while existing wind farms might alter some of the traditional flyways birds used for migration, a better understanding of bird migration would prevent that problem in the future. Most experts concluded that electricity transmission and distribution lines were the primary cause of bird deaths, closely followed by collisions with vehicles.
New landscape features like houses and buildings (and their reflective windows), closely followed by attendant habitat loss due to urban sprawl, were also major killers, by a factor of more than 30 percent.
In fact, in the final analysis, new wind turbine designs have essentially mitigated bird deaths, leaving only the Altmont Pass installation as the singular wind farm implicated in numerous bird kills.
Then came the news, that wind speeds were failing across the continent. This report
, from Professor Sara Pryor et al (sponsored by 3TIER, Inc.), and appearing in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research
, suggested a 1.3 percent loss in wind speed in Washington state and a congruent loss in wind speeds both in the U.S. and globally.
Fortunately, research followups also noted the potential for “large uncertainties” in such studies, and thus the report(s) did little to dampen wind turbine installation, which rose
by almost 10,000 megawatts in 2009.
Now, as though no one could ever be happy with a technology that was clean, renewable, and cheap in comparison to solar energy (many utilities offer wind power at premium prices
of two to three cents a kilowatt-hour), comes a report that wind turbines produce what is being called, “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, a collection of symptoms
that include heart disease, insomnia, migraines, panic attacks and vertigo. Wind turbines are also said to trigger epileptic seizures.
And this is just among the humans living near wind turbines. The cows are said to stop giving milk or wander away in a fugue. In the UK, a goat farmer says wind turbines near his goat farm caused 400 of the animals
to “lose sleep and die.”
Most of the research comes from Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD, whose credentials include the John Hopkins University School of Medicine. According to Pierpont, Wind Turbine Syndrome
is “a constellation of symptoms” that results from the fact that some people are: sensitive to low-frequency vibrations; predisposed to migraines; and suffering from defects of the balance mechanisms of the inner ear (frequently related to aging). In the latter case, Dr. Pierpont notes, inner ear systems are closely linked to brain systems which control mood, anxiety, and a sense of well-being.
These findings are comprehensible, legitimate, and affect between 5 and 24 percent of the population, and Dr. Pierpont concludes that careful wind farm siting, involving a 1.5-mile setback from homes, schools, hospitals and similar institutions might be all that’s needed to protect the population from this sound and vibration-induced syndrome.
Unfortunately, as so often happens, Dr. Pierpont’s research has been taken out of context and used as a bludgeon to stop wind farm siting. This sort of stealthy NIMBYism is unfortunate, with the nation sitting on the combined precipices of peak oil, carbon controls and a failing economy.
Fortunately, a newer report, jointly developed by
medical doctors, audiologists, and acoustical professionals from the United States, Canada, Denmark, and the United Kingdom has concluded
that the sounds generated by wind turbines are not generally harmful to human health.
Of course, the panel was assembled under the auspices of the American Wind Energy Association, or AWEA, and the Canadian Wind Energy Association, or CanWEA, so the science is somewhat problematical. However, one of the researchers, Dr. Robert J. McCunney of MIT, was adamant in stating that, “there is no evidence that the sounds or sub-audible vibrations of wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects on humans.”
Researchers also concluded that the sounds emitted by wind turbines were not unique, and could be found elsewhere in the industrial world. And, further, that if living near wind turbines was harmful, it would be equally pernicious to live in any large city, or work in any large factory. Finally, while noting that some people might be annoyed, or even disturbed, by the sound generated by a wind turbine, being upset was not a pathological situation
In the end, the situation is reminiscent of research into electromagnetic fields (EMFs), which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes as “inconclusive
”. Other scientists are convinced EMFs cause cancer. Fortunately, noise – even sub-audible noise – is less likely to be lethal than radiation, if which EMFs are merely one form.
It's very likely many more years of research will have to be conducted into wind turbine’s effects on humans and animals before a consensus is reached. In the meantime, those living near wind turbines and experiencing dizziness, disorientation, headaches and irritability might want to consult a physician to see if there isn’t an underlying cause for the symptoms.
Of course, cows can’t talk about their discomfort, so even the best veterinarian is likely to be stymied when it comes to a bovine that doesn’t like wind turbines. However, one vet I know who works near the Lake Benton Wind Farm in Minnesota says he’s had good luck prescribing Debussy’s Clair de Lune and other calm, classical selections.