Wall Street Journal: Impartial study should be undertaken without delay

by Robert Bryce, Wall Street Journal

People living near turbines increasingly report sleep deprivation, headaches and vertigo. The wind lobby says there’s no proof

Imagine this scenario:  The oil and gas industry launches an aggressive global drilling program with a new type of well. Thousands of these new wells, once operational, emit a noxious odor so offensive that many of the people living within a mile of them are kept awake at night. Some are even forced to move out of their homes. It’s easy to predict the reaction: denunciations of the industry, countless lawsuits, and congressional investigations.

Now substitute wind for oil and gas and consider the noise complaints being lodged against wind projects around the world.

The Obama administration has made the increased use of wind power to generate electricity a top priority. In 2009 alone, U.S. wind generation capacity increased by 39%. But more wind power means more giant turbines closer to more people. And if current trends continue, that spells trouble.

In 2007, a phalanx of wind turbines were built around Charlie Porter’s property in rural northern Missouri. Soon, Mr. Porter began to have trouble sleeping. So did his wife and daughter. The noise, he told me, made sleeping almost impossible. “We tried everything-earplugs, leaving the TV station on all night.” Nothing worked. Late last year he moved his family off their 20-acre farm.

Mr. Porter’s story is no isolated event. Rural residents in Texas, Maine, Pennsylvania, Oregon, New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France and England have been complaining about the noise from wind turbines, particularly about sleep deprivation. Dozens of news stories-most of them published in rural newspapers-have documented the problem.

I’ve spoken to nine other people in New York, Wisconsin, Ontario, New Zealand, Nova Scotia and England who live, or lived, near wind turbines. All complained of the noise, with sleep deprivation being the most common complaint. For example, Janet Warren, who raises sheep near Makara, New Zealand, told me via email that the turbines near her home emit “continuous noise and vibration,” which disturb her sleep and are causing “loss of concentration, irritability, and short-term memory effects.”

Complaints about sleep disruption-as well as the deleterious health effects caused by the pulsing, low-frequency noise emitted by the giant turbines-are a central element of an emerging citizen backlash against the booming global wind industry.

Lawsuits that focus on noise pollution are now pending in Maine, Pennsylvania and New Zealand. In New Zealand, more than 750 complaints have been lodged against a large wind project near Makara since it began operating last April. The European Platform Against Windfarms lists 388 groups in 20 European countries. Canada has more than two dozen antiwind groups. In the U.S. there are about 100 such groups, and state legislators in Vermont recently introduced a bill that will require wind turbines be located no closer than 1.25 miles from any residence.

In theory, big wind projects should only be built in desolate areas. But the reality is that many turbines are being installed close to homes. Wind developers put a turbine within 550 meters of Mr. Porter’s house. Hal Graham, a retired office manager in Cohocton, N.Y., complains about the noise pollution caused by a turbine 300 meters from his home. Tony Moyer, a plumbing superintendent in Eden, Wis., grumbles about the noise generated by three turbines built within 425 meters of his house.

Doctors and acoustics experts from the U.S. to Australia report a raft of symptoms that they blame on wind turbine noise, including sleep disturbance, headaches and vertigo. Dr. Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician in Malone, N.Y., has studied 36 people affected by wind turbine noise since 2004 at her own expense. The people she interviewed were widely dispersed; they lived in the U.S., Canada, England, Ireland and Italy. She found that the collection of symptoms she calls “wind turbine syndrome” disappeared as soon as people moved out of their noise-affected homes and into new locations at least five miles from any turbines.

Across the border, Ontario-based orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert McMurtry has been researching wind turbine noise for the past 18 months. Dr. McMurtry, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, counts more than 100 people in Ontario he believes are experiencing adverse effects from turbine noise. “It has compromised their health,” he says.

The wind lobby has publicly rejected these claims. In December, the American Wind Energy Association in conjunction with the Canadian Wind Energy Association, issued a report titled “Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Review Panel.” It declared: “There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.” It also suggested that some of the symptoms being attributed to wind turbine noise were likely psychosomatic and asserted that the vibrations from the turbines are “too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.”

Yet the report also noted that in “the area of wind turbine health effects, no case-control or cohort studies have been conducted as of this date.” True enough-but it means there are no studies to prove or disprove the case. It also says that “a small number of sensitive people” may be “stressed” by wind turbine noise and suffer sleep deprivation. But who gets to define “sensitive” and “small number”? And if turbine noise and sleep disturbance aren’t problems, then why are people in so many different locations complaining in almost identical ways? Such questions are only going to be pressed with more urgency in the future.

By 2030, environmental and lobby groups are pushing for the U.S. to produce 20% of its electricity from wind. According to the Department of Energy, meeting that goal will require the U.S. to have about 300,000 megawatts of wind capacity, an eightfold increase over current levels. Installing tens of thousands of new turbines inevitably means they’ll be located closer to populated areas.

The health effects of low-frequency noise on humans are not well understood. The noise in question often occurs at, or below, decibel levels that are commonly considered a public nuisance. And detecting low-frequency noise requires sophisticated acoustic gear. For all of these reasons, this issue should be investigated. If policy makers are serious about considering all of the impacts of “green” energy, then an impartial, international study of the effects of wind turbine noise should be undertaken without delay.

Mr. Bryce is the managing editor of Energy Tribune. His fourth book, “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future,” will be published in April by PublicAffairs.

15 thoughts on “Wall Street Journal: Impartial study should be undertaken without delay

  1. The Emperor has no clothes.

    We are so desperate for a solution and so terrified of climate change. that the world was/is ripe for the mass hysteria that has allowed our belief system to embrace wind power.

    After all, a turbine can produce electricity, a couple of clean white turbines look almost pretty on the horizon. So people cling to the straw on the ocean.

    I think the global resistance to wind power should adopt a universal branding or logo. The famous painting “The Screamer” should be our universal symbol.
    The suffering depicted on the tortured face of the ‘screamer’ with a background of hollow heartless turbines whirling behind.

    I believe it is time to move forward in unison as a universal front. That is what will make the masses stop and look in the mirror. I ask you to join me and help make this happen. Time is of the utmost importance.

  2. Industrial Wind Turbines: DON’T BUY FALSE SOLUTIONS!

  3. I think the problem with researchers like Mr McMurty is that they don’t have a placebo group to compare to. They just ask questions like “do you have a headaches”? and “do you think it’s due to windturbines?” and the draw a conclusion from there.
    In the Netherlands a study was done ( and I know that you know which one, because it always comes up during council meetings) that had exactly such a broad spectrum of testing and it’s constantly discarded by the wind activists. Why is that?

  4. Mandy, would you kindly tell the world how one could administer “placebo” industrial wind turbines outside a home?

    Maybe use holograms with speakers? Seriously…

  5. Yes actually.
    Initially do a blind survey of health issues in a wind turbine zone versus a non wind turbine zone.

    My point is, that everyone has ups and downs, aches and pains, flus, colds etc and having a wind turbine or a electrical line or a livestock barn nearby could be used as a scapegoat.

    This is dangerous because it could mislead a person into thinking that a IWT is making them sick while it may be an early form of cancer or heart condition (in extreme cases)

    Last week I felt achy and had stiff muscles for example. It turns out that my husband got a bad head cold and I was probably just fighting it off.

    Now if I had a IWT nearby, I may have blamed it on it and lost a lot of sleep over it.

    I’m not trying to take away from people who may really be suffering from IWT’s but it’s very likely.

    That is what the Dutch study concluded. What it also concluded was that stray voltage occured more often in IWT zones because of a stressed out aged electrical system. Stray voltage did cause health problems in humans and livestock but was remedied by system updates. It’s unfortunate that it took the suffering of a few to find such faults however.

  6. Our area offered to do a pre-construction survey before the turbines went up to get a baseline. The province refused. Why would they want to look under a rock when they might not like what they find?

    After speaking and reading hundreds of testamonies and case histories across the world, the symptoms are almost identical…from Japan to New Zealand to Denmark to Canada. Do you think all these people got together and are “conspiring” against the wind industry?

    You are using the same arguments the tobacco and asbestos industries used for many years.

  7. MA
    No I am just offering some of my own insight on the matter…not arguments. If you want to get serious about tackling IWT’s, you’d better look under all “rocks” as well.

    Maybe one reason why the province didn’t take up your offer to do a pre construction survey is that your area is probably to full of preconceived notions about IWT’s, both for and against so it would be impossible to extrapolate any meaningful data. Everyone usually has their mind made up about them before construction and that would skew the data.

    If a survey is to be done, it has to be a blind one and replicated over the whole province and country.

    I don’t buy into the testamonies as evidence either. In this age of the internet, it is easy to produce a global strategy template on fighting IWT’s.
    It can basically be a formula that can be shared with other emerging Wind Concern groups Hit up the local and provincial (or state) politicians with tonnes of questions and requests for studies to delay project so that IWT investors become impatient and go elsewhere.

  8. You’re totally off the wall. You actually believe this is a “big conspiracy”?

    Stephana Johnson, who has been forced out of her home in Clear Creek because of severe health problems was the Green Party candidate in the area, for Pete’s sake! She was all FOR wind industry, as were many others such as Barbara Ashbee.

    Funny, as soon as she spends a few nights in a respite home away from the turbines, all the symptoms go away.

  9. Mandy, Please read a little more.

    If you do not like the health issue debate, try the economics. (Copenhagen Report)

    If that doesn’t work for you, watch hawks get chopped out of flight and spiral down to the waiting coyotes at the base!

    Oh and by the way, why did the turbine companies buy out homes where people got sick and ask them to sign a non disclosure agreement?

    Why is a family of three being kept in a motel paid for by the turbine company for a year now?
    I believe they had to sign a non disclosure as well.

    I am glad you are asking intelligent questions but I can tell you are very young (student?) You haven’t put your life savings into a property in the country that you trusted you could leave to your children only to have it devalued, the night sky ruined with flashing red lights the panoramic view destroyed( which is why you paid a premium price in the first place) and can’t have the windows open in the summer or enjoy your garden in peace! We moved to the country to live in a country environment not an industrial wasteland!

  10. First I would like to say – I LIVE NEAR 3 and am experiencing the symptoms and am not nuts – at least not yet. I would also like to say I didn’t have an opinion of them before they were built. I thought they looked amazing and really didn’t see any problem with having them near our home. What they (the Turbine People) didn’t say that our home would have Flicker in the morning and in the evening, our television would need to be rewired and I would be affected by the low frequency hum at night in my own bedroom. I have offered the Turbine people to come and purchase our home and live amongst them, they choose not to be anywhere near them!

    I totally agree with Melodie! What about the humans? Don’t we matter anymore?

  11. No I am not a student but a housewife who just happens to live within 1 km of a group of 5 wind turbines.

    I don’t like the fact that they are there, but they are and life goes on.

    What concerns me are some of the outrageous comments made by the wind opponents. Living near them has really allowed be to seperate the “grain from the chaff” so to speak. I feel that some renegade opponents have weakened my ability to voice my “real” concerns about wind farms.

    I would have to disagree with you about IWT’s chewing up birds, making lot’s of noise (low frequency or just noise), flickering all day, decreasing property values…no wonder politicians and scientists roll their eyes everytime an opponent stands up regurgitating contradicting reasons to oppose another project. Stretching the truth damages the truth!!

    What I do agree with are that the flickering red lights are a detriment to our night skies (I have been discussing this with my local MP and Nav Canada), I don’t like how farmers sign up without telling their neighbours about it and I have contempt for any big utilities project because they always screw up and we end up paying for it.

  12. Guess you didn’t watch the video of the vulture that had it’s wing broken and spiraled to the ground and flopped around. The two men who made the film rescued the bird and took it to a wildlife sanctuary. There was also another video posted on this sight of men in Europe holding up huge dead swans at the base of a turbine.

    Tell me Mandy , do you think wind turbines decrease Greenhouse Gas emissions? How much CO 2 emissions have been decreased in Europe with the turbines that have been working there for years? Why has Germany opened 26 new coal plants. Why are they trying to put a huge gas plant in Oakville? Please inform me so I can stop being angry. How much are we going to pay per klw for hydro with wind energy on the grid? We pay 6 cents now.

  13. Everyone in Ontario needs to ask questions about why we are building industrial wind turbines. Committing to building industrial wind turbines is a far worse situation than most can imagine. That is not stretching the truth. Even the annoyance of lights, a smaller crime of industrial wind turbines, is too big a cost as industrial wind turbines will never provide a meaningful power supply. Industrial wind turbines will weaken our economy and commits us to forever pay high prices for a ghost of a return. Get informed. Take action.

  14. Interesting point Melodie. I asked my German friends about the coal plants and yes it’s true. They are 26 new coal plants but it ties in with something else you mentioned. Wind turbines need a companion to produce power when the wind isn’t blowing…and that is generally natural gas. Germany gets all of its natural gas from Russia and the Ukraine which is very dangerous because these are politcally unstable countries and they could switch off the pipelines in a flash.
    Germany is building the coal plants, begrudgingly, not for cost reasons but energy security.
    Canada has lots of natural gas, which is why they are building one in Oakville. In my opinion, its still a GHG emitter but less than coal and it’s suppose to be more efficient.
    I don’t doubt that IWT’s kill birds but so far I have nothing to report locally and believe me, I’m keeping tabs!

  15. Thank you Mandy. Please keep an eye at migration time. Take pictures and bring the dead bird to your mayors office and local newspaper office. If you do not get much action take the bird(s) to the TV station.

    Apparently the Turbine company will get 13.5 cents for every klw supplied to the grid! That is more than double what we pay now. How will Ontario companies compete with companies that pay lower hydro rates in non turbine jurisdictions?
    This spells economic disaster for Ontario on many fronts.

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