Wind power must be weighed in several ways

Indeed, those people aren’t likely to give up, and shouldn’t, considering a significant but largely ignored aspect of King’s study. In her conclusion, she noted “a key data gap” exists in Ontario – that is, a comparison of sound levels at residential areas around wind turbines versus other rural and urban areas. That could lead to an assessment of the actual ambient noise levels prevalent in Ontario.

Owen Roberts, Guelph Mercury, guelphmercury.com 

The wait is over. Now, we’ve been officially told. In Ontario, wind turbines are not a health problem.

That’s the word from Dr. Arlene King, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. Some people living within the vicinity of wind turbines have been reporting dizziness, headaches and sleep disturbance. The complaints prompted King’s office to conduct a review of previously published studies mainly from abroad, and current legislation here.

When she put them together, she concluded Ontario’s nearly 700 wind turbines are not making people sick.

“According to the scientific evidence, there isn’t any direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects,” she said.

In a brief 14-page report issued this month — The Potential Impact of Wind Turbines — King explains legislation calls for wind turbines to have a 550-metre setback from residences, designed to keep noise levels at 40 decibels. That’s described as somewhere around a normal conversation and a whisper, a quiet office or a library.

Looking at existing studies, she couldn’t find compelling proof such levels are a problem.

But wind turbine opponents don’t talk as much about volume as they do the constant low-frequency sound, likened to a swish or woof, which results from the turbine blades slicing through the air. King said the sound is not dangerous, but noted it “may annoy some people.”

Indeed, those people aren’t likely to give up, and shouldn’t, considering a significant but largely ignored aspect of King’s study. In her conclusion, she noted “a key data gap” exists in Ontario – that is, a comparison of sound levels at residential areas around wind turbines versus other rural and urban areas. That could lead to an assessment of the actual ambient noise levels prevalent in Ontario.

King says such knowledge is vital before proceeding with what’s called an epidemiological study, which looks more widely at the many factors affecting the health and illness of populations.

This broad approach is gaining increasing recognition with researchers at the University of Guelph, and elsewhere. You may have heard the emergence of what leaders in the field call “One Health.” It acknowledges that the impact on health of practically anything is not isolated among species, and that something in the environment affecting humans can also affect animals and plants.

In other words, we live in one world, and share one health.

This was once called a holistic approach, and still is in many circles. But One Health sounds more familiar and it’s starting to stick. It makes sense, as we become increasingly global, and as health-related concerns such as H1N1, for example, move quickly around the planet.

This emergence underlines the need for an increased emphasis on communicating about health, science, new technologies and issues that affect people broadly. Wind farms are a prime example. In isolation, they’re a technology-driven, renewable energy source with the potential to contribute to the greening of Ontario. But what about their esthetics? And what about their affect on farm animals? Or what about using land to produce energy rather than crops and livestock? Those are hot buttons for people everywhere.

Science and society clash when technology is not well understood or presented. Research won’t advance without public support. We need a measuring stick in society, something to guide us in decision making, and science is better than “trust me.” Incorporating science into the decision-making process means the way forward is based on something other than emotion.

But it’s important to recognize that while science is a vital part of the economy and indeed the future, its value is compromised unless people understand it and accept it.

Are we there yet with wind power? Not by a long shot.

Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph. Follow him at www.urbancowboy.ca

3 thoughts on “Wind power must be weighed in several ways

  1. Well said. Wind Turbines are faulty technology damaging to people and our environment. Back to the drawing board, not full steam ahead with no foresight.

  2. The Wind Scam has been set up by Government and Industry to get unlimited tax payers dollars out of the “kitty” just like Enron set up before they got caught and were sent to JAIL!

    Wind Turbines do NOTHING but give McGuinty and all an excuse to screw us out of our money.

    Save your energy trying to “prove” Wind Turbines don’t work……they are a “red herring”…..spend your time finding the “crime” that is being committed by Industry and Government

  3. In support of what Quixote is saying check an article from Jon Boone at:
    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.wind08mar08,0,5852449.story
    The pieces of junk we call industrial wind turbines are nothing but an attempt to make us pay for what would be an ugly wasteful industrial image. Not many people think it is great to pay more for nothing. Some people hate industrial wind turbines enough to use them as target practice as reported at: http://www.wind-watch.org/news/2010/05/30/wind-farm-scare-has-workers-on-edge/

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