By Paul Breschuk, Features Editor
University of Windsor Lance
Instead of jumping at the chance to make some easy money, Colette McLean sat back and asked questions. She started with the energy company that initially approached her, asking about the impacts of installing a wind turbine on her Harrow farm. The company could not guarantee who would pay for the eventual decommissioning costs, or who would cover the damage done to her farm by a possible oil leak or structural failure. Nor were any assurances made regarding the turbine’s impact property value.
Unsatisfied by this, she began her own research, finding local watchdog internet groups as well as talking with residents who live with wind turbines. For McLean, the common theme was, “they are not worth it.”
While the sentiment was not completely universal, stories of families being chased from their homes were enough to sway her against installing a wind turbine. Her fear of sinking property value was also validated, with houses near wind turbines becoming real estate dead zones.
“It has already happened in other areas,” said McLean. “Up in Amaranth, a real estate agent showed that the average home value decreased by 40 percent after three years of operation. And it took twice as long for many of these houses to be sold.”
More shocking, however, was the sense of desperation these residents were exhibiting. The pain was obviously coming from somewhere deeper, past their pocketbooks.
“With some of these people I have talked to across Ontario, it is hard to say they are not suffering. People are crying. They do not know how to get the situation resolved. When people need to leave their homes in order to get some respite, that is a problem,” said McLean.
Clearly, these homeowners were fleeing from something more disturbing than just mere annoyance. Wind farms were obviously diminishing their quality of life and affecting their health. But it was happening in ways they could not understand.
It took the work of Dr. Nina Pierpont, a John Hopkins trained M.D., to offer a scientific perspective which gave credence to these sufferers. In her 2009 report, Wind Turbine Syndrome, she proved causality between wind farms and the adverse health of nearby residents.
Aside from the report’s off-putting title, as anything ending in “syndrome” is a red flag to the skeptics of our over-diagnosed age, Pierpont makes clear the dangers of living close to a wind turbine. Her case studies are filled with complaints of sleep disturbance, vertigo, fatigue, and a slew of other problems.
Initial blame for these adverse reactions was leveled against wind turbine noise, often a loud and unnatural “whooshing” sound compared to that of a jet engine. And while it was at least conceivable that this could occasionally irritate residents, the cause for the more debilitating health effects was, oddly enough, an inaudible one.
Multiple independent studies have found the turbine noise to contain unusually high levels of very low frequency sound, or infrasound. This type of sound is not heard by the ears, but felt in different parts of the body as vibrations or pressures.
Earplugs, then, offer no protection. Nor does retreating inside your house on windy days. In fact, the negative effects of wind turbine infrasound are actually increased when experienced indoors. This is caused by the walls of the house acting as conductors, trapping in the vibrations which eventually make people sick.
Eric Rosenbloom, President of National Wind Watch, has seen the effects this has had on families living near wind turbines.
“The low frequency aspect of the noise often resonates inside a house forcing some people to sleep outside in a tent,” said Rosenbloom. “The rhythmic low frequency noise makes some people sick, attested to most dramatically by those who have abandoned their homes. When they leave the area, their symptoms abate. When they return, the symptoms resume. There is no doubt about the cause.”
Carmen Krogh, retired pharmacist and founding member of the Society for Wind Vigilance, has also witnessed the surprising, disruptive effects.
“Some sleep in cars, tents, trailers at the back of their property, or with friends and relatives. Some have safe houses,” said Krogh. “Parents report children getting nose bleeds, headaches, and sleep disturbance. Vomiting, ear pain, and balance issues are also reported.”
Another problem occurs when the sun is setting behind a wind turbine, creating what is known as “shadow flicker.” During these times, shadows from the blades streak across one’s property, causing the sun to act like a giant strobe light. This disorienting effect makes it difficult for anyone to remain outdoors. Instead, the home owners must bunker themselves inside, drawing the blinds and turning on lights until the tortuous affair is complete.
For many, however, the deterioration of home life becomes too extreme to bear. Krogh explained how some families have been billeted in other homes for up to six or more months at the wind developer’s expense. Though, for those who would rather lose out economically than face the prolonged health burden, they have agreed to property buyouts by the developer. The buyouts, however, come with a gag order.
Rosenbloom maintains that the wind energy companies are not exactly friends of the environment.
“BP, of course, is a major wind developer. And the spokesman for mid-Atlantic wind developers, Frank Maisano, is a longtime anti regulatory coal lobbyist. The largest turbine manufacturer in the U.S. is GE which is hardly known to be full of green warriors. Even Halliburton’s Kellogg Brown and Root division is at the forefront of offshore wind construction,” said Rosenbloom.
Regarding wind turbines, other environmental concerns include the destruction of large sections of forest and wetlands, invasive industrialization of undeveloped rural and wild areas, disruption of bird migration routes, increased runoff, and the loss and fragmentation of habitat.
“Because of the intermittency and variability of the wind, conventional power plants must be kept running at full capacity to meet the actual demand for electricity,” said Rosenbloom. “Most cannot simply be turned on and off as the wind dies and rises, and the quick ramping up and down of those that can would actually increase their output of pollution and carbon dioxide CO2, the primary greenhouse gas.”
Wind energy, no matter how many turbines are built, will always require the burning of natural gas.
In a 2004 report written by Dr. J.T. Rogers, professor-emeritus at Carlton’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, he writes, “The low intensity of wind power results in a requirement for many large wind turbines to generate any significant power.” Based on his data, he suggests that for wind to match coal energy in Ontario, wind farms “would require a total area of about 1,900 square kilometers, about three times the size of metropolitan Toronto.”
Many opponents to wind energy see it as nothing more than an opportunistic cash grab that will hurt the economy and the taxpayers more than it helps the environment.
“It is all about making money. A handful of developers are making big bucks off the taxpayers’ backs while the farmers that sign up make a little money too,” said McLean as she worriedly eyes up the turbines dotting the horizon. She is especially concerned with the three turbines located within a kilometer from her home, the closest being 645 meters from her back door.
The supporters of residential wind turbines have clearly accepted the sacrifice of the few for the benefit of the many. Colette McLean and her neighbours are that few.
They are the collateral damage in the green war. And unfortunately, there is also a war of ideas which forces them to swim like salmon up the backwards current of public opinion. If only that current’s energy could be diverted and processed through a green hydro station instead of a wind farm.
“Green is the new religion and people just want to do something positive,” said McLean. “These [turbines] are really great visuals that trick us into believe something positive is being done. But this also leads to a reluctance to think critically, thus causing the benefits of wind to become widely and irresponsibly overstated.”