by Scott Learn, The Oregonian
Oregon has boosted wind energy projects with a vengeance in recent years, adopting a renewable power standard and tax breaks that have helped spread wind farms across the state’s northern reaches and into eastern Oregon.
Now comes the Oregon Public Health office, which announced Thursday that it’s embarking on a public health assessment of wind farms, kicking off with three “listening sessions” next month in LaGrande, Pendleton and Arlington to hear residents’ health concerns tied to the spinning blades.
The health issues are part of a broader backlash in Oregon and nationwide from critics who complain of negative impacts on scenery, property values, wildlife and tourism.
The growing number of wind farms has led to more complaints about their health effects, said Sujata Joshi, an epidemiologist in the environmental public health office. Health concerns raised to date focus on noise and vibration generated by the huge turbines.
The assessment will start with the listening sessions, but also include a review of health studies and talks with a steering committee that will include wind farm developers, community members, the state Department of Energy and Oregon’s energy facility siting council, which oversees new wind farm locations.
“With any development, you start learning more about potential concerns as more people start experiencing it,” Joshi said. “Our goal now is to hear what people have to say, and see if we can find solutions that work for communities and for the state’s goals.”
Wind farm critics cite work done by New York physician Nina Pierpoint who coined the term “wind turbine syndrome” to describe effects — such as headaches, dizziness and memory loss — of living near the machines. Industry representatives say they haven’t seen solid research linking wind turbines and negative health effects.
In May, Morrow County’s planning commission voted to give owners of the 72-megawatt Willow Creek farm six months to comply with state noise regulations. In November, Union County voters will vote thumbs up or down on the proposed Antelope Ridge Wind farm, though the vote is only advisory to the county commission. Supporters say the projects bring jobs, healthy lease payments to land owners who host the turbines and carbon-free electricity.
Oregon’s renewable power standard requires Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp to obtain 25 percent of their energy from new renewable sources by 2025. A more aggressive standard in California has also driven fast-paced wind farm development in Oregon.
Joshi said she’s not sure yet when the health office will complete its work. Updates will be posted at www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/hia/windenergy.shtml, which also includes details of the sessions on Nov.3 and 4.