Wind farms are running into opposition from private property owners throughout the world. And it is not just a problem of blighting the view. Nor are the environmental hazards restricted to the “Cuisinart” effect on migratory birds.
The most obvious problem is the noise pollution. The upper limit of allowable sound measured 100 ft in front of a locomotive is 98 dB (A), where the “A” refers to sound audible to human beings. The Vestas 1 .8-MW wind turbine generates 95.6 dB (A) 10 m above the ground at the tower, at a wind speed of 4 m/s. At a wind speed >8 m/s, the sound level is 103.5 dB (A) (The Energy Advocate, November 2010).
According to the British Wind Energy Association, the sound produced by a wind turbine generating electricity, outside of the nearest houses, which are at least 300 m away, is comparable to that of a flowing stream 50 m away or “leaves rustling in a gentle breeze.” Yet the noise is widely reported to be more annoying than that from airplanes, roadways, and railways. This is because the sound from wind turbines has very high levels of low-frequency infrasound inaudible to the human ear, suggests Alec Salt of the Cochlear Fluids Research Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis. The assumption that humans are unaffected by sounds they can’t hear is incorrect, he states. The outer hair cells of the cochlea are stimulated by low frequency sounds at up. to 40 dB below the level that is heard.
Infrasound has been used in Sweden in a nonlethal weapon for riot control. The infrasound from air-conditioning systems has been implicated as a cause of sick building syndrome (S.S.). Infrasound affects the vestibular system, causing symptoms resembling seasickness, accompanied by headache, dizziness, and “deep nervous fatigue.” It can affect ocular reflexes, causing nystagmus; spinal reflexes, causing tremors; and autonomic reflexes, causing shortness of breath. In the 1970s, army physiologists carried out studies on how long military personnel could perform their duties under conditions of high levels of infrasound, as in a tank, the engine room of a ship, or a space capsule, but results are secret, writes Claude. Regard of the Naval College & Military School of the Fleet (France).
The wind turbine syndrome also includes sleep problems, irritability, and depression. The variable audible noise results in frequent awakenings or arousals, which may not be remembered. The disruption of sleep prevents the proper laying down and storage of memory. It is also associated with an increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Arousals during slow wave sleep may trigger parasomnias (sleepwalking, night terrors), reports Dr. Christopher Nanning, an expert in sleep disorders.
Persons especially vulnerable to wind turbine syndrome include elderly, young children, children with developmental disabilities (especially autism spectrum disorders), and migraine sufferers.
There is also a vibroacoustic disease, which has been studied mostly in aviation workers. Different parts of the body, especially the chest and skull, have differing resonance frequencies’, writes Dr. Nina Pierpont. Air pressure (sound) waves of certain wavelengths resonate within these closed spaces, setting up vibrations to which the body responds by reinforcing soft tissue with extra collagen, which could cause thickening of the pericardium and cardiac valves, fibrosis of the lungs, and proliferation of glial cells in the brain.
Because of its long wavelength, infrasound is attenuated much less than audible sound, and diffraction by obstacles such as trees and bushes is much reduced. Thus it propagates over much longer distances. It can travel over hills, and is reflected by temperature inversion zones. This explains why the explosion of Mount St. Helens was felt all over the world, and how elephants can communicate with each other over tens of kilometers thanks to the temperature inversion zone that forms between sunset and sunrise.
Still another problem is shadow flicker, or a strobe effect. Some people lose their balance or experience symptoms of seasickness. Like other flashing lights, the strobe effect can trigger seizures in persons with epilepsy.
Some people are so severely affected that they abandon their homes. In Germany, real estate agents report a 20% to 30% loss of value for property within sight of wind farms. In some places in the U.S., wind turbines may render nearby property unsalable. A study of the proposed Cape Wind project in Massachusetts concluded that the total property value loss of about $1 .35 billion would exceed the $800 million cost of construction.
Animals may be even more severely affected by the sound from turbines, especially the low-frequency sounds. The animal kingdom relies upon a wide range of sound frequencies inaudible to humans. Basic survival functions including hunting, self-protection, and reproduction are impaired, and habitat may be abandoned. The irreversible destruction of habitat may be even more serious than collision mortality for birds. Livestock businesses are destroyed: hens stop laying; cattle exhibit aggressive, destructive behavior; sheep have disturbed respiration and reduced feeding. In Taiwan, 400 goats died after eight wind turbines were installed nearby, apparently because they couldn’t sleep.
Although the wind industry has often stated that “there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating wind turbines have an adverse effect on human health,” the evidence is indeed accumulating. John Droz, Jr., notes that North Carolina mandates no human health review for a wind project, though the impact on birds is reviewed. He provides a wealth of information at www.WindPowerFacts.info.
The “dirty” electricity produced by the turbines may also be harmful. The output from the inverters is contaminated with a lot high-frequency transients, which cause “radio wave sickness” symptoms that disappear on leaving the area. Radio, TV, and satellite dish reception is also impaired (Canada Free Press 4/28/09).
Wind energy has substantially raised the cost of electricity everywhere it is installed. The goal, of course, is to reduce CO2 emissions. But as even the Green Party has recognized, 20,000 turbines in Germany, the world’s leader in total wind energy capacity, have reduced CO2 by not a single gram (Der Spiegel 2/1 1/09). In fact, because of the inefficient use of gas turbines as spinning reserves to cope with the variability of wind-power output, emissions may actually increase (D. White, Renewable Energy Foundation, December 2004). The largest theoretical reduction in CO2 emissions from wind, compared with coal or gas, is 10%, since traditional power stations with 90% of the total capacity of wind must be online at all times to assure continuous power- (Inhaber H. Rénewabre Sustainable Energy Rev 201 1;15:25572562).
Turbulence from wind turbines, causing vertical mixing of heat in atmospheric layers, might even affect local temperatures and rainfall (Nature 12/23-30/10).
World investment in ‘clean” energy was $243 billion in 2010, a 630% growth in finance and investments since 2004, according to the Pew Environmental Group (TWTW 6/25/1 1). The U.S. is winning the wind race with China, having installed 8.5 GWe (nameplate) of wind capacity in 2008, versus 4.7 GWe for China. But China is not running that race; it is, instead, installing affordable, dependable energy for the prosperity of its citizens (TWTW 1 1/20/10, http://www.sepp.org). Wind and solar are export industries for China, and they are suffering ‘because the Europeans are running out of mad money,” writes Norman Rogers.
If the CO2 emissions reduction game doubles the cost of electricity in the U.S., the extra $300 billion is half the cost of Medicare in 2008. It would be a big savings, Rogers suggests, for the government to bribe people to stop building windmills (Amer Thinker5/1/1 1). But it’s all about political power—not human health.