Community-wind developers often encounter some opposition when developing projects. It may surface as misinformed, for example, insisting that the turbines kill birds and wind farms depress land values, among other things. They are not true but the charges deserve more detailed explanations to effectively dispel them. Hence, this column and others to follow will deal with such misinformation and with the goal of a better informed populace. Here’s installment one.
Issue 1: Wind turbine syndrome or WTS, disrupts the lives of some people who live near wind turbines. The expansion of wind farms, therefore, should proceed more slowly.
The facts: The syndrome reached national attention after Nina Pierpoint self-published a non-peer reviewed book on the topic. She reported a variety of symptoms that some say keep them awake at night with a low level thumping and headaches. Others report different symptoms. Her theory is that inaudible low frequencies or infrasound, 1 to 2 Hz, activates the vestibular system and vibrates the chest. Another possibility she theorizes, is that infrasound at 4 to 8 Hz enters the mouth and lungs and disturbs the diaphragm. A definitive cause, however, remains uncertain.
The wind industry wants to address the issue at a serious level, so it hired experts to investigate the allegations and the syndrome. But before that, the industry tried engaging public-health authorities. Their disappointing response was that the affected group was too small and funds insufficient to cover the costs of an investigation. So, the industry funded a study to learn more.
Experts such as Geoff Leventhall and W. David Colby, both medical researchers have separately delved into the subject. Leventhall found the initial research flawed and unsupported by other researchers. He says WTS seems based on uncontrolled and unverified reports of nonspecific symptoms in 38 people interviewed by Pierpont. They apparently had no physical exams or diagnostic testing which might have found other causes for the symptoms. Subjects were selected for the investigation, says Leventhall, using criteria that expose extreme selection bias, leaving Pierpont’s conclusions suspect. Interested readers can hear their comments in a webinar at http://tinyurl.com/wpe-myths.
Leventhall does not dismiss WTS but concludes: “It appears there is no specific WTS but there are stress effects from low-noise levels, either high or low-frequency noise, which affects a small number of people. The audible swoosh-swoosh which, when it occurs, is the cause, not infrasound or low-frequency noise.”
Issue 2: Wind farms decrease land values.
The facts: Not true. An exhaustive scientific study done by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined land values over time and found no supporting evidence. The study by Ben Hoen and colleagues at the national lab, examined 7,390 homes surrounded by some 1,300 turbines in several states. Their report, available at http://tinyurl.com/landvalues, concludes that although, “One cannot rule out isolated cases where property values are negatively impacted, any such impacts within our sample are neither widespread nor statistically identifiable.”
Issue 3: Wind turbines kill birds.
The facts: Definitive bird studies or avian issues have cost millions of dollars, and organizations continue to spend on them. The studies often find that wind turbines have only an incidental effect on some birds. It is usually not a concern for populations for a region. In a few instances, projects did not have as much siting control before being built, and so there are a few issues. California’s Altamont pass is one. Tall buildings and cats kill more birds. Still, the issue is taken seriously and tracked, studied, and mitigated, at high cost. (Bats will be addressed in a separate column.)
Interested readers might look to the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (nationalwind.org) for its many publications regarding wind wildlife studies. Even the Audubon Society and Sierra Club have recognized the studies as valid, accept their conclusions, and acknowledge that the wind industry treats the issue seriously.
So far, bird kills have caused serious scientific concern only in the Altamont Pass, one of the first areas in the country to experience significant wind development. Over the past decade, the wind community has learned that wind farms and wildlife can and do successfully coexist. The wind industry’s overall impact on birds is extremely low (<1 of 30,000) compared to other human-related causes, such as traffic and house cats. Birds can fly into wind turbines, as they do with other tall structures. However, some also insist that conventional fuels contribute to air and water pollution that can have greater impact on wildlife and their habitat. WPE