More positive developments on wind turbine sound

The last few weeks have been busy ones on wind turbine sound, with new developments continuing to cast doubt on anti-wind groups' claims.Perhaps the most telling is a new study from Canada's Pembina Institute, looking at wind farm complaints (or rather, the lack of wind farm complaints) in the province of Alberta, where some of the earliest wind farms in Canada were installed.

In a blog post about the study, Pembina's Benjamin Thibault explains, "[U]nlike some parts of the country, we don’t tend to hear much about [wind power in Alberta], so my colleagues and I wondered whether, in fact, we were just missing something."


In fact, it turned out, while the Alberta Utilities Commission, which regulates electricity in the province, has a 13-year-old database with the records of 31,000 contacts from members of the public, not one of those 31,000 contacts has been about the sound of operating wind turbines. That's a very striking finding, but it lends credence to the work of Australian Prof. Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney, who has a pending study finding that complaints about turbine sound in Australia are heavily focused on areas where anti-wind groups have been conducting public campaigns.

Pembina researchers went further to unearth evidence of complaints, Mr. Thibault says, contacting:

"- Operators of existing wind energy projects;
– Municipalities (municipal districts and counties) where operating wind energy projects are located;
– Local and provincial health authorities; and
– Municipal agricultural fieldmen."

The results?

"The operators of the wind farms did report some complaints during operations, noting eight unique complaints, most of which were resolved noise complaints (five), along with a few generalized complaints about wind energy broadly.

"Only three complaints about operating wind farms came to the seven Alberta municipalities with wind energy projects: one about ice throw that was investigated and dismissed, one about the density of wind turbines offering a terrorism opportunity, and one about noise, which was referred to the operator.

"No more complaints were found with the health contacts surveyed (two regional health inspectors covering municipal districts with over half of Alberta’s wind energy) or the livestock contacts (five agricultural fieldmen also covering the majority of the experience)."

In other news:

The co-owner of the largest wind farm in Australia, AGL Energy Ltd., released the results of a voluntarily commissioned, detailed study of infrasound and low-frequency sound emissions at its facility. The study, conducted by consulting firm Resonate Acoustics, measured infrasound and low-frequency sound levels at two residences located 1.1 and 1.7 miles from the wind farm–before any turbines were operating, when 105 turbines were operating, and when all 140 machines were running. It found the infrasound and low-frequency sound levels unchanged.

Prof. Chapman has uploaded a 26-minute video entitled "12 things you need to know about wind farms and health" to YouTube. The video, of a lecture by Prof. Chapman for a conference of health officers from the state of Victoria, briefly summarizes the paper mentioned earlier and some of the findings of his work, including:

– Wind farms are widespread have been around for many years, but there were no complaints about health effects until 2002, with a large increase (in Australia) in 2009 after anti-wind groups began focusing on the topic.
– While anti-wind groups claim that impacts are immediate and long-term, no complaints have been raised about many (65 percent) of the wind farms on the continent.
– The number of individuals complaining to date is 129, or approximately 1 of 254 of all residents within 5 kilometers of wind farms.
– Some of the most typical complaints ascribed to turbine sound, such as high blood pressure and difficulty sleeping, are common among the broader Australian population regardless of the proximity of wind farms.
– Millions of people live in areas with higher levels of sound, including the inaudible infrasound some blame for a variety of ailments (common sources of infrasound include waves, motors, storms and the human circulatory system).

Ketan Joshi, a research and communications officer at Infigen Energy, an Australian wind farm developer, is featured in a radio interview with ABC Australia News, in which he discusses the problem of pseudoscience as applied to wind turbine sound and other phenomena: "Far from the fringe paranoia often attributed to people who believe wind turbines are doing them harm, we mostly see honest individuals who have been taken in by a calculated campaign, designed to exploit several key vulnerabilities of the way we perceive danger." Mr. Joshi talks about how he himself has personally experienced such concerns (e.g., about using his cell phone) and the strong tendency, called "confirmation bias," for people to unconsciously select perceptions that conform to their opinions.

Mr. Joshi also has a new blog post on work that is being done to develop a computer program that will allow people to hear very accurate representations of wind turbine sounds. After seeing the program in action himself, he concludes: "It’s an established truth that experiences are more memorable than numbers. When was the last time you decided that a light was bright by measuring its luminosity? You didn’t–you looked at it through your own trusted (and well-tested) machinery of perception. I suspect it’s very much the same with the experience of sound. If we’re told of a decibel output, it’s not really that memorable. But if we can experience an accurate representation of wind farm noise ourselves, it sticks with us.

"Visiting a wind farm is great, and you get to experience it first hand, but you’re limited to one wind speed, and one wind direction. This ‘Auralisation’ tool seems to be able to accurately represent a variety of conditions, and I think the engineers at Arup deserve some credit for the rigour they've put into the science behind it."

Photo credit: Drop via Pixabay

Useful articles on the nocebo effect:

New Yorker blog, "The Nocebo Effect: How We Worry Ourselves Sick"
Media Matters for America blog, "NPR Gives Wind Power Hypochondriacs a Platform"
Slate, "Can Wind Turbines Make You Sick?"
The Conversation, "How the power of suggestion generates wind farm symptoms"

Related articles:

When medical practitioners mislead: Trio targets family doctors with bad information, May 30, 2013
Opinion: Health effects of wind towers hyped by media, May 28, 2013
Falmouth votes to keep turbines; Australian sound study confirms others, May 24, 2013
Wind farm neighbors stressed, but it's not the turbines, April 21, 2013
New Yorker explains nocebo effect, NPR airs junk science, April 8, 2013
Science: Anti-wind groups appear to spread illnesses they complain of, March 21, 2013
Ontario resident's personal testimony: 'Anti-wind groups make me sick', March 13, 2013
GMP reports on Kingdom Community Wind sound levels, March 5, 2013
South Australia study finds infrasound from wind farms not a concern, February 4, 2013
Science proves that wind energy is safe for Wisconsin, January 9, 2013
Ontario tribunal turns down anti-wind appeal, December 26, 2012
Reason trumps fear in Australian debate on wind energy and sound, December 5, 2012
Nissenbaum paper on turbine sound recycles claims on wind energy and health already found inadequate by courts and expert panel, November 16, 2012
Negative oriented personality traits and wind turbine sound, November 2, 2012
Quality of research on wind farms published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, September 25, 2012
Wind energy associations: Wind 'one of safest forms of electricity', July 30, 2012
'Say No to Wind Turbines'–and Yes to ?, July 25, 2012
Fact check: On turbine sound, it's Bryce vs. science, July 24, 2012
Fourteen wind energy myths debunked, June 20, 2012
Wind turbines not a threat to human health, another study finds, May 31, 2012
Fact check: Lomborg lacking on wind's economics, emissions reductions, March 23, 2012
Public opinion watch: Ontarians: Wind power one of safest forms of electricity generation, March 6, 2012
Opinion: Wind turbines are good for our health, March 2, 2012
Review of wind turbine sound studies gives debate needed balance, February 28, 2012
Anti-wind-farm ‘astroturfers’ in Australia, February 27, 2012
NBC4's 'iReporter' lacks context on wind turbine sound, February 14, 2012
Fact check: Bryce misleads again on land, sound, resource use, January 31, 2012
Despite science, wind turbine sound sparks discussion in Wisconsin, January 30, 2012
Massachusetts clears wind of health effects after independent experts review evidence, January 20, 2012
Opinion: Dr. W. David Colby: Turbines and health, December 2, 2011
Canadian researchers: No direct link between wind turbines and health, November 29, 2011
Wind power: A quiet solution to climate change, June 27, 2011
Sierra Club Canada 1.1: Time to confront anti-wind fear campaign, June 15, 2011
Environmental Defence (Canada): 'No basis' for health impact claims, June 6, 2011
Sierra Club Canada: Time to confront anti-wind disinformation campaign, June 3, 2011
WINDPOWER report: New study finds minimal low-frequency and infrasound impact from wind turbines, May 25, 2011
Does the sound of money soothe Wind Turbine Syndrome?, April 25, 2011
WHO guidelines on sound are … guidelines, March 28, 2011
Scientists, doctor weigh in on wind and health, November 30, 2010
Wind turbine sound: The neighbors speak, March 18, 2010
Expert panel concludes wind turbine sounds not harmful to human health, December 15, 2009


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