Wind turbine syndrome? Not in Europe

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Wind power is forging ahead in Europe, its people seemingly 
unaffected by any 
health 
effects. So what’s really going on with Australia’s wind industry?


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Around
 the 
world,
 governments,
 academics
 and
 professional
 groups 
have
 conducted
 at 
least 
17 
independent
 reviews 
of
 the
 claims 
of `wind
 turbine
 syndrome’ 
(WTS) 
which 
have 
been 
made
 by 
opponents 
of 
wind
 power.

Although 
the 
syndrome
 is 
claimed
 to
 involve 
a 
range 
of
 health
 disorders,
 including
 dizziness,
 memory 
problems,
 tinnitus 
and 
headaches, 
all 
17
 reviews
 have 
concluded 
that
 there
 is
 no 
convincing 
evidence 
that
 turbine
 noise
 directly 
causes 
health
 problems, 
apart
 from 
annoyance.

European
 studies 
indicate
 that
 between 
5 
and
 20 per cent 
of 
people 
living
 near
 wind
 farms
 can
 be 
annoyed
 to 
varying 
degrees 
by 
turbine
 noise.
 However,
 they
 also
 note
 that
 annoyance 
increases 
significantly 
if 
the
 turbines
 are
 in
 line 
of 
sight,
 if 
the
 complainants 
are
 not
 actually 
hosting 
turbines 
on
 their
 land 
(at 
around
 $7,000
 each)
 and 
if
 they
 believe 
the
 authorities 
have 
treated 
them
 unfairly.

What
 puzzled 
me 
some
time
 after 
I 
returned
 from
 a
 study
 tour
 of 
Germany in
 2006
 was
 that
 the
 claims
 about
 adverse
 health 
effects
 were
 being
 made
 in
 North
 America
 and
 Australia 
but 
not, 
it
 seemed,
 in
 Germany 
and 
Denmark
, where
 the
 industry
 first 
started
 and
 where 
population
 density
 and
 the
 number 
of
 turbines 
– over 
25,000 
in 
the
 two
 countries
 –
 is 
so 
much 
greater.
 Surely, 
if 
there 
were
 problems 
they
 would
 have
 surfaced 
in
 these
 countries.

In 
the 
absence
 of 
polling 
on
 the 
issue,
 I 
decided
 to 
seek
 several
 types
 of
 evidence. 
One
 was 
the 
opinions 
of
 politicians,
 political
 commentators,
 wind
 opponents
 and 
investors. 

Although 
none
 of
 the
 opponents 
responded,
 a
 total
 of
 10
 statements 
were 
received, 
all
 in
 broad
 agreement 
that 
health
 effects 
are
 not
 a
 significant
 issue
 in
 either
 country. 
Typical
 of
 the 
responses
 was
 that
 of
 Steen
 Gade,
 Chairman 
of 
the
 Energy 
Committee
 of
 the 
Danish
 Parliament:

“The 
opponents 
to
 wind power
 in 
Denmark 
try 
to
 raise
 the 
issue 
of 
adverse
 health
 effects
 but
 with 
little 
success. 
It 
is
 just
 not 
an 
issue
 which
 has 
achieved 
much 
traction 
in
 this
 country.
 Wind power
 has 
strong 
public
 acceptance
 and
 a
 majority
 in 
parliament
 support
 the 
expansion 
of 
wind power 
capacity.”

In
 Germany, 
a
 member 
of
 Angela
 Merkel’s
 conservative
 party,
 the
 CDU,
 wrote
 that:

“Based 
on 
meetings
 of 
the 

[CDU’s 
Environment 
and 
Economic 
Committee],
 there
 is
 hardly 
any
 or
 no
 debate 
concerning 
adverse
 health
 effects 
caused
 by 
wind
 turbines.”

And 
the 
Chief 
Whip 
of
 the 
coalition 
Alliance 
90
 Greens
 Party 
in
 the
 German
 Bundestag,
 Volker
 Beck,
 said
 simply
 that:

“Health 
effects 
are 
currently 
no 
issue 
in
 the 
debate
 about 
wind power
 in
 Germany.”

Another
 type
 of
 evidence 
is
 provided 
by 
the 
websites
 of
 wind power
 opposition
 groups.
 Although
 there
 is
 no
 nationwide
 organisation 
of
 wind power 
groups 
in
 Germany,
 there 
is
 a
 web 
portal
 to
 which
 78 
groups
 have
 been 
linked.
 After
 putting
 aside
 the 
large
 number
 which
 have 
lapsed,
 I
was
 left
 with 
a
 total
 of
 44 
sites. 
Almost
 all
 of
 these
 sites 
are 
dominated
 by
 concerns
 about
 landscape 
and 
nature 
protection.
 As 
for
 health
 effects,
 about
 40 per cent 
of 
sites 
devote 
only
 1‐2 
lines
 to 
the 
subject 
and 
only
 three
 sites
 actually
 treat
 the
 subject 
seriously 
with
 more 
than 
a
 paragraph.
 One
 third 
of
 the 
44
 sites
 made 
no
 mention 
of
 health
 effects 
at
 all.

Why 
is
 there 
this 
profound 
disconnect 
between
 Australia,
 Canada 
and
 the
 US
 on 
the 
one 
hand 
and 
Denmark 
and 
Germany
 on 
the
 other?

There 
are
 three,
 or
 perhaps 
four,
 related
 explanations.

 Firstly,
 fears
 about
 nuclear
 safety
 and
 climate 
change
 have 
made 
Europeans 
much
 keener 
on
 renewables
 and,
 correspondingly, 
for 
the 
few
 who
 may
 be 
affected,
 much
 more 
prepared 
to 
put
 up 
with
 annoyance 
from
 noise.

 Secondly,
there
 is 
no
 powerful
 fossil
 fuel 
lobby
 in 
Germany 
or 
Denmark 
to 
stir 
up 
opposition
 to
 renewables. 

And
 thirdly,
in 
both
 countries 
farmers,
 communities 
and
 small
 economies,
not
 the 
Big 
4
 utilities,
 make
 a
 substantial
 proportion
 of
 the
 investment
 in
 wind
 power;
 this
 helps 
build
 wide 
community
 support.

A 
fourth
 possible
 reason 
has
 been 
advanced
 by
 Paul Gipe,
 the 
world’s 
most
 prolific
 author 
of
 books
 and
 articles
 on 
wind power:

“Why 
then 
are 
Germans, 
Danes,
 and
 Spaniards
 not
 falling
 by 
the 
thousands 
to
 dementia 
and
 disease?
 Are
 they
 made 
of 
sterner 
stuff?
 Or 
is 
it
 simply that
 they
 don’t 
speak 
English
 and
 can’t
 read
 all
 the
 propaganda 
fostered
 by 
the 
anti‐renewables 
lobby.
 It 
is 
the 
anti‐renewables
 lobby – it’s 
not 
just 
anti‐wind
 anymore,
 they’re 
after
 solar 
too – that 
makes 
me 
sick.”

Whatever 
the
 reasons,
 our
 policy
makers
 need
 to 
pay 
heed 
to 
what 
is
 happening
 in 
Europe.

 Wind power
 is
 forging 
ahead,
 supplying 
around
 8 per cent
 of
 electricity
 in 
Germany
 and
 20 per cent
 in
 Denmark.
 And
 it
 is
 doing
 so
 in 
an environment
 where 
the 
public
 is
 seemingly 
unaffected 
and
 unconcerned
 about
 the 
health 
effects,
 despite 
the
 fact
 that 
hundreds
 of
 thousands
 of 
people
 have
 lived
 in
 close 
proximity
 to
 turbines
 for 
decades 
now.

Neil
 Barrett
 has 
had 
a
 strong 
interest
 in
 wind
 power 
for
 many 
years.
 He 
has 
worked
 as
 an 
economist 
at 
Monash
 University
 and
 the 
former
 State
 Electricity
 Commission
 of 
Victoria
 and 
as 
the 
CEO 
and 
owner 
of
 the
 company,
Video
 Education
 Australasia
 Pty
 Ltd.

This is a summary version of the paper “Getting the wind up – Exploring the concern about adverse health effects in Australia and  Europe.” The
 complete
 paper
 can 
be
 viewed
 here.

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3 Comments
  1. George 7 years ago

    The disconnect between Europe and Australia/US lies in speaking to the people affected around wind farms and reading the reports that don’t automatically percolate down through the mainstream media.

    • George C 7 years ago

      This is unlikely to be correct. Europeans no worse at protesting or making their discontent known if there is a percieved or real injustice.

      Take for example the anti-muclear demonstrations that have taken place in Germany.

      As Neil has pointed out, if there is a lack of complaint in countries where wind turbines are far more prevalent then the clear suggestion is that “wind turbine syndrome” is just unsubstantiated scaremongering.

      And that would be suported by the lack of a satisfactory physiological mechanism that could explain how low frequency noise from wind turbines( and there are many other environmental sources ) can result in human health impacts.

  2. George 7 years ago

    What about Denmark? Have there not been riots and has not the chief accousticians spoken out against the problems of low frequency noise?

Comments are closed.

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