You can now get ‘wind turbine syndrome’ from solar panels and batteries

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Wind turbine syndrome all over again? As solar + storage threaten power incumbents, the renewables industry should prepare for a new health scare campaign.

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As I’ve expected for some time, there’s a new effort to create and propagate health fears around solar power, given the rapid decrease in costs, and the rising threat it poses to incumbent generators like coal and gas. It’s going to take precisely the same shape as the campaign around wind farms, and unless we think deeply about the necessary ingredients for this type of techno-panic to flourish, it’s going to last just as long, and cause just as much harm.

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There’s a looming and embryonic anti-solar campaign brewing. There’s already an established industry of fear around electromagnetism, so I thought the campaign would centre around this. But, as always, the ceiling of ludicrousness sits higher than I thought: there are now ‘concerns’ about noise emissions, specifically infrasound and low-frequency noise, from………solar panels.

Two proposed American solar projects, Tierra del Sol and Rugged Solar, have received expressions of ‘concern’ during the planning process, around the impacts of infrasound – very low frequency noise, inaudible to humans, allegedly the primary cause of ‘wind turbine syndrome’.

newberry

A generic anti-renewable energy group (curiously named “Backcountry Against Dumps and Donna Tisdale”) wield a broad array of documents explaining the dangers of solar power, and the Tierra del Sol project. This letter, penned in thick legalese, states that:

“The FPEIR’s amended discussion of the Project’s low-frequency noise and infrasound (“ILFN”) emissions still fails. FPEIR 2.6-59 to 2.6-60; FPEIR Response to Comments O10_63 35 to O10_65. The conclusion that “no health effects are anticipated to occur due to low frequency noise associated with the Proposed Project” is based entirely on a court decision that is currently being appealed and is therefore not final, and subject to change. FPEIR 2.6-60. The County’s reliance on this non-scientific conclusion ignores the growing body of evidence that ILFN impacts human health.

Furthermore, the FPEIR completely fails to analyze the ILFN impacts from the newly added energy storage system that was not discussed in the DPEIR. FPEIR AIS.0-1, AIS.0-12 to AIS.0-14; FPEIR AIS 3 (Addendum: Acoustical Assessment Report), pp. 1-13. Acoustical engineer Rick James details additional County failures to analyze noise impacts from the energy storage system in his January 15, 2015 “Comments on Soitec Solar Acoustical Assessment Reports for Tierra del Sol and Rugged Solar Related to Proposed Energy Storage Facility,” which comments are incorporated fully by reference herein. In order to foster informed decision making, as CEQA requires, these impacts must be analyzed in detail, and the EIR recirculated for public review. CEQA Guidelines §§ 15088.5, 15144; Vineyard, 40 Cal.4th at 428″

These ‘concerns’ are included in the standard shotgun-scatter of complaints about noise, fire risk, visual impact, cost, and a vast array of other complaints. Donna Tisdale, of that same group, has a generic powerpoint presentation, which includes ominous warnings about electromagnetic radiation from solar farms:

powerpoint2

powerpoint1

So, there you have it. Concerns, and a response to concerns. A technical consultant was hired to measure infrasound and low-frequency noise at a comparable solar facility – the Newberry solar project, pictured earlier. The technical addendum can be read here, and the full report can be read here.

I made their infrasound measurements into two charts – the first is ‘weighted’ – ie, put through a formula to properly reflect the response of the human ear, and the second is ‘unweighted’ – just the raw measurements of sound pressure:

g-weighted unweighted

So, should anyone near a solar farm be quaking in fear? Well, no. The threshold of perception for infrasound is around 85 dBG (remember, that doesn’t apply to the ‘linear’ version). As you can see in the first chart, no noise measurements go anywhere near that level. The report says:

“The G-weighted noise measurement data in Table 1 indicates that measured ILFN equipment noise levels ranged from 55 dBG (Xantrex GT500 Inverter measurement 9, at 50 feet) to 62 dBG (transformer and cooling cabinet at 25 feet). When normalized to a distance of 50 feet assuming an attenuation rate of 6 dB per doubling of distance, however, the expected sound pressure level would be approximately 56 dBG. Thus, even at a relatively near distance (far nearer than a resident or other noise-sensitive receiver would be located), the G-weighted noise levels were found to be well under the audibility threshold of 85 dBG used by environmental protection agencies in Australia and Denmark”

There’s also the same exasperated, almost despairing repetition of the point that infrasound is basically everywhere:

“Virtually every piece of mechanical equipment emits infrasound, including traffic, air
conditioners, refrigerators, surf, our own hearts and wind. Typical infrasound exposure levels for people who live in cities are approximately 50-65 dBG most of the time due to traffic, air conditioning, heating fans, subways and air traffic”

And, despite the report, an acoustician (who’s previously expressed concern about infrasound from wind turbines, and testified on behalf of wind farm opponents) has criticised the report, and is attempting to raise further concerns about infrasound from this solar project.

So why is the ‘wind turbine syndrome’ myth being applied to large-scale solar projects? The root cause is the same as with wind farms, and it has nothing to do with the technology, or actual measurements of noise. No quantity of measurements will ever be sufficient to convince solar farm opponents that the noise levels aren’t a threat, and those who add a pseudoscientific sheen to the rhetoric of fear won’t ever be required to bring forward evidence to support their claims.

Essentially, it’s about sentiment, and involvement, and control, and psychology. We’re complex, but in this regard, it’s fairly easy to predict how we’re going to respond to big projects that we feel left out of. What worries me here is that we let this pattern repeat, and that dedicated anti-renewable energy groups travel to projects, and fill them with fear and anxiety about renewable energy, whatever the type. If large-scale clean energy projects aren’t build in a different way, we’ll end up with a decade of ‘solar power syndrome’, filled with senate inquiries, stern and concerned health authorities, and a raft of public voices calling for more research.

This article was originally published on Ketan Joshi’s blog, Some Air. Republished here with permission.

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31 Comments
  1. Steve159 4 years ago

    I was talking just yesterday to someone who’s anti wind farms, and who believes they present a serious health hazard.

    I said, “okay, what about solar, does that present any health issues?” to which he replied, “no.”

    Then I said, “what’s a bet that as large scale solar becomes cheaper and clearly undercuts coal, you’ll start to see Alan Jones, Tony Abbott and co going on about the ugliness and adverse health issues of large scale solar”.

    They’re already complaining about wind, and house-hold solar (because they’re adversely impacting the coal investments of their mates).

    Abbott and co recently were championing large scale solar because there’s little of it. But as large-scale solar starts being installed, watch how they’ll ramp up the ugliness and health issues from large solar farms.

    • john 4 years ago

      I do remember reading about a legal action taken over a solar farm due to it spoiling the ambience for one of the near by residents.

      • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

        Their rights to a view are not even as good as their (very limited) rights to the land. Assuming the infrasound argument was a dud, the aggressors must have some kind of narcissistic disorder.

        • john 4 years ago

          Very possibly however I feel their basic objection was ideological as is this whole situation.
          Either you are a taker or a giver.
          A person who does not care or some one who does it is that simple

    • Clayton Drury 4 years ago

      What was the response from the person who is anti wind farms to your statements solar scare campaigns?

      • Steve159 4 years ago

        He’s in lock-step agreement with the Telegraph and Alan Jones, and since neither of those have yet started on solar farms, he was undecided (i.e. as yet he hasn’t been told what to think regarding large-scale solar), but said, “well mobile phones give off EMR, as does everything electrical.”
        So I guess he left open the possibility solar farms might be “bad” (in his mind).

  2. JustThink4Once 4 years ago

    That the issue has moved from the destruction of the planet to vapid concerns about the health impacts of renewable energy speaks volumes for human stupidity. At what point does society as a whole wake up to the manipulation of reality by vested interests

    • john 4 years ago

      Not very shortly because the whole view point of people is being fed with information every day by different outlets perhaps a read of 1984 is in order.

      • JustThink4Once 4 years ago

        I persuaded my wife to read 1984 and she’s never looked at the world the same way again 🙂
        The funny thing is Orwell wrote it as a warning, not a bloody right wing handbook!

        • john 4 years ago

          Do not be surprised if 1984 will be used to say that some energy saving idea is from 1984.
          We honestly are witness to the outlined message from the book how on the money was the man

  3. Alan S 4 years ago

    As the anti-renewables rants become more desperate, their implausibility becomes more apparent to the moderately intelligent person. Unfortunately our PM and sycophants don’t fit that category.

  4. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    If anything the use of solar distributed energy, (as alternative to centralised generation and reticulation) actually reduces EMR in the ether, not increase it.

    • Steve159 4 years ago

      Exactly — the EMR from high power transmission lines can literally light up a flourescent tube if hand-held in the vacinity.

      Not so from relatively low-powered solar installation.

      • john 4 years ago

        I was speaking to a worker recently who received a shock by dragging a copper power line past a high voltage power line so yes EMF will induce an electron flow.
        If anyone had an old Am radio and drove under a power line they would have noticed the sudden change in the reception that is EMF

  5. john 4 years ago

    If this complaint is to be taken to its logical conclusion then every built article has to be flattened then ear plugs inserted to block out noise from the wind around a persons head quote from complaint.

    “Virtually every piece of mechanical equipment emits infrasound, including traffic, air
    conditioners, refrigerators, surf, our own hearts and wind. Typical infrasound exposure levels for people who live in cities are approximately 50-65 dBG most of the time due to traffic, air conditioning, heating fans, subways and air traffic”

    The sad part about this is that background infrasound drowns out the noise from these immobile structures the same as for wind turbines.
    Note how the measurement have been taken very near the equipment however in the street just how was the background noise taken into consideration.?

  6. Doug Cutler 4 years ago

    Somebody warn all those people living along the coast that wave activity also creates infrasound. Maybe they’ll all sell and we can snap up some bargain beachfront.

    • john 4 years ago

      Remember to buy extremely effective ear plugs first Doug.

  7. John P 4 years ago

    I predicted years ago that eventually we would have a “problem” with “solar glare syndrome”. How am I doing so far?

    • john 4 years ago

      You were on the money as that particular aspect has gone to court.
      This however is to do with infrasound caused by wind going around structures which are trees building hills you name it.

      • John P 4 years ago

        In other words, ‘you can’t win’.

        • john 4 years ago

          Actually it is not about winning it is about Education of which I am afraid it seems there is a sad locking

  8. hippygreenieleftie 4 years ago

    Beyond ridiculous and wholly predictable!
    If our prime nincompoop adds this to his fact-file it’s proof positive that he’s certifiably mad.

  9. Pedro 4 years ago

    Perhaps it is time for the RE industry to fund a scientific study around the infrasound levels, land contamination and particulates around coal mines, fossil fuel generators and look for disease clusters in those area’s. Would make an interesting counter point.

    • john 4 years ago

      Yes high levels of infrasoud

    • Vic 4 years ago

      There’s already disease clusters around those areas for reasons totally unrelated to infrasound. The Donna Tisdales and Sarah Lauries of the world would use your proposed study to further muddy the waters.

  10. Bungarra 4 years ago

    What about the noise from large transformers in our electricity systems now? They sing at 50Hz. Of course they would be noisy in the EMR bands as well.

    On a similar note, there is some speculation and R&D using the same modifications that owls use to fly silently, to minimize noise from wind turbines. Initial reports are optimistic. Then I suppose quite blades would kill more birds so there is the next scare.

  11. Colin Nicholson 4 years ago

    Most of the arguments about ILFN has been the association between fear of earthquake, and some primitive reaction. It is more prevalent in animals, which is why you see all those cows rubbing themselves on the towers, and the cattle dogs fast asleep under them

  12. Barri Mundee 4 years ago

    All part of the propaganda war by threatened vested interests.

  13. Les Johnston 4 years ago

    I think the elephant in the room is dark energy. This causes untold effects on the idle mind.

  14. Fool2242 4 years ago

    It would be good to see environmentalists remind everyone of the health benefits of coal, coal fired power stations and nuclear energy 🙂

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