Apr 12: A Conversation on the Health Impacts of Wind Energy
Currents Spring 2012 Newsletter
Editor’s note: Mass Energy strongly supports wind power because it’s the most affordable zero-emission energy source available at the scale we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.Our extensive experience with local turbines has shown us that they can be sited in harmony with residents and wildlife. However, there is an ongoing public discussion about what types of permitting standards should be put in place for wind projects. The following article is about that discussion.
The Patrick administration has set some ambitious goals for wind power generation. This has some residents very concerned about the possible health impacts of these turbines. Can you briefly outline these concerns?
SW: I think we can group these concerns into 3 main categories. The first includes structural failure of the turbine or ice throw from the blades. Second is flicker, which occurs when moving blades pass between the sun and an observer. And the third is noise, either as a source of annoyance or something that has a direct health impact.
To address these concerns, the Mass Department of Environmental Protection put together an independent panel of scientists and doctors. What did they conclude?
SW: They drew separate conclusions for each category. For structural failure and ice throw, the panel made common sense recommendations for wind turbine setbacks that minimize risks. We should note however that those problems are extremely rare. For flicker, the panel concluded that spinning blades on large turbines cannot result in an epileptic seizure. It also found that best practices indicate that 30 hours per year of exposure to flicker is a reasonable limit— if it occurs at all (as in many cases, flicker is a non-issue). As far as noise, they did not find evidence of a direct link between wind turbine noise and adverse health impacts.
Does this close the book on these issues?
SW: There will continue to be discussions about how much flicker a resident should be asked to tolerate, but at least that is easy to model before a turbine is built. Th ere will continue to be discussions on noise, which is the most subjective and the hardest to model. Th e challenge will be separating legitimate complaints from those who have vocal, but ill-informed, objections. Ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interest to site turbines in places that will have minimal impact. From Mass Energy’s experience working closely with more than a dozen local turbines, community reactions to the turbines have been positive. That is why we like to have turbine tours—so that our members can hear for themselves and talk to people they know.