April 06, 2014 | Graham

Environmentalists behaving badly over wind turbines?

Wind farms blight the landscape where they are erected, but apart from that, I was unsure whether they posed any real environmental, as opposed to economic, threats.

That includes environmental threats to humans.

Yet there has been a sustained campaign against wind turbines on the basis that they represent a threat to human health. In Australia this has been led by the Waubra Foundation and the Australian Environmental Foundation.

On Line Opinion has been happy to facilitate the debate and we’ve published  a number of articles suggesting detrimental health effects from turbines, including this one last week.

I haven’t been convinced by those arguing there are health issues. The research evidence is scant (which the AEF admits), and it is not unknown for people who oppose something on sentimental grounds to suddenly develop an ailment to bolster their case.

So I was interested to read this article on Principia Scientifica, a website offering open peer review: “Wind Farms and Health” written by Alun Evans, Professor Emeritus at Belfast University.

The article contains a lot of interesting links, including one to an experiment where the health of people living within 1.4 kms of a windfarm was compared to those living further away.

A recent case-control study conducted around two wind farms in New England has shown [2] that subjects living within 1.4 km of an IWT had worse sleep, were sleepier during the day, and had poorer SF36 Mental Component Scores compared to those living further than 1.4 km away. The study demonstrated a strongly significant association between reported sleep disturbance and ill health in those residing close to industrial wind turbines.

The discussion and the proposed mechanism for linking sleep disturbance to wind farms was reasonable. I was particularly impressed that rather than campaigning against wind farms altogether, Professor Evans merely suggested that they be sited further away from the nearest human habitation.

Evans also produces evidence of bad behaviour by wind farm proponents:

The wind industry has at times acted in a way that is reminiscent of the tobacco industry in the past. Recently a Vestas Powerpoint presentation from 2004 has surfaced [26] demonstrating that Vestas knew a decade ago that safer buffers were required to protect neighbours from wind turbine noise. They knew their pre-construction noise models were inaccurate and that “we know that noise from wind turbines sometimes annoys people even if the noise is below noise limits.” Some of this is due to the methods they use to measure noise. Presenting mean amplitude data means that 50% of the peak noise is disguised. In 2011 the CEO of Vestas wrote [27] to the Danish Minister of Environment admitting that it was not technically possible to produce wind turbines which produced less noise. Simiarly, we are repeatedly told that modern turbines are quieter and produce less ILFN which in reality is the reverse of the case [28].

One can compare these allegations to allegations of bad behaviour by anti-wind farm campaigners like the Waubra Foundation, contained in this Background Briefing program.

I’m not sure where this debate will end up, but there are definitely issues to settle. And in this context it is ironic to see environmentalists being accused of using the tactics of tobacco companies.

Posted by Graham at 3:52 pm | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Windfarms.
    Noiselessly and cleanly producing clean green energy.

    Comment by gil — April 7, 2014 @ 7:44 am

  2. A timely post. I certainly would never want to live within coo-ee of a wind farm. The interference with sunlight in the morning and evening must be irritating, the sight is nauseating because having only three blades the eye doesn’t see a continuous motion but a series of sharp moves, and the noise. Constant background noise is intolerable to many people, especially very low frequencies.
    I once lived on a hill on 20 acres, in peace, then one day felt rather than heard a low hum that began to drive me mad. Most people couldn’t hear it. After several years of searching the area I discovered 15 kilometres away a particle board factory that had started up a few years previously. The heavy presses were causing the rumble that travelled through the ground. I sold the place, unable to tolerate it any longer. A wind farm would drive me insane. Put them out at sea.

    Comment by Saki — April 7, 2014 @ 9:45 am

  3. Very interesting article Graham.
    To be sure, sleep deprivation has adverse health effects, compounded by the length of the deprivation, as evidenced in some shift workers.
    It has to be hard to get uninterrupted sleep during daylight hours, when the neighbors are watching surround sound tele, playing the stereo, vacuuming the floor, washing their clothes, and the machine that rattles the plumbing as it thumps and bumps its way onto the spin cycle, and the building separation can be measured in inches etc/etc!
    However, there are things that help.
    Blindfolds that eliminate the light, ear plugs that eliminate the noise and a lock on the bedroom door that eliminates the kids returning from school and can’t understand why mummy or daddy is still in bed, when he or she should be up and helping with the homework, preparing a meal or participating in some backyard game etc.
    I had a worry wort parent, who worried most intensely, when he could find nothing whatsoever to worry about?
    Perhaps those that worry about wind farms fall into that category?
    Or perhaps the whine that disturbs te most, is a spouse who, on and on, like Chinese water torture, [a droplet, that hits the very same spot a million or more times,] suspects they may be producing a magnetic field, that may result in increased cancer numbers, or a cancer cluster?
    Maybe it’s a case of worrying because the disturbed can find nothing of real concern to worry about?
    People who are able to detect a sleep disturbing whine, even when the wind doesn’t blow, and the turbines are still?
    Perhaps it’s the lack of a usual background noise that is the real problem?
    A psychosomatic sleep disturbance, not too dissimilar from the placebo effect perhaps?
    Others who see them as a visual blight, may be concerned that they lower the value of their property holdings, which is not represented, by a similar reduction in rates etc.
    My concern is the cost they add to everybody’s’ energy bill, and because of the times these things stand idly, around 65% of the time, doing nothing!
    And then make all the neighborhood dogs howl like there’s been a death in the family, when they start up again?
    Perhaps they work to the beat of the government stroke, like council workers of the not so recent past, and of repute, for the amount of time they spent rolling smokes or breastfeeding the shovel?
    Given the millions or billions on offer, I’d prefer we invested in cheaper than coal thorium, which works day and night completely independent of the wind or wave action.
    Or perhaps we should be building (Aussie innovation) bio- waste digesters, that create usable methane.
    This product could pass through a simple scrubber to be stored in bladders, to power up on demand energy systems?
    My preference would be whisper quiet ceramic fuel cells, which work nearly as well on methane as hydrogen, and produce mostly water vapor as the exhaust product!
    The energy coefficient, the amount of fuel expended for energy produced, hovers around a reported 80%, or four times better tan coal fired power, which hovers around 20%?
    Once the savings have completely refunded outlays, the power produced from a solid state system, with no moving parts to wear out, should be virtually free, which is certainly not the case for wind turbine energy, which can cost three times as much as current conventional power.
    The best alternative energy systems, will be the ones that walk out the door, and everybody wants, and even the most impoverished nation on the planet can actually afford!
    Those that believe that climate change is real, and must be responded to with carbon free energy, need to also understand that it is a global problem, that can only be successfully remediated with global solutions.
    These will never ever be energy sources, that simply push the price of energy well beyond the underprivileged, as they have done in over a million British homes!
    And only ever act, to compound the poverty cycle, and downward economic cycle, toward the lowest common denominator, and homes heated once again, by the burning of problematic fuel like coal of peat, in family homes.
    People need to heat ice cold winter homes, or simply cook their food.
    Those with their financial skin wrapped up in wind power or other equally expensive part time energy options, will always argue they should be part of the mix!
    Even as that mix, prices far too many people out of the energy market.
    Or rips too heavily into economy supporting discretionary spending!
    This is why we should and for once and for all, reject any privatization whatsoever, of the energy and or essential services generally, and return it to the public ownership province!
    Which will then be finally free to pursue the most efficient, lowest cost systems, one of which is not wind turbines!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — April 7, 2014 @ 10:04 am

  4. Alan Goulding’s faith that government ownership of energy generation would result in the pursuit of “the most efficient, lowest cost systems” is misplaced.

    He erroneously believes that politicians make rational decisions — this may have been the case in the past, but not anymore.

    He forgets that the legislated renewable energy target and the government subsidisation of unreliable, inefficient renewable energy generation were the result of political decisions — certainly not justifiable on scientific and economic grounds.

    If he wants recent evidence of this, he need look no further than the Greens-influenced ACT government. See Angela Shanahan’s account of its bizarre decision to adopt a 90% renewable energy target in The Weekend Australian April 5-6 2014 at

    And yes, the ACT government is looking to wind power to achieve the 90% target. What it fails to admit is that it will need to rely on non-renewable energy for substantial back up continually. If wind power were to be relied on wholly, the resulting supply fluctuations would be such that wind power would lose all of its adherents.

    Comment by Ray — April 7, 2014 @ 11:06 am

  5. Ray, with all due respect, publicly owned corporations, don’t have to include meddling politicians.
    Moreover, those making a case for privatization, are yet to provide as much as a single example of reduced costs to the consumer.
    Further, I’d likely trust (an) incompetent politician(s) and government ownership, than any of the current crop of price gouging foreigners, who own some energy operations, that are invariably financed with tax avoiding debt instruments?
    All of which must be serviced by the captive Australian consumer market.
    So your in favor of that outcome, Ray!
    So called free enterprise is supposed to include real competition!
    Queensland Gas i.e., rose by 400% within weeks of privatization!
    We the hapless energy consumers can change the government/incompetent or meddling politician, but don’t ever get that chance, with private and mostly profit repatriating/tax avoiding foreign corporations.
    And let’s not forget Ray, The GST was forced on us, allegedly, by the fact, that 95% of our corporations have moved their operational headquarters offshore!
    The social and business advantages of public ownership of most or all essential service, far and away seriously outweighs, any of the mooted or elusive benefits of privatization!
    Or indeed, the completely fallacious or fatuous arguments of patently blinkered or responsibility avoiding ideologues, who invariably argue in favor of it, regardless of the negative social or other private enterprise consequences.
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — April 7, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

  6. Ray,
    If you read my post again, you’ll see that I’ve argued against wind power and in favor of much much cheaper and much much more reliable options.
    I don’t have very much faith in most career politicians, who invariably need to have their political arms twisted by public opinion; the one thing they can’t or won’t ignore, in order to get some pragmatic social outcomes.
    Remember, virtually all business are also energy consumers, and many can remember, just how much cheaper it was as a publicly supplied essential service.
    And at which time, we were experiencing a period of unprecedented prosperity, [meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars] were the third wealthiest nation on the planet and a creditor one at that!
    We have been winding back that success story and virtually all that created it, co-ops, and public ownership of essential service ever since, on purely ideological, emperor’s new clothes evocations, rather than practical or pragmatic grounds!
    You can argue or make a case for dismantling what worked!
    I can’t and won’t on purely ethical grounds!
    Alan B. Goulding

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — April 7, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

  7. Good observation Graham.

    The reality is there is a science culture of medicos and acousticians acknowledging the impact of turbine type noise on organisms that are in plain sight but unable to disseminate their publications as one side of this story has the spin doctors with the press in their palms.

    The excellent review of the Professor is but a summary and certainly does not cover the papers since mid 2013 in physics, acoustics and medical journals.

    I am not involved, except with noise impacts on ecosystems, but the world research in US, Canada, UK, NZ, Japan, Korea, Sweden , Holland, Poland clearly shows there are degrees of problems with turbine noise from annoyance to stress to heart issues. Of course at what point does a noise that drives you mad become a bone fide medical problem that cant be ignored. Some say being driven mad by a noise is bad luck or made up and should be ignored. Industry recently told medical practitioners in Victoria that as industry believed they were the people who knew medicine best, amateurs like doctors should seek advice from the wind industry about noise impact. A 2014 review on heart stress from noise impact clearly shows that the science of psychoacoustics considers there are problems.

    There are x% of people that are impacted within y klm that are impacted and specific periods of the day (usually at night) and that needs to be better defined. Annoyance then enhances those numbers and we at least have that data. Being extremely basic in assessment the effect is akin to motion sickness as the heads hearing mechanism detects pulses progressing from one hearing organ to the other ….. all night long …. as a thumping subwoofer in a neighbours house that reverberates in rooms much as in a guitar box.

    Calls are made for full spectrum monitoring from low to infrasound. Dont be fooled by the suggestions that all infrasound is the same as a number of ABC journos plug. Just as ‘oils aint oils’ then noise just aint noise’. The sound that keeps coming and wont go away especially at night is not easily brushed aside. The Japanese and Koreans have clearly shown that infrasound turbine noise with similar levels as the washing of waves on beaches is far worse yet the spin doctors say there is no problem.

    So why hasnt all this shown up? Look at the terms of reference of the NHMRC Review by a uni group shown to be industry linked. Keywords such as heart, stress, infrasound, heart damage, stress etc etc (on memory) simply are not included in the survey so conveniently they are not ‘found’. Despite arrogantly ignoring 2200 science articles as not being good enough for them the the Adelaide Uni group found 7 they couldn’t ignore and 3 of those indicted there were problem.

    An appropriate stance is to look at health and turbines. That in no what should be confused with any argument about the merits/demerits of renewable and non renewable power but the spin doctors do deliberately confuse the distinction to keep the argument in the gutter. There is a lot of their money at stake.

    If more research is recommended then fine but there is a huge amount that isnt being allowed out as the press is manipulated.

    Comment by Geoff McPherson — April 8, 2014 @ 11:40 pm

  8. The nature of argument is that there are two sides. Wind turbines and health specifically is no different.

    It is difficult if one side has information for dissemination and the other does not when it comes to achieve broad acceptance by the public. The science of wind turbine impact is often buried in science journals and most people dont get to read them but that does not mean they are not available.

    If you have library access ACOUSTICS TODAY from the totally radical American Acoustical Association (ha) provides a range of summaries of impacts and permits a range of responses and it should be noted how the views of acousticians are rapidly firming in this debate. I suggest searching for Timmerman, Salt and Leventhall from 2013 and readers be the judge. Salt in 2014 is good and other sources reprint them.

    For a physicists perspective try at least the Abstract in PHYSICS TODAY. http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/news/10.1063/pt.5.7011 which was a reprint by another author in Journal of Renewable Energy. Journals like that discuss wind turbine and health issues so why don’t our newspapers.

    The science articles of the researchers indicated below (as a start) can be located with Google searches and many wind turbine websites will republish those papers free of charge. It is possible to find information on acoustic impact health if one wishes to look. If one does not look one would perhaps conveniently not find anything.

    Alec Salt, Hearing Researcher. Cochlear Fluids Research Laboratory, Washington University in St Louis.
    Paul Schomer, Acoustics researcher. Head of US Acoustical Society Standards Committee.

    Acoustics Australia has great articles by acousticians Colin Hansen, Les Huson and Steve Cooper regarding infrasound so look them up as that journal is free access. The acoustic science is complex and meticulous but to be summative near to the point of error they advocate detailed assessment of noise to detect the thumping of the turbines that causes the impact and not the long time averaged smeared sounds that are used by the wind industry to say there are no noise issues. But again the research of Hansen, Huson, Cooper and others is on sites dedicated to concerns about impact of wind turbines on health. Start with Google and read the science articles.

    Health impact summaries and reviews are also available as some medical journals do release papers or wider assessment. Try Seltenrich (2014) in Environmental Health Perspectives “Wind Turbines: A Different Breed of Noise?” using Google and follow the many references available.

    Other acousticians have alternate views. You may note how one changed his view when he commenced working for the wind industry Empire several years ago. Funnily enough that acoustician seems concerned about low and infrasound impact on humans, but only when the source is not wind turbines.

    I said there was another side and there are about two sociologists and a handful of acousticians who work for the wind industry but they sure get the lions share of publicity with newspaper journos yet their is never newspaper investigation of their methodology and interviewee selection funnily enough. Much of their argument is based on scaremongering in that people talk to each other in native English language countries and tell people about the problem that causes further problems basically meaning people are making up their problems. Using this argument the veterans who return from wartime and discuss their problem and join as a unified group to highlight their problem are simply scaremongering also!

    The English language scaremongering argument does not consider the articles in other languages from Sweden, Holland , Portugal, Denmark, Poland etc that indicate there are health problems. It should be noted that these articles are in English with a European language Abstract which was enough of an excuse for the recent NHMRC review to have them ignored. The Polish Medical Journal is now doing highly controlled experiments on Polish geese to examine stress impacts from wind turbine noise on the basis that Polish geese cant read English newspapers that suggest wind farm impacts, including what may be Wind Turbine Syndrome for want of a tile, and become victim of scaremongering.

    There is a strong argument indicating variable levels of impact on a still unknown percentage of people and still to be determined distances from individual turbines. The NHMRC did not say there was no evidence for impacts of turbines on health just that they thought there was insufficient evidence out of 2200 articles selectively chosen that convinced them there was a problem. Thats a pretty arrogant if you put that in any other context.

    Let the good research further define the problem and keep the wind industry away from the food=money locker and our tax money until we have the real science. Remember its thalidomide, asbestos and tobacco all over again.

    Comment by Geoff McPherson — April 9, 2014 @ 8:36 am

  9. Very well researched and argued Geoff!
    Putting wind farms well out to sea, or on uninhabited islands, seems to cure two inherent problems, the visual blight on the landscape, and the perceived noise.
    Moreover, the upside seems to be more reliable wind?
    Personally, I prefer alternatives that are both safer and cheaper than coal, which produces more than just annual tons of carbon emission, but a whole host of other toxic pollutants!? Mercury, cadmium, arsenic and uranium, just to mention some of the published few?
    Thorium reactors and the conversion of biological waste are up there and both cheaper than coal! We have plenty of the first and unending supplies of the latter!
    The alternative energy movement seems welded to extremely expensive wind and solar voltaic power?
    This this seems totally at odds with their stated desire to lower emission, given it seems, only the “idle rich” can afford their preferred options?
    Maybe that’s because the sun shines out of them every time they tie their shoe laces; or they personally produce the most wind?
    The ones I’ve listened to,[ endured,] can certainly talk up a gale?
    Rising heat farms looks interesting, and eminently suitable for arid desert regions where no other better options beckon and the nights are cold, with the days very warm or hot.
    Very very salty storage solutions, might work to store some usable heat.
    Tidal action can be used and is as reliable and enduring as the moon and the sun, always providing rare fish species, turtles and dugongs ,don’t interact with turbine or other blades?
    Personally, I prefer smell free Aussie innovation that converts our biological waste into methane, which after scrubbing can be bladder stored and then fed into more Aussie innovation, the ceramic fuel cell, which by the way, produces mostly pristine water vapor as the exhaust product.
    Most Aussie families produce enough biological waste to completely power their homes or high rise apartment blocks!
    Adding in food scraps and or wastage produces a income earning surplus or power for their electric cars!
    And as hard as you listen, you simply can’t hear these whisper quiet solutions working day and night, producing energy on demand; and far more reliably, than anything connected to a grid!
    An energy coefficient for the super silent ceramic fuel cell, that reportedly hovers around 80%, is the very best in the world, [four times better than coal-fired reticulated power] and should mean, once the infrastructure cost are recovered, the energy ought to be nearly free, as is the domestic hot water these systems also provide!
    Moreover, in the system just described, there are no moving parts to wear out or make noise!
    Currently we send this wasted waste out to sea, where the extremely expensive phosphates and nitrates, do nothing but harm to the marine environment!
    The by products of converting wasted waste to energy, are carbon rich, soil improving, completely sanitized, phosphate and nitrate rich compost, and reusable water; eminently suitable for oil rich algae production, which naturally produces ready to use diesel and jet fuel.
    [Biological waste is something we humans will never ever run out of!]
    A north western algae farming industry spokesperson, is on the public record as saying, given scales of economy, these endlessly sustainable fuel types could be retailed for around or as little as 44 cents a litre!
    And probably the real reason the, [make everything more expensive] greens and the fossil fuel industry bag them, if for entirely different reasons?
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — April 9, 2014 @ 10:06 am

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