Thursday, May 20, 2010

Are Wind Turbines Hazardous to Your Health?

To the Editor, Seven Days:

In "Are Wind Turbines Hazardous to Your Health? Docs Disagree" (May 12), Andy Bromage reported that Dr. Robert McCunney wonders how wind turbines can be any worse than other industrial noises.

The mechanisms may be in dispute, but the very papers McCunney cited in his work for the American and Canadian Wind Energy trade groups emphasize that disturbance from wind turbines occurs at much lower noise levels than from other sources. The significance of the published European studies is not that adverse health impacts are low but, since the turbines are much smaller and farther from homes than those going up today, that the impacts are so high.

It should also be noted that wind turbine noise is especially intrusive at night, when other artificial noises usually take a break, particularly in the rural places targeted by industrial wind developers.

The article closed with a classic change of subject, describing an audience member asking about wind power impacts compared with those of coal, oil, and nuclear. Bromage editorialized McCunney's utterly meaningless response as "good": "None of us needs to be reminded of the health implications and environmental consequences of oil in light of the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico right now."

Oil is used for only 1% of our electricity. Nuclear provides base load with which wind's intermittent and variable infeed is not a competitor. And the use of coal has not been reduced anywhere in the world because of wind on the grid, again because wind is intermittent, highly variable, and nondispatchable. Other sources have to stay on line, burning fuel on standby or ramping and switching and thus burning fuel less efficiently than they would without wind. Hydro, in fact, provides the best pairing for wind, thus not affecting fossil fuel use at all, one renewable simply displacing another.

None of us indeed needs to be reminded of the impacts of oil, coal, or nuclear. But many of us apparently need to be reminded that industrial wind has no effect on them and only adds negative effects of its own.

As an illustration of wind's limitations - both a poor source of energy and a disproportionate source of adverse impacts - Denmark has not installed any new on-shore capacity on shore since 2002. As wind production in Denmark (including one off-shore facility opened in 2003) more than doubled from 1998 to 2004, carbon dioxide emissions remained flat and remain so, unaffected by adding even a huge proportion of wind to the grid.

Eric Rosenbloom
President, National Wind Watch (wind-watch.org)

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms