Here’s an easy way to generate heat: Raise the issue of the health effects of utility-scale wind power production. Massachusetts just did so in a big way, releasing a draft report by an independent panel that dismisses the most explosive charges by wind critics—that living near big wind farms can cause a range of devastating health effects sometimes lumped under the term “wind turbine syndrome”—and generally pooh-poohs the idea that turbines are anything more than a possible annoyance.
The state-convened panel of medical and environmental health experts didn’t look at particular wind installations and their impacts, but instead reviewed both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed material in their areas of expertise. On a full range of issues, the panel found little or no evidence to back up claims that low-frequency sounds from turbines harm the vestibular system, that turbine noise brings psychological distress or mental health problems, and that there is an association between turbine exposure and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease and headache or migraine.
About the only points where the panel allowed for some possible, limited adverse impacts were on the issues of annoyance and sleep disruption.
On annoyance the panel concluded: “There is limited epidemiologic evidence suggesting an association between exposure to wind turbines and annoyance. There is insufficient epidemiologic evidence to determine whether there is an association between noise from wind turbines and annoyance independent from the effects of seeing a wind turbine and vice versa.”
And on sleep disruption the panel said: “There is limited evidence from epidemiologic studies suggesting an association between noise from wind turbines and sleep disruption. In other words, it is possible that noise from some wind turbines can cause sleep disruption.”
The Massachusetts study mirrors findings from an Oregon health impact assessment on wind power released in draft form earlier in January. Along with numerous positive impacts, it found no adverse impact at levels under the state’s noise standards but did allow that “sound from wind energy facilities in Oregon could potentially impact people’s health and well-being” when it exceeds state standards, and that “the potential impacts from wind turbine sound could range from moderate disturbances to serious annoyance, sleep disturbance and decreased quality of life.”
The Massachusetts panel, convened by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, received public comments last summer as the report was being compiled, and the draft is open for comments through March 19. But wind critics have already begun denouncing the report, popping up in news articles and taking to local newspapers to claim it was biased, incomplete, misguided or all of the above.
Massachusetts barely registers as a wind-power producer, with a mere 38 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity as of last fall. By comparison, Texas has more than 10,000 MW, and even New York has 1,349. But Massachusetts has big plans to boost that number, aiming for 2,000 MW by 2020 [PDF], although a good chunk of that is expected to be offshore.