Wind turbine syndrome: Farm hosts tell very different story
People who host wind turbines on their properties and derive rental income from wind energy companies have important stories to tell about living alongside turbines, but they’ve largely been absent from the debate on wind farms and health. Australian filmmaker and researcher Neil Barrett is finally giving this critical group a voice in his new short film, The way the wind blows, released today.
In Barrett’s short film, 15 hosts and some of their neighbours from the central Victorian district near the town of Waubra tell what it’s like to live surrounded by large turbines.
Turbine hosts at Waubra earn A$8,000 a year for each turbine on their land. In the bush, the expression that wind farms can “drought-proof a farm” is common: a land owner with 10 turbines can wake up each morning comfortable in the thought that a tough year with poor rain or bad frosts can be ridden out, thanks to income from wind generation.
All of Barrett’s interviewees say they can hear the turbines, but none say they are bothered by them or suffer from any health problems they attribute to the turbines. If there is such a phenomenon as “wind turbine syndrome,” it would seem it is a condition that, remarkably, can be prevented by the wonder drug called money.
Significantly, too, none of those interviewed say their contracts prevent them from speaking publicly about their experiences with hosting turbines, repudiating the mantra of wind farm opponents that suffering hosts are gagged from speaking out by evil wind companies.
In 2010, a small group comprising mostly wealthy landowners established the Waubra Foundation, which opposes wind farms being established near their country estates. None of the directors of the foundation nor its chief executive, an unregistered former GP Sarah Laurie, live within 125km of Waubra, yet took on the name of the town to highlight what they believe are serious health problems associated with living near wind turbines.
Barrett’s film reveals the deep resentment that Waubra residents feel about these out-of-towners hijacking their town’s good name. None say that Laurie has ever contacted them, with one commenting, “I wouldn’t give them the time of day if they turned up here.”
Laurie and the Waubra Foundation have done all they can to spread concern about the harms they allege are caused by living near wind farms. One former Waubra resident has been particularly prominent, speaking emotionally at anti-wind farm meetings about how wind farms have ruined his health and caused his family to move to Ballarat, at great personal expense.
In a statement that would be of immense interest to Apple, Samsung and Nokia, he recently told a meeting in Barringhup that electricity generated by wind turbines started charging his cell phone without it being plugged in:
I’ve had my … mobile phone go into charge mode in the middle of the paddock, away from everywhere.
In 2012, he wrote a public submission to a parliamentary inquiry where he revealed he had suffered a serious head injury some eight years before the wind farm opened in 2010:
I have been in brain training care and rehabilitation for about ten years because of an unfortunate, unrelated accident.
Indeed, the most common health complaints voiced by complainants are problems such as disturbed sleep, anxiety, hypertension and normal problems of ageing that are very prevalent in all communities, regardless of whether they have wind farms.
In a 2012 Ontario legal case, complainants were asked to provide their medical records going back a decade before the local wind farm commenced operation. This would have provided relevant information about any pre-existing health problems. When they failed to so, their case failed.
In a peer-reviewed paper of mine to be published shortly, I conducted an historical audit of all known health and noise complaints made about Australia’s 51 wind farms from 1993 to 2012. Using four sources (wind company records, submissions made to three parliamentary enquiries, local media monitoring records and court affidavits) I calculated the number of complainants around Australia.
More than two-thirds of Australian wind farms including more than half of those with large turbines have never received a single complaint. Two whole states – Western Australia and Tasmania – have seen no complaints.
Of the 129 individuals across Australia who have ever complained, 94 (73%) are residents near just six wind farms which have been targeted by anti wind farm groups.
Almost all (98%) of complainants made their first complaint after 2009 when anti wind farm groups began to add health concerns to their wider opposition. In the preceding years, health or noise complaints were rare despite large and small-turbine wind farms having operated for many years.
In late 2012, anti-wind farm campaigners launched an anonymous website, Stop These Things. The apparently well-funded site specialises in emotive videos of wind farm victims, but in nine months has only run profiles of 18 mostly aged complainants. Barrett’s film profiles nearly that number of people telling a very different story.
Anti-wind farm activists have promoted a bizarre and ever-growing number of health problems associated with turbine exposure. My favourite is the alarming problem of disoriented echidnas.
Among Laurie’s more interesting claims is that wind turbines cause lips to vibrate at up 10 kilometres, and that within 1km to 2km of wind turbines, air pressure changes occur “sufficient to knock them off their feet or bring some men to their knees when out working in their paddock” and “have been reported by farmers to perceptibly rock stationary cars”.
Laurie has repeatedly claimed that “a large number” or “over twenty families” and most recently “more than forty” families are “wind farm refugees” who have had to abandon their homes. But Laurie has declined requests to make her list public.
Another prominent activist, George Papadopolous, claims to be able to sense a wind turbine at 100km away: from Sydney’s CBD to Lithgow, as the crow flies.
Barrett’s film brings a fresh and important perspective to a debate that has so far been dominated by a small number of complainants and those oxygenating their fears.
Fifteen years ago, Australian news media ran countless stories on community fears about mobile phone towers. Those still worrying about health risks from the towers are rare today. Wind turbine syndrome is likely to go the same way.
Simon Chapman AO receives no financial or other material support from any company or person in the wind energy industry or agents acting on their behalf.
Photo credit: David K. Clarke
[Following material added by AWEA]
Related articles from the AWEA blog:
The nocebo effect, and why it's much more dangerous than wind turbines, August 22, 2013
More positive developments on wind turbine sound, July 31, 2013
When medical practitioners mislead: Trio targets family doctors with bad information, May 30, 2013
Opinion: Health effects of wind towers hyped by media, May 28, 2013
Falmouth votes to keep turbines; Australian sound study confirms others, May 24, 2013
Wind farm neighbors stressed, but it's not the turbines, April 21, 2013
New Yorker explains nocebo effect, NPR airs junk science, April 8, 2013
Science: Anti-wind groups appear to spread illnesses they complain of, March 21, 2013
Ontario resident's personal testimony: 'Anti-wind groups make me sick', March 13, 2013
GMP reports on Kingdom Community Wind sound levels, March 5, 2013
South Australia study finds infrasound from wind farms not a concern, February 4, 2013
Science proves that wind energy is safe for Wisconsin, January 9, 2013
Ontario tribunal turns down anti-wind appeal, December 26, 2012
Reason trumps fear in Australian debate on wind energy and sound, December 5, 2012
Nissenbaum paper on turbine sound recycles claims on wind energy and health already found inadequate by courts and expert panel, November 16, 2012
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Quality of research on wind farms published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, September 25, 2012
Wind energy associations: Wind 'one of safest forms of electricity', July 30, 2012
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Fact check: On turbine sound, it's Bryce vs. science, July 24, 2012
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Public opinion watch: Ontarians: Wind power one of safest forms of electricity generation, March 6, 2012
Opinion: Wind turbines are good for our health, March 2, 2012
Review of wind turbine sound studies gives debate needed balance, February 28, 2012
Anti-wind-farm ‘astroturfers’ in Australia, February 27, 2012
NBC4's 'iReporter' lacks context on wind turbine sound, February 14, 2012
Fact check: Bryce misleads again on land, sound, resource use, January 31, 2012
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Opinion: Dr. W. David Colby: Turbines and health, December 2, 2011
Canadian researchers: No direct link between wind turbines and health, November 29, 2011
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Sierra Club Canada 1.1: Time to confront anti-wind fear campaign, June 15, 2011
Environmental Defence (Canada): 'No basis' for health impact claims, June 6, 2011
Sierra Club Canada: Time to confront anti-wind disinformation campaign, June 3, 2011
WINDPOWER report: New study finds minimal low-frequency and infrasound impact from wind turbines, May 25, 2011
Does the sound of money soothe Wind Turbine Syndrome?, April 25, 2011
WHO guidelines on sound are ... guidelines, March 28, 2011
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