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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Winded by the Windy

 There’s been much debate, and it’s growing, about whether to subsidize certain energy solutions in the new “green” age. Prominent in this debate is the question of wind energy, and whether it’s both safe and practical. Now comes news (Feb 11, 2011) of a freeze in planning for “off-shore” wind turbines for the next period in Ontario.
  Off-shore turbine clusters were to be built on the waters of Lake Ontario at places such as Wolfe Island, near Kingston. This was part of Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty’s “green” energy priority, a focus of his government.
  Emphasis was put on building wind plants in rural districts all over the province. This has led to the formation of wind development firms, but also, of community action groups dedicated to stopping the activity.
  The latter have been categorized by wind enthusiasts as classic NIMBYs, rural gentry who don’t want their bucolic views of nature spoiled. I’m sure that’s part of it—but a small part when the whole picture emerges. Ontario residents are not alone in their growing wariness around wind development; groups have sprung up all over the world, pushing to halt this activity, demanding more research, and going to court to sue for damages. In Denmark, reputedly the world leader in wind development, dozens of opposition groups have mobilized.
  Wind opponents first point to the economics, which cannot be said to add up. Wind power, when sent into the main grid, is 2 to 4 times more expensive than traditional power. Owners of the turbines will get that inflated cost covered – they`ll not lose money – but the difference will be made up by the consumer, who is to pay for ”greenness” on his monthly bill.
  In addition to practicality and cost, there are the questions of health and environmental effect. For the latter, opponents point to the bird kill occasioned by turbines, which are often planted squarely inside migratory bird corridors and around conservation areas. Environmentally, the turbines need grid corridors and substations – often in remote and unspoiled areas – to carry their power to the consumer. Also, wind is an uneven and unpredictable energy: most plants only churn out 20 to 40% capacity; in the case of offshore installations, it never exceeds 30%. When the blades don't turn, they must be backed up by generators, thereby throwing even more carbon into the atmosphere.
  Finally, there`s the question of human health. In that connection, an interesting document came our way the other day. It was a submission prepared  for one of the putative wind developers, in defence of efforts to generate wind in Prince Edward County, and as a response to a lawsuit launched by a resident of that area. In a paper that actually addresses health concerns, a consultant looks at the questions posed and the research to date.
  Are there actual health impacts from wind turbine proximity? If so, have they been studied? Are there conclusions that are meaningful? Yes, admits the consultant, there have been adverse health impacts observed – and studied by researchers – on people living next to turbines. 
   Alright, then, what is to be done, asks the paper. Consider them "annoyances," it answers, feelings that are "subjective," and that people can get used to; psycho-therapy is the solution, it concludes.
   Here is an extract from the paper, prepared by Stantec Consulting Ltd, and  titled Health Effects and Wind Turbines: A Review for Renewable Energy Approval (REA):
[conclusions are formatted in italics]:

In 2004 Pedersen and Persson Waye published the findings of their cross-sectional study performed in Sweden in 2000. The purpose of the study was to: evaluate the prevalence of annoyance due to wind turbine noise, to assess any dose–response relationships, and to determine if any interrelationships existed between noise annoyance and sound characteristics, as well as the influence of subjective variables such as attitude and noise sensitivity. Pedersen and Persson Waye delivered questionnaires to 627 households in five areas comprising 16 wind turbines. One week later questionnaires were collected: the response rate was 68.4% (n=351). For the participating households, A-weighted (dB(A)) sound pressure levels due to wind turbines were calculated using the sound propagation model for wind power plants adopted by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and verified by field measurements.
  The questionnaire was divided into four sections. Briefly, the first had questions regarding housing and satisfaction with the living environment, including questions about degree of annoyance experienced outdoors and indoors and sensitivity to environmental factors. The second section had questions about wind turbines (noise, shadows, and disturbances), respondents’ level of perception and annoyance, and verbal descriptors of sound and perceptual characteristics. The third section had questions about chronic health (e.g., diabetes, tinnitus, cardiovascular diseases), general well-being (e.g., headache, undue tiredness feeling tensed/stressed, irritable) and normal sleep habits (e.g., quality of sleep, whether or not sleep was disturbed by any noise source). The last section comprised questions on employment and working hours. Of import, the purpose of the study was masked in the questionnaire.
   People assessed in the study fell into six sound categories: those living in areas of sound pressure levels <30.0, 30.0-32.5, 32.5-35.0, 35.0-37.5, 37.5-40.0, and >40.0 dB(A). Percent respondents in each category were similar and ranged from 60% (<30.0 dB(A)) to 78% (>40 dB(A)).
  Results of the study revealed that the proportion of respondents who noticed noise from wind turbines outdoors increased sharply from 39% (n=27) at sound category 30.0–32.5 dB(A) to 85% (n=53) at sound category 35.0–37.5 dB(A). The proportion of those annoyed by wind turbine noise outdoors also increased with higher sound category, at sound categories exceeding 35.0 dB(A). However, 20% of the 40 respondents living in sound category 37.5–40.0 dB(A) and 36% of the 25 respondents living in sound category >40.0 dB(A) were very annoyed by wind turbines. No respondent self-reported as annoyed at sound categories below 32.5 dB(A).
  Among those who noticed wind turbine noise (n=223), 25% (n=47) reported that they were disturbed every day or almost every day. 17% of people were disturbed once or twice a week. Annoyance was most frequently reported when relaxing outdoors and at barbecue nights. 7% of respondents (n=25) were annoyed by noise from wind turbines indoors, and this was related to noise category. 23% (n=80) of respondents stated that they were disturbed in their sleep by noise. At lower sound categories, no respondents were disturbed in their sleep by wind turbine noise. Of the 128 respondents living at sound exposure above 35.0 dB(A), 16% (n=20) stated that they were disturbed in their sleep by wind turbine noise. Of the 351 people assessed, 26% (91) reported chronic health issues (e.g., diabetes, tinnitus, cardiovascular diseases), but these issues were not associated with noise levels.

Added reading: Website of an anti-wind-development coalition

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