Study: Wind farms may be more annoying than harmful

wind farm photoStaff photo

Wind farms, like those in the San Gorgonio Mountain Pass just outside Palm Springs, are a source of clean renewable energy, but some people who live nearby describe the shadow flicker, the audible sounds and the subaudible sound pressure levels as “annoying.” They claim this nuisance negatively impacts their quality of life.

In the latest study of the issue, a team of researchers from the University of Toronto and Ramboll, an engineering company funding the work, set out to investigate. They looked at how residential distance from the wind turbines — within a range of 600 meters (1,968.5 feet) to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) — affects people’s health.

Perhaps not surprisingly, they found that those who live closest to the turbines were more likely to report being annoyed than respondents who live further away.

“Respondents who live in areas with higher levels of modeled sound values (40 to 46 decibels) reported more annoyance than respondents in areas with lower levels of modeled sound values (<25 dB),” said researcher Rebecca Barry. The findings confirmed an earlier study by Statistics Canada.

The earlier Statistics Canada study found no direct link between residents’ distance from wind turbines and sleep disturbances, blood pressure, or stress (either self-reported or measured via hair cortisol). However, the more recent study showed that survey respondents closer to wind turbines reported lower ratings for their environmental quality of life. Barry and her co-authors note that they cannot tell whether these respondents were dissatisfied before the wind turbines were installed.

“Wind turbines might have been placed in locations where residents were already concerned about their environmental quality of life,” said Sandra Sulsky, a researcher from Ramboll. “Also, as is the case with all surveys, the respondents who chose to participate may have viewpoints or experiences that differ from those who chose not to participate. Survey respondents may have participated precisely to express their dissatisfaction, while those who did not participate might not have concerns about the turbines.”

While the study didn’t explicitly find evidence that exposure to wind turbines actually impacts human health, Sulsky said that in the future, “measuring the population’s perceptions and concerns before and after turbine installation may help to clarify what effects — if any — exposure to wind turbines may have on quality of life.”

The study reanalyzed data collected for the “Community Noise and Health Study” from May to September 2013 by Statistics Canada. The team reports their new analysis in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (full text).

The San Gorgonio wind farm contains more than 4,000 separate windmills and provides enough electricity to power Palm Springs and the entire Coachella Valley.