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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Why Vermont But Not Kansas?

By George Harvey, Staff

In our last issue of Green Energy Times, we talked about Greensburg, Kansas, a community that is chartered as a city, though the population is only about 800. When they rebuilt after being almost completely destroyed by an F5 tornado in 2007, they decided to take the opportunity to build a community that was as sustainable as possible. They put up a wind farm of 12.5 MW just three miles outside the city. Their wind farm became emblematic of the rebirth of the city.

The Smoky Hills wind farm in Kansas. Photo by Drenaline

The Smoky Hills wind farm in Kansas. Photo by Drenaline

Having had that experience, they kept the ball rolling and started putting up more wind turbines right inside the city. They did this quite fearlessly, as they understood fully what wind turbines were like. Now, there are at least fourteen wind turbines in the city’s 1.75 square mile area.

Citizens of Greensburg live so close to wind turbines it is a bit astonishing. The local hospital’s turbine is just across the driveway, only twenty yards or so from the building. The local Best Western provides power for its customers with three wind turbines on its property. In fact, if they were evenly distributed, the combination of the city’s size and the number of wind turbines means that, on average, every house in the city is within a quarter-mile from at least four of them.

The people in Greensburg seem to delight in this. On the town’s website, they boast that their goal is to be “100% powered by wind, 100% of the time.”

Vermont's Sheffield wind farm. Photo by From the Nek

Vermont’s Sheffield wind farm. Photo by From the Nek

By contrast, any discussion of wind power in Vermont is likely to produce heated antagonism. Many who do not live even remotely near wind farms take strong stands, advocating against what they call “Big Wind,” which they believe imposes thoughtlessly on citizens near wind farms. They talk about the great physical suffering people go through because of the presence of wind farms, including migraines, nausea, insomnia, and a host of other symptoms.

We have to ask, “What gives? Why do people suffer in Vermont, but not in Kansas?”

A number of peer-reviewed papers have appeared recently on wind turbine syndrome, and two points can be made to sum them up. First, peer-reviewed medical papers are generally in agreement on the claims of physical symptoms, and the subject is not controversial among them. Second, they agree it cannot be shown that wind turbines directly produce the symptoms claimed. The conclusions of the Australian Medical Association on this appear in the last paragraph of this article.

This is not to say the symptoms do not exist. In fact, there is a strong suggestion that there are symptoms relating to certain wind farms in certain places. Furthermore, some medical publications go so far as to give a plausible cause-and-effect relationship. The problem is that the relationship is not directly between wind turbines and wind turbine syndrome.

An article that appeared in Health Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association, provides some insight into this. The paper is called “Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines?”

Fifty-four subjects were divided into two groups. One group, called the “high expectancy group,” was shown a five-minute video of people complaining about how wind farms produced infrasound, inaudible low-frequency sound, which they said had given them symptoms of illness. The other, the “low expectancy group,” was shown a video of experts saying that infrasound from wind farms could not produce symptoms.

Each group was exposed twice to what they were told was infrasound of the type that produced wind turbine syndrome. On one of these occasions, infrasound was actually present, and on the other it was not.

When they thought they were being exposed to infrasound, members of the high-expectancy group reported symptoms, and they had them to the same degree regardless of whether infrasound was actually present. By contrast, the low-expectancy group members had little or no response to infrasound.

The conclusion is that the presence of wind turbines is not, by itself, sufficient to cause symptoms of illness. The symptoms can, however, be produced by the expectation that they will happen. The paper can be found at http://bit.ly/wind-psych-paper.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) also recently published its position paper on wind farms and wind turbine syndrome. A report of this can be read online in the publication, Energy Matters, at This Link. The conclusion of the AMA is that wind farms cannot be shown to cause wind turbine syndrome, but the hysteria caused by what it refers to as “scare tactics” of anti-wind groups can produce anxiety, and the anxiety can lead to the symptoms.

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