The rapid expansion of wind power facilities in the United States, driven in large part by federal government subsidies and state renewable-energy mandates, has been accompanied by a spreading rash of health complaints from people living near the giant, spinning turbines.
A recent report by GateHouse Media examines reports of health-related problems by residents and landowners from Oregon to Massachusetts and concludes they are caused by the turbines.
The report, “In the Shadow of Wind Farms,” is an in-depth investigation of the wind industry’s effect on predominantly rural communities where turbines have been erected. During the course of the six-month investigation, the authors interviewed more than 70 families living near three-dozen proposed or current wind installations. They also spoke with 10 state and local lawmakers, examined hundreds of pages of public-service-commission records about wind-energy projects, reviewed court filings in seven wind-related lawsuits, and inspected lease agreements for at least eight wind facilities on private land.
The authors also combed public documents and media reports to identify 400 families living near industrial wind installations who have publicly complained about shadow flicker, noise, health problems, and misleading statements by wind companies soliciting agreements to place turbines on private land.
Rapidly Growing, Wealthy Industry
Citing figures from the Energy Information Administration, the report notes wind power has experienced dramatic growth in the United States over the past decade, with the number of wind facilities growing from 300 with 15,000 turbines to more than 1,000 installations in 41 states comprising some 53,000 turbines.
Although the first wind facilities were located in sparsely populated areas such as California’s Mojave Desert, today thousands of turbines can be found in every region of the country, except for the Southeast, where unfavorable wind conditions and a lack of state renewable-energy mandates (save for North Carolina) have limited the growth of the industry.
In favorable locations, wind companies have offered communities various incentives to accept their projects, in addition to the tax revenues generated by these multimillion-dollar installations.
Benefits with Strings Attached
Some communities receive fixed annual payments instead of tax revenues. In one case cited in the report, Barber County, Kansas gets $500,000 a year from the Flat Ridge Wind Project, plus an additional $5,000 for every megawatt of power the project produces.
Wind-energy companies, often working with local utilities, request landowners’ permission to put turbines on their land. Landowners who sign contracts with wind companies can receive as much as $14,000 a year per turbine, according to the report.
The contracts often lead to conflicts. The GateHouse Media investigation found companies convince landowners to sign away their property rights for generations based on the promise of potential profits with minimal potential problems from wind turbines. The contracts typically do not allow property owners to terminate the agreements, even if they are seeking relief from what they say are intolerable living conditions caused by the turbines.
Complaints About Health Effects
By far the greatest source of conflict between landowners and wind companies is complaints about the health effects the spinning turbines have on those exposed to them on a daily basis.
Complaints come from landowners with turbines on their property and from their neighbors, the investigation found. The most frequently cited problems include shadow flicker, loud noises, sleep disturbance, and low-frequency vibrations that have driven dozens of families from their homes.
In rural Mason County, Michigan, for example, Cary and Karen Shineldecker say they suffered anxiety, headaches, ear pressure, tinnitus, heart palpitations, and sleep disturbances after Lake Winds Energy began operating its 476-foot-tall turbines around their home. After unsuccessfully fighting the wind farm, they sold their property at a loss just to escape the nuisance.
A chorus of similar complaints about the Shirley Wind Farm in Brown County, Wisconsin prompted the local Board of Health to declare the turbines a health hazard. Dozens of residents of Falmouth, Massachusetts complained of nausea, dizziness, migraines, and anxiety after Notus Clean Energy erected a wind turbine in their community. In Calhan, Colorado, four families told investigators they left their homes and moved away to escape the Golden West Wind Energy Center. Hundreds of people nationwide have filed similar complaints.
Although the wind industry generally denies wind turbines harm the health of those living near them, GateHouse Media found wind companies have entered into six settlements with parties complaining of ailments associated with the turbines.
Variety of Complaints
Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says wind farms cause health problems and raise energy costs.
“It’s about time the formidable health impacts of wind turbines came to the fore,” said Lehr. “In addition to the health risks, wind power is 100 percent dependent on fossil fuels for backup when the wind doesn’t blow, increasing their costs.
“As a result of wind power’s wider use in Europe, people there pay three times as much for electricity as do Americans,” Lehr said.
Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says wind farms have also been linked to wildlife deaths.
“We have long known wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats annually,” said Rucker. “Now we have growing evidence that humans, too, are at risk from these installations, yet we continue to subsidize this nonsense.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Emily Le Coz and Lucille Sherman, “In the Shadow of Wind Farms,” Gate House Media, December 13, 2017: http://gatehousenews.com/windfarms/home/?skipintro=true