Wind Cartoon Windmill | nik harron Illustration by nik harron. Photo by Pedrosala \ Fotolia.com

WIND TURBINES ARE a safe, renewable form of energy that can efficiently replace carbon-based sources. So why is there so much resistance to the technology?

Critics of wind power point to a long list of anecdotal accounts of health impacts, including but not limited to: stress, sleep deprivation, hearing loss, seizures, high blood pressure, tinnitus and cardiovascular disease. In response, governments around the world have commissioned extensive health reports investigating all of the above. Most studies also looked at effects on the surrounding environment and ecology, as well as highly circumstantial and rare accidents such as those caused by ice thrown from the blades, “shadow flicker” (suggested as a cause of some seizure events in people) and structural failure.

Ultimately, all of the studies returned the same conclusions. Assuming that prevailing residential setbacks of at least 400 metres are observed, there is no scientific evidence linking any adverse health effects with the presence of wind turbines. There is only the small caveat that further research is warranted into methods for gathering and measuring sound levels as elusive, low-frequency sound effects have been reported as nuisances in a wide variety of settings.

Nonetheless, one theme recurs independently of geography and demographics. Proximity, both in terms of distance and sight lines, is directly correlated with the level of annoyance that surrounding residents express over the presence of wind turbines. Significantly, their annoyance was exacerbated when the wind turbine project was commissioned and completed without their input, or when they did not receive any form of compensation.

While annoyance is not recognized as a health impact by the World Health Organization, and may even be groundless in terms of physical cause, it can still negatively affect a community and contribute to NIMBYism that blocks the expansion of critical renewable energy supply. With that in mind, most reports exonerating turbines from alleged health and safety issues also suggest – and some governments require – that local communities have the chance to provide input on all wind-generation projects. 

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Alex is an MBA candidate at Wilfrid Laurier University with an aspiring green thumb.

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