Into the Wind Power

WHO guidelines on sound are … guidelines

A wind energy advocate in Wisconsin asked us this week about a rumor circulating among anti wind farm groups that the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended a 6,000-foot setback for wind turbines from the nearest residence.

I did a little research on the Web and turned up two classes of anti-wind farm website: Class #1 repeats the claim, but provides no reference to back it up, while Class #2 more accurately refers to sound levels (for sounds from any and all sources) recommended in WHO documents.

After some internal discussion, we arrived at the following statement of position on the question of WHO and its sound guidelines:

Modern wind turbines make very little sound–it is possible to carry on a conversation in a normal tone of voice at the base of an operating turbine. Turbine technology has advanced steadily, and manufacturers have successfully focused on reducing wind turbine sound for the past two decades. In addition, the fact that wind energy involves no mining or drilling and creates no air or water pollution, radiation or hazardous waste means that on balance, its impact on human health is overwhelmingly positive compared with the fuels it displaces.

– Modern wind turbines make very little sound.

* We encourage anyone with an interest in wind energy and the sound issue to visit a current-generation wind farm in person and hear for themselves. Many thousands of people around the world live near operating wind turbines without ill effects.

* Wind turbine sounds are not fundamentally different from other sounds: the sound generally heard from wind turbines is that of air moving past the blades–not low-frequency sound or infrasound.

* The Government of Australia, the British National Health Service, and the Chief Medical Officer of Ontario have all issued reports finding that wind turbine sound is not a health hazard.

– By generating electricity without the air and water pollution associated with fossil fuels, wind energy has an overwhelmingly positive effect on human health.

* A 2009 National Academy of Sciences study found that the hidden costs of fossil fuels, largely health costs, amount to $120 billion each year.

* Air pollution from coal-fired power plants has been variously estimated to cause between 10,000 and 20,000 premature deaths annually.

– World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on sound do not specifically address wind turbine sound. They are not intended to be standards or laws, and they should not be used to regulate any single source of sound in a way that is discriminatory and ignores other sources.

* The WHO Guidelines do not address wind turbine sound. Rather, their focus is on transportation sources (rail, cars, etc.), and they note that millions of people currently live in areas where their guidelines are exceeded.

* If the WHO Guidelines were applied equally to all forms of development, few if any roads, highways, airports, or shopping centers would ever be built. To single out wind energy for regulation in this fashion is discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious.

By Tom Gray,