Massachusetts clears wind power of health effects

Wind energy got a clean bill of health this week from a panel of independent experts established by the Massachusetts departments of Environmental Protection and of Public Health, which issued a definitive scientific analysis Jan. 18 that refutes several myths perpetuated by opponents of wind farm.

The agencies reported that “There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a "’Wind Turbine Syndrome.’"

They note, “the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has goals for increasing the use of wind energy from the current 40 MW to 2,000 MW by the year 2020.”

More highlights:

-“The strongest epidemiological study suggests that there is not an association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems. There were two smaller, weaker, studies: one did note an association, one did not. Therefore, we conclude the weight of the evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.”

-“None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine.”

-“Scientific evidence suggests that shadow flicker does not pose a risk for eliciting seizures as a result of photic stimulation.”

-“Available evidence shows that the infrasound levels near wind turbines cannot impact the vestibular system.”

-“It is possible that noise from some wind turbines can cause sleep disruption… Whether annoyance from wind turbines leads to sleep issues or stress has not been sufficiently quantified.”

-“Effective public participation in and direct benefits from wind energy projects (such as receiving electricity from the neighboring wind turbines) have been shown to result in less annoyance in general and better public acceptance overall."

The findings were immediately seized on by national and state media, including The New York Times’ Green Blog, Boston Globe, CBS MoneyWatch, Northeast Public Radio, North American Windpower, and generally supportive editorials in The Berkshire Eagle, Newport Daily News, and Cape Cod Times, which wrote:

“The Naysayers, whose team motto is ‘I’m not against renewable energy, just don’t put it here or there,’ have been winning the time-of-possession battle. But then, on Tuesday, there was a turnover. The Naysayers were effectively dinking and dunking down the field until the interception by No. 164 — as in a 164-page report by an independent panel of experts whose findings call into question many of the quasi-scientific objections to wind turbines."

Boston Magazine titled its blog post simply, “Wind Farm Opponents are Hypochondriacs.”

Favorable statements were released by AWEA and the Renewable Northwest Project. Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick defended the report’s findings, saying, “Our solution to our energy future is not going to depend on any one alternative. It’s going to depend on a mix of alternatives. I think what this report shows is that wind, in the right circumstances, can be an element in that mix.”

Three public meetings in February, in Boston, the Berkshires, and on Cape Cod, will be held during a 60-day public comment period.

A similar study in Oregon, released in draft on Jan. 3, addressed indirect effects such as community reactions, and remains open for public comment. Other efforts to put wind’s supposed health impacts into context include a dramatic graphic in the September issue of Scientific American, which notes that, "all forms of energy generation carry risks" but that "pollution…makes fossil fuels the most dangerous form of energy generation."

By Peter L. Kelley, American Wind Energy Association VP-Public Affairs,