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Windfarm sickness spreads by word of mouth, Australian study finds
March 19, 2013 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Sickness being attributed to wind turbines is more likely to have been caused by people getting alarmed at the health warnings circulated by activists, an Australian study has found. Complaints of illness were far more prevalent in communities targeted by anti-windfarm groups, said the report's author, Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University. His report concludes that illnesses being blamed on windfarms are more than likely caused by the psychological effect of suggestions that the turbines make people ill, rather than by the turbines themselves.

Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, “communicated disease” hypothesis. (PDF)
Background and objectives: With often florid allegations about health problems arising from wind turbine exposure now widespread in parts of rural Australia and on the internet, nocebo effects potentially confound any future investigation of turbine health impact. Historical audits of health complaints across periods when such claims were rare are therefore important. We test 4 hypotheses relevant to psychogenic explanations of the variable timing and distribution of health and noise complaints about wind farms in Australia.
Setting: All Australian 49 wind farms (with 1471 turbines) operating from 1993–2012.
Methods: Records of complaints about noise or health obtained from wind farm companies regarding residents living near 47 Australian wind farms, expressed as proportions of estimated populations residing within 5km of wind farms, and corroborated with complaints in submissions to 3 government public enquiries and news media records.
Results: There are large spatio-temporal variations in wind farm noise and health complaints. 31/49 (63%) of Australian wind farms including 17/34 (50%) with turbine size >1MW have never been subject to noise or health complaints. Western Australia has seen no complaints. Only 120 individuals across Australia representing approximately 1 in 272 residents living within 5km of wind farms appear to have complained, with 81 (68%) of these being residents near 5 wind farms which have been heavily targeted by anti wind farm groups. About 1 in 107 of those living near turbines > 1MW have ever complained. The large majority (82%) of health and noise complaints commenced after 2009 when anti wind farm groups began to add health concerns to their wider opposition. In the preceding years, health or noise complaints were rare despite large and small turbined wind farms having operated for many years.
Conclusions: In view of scientific consensus that the evidence for wind turbine noise and infrasound causing health problems is poor, the reported spatio-temporal variations in complaints are consistent with psychogenic hypotheses that health problems arising are “communicated diseases” with nocebo effects likely to play an important role in the aetiology of complaints.
posted by Blasdelb (77 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Fucking duh," the authors went on to say.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [34 favorites]


The old nocebo effect in action
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


There was a whole back and forth in the BMJ about this issue last year which you can only access as a subscriber, unfortunately. Chapman wrote in his disagreement with a BMJ editorial (this, I think) about wind farm noise written by two British researchers whose work is regularly quoted as gospel by anti-wind farm groups.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:45 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


See also: Electrosensitivity
posted by Artw at 10:51 AM on March 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


In my head, I hear the "shields going up" sound from Star Trek as the anti-evidence crowd deploys their Anecdote Beams and Fact Denial Torpedos while performing the Selective Quoting Maneuver. Set phasers to "Attack the Messenger".
posted by kjs3 at 10:52 AM on March 19, 2013 [17 favorites]


They should just fix this with magnets.
posted by srboisvert at 10:57 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


If anyone would like copies of the letter or editorial MuffinMan mentioned, please feel free to memail me with an email address I can send a PDF of the original article(s) to and a promise not to distribute it further - for the purposes of this academic discussion that we are currently having of course.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:01 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tilting at windmills.
posted by Kabanos at 11:11 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


If only there were a way of harnessing the energy of windbags.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:17 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Actually, I think you can get all or most of the back and forth on the BMJ site without logging in.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:23 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If only there were a way of harnessing the energy of windbags.

Alas, windbag energy in incommutable - windbags beget windbags.
posted by 3FLryan at 11:24 AM on March 19, 2013


They'd be fine if they built mobile phone masts into the windmills.

The psychology of this is so well understood, these days - you can make a good case for it being the same basic driver as that behind the early modern witch hunts - and having researched it for a while

I'd be surprised if there was any new technology which hadn't attracted the fear in some form or another. The curious counterpoint is that things which do have subtle yet pervasive effects on health, such as food chain muck-ups, environmental contamination from internal combustion and plastics, cigarettes and so on, are often not taken seriously by the public for ages.

People, eh?

R
posted by Devonian at 11:28 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


While I have some sympathy for the impacts of shadow flicker, I am tired of 'environmentalists' standing in the way of wind power. We don't live in a perfect world, people. Please don't let the 'perfect' stand in the way of the 'good'.
posted by Phreesh at 11:32 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


That PDF link appears to be a 404.

edit: weird, it wouldn't work for six tries, now it loaded...
posted by thewalrus at 11:33 AM on March 19, 2013


It's stories like this that make me want to take a couple hours and lay out all of my current beliefs and re-examine them to prune out the ones that have actually have no logical or scientific basis.

A sort of "spring cleaning" of the mind.
posted by Hicksu at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [18 favorites]


The oft-repeated worries over the sound of windmills is the one that amazes me most. All kinds of claims are made, and believed, yet it is everso easy to ride out to an existing wind turbine site and hear for yourself. I have done this, and heard almost nothing.
posted by Jehan at 11:38 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Birdkill and radar effects seem reasonable enough concerns that should be examined without the woo and nimby stuff.
posted by Artw at 11:43 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am curious how South Koreans feel about these giant wind fans.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:47 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


srboisvert: They should just fix this with magnets.

Welllll, Sunny Jim, it's a well-known fact that if the blades of windmills were made of copper then they would be flinging the Healing Energies of Ra the Sun across the bosom of Mother Earth instead of reaping guiltless birds and tearing at the clouds.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:50 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd be surprised if there was any new technology which hadn't attracted the fear in some form or another.

Next: smart meters!
posted by biffa at 11:54 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


At least in the UK, my anecdotal understanding of wind farm refuseniks is that it they are typically a self-appointed group of nimbies who don't much care how the next generations will get power and dress up house price concerns variously as health, environmental, economic reasons.

I'm not an expert, but I have commissioned a couple of studies into the economics of wind power. It amuses and infuriates me in equal measures when self appointed experts tell you about the exhorbitant "cost" of wind farms but then can't tell if they mean installation costs, running costs, external costs, lifecycle costs.

They don't know whether those costs are rising or falling as the technology matures. They don't know how the economics of power generation change if the price of oil continues to rise. But they're bloody sure that wind power is expensive because.... they look ugly and they don't work when there's no wind and some sandal wearing environmental hedge fund charlatan has convinced the government to put these windmills round the country and when all we need is more good old power stations like we used to have.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:59 AM on March 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm waiting for somebody to put a wind turbine on trial for witchcraft.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:01 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Birdkill and radar effects seem reasonable enough concerns that should be examined without the woo and nimby stuff.

There have been quite a few studies on birdkill, the metadata suggests about 2 bird deaths per turbine per year, with variations depending on siting. There was a fairly large amount of work when turbines started shifting offshore, and new sites like the large Dogger Bank site in the North Sea will likely end up as one of the areas with the most environmental surveys anywhere. Offshore wind along with tidal stream and wave energy is also likely to mean large amounts of research into the possible impacts of noise, electromagnetic fields, etc on fish, pinnepeds, elasmobranches, benthic environment, etc.

Wind turbines do interfere with radar, this is undisputed (TV too - line of sight from a mast to the population centre it serves equals planning rejection in the UK). In the UK, a large percentage of planning applications for turbine siting will automatically be rejected on the say so of the RAF. The wind sector sites away from RAF bases and radar paths accordingly. There is some work underway which will hopefully apply software to lessen the number of sites which are rendered ineligible as a result.
posted by biffa at 12:03 PM on March 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Next: smart meters!

Seriously. They want to install wireless hydro-meters here in my part of my Quebec, which has led to ZOMG THEY WILL KILL US articles in the op-ed parts of the newspapers and on the radio. La Tribune, in response to the encroaching hysteria, even published a graph that showed you should fear your mobile and your microwave more than you should fear these things. And last night it took a five-hour public city council meeting before Sherbrooke said, "You know what? We're doing this. Wireless meters for all! Now go home so we can all get some sleep."
posted by Kitteh at 12:04 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


who don't much care how the next generations will get power and dress up house price concerns variously as health, environmental, economic reasons.

Ironically, if nimbies wouldn't freak out about the possibility that wind turbines might be perceived to negatively affect prices, then they're far less likely to negatively affect prices. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy of destroying your own home value by your own actions.

Home values are increased by having a view of a windmill, and wind turbines could be the same thing (they are definitely a beautiful sight to huge numbers of people), and someday might. The main difference is that turbines represent the future instead of the past.
posted by anonymisc at 12:06 PM on March 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


Psh, diseases spread by word of mouth? Australia's got nothing on Pontypool.
posted by quiet coyote at 12:14 PM on March 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


Wind turbines do interfere with radar, this is undisputed

That's weird, you wouldn't think they'd be tall enough to make it an issue. How useful is radar 300 feet from the ground?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:15 PM on March 19, 2013


Stupid question that could probably be resolved by RTFA: is this tied to the "fan death" panic in South Korea? It kinda seems like the same thing...TO THE EXTREEEEEME!

"If fans kill people, then giant fans will kill ALL THE PEOPLE! EEEK!"

posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:17 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stupid question that could probably be resolved by RTFA: is this tied to the "fan death" panic in South Korea? It kinda seems like the same thing...TO THE EXTREEEEEME!
Not at all! Fans suck the life out of you. Turbines pump life into you.

If you want to live forever, live near a wind farm.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:19 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm not an expert, but I have commissioned a couple of studies into the economics of wind power. It amuses and infuriates me in equal measures when self appointed experts tell you about the exhorbitant "cost" of wind farms but then can't tell if they mean installation costs, running costs, external costs, lifecycle costs.
Oh the best is when they say that wind turbines only work about a third of the time, and show that the nameplate capacity is a "lie". They declare this with some bluster, as though happy that they've discovered the dirty secret of wind energy.
There have been quite a few studies on birdkill, the metadata suggests about 2 bird deaths per turbine per year, with variations depending on siting.
I once shut somebody up with, "if you have a cat which you keep outdoors, then you're killing more birds than a wind turbine would". They kept up repeating figures from Altamont Pass, but what can you do?
posted by Jehan at 12:21 PM on March 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


There have been quite a few studies on birdkill, the metadata suggests about 2 bird deaths per turbine per year, with variations depending on siting

That's way below where I'd expect it, and I thought fears about it overblown. I expect we'll still see people complaining about piles of dead birds.
posted by Artw at 12:21 PM on March 19, 2013


That's weird, you wouldn't think they'd be tall enough to make it an issue. How useful is radar 300 feet from the ground?

I assume it's a line-of-sight issue - if the "eye" of the radar is situated on the ground, lower than the top of the turbines, then the turbine crops the field-of-vision by half a degree or so, which might only be 300 feet when looking at objects above the turbine, but objects on the far side of the turbine, way out in the distance will have to be progressively higher to not be occluded.
posted by anonymisc at 12:25 PM on March 19, 2013


I once shut somebody up with, "if you have a cat which you keep outdoors, then you're killing more birds than a wind turbine would".

Good point. More than a wind farm in fact.
posted by anonymisc at 12:26 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I assume it's a line-of-sight issue - if the "eye" of the radar is situated on the ground, lower than the top of the turbines, then the turbine crops the field-of-vision by half a degree or so, which might only be 300 feet when looking at objects above the turbine, but objects on the far side of the turbine, way out in the distance will have to be progressively higher to not be occluded.

Oh, yes, hmm, of course. Have to wonder how many radars are out there that would be affected. Aside from airports...news weather radars, maybe?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:32 PM on March 19, 2013


Have they checked for missing penises in the area?
posted by Splunge at 12:33 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's weird, you wouldn't think they'd be tall enough to make it an issue. How useful is radar 300 feet from the ground?

Large turbines are in the 600+ feet range now. Line of sight is one issue. I think (but will stand correction) that part of the problem is that the blade speeds can be pretty fast, ie 100m/s, and this throws up false readings. The UK apparently has specific issues with wind turbines and radar due to its geography that have been harder to solve than elsewhere in Europe.
posted by biffa at 12:35 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, we are in the realm of real trade offs now and not insidious evils...
posted by Artw at 12:42 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


is this tied to the "fan death" panic in South Korea? It kinda seems like the same thing

In the Canadian incarnation - where it's usually referred to as "wind turbine syndrome" - it's not at all like the South Korean fan death thing.

What happened in Canada was that the province of Ontario passed North America's best renewable energy legislation, a feed-in tariff based on the German model that provided huge incentives for new RE installations.

Owing to the way the tariff was structured and the biases of the lumbering old bureaucracy formerly known as Ontario Hydro, however, the quickest and easiest installations to get approved were huge, rural, industrial-scale windfarms. (In Germany, solar installations led the way and local partnership/ownership of even large windfarms is common, smoothing over much of the NIMBYism.) Developers leaped in to sign leases with local landowners and started plopping down 5-MW turbines by the dozen in very short order, with abysmal local consultation and no local investment other than the land leases. People got agitated, consternated, concerned.

As the situation grew tenser, the junk-science peddler Nina Pierpont started making the rounds, and the provincial Conservatives - who'd opposed the Green Energy Act to the point of near-hysteria and saw an easy wedge issue to mop up votes in rural ridings - took to aiding and abetting any argument that suggested the act was bad for Ontario.

All of a sudden, reported cases of "wind turbine syndrome" skyrocketed. It was an epidemic! (As one rural municipal councillor told me at a conference, "This wind turbine syndrome's the damnedest thing. If you've got wind turbines on your property, you're not affected. But if your neighbour has wind turbines and you don't, you're sick as a dog!")

My take has long been that the symptoms people were reporting might be real, but that they were a product of the sudden spike in stress in their lives and the sort of hypochondria being described in this Australian report. Really, really hope the whole junk science mess of it will soon be dead and buried with reports like these.
posted by gompa at 12:45 PM on March 19, 2013 [11 favorites]


They should just fix this with magnets.

Add copper bracelets and crystals and you're pretty much assured of living forever.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:46 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In everyday interactions spoiling somebody's view is considered obnoxious: the person in the row in front at a concert who won't sit down, the person who walks in front of the camera just as a photographer is about to snap an elaborate group photo. If somebody spoils the view from our house then that can intuitively feel still more obnoxious: the neighbour's extension will block our view of the mountains and it won't be gone tomorrow. What can surprise people is that society's sympathy is generally on the side of the blocked person in the concert - but it (in the form of planning law) is usually on the side of the neighbour when it comes to their plans to build: one does not own one's view in planning terms. The case of a planned wind farm is more like the neigbouring extension than anything else - but with the important different that the neighbour also picks up a large large sum of money for the privilege of hosting the turbines. Given all this alone (and laying aside all arguments about the effectiveness of turbines, subsidies and everything else) I am not surprised people get upset.

But I do seem to recall seeing a study saying that the (very real) nocebo effects tend to vanish when communities in the line of site are given a share of the payout. That seems a reasonable policy to me.
posted by rongorongo at 12:47 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Given all this alone (and laying aside all arguments about the effectiveness of turbines, subsidies and everything else) I am not surprised people get upset.

"I don't like the way those things look" would be a perfectly reasonable and honest objection. Of course it's also one to which the law's response is generally (and understandably) "tough titties." So then people go for the BS "OMG, the way those things look is giving me a BRAIN TUMOR!!!" And that's not a reasonably and honest objection.
posted by yoink at 12:55 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wind turbines do interfere with radar, this is undisputed

You can see it yourself. KLOT, the WSR-88D weather radar for Chicago. As I write this, the radar is in clear air mode (VCP 31) so there's more noise -- planes, birds, etc.

But if you zoom in and look between Pontiac and Ottowa, you'll see two blobs that never move, and if you SW of the I-88 sign east of Stirling, you'll see three more. These are all wind farms in Northern IL.

For fixed structures, like the tall buildings in Downtown Chicago, the radar return doesn't change much, so they can filter that out. But the blades on a wind farm are turning, so they don't put out a reliable signal. The other way to tell fixed structures is by the doppler -- they don't move, so no doppler. But windmills, again, with the moving blades defeat that filter as well.

It is an issue -- it only affects the lowest sweep of the radar, but that's the sweep that can see the farthest.
posted by eriko at 12:59 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


What can surprise people is that society's sympathy is generally on the side of the blocked person in the concert - but it (in the form of planning law) is usually on the side of the neighbour when it comes to their plans to build:

No, the sympathies seem consistent to me - the person who paid for a ticket to a seated concert and won't sit down is analogous to a person who paid for land and builds a structure that ignores its intended zoning. There is more civil recourse in the later case, granted.

Conversely, if a person sitting in the seat in front of you happens to be tall, that's something you have to grin and bear, that's life in a society of a people, and the the same view is taken regarding a person buying a property in front in you to build their house.

If you want an empty seat next to you on the airline, you either pay for that seat, or you accept things if you don't buy it and it turns out the plane is full.
posted by anonymisc at 1:05 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


gompa: (As one rural municipal councillor told me at a conference, "This wind turbine syndrome's the damnedest thing. If you've got wind turbines on your property, you're not affected. But if your neighbour has wind turbines and you don't, you're sick as a dog!")

If you're hosting them and getting paid, you're not going to tell yourself it's making you sick. If you're not, well, some people literally become sick with jealousy.
posted by dragoon at 1:07 PM on March 19, 2013


Psh, diseases spread by word of mouth? Australia's got nothing on Pontypool yt .

A Pontypool reference? I could kill you!

If this sounds hostile you really need to watch Pontypool. It rules hard.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:20 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am tired of 'environmentalists' standing in the way of wind power.

Hows this one:

The 1st private wind turbine of any size was put in by a family that has seats on the county board and paid for the turbine from their rock selling operation.

Then they pushed through the board that no one else could have a wind turbine.

(yea, they cited the need for studies WRT this same topic. Really its more of them being an ass.)
posted by rough ashlar at 1:21 PM on March 19, 2013


The sympathy lying with the person whose view is being blocked in the theatre as opposed to with a wind turbine falls down in another key area. The person who wants to preserve their view will want to continue to use electricity. Continued generation of electricity will require someone has to live close to a wind farm, or a coal power station or a nuclear power station.

gompa: In Germany, solar installations led the way and local partnership/ownership of even large windfarms is common, smoothing over much of the NIMBYism

Your underlying point is correct but solar did not take the lead. Germany had a meaningful tariff to support wind from 1990 and the initial bulk of German renewable energy was wind power. Solar only really grew in Germany from 2000 onwards, it only broke through 100MW in 2001, at which point there was 6GW of wind. It was community and farmer owned wind and so was generally accepted. The German state and states helped by adopting a proactive approach to planning. The Danish approach was similar but also had rules that you could only own a small share of generation and had to live within a certain radius of the turbine you had shares in. This also aided acceptance - "your own pigs don't smell". The Danes also required counties to come up with a forward plan for where turbines could be sited.
posted by biffa at 2:06 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


While I have some sympathy for the impacts of shadow flicker [...]

Oh, man, I had never seen/thought of that before. I would lose my fucking mind. There is a smoke stack a half block south-west of my home and occasionally--once a month, maybe?--the wind will blow the smoke in our direction and blot the sun out in flickers and stutters all afternoon. And that drives me mental. I'd for sure grow a brain tumour of consternation if I had to endure windmill flicker over my home every day.

On the other hand, this seems like a tremendous opportunity to do good by creating research that shows that windmills make people smarter, richer and better lovers.
posted by looli at 2:11 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ponty... Pool?
posted by Artw at 2:12 PM on March 19, 2013


They should just fix this with magnets.

Heretic! Pyramidal crystals are the only path to healing.
posted by Behemoth at 2:31 PM on March 19, 2013


I'd be surprised if there was any new technology which hadn't attracted the fear in some form or another.

Not just new technology, since there's still widespread fear of nuclear power.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:34 PM on March 19, 2013


You can see it yourself. KLOT, the WSR-88D weather radar for Chicago. As I write this, the radar is in clear air mode (VCP 31) so there's more noise -- planes, birds, etc.

But if you zoom in and look between Pontiac and Ottowa, you'll see two blobs that never move, and if you SW of the I-88 sign east of Stirling, you'll see three more. These are all wind farms in Northern IL.


Very interesting, thank you.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 2:35 PM on March 19, 2013


the metadata suggests about 2 bird deaths per turbine per year, with variations depending on siting

Is there any data that would compare this with the effect on birds and other wildlife from the pollution caused by generating an equivalent amount of energy via other means such as gas, coal, and oil? You can't look at just one side of the equation.
posted by mach at 2:49 PM on March 19, 2013


> "Not just new technology, since there's still widespread fear of nuclear power."

I'm not dead-set against nuclear power by any means, but seriously, when a wind turbine meltdown leads to the emergency evacuation of everyone in a twelve-mile radius, I'll accept this as a valid comparison.
posted by kyrademon at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


So you could say, they're sick of the view?

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaah
posted by Slackermagee at 3:34 PM on March 19, 2013


The farmer-owner thing with wind in Germany is really interesting. They're all over the place in northwest Germany where i travel for work and the system seems great. Your local farmer puts up a tiny segment of land for a turbine and gets some remuneration to support the farm. It barely interferes with farm operations at all. Pretty much win-win, I would say.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:44 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


How useful is radar 300 feet from the ground?

Just reiterating, the radars they use do sweeps at different angles to cover the different layers of the atmosphere in order to build a three dimensional image of the weather. A sweep that is nearly parallel to the ground will catch any rain that is falling, but it won't catch the giant thunderhead 40,000 feet in the air that has yet to begin raining.

Imagine a flashlight in a dark field. If you point it straight ahead, you will see people, but not critters. If you point it down, you will see critters and holes in the ground, but you'll miss the tree branch that you are about to smack your head into. Same idea.
posted by gjc at 4:16 PM on March 19, 2013


Came for the conspiracy theory madness, stayed for more Pontypool
posted by Ber at 4:40 PM on March 19, 2013


Is there any data that would compare this with the effect on birds and other wildlife from the pollution caused by generating an equivalent amount of energy via other means such as gas, coal, and oil? You can't look at just one side of the equation.

Sovacool (Energy Policy 37 (2009) pp2241–2248) suggests "that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh. While this paper should be respected as a preliminary assessment, the estimate means that wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 14.5 million. The paper concludes that further study is needed, but also that fossil-fueled power stations appear to pose a much greater threat to avian wildlife than wind and nuclear power technologies."
posted by biffa at 4:40 PM on March 19, 2013


Wow that shadow flicker thing is terrible. That seems like an actual problem, too bad that pretend problems get more attention.
posted by fshgrl at 4:46 PM on March 19, 2013


Maybe this varies by country but I would expect the possibility of flicker on buildings and roads to have been considered at the siting stage and action taken to address it where it might be a problem. Scruss will be able to comment on good practice when he arrives in this thread.
posted by biffa at 5:16 PM on March 19, 2013


Who hates wind turbines more than anyone?

Oil Corporations: Traditional Energy Providers; Bottom line.


What happened in Canada was that the province of Ontario passed North America's best renewable energy legislation, a feed-in tariff based on the German model that provided huge incentives for new RE installations...

Germany doesn't quite have those big Traditional Energy Providers sitting right beside the P.M., unlike Ottawa..

The recent former premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, went against the tide, like a boat against the current. He brought in North America's best renewable energy legislation based on European concepts, which I think is a good idea. (He was also trying to catch up with the kilowatts of Quebec's environmentally questionable James Bay Hydroelectric Project).

Nimbyism (different Nimbys from the wind farms, actually) bit Dalton hard when he replaced old coal plants with gas plants, and locals near the new gas plants squeaked enough to get the opposition political parties involved. Then he jiggled locations for these plants in order to win a pretty tight election... but then he also had problems with various dumb scandals by greedy underlings in the health sector, and then he took out his frustration randomly on the education sector... so is Dalton like the Prometheus or Icarus of Energy in Ontario for the 21st Century?


Energy is a big deal. Who provides it. How much it costs. How much are you willing to pay?
posted by ovvl at 5:31 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


There have been quite a few studies on birdkill, the metadata suggests about 2 bird deaths per turbine per year, with variations depending on siting.

So ... one outdoor moggie ~= 50 wind turbines.

"The results were certainly surprising, if not startling," says UGA researcher and lead author Kerrie Anne Loyd. "In Athens-Clarke County, we found that about 30 percent of the sampled cats were successful in capturing and killing prey, and that those cats averaged about one kill for every 17 hours outdoors, or 2.1 kills per week. It was also surprising to learn that cats only brought 23 percent of their kills back to a residence." - http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/outdoor-cats-are-prolific-killers-study-finds
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:35 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lynda Barry on wind turbines. As much as the evidence seems to be piling up that turbines are harmless, I also find it hard to believe that Barry is just imagining things.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:37 PM on March 19, 2013


I also find it hard to believe that Barry is just imagining things.

Why? This whole post is about people starting to imagine symptoms when they hear about them.
posted by ymgve at 6:01 PM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


I also find it hard to believe that Barry is just imagining things.

Why? It's pretty obvious a lot of other people are. Is it because she has some special skill/ability that isn't obvious? Because she writes hyperbole with skill? Because she's a noted and talented cartoonist? Just curious, because there is precisely nothing in that article that isn't debunked in the FPP and endlessly repeated in every other OMFG Windfarms, OMFG Cell Towers, OMFG HAARP, etc., etc. articles.
posted by kjs3 at 6:19 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


So if my home electric usage is 1kW for my 100-year life, I use ~.9GWh of electricity; if it all came from wind, then I was the cause of death of .4*.9 = .36 excess bird deaths, and if it was from coal 5.2*.9=4.7 excess deaths? I feel like I must have slipped a decimal place somewhere, because that might as well be nothing. About on par with the carnage from a bucket of KFC.
posted by jepler at 6:30 PM on March 19, 2013


*crackle* Ne pas parler des moulins! *crackle*
posted by Artw at 6:51 PM on March 19, 2013


Windmills and brain cancer? Windmills and disease? When will they start to examine the obvious link between windmills and stupidity?
posted by BlueHorse at 9:00 PM on March 19, 2013


is this tied to the "fan death" panic in South Korea? It kinda seems like the same thing

There is a shocking preponderance of unscientific magical thinking here in Korea (including but not limited to things like 'fan death' and nonsense like talking nicely to onions (or whatever) makes them rot slower or makes plants grow faster), but no, there is no connection. There are quite a lot of wind turbines here, and as far as I know, not a lot of hysteria about them.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:13 PM on March 19, 2013


Jepler: I am not sure how system losses are taken into account in those figures but those are the direct impacts. Bear in mind everything you buy will also be bathed in the blood of sparrows. Embedded bird deaths one might say.
posted by biffa at 12:06 AM on March 20, 2013




This isn't to say the wind industry is a blameless beacon of community-first policy - a nearby town has a 300' tall paperweight because the company who sold the town on a community turbine also sold them a bum gearbox. Of course they'll replace it... for half a million dollars. The town does not have a half a million dollars, the turbine was supposed to be generating electricity and cash by selling juice back into the grid; massive overhauls after less than 5 years of operation were not part of the deal. Insurance on the structure won't cover "minor" mechanical repair, and the maintenance contract won't cover "major" mechanical repair. So the damn thing is idle, and the town will be paying it off with tax revenue rather than electricity revenue for the next 20 years unless they take another bond to fix the gearbox and get better insurance and maintenance contracts.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:47 AM on March 20, 2013


stavros, to be fair, there's lots of magical thinking here in N. Am. as well. We just keep it in the kitchen.
posted by sneebler at 6:15 AM on March 20, 2013


There is a shocking preponderance of unscientific magical thinking here in Korea

I would be really interested in a post about this.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:20 AM on March 20, 2013


I've been doing wind turbines for 20-ish years. No new issues have come up in that time. Sure, some of the understanding of long-range noise propagation has improved, but also - watt for watt - new turbines are quieter than old ones. The anti-wind echo chamber is amazing; they all use wordpress.com blogs, and I'm pretty sure they're using auto-posts from RSS feeds so that all the groups (I use that term loosely; some of the groups are actually individuals) appear to be producing a united, massive and fast-acting front. The cross-pollination between the Ontario groups and the Australian groups produced a 24-hour news battering against wind energy.

One of the surprisingly large opponents of wind power are power workers. Apart from maintenance crews, wind farms don't employ thousands of people. They dispatch and shut down as the weather changes. In the words of a certain computer company, wind turbines just work.

There are other less overt anti groups, such as the Renewable Energy Foundation. They come up with delightful bits of misinformation like their report that shows that turbines get less efficient as they get older. If you dig through the data yourself, you realise that it's actually new turbines being so much taller than old ones that makes them perform better. It's a bit like saying that computer gets slower as they got older, because your Vic-20 is now 30 years old and a bit rubbish compared to a quad core.

Shadow flicker can be a thing, but we can design around that. We can either make a flicker map of the area, and make sure turbines don't cast long shadows on houses, or use light sensors and time of day restrictions that will stop the turbine at certain times is the sun is bright and clear and the wind is from a certain direction. It's standard on some vendors' equipment.

But yeah, Chapman's work codifies what we knew all along. Hysteria feeds on itself. It's why I have this on my office wall.
posted by scruss at 3:02 PM on March 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


One of the surprisingly large opponents of wind power are power workers. Apart from maintenance crews, wind farms don't employ thousands of people. They dispatch and shut down as the weather changes. In the words of a certain computer company, wind turbines just work.

I think this is not quite right, there is a fair amount of evidence that renewable energy provides more jobs per MW installed, though as the technology becomes more mature the number of jobs per unit declines, though not below FF levels. Wind is a bit mroe than gas or coal and PV is a lot more jobs. Biomass is more by a factor of 2-3. The problem for current power workers is that RE jobs, as with the technology itself, will not be centralised where they live, they will be distributed.
posted by biffa at 8:51 AM on March 24, 2013


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