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Publisher's Letter

Wind farms are a blight for people in their vicinity

Last month, I wrote about how wind power is not a substitute for base-load power generation. And while there may be fairly wide agreement with that argument, there is another aspect of wind power which has rarely been discussed: the effect of wind farms on people who live close by.

In the past, I have not understood the vociferous opposition of some communities to wind farms. They claim that they are a blight on the landscape or that they are a hazard to birds or they object to the noise they make. Well, whether or not they are a blight on the landscape is fairly subjective. For my part, I see wind turbines as graceful machines spinning slowly in unison but I can understand that some people would prefer the original unaltered landscape.

But noise? Why would noise be a problem? These very large machines are virtually silent, aren’t they? Years ago, I stood immediately underneath a wind turbine as it was operating and concluded that any noise was negligible compared to the noise of the wind itself. And most acoustical consultants have produced pretty much the same conclusion: noise is negligible.

It turns out that if you live in the vicinity of a wind farms, noise is most certainly a problem – a really big problem! While wind turbines actually produce very little audible noise they do produce infrasonic noise, ie, noise in the range 0-20Hz and it is this noise which affects people who live nearby – they simply cannot escape it. And while you may think that the noise of the wind itself would drown out the whooshing noise of the wind turbine’s blades and any infrasonic effects, that is not the case. You can have the situation where a house some distance from a wind farm is experiencing calm conditions or it may be upwind but the noise of a nearby wind farm can be clearly heard, or in the case of infrasonic noise, felt.

Now while acoustical consultants may be of the opinion that low-level infrasonic noise is innocuous, doctors and the people immediately affected can attest otherwise. People complain of nausea, headaches, dizziness, lack of sleep and so on. Now nausea and lack of sleep I can identify with. At night, if you are having difficulty sleeping, you tend on focus on low-level sounds which are barely noticeable during the day. And if you can physically perceive the noise of wind turbines during the daytime, the effects are bound to be worse at night.

But the worst aspect of this noise is the realisation that it is never going to stop. That noise will always be there – for the rest of your life! You are trapped! Nor can you make the decision to sell your house and move away. Word gets around and values for properties within several kilometres of wind-farms rapidly fall to a small fraction of their value before the turbines were installed.

I can barely imagine the feelings of those people who are badly affected by this noise. It is a life sentence where no crime has been committed! I suppose you could invest in double-glazing and sound proofing to ameliorate the effects while you are inside your home – but why should you be forced into this situation which is entirely out of your control? And while sound-proofing might be a solution when you are inside your home, it will be no help when you are outdoors.

It also turns out that wind turbines can produce visible flicker effects that people find disturbing. You can imagine that this could well be the case when the sun hits the moving blades from some angles.

What to do? First, any Authority charged with the approval of proposed wind farms must take the noise and other effects seriously. There needs to be consideration of compensation for any property owners within several kilometres of the development.

But those people who are already seriously affected are the ones who are really in a bind. Already there a quite a few people in Australia who are blighted. Their concerns must be addressed. Not to do so would be unconscionable.

Leo Simpson

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