Wind Energy: A Review of Human Health & Safety Concerns
This is a more detailed examination of the wind energy situation in North Carolina that I previously outlined, which is part of an ongoing investigation of the state’s process of getting wind energy permits. All this came about as North Carolina’s first industrial wind project (Desert Wind) is now in the pipeline.
As a part of my research, I had a productive conversation with North Carolina’s Health Director. My question to him was: what state agency will be assuring that NC citizens are protected regarding health and safety matters resulting from this industrial development?
He agreed that there should be such an assessment, but concurred with other North Carolina agency people that I had already contacted: there currently is no provision in the state’s rules and regulations that requires a comprehensive human health assessment for such a project.
We subsequently had several good correspondences, and below is a composite. I’m sharing this as I’m sure similar situations exist in other states and provinces, so the sample Health & Safety references should be helpful.
Per our recent phone conversation, I would like to supplement your industrial wind energy knowledge by recommending that you read the conclusions of some independent experts about some of the known human health impacts of wind turbines. This will put some scientific balance into the situation, so the state won’t be just looking at what the developer says. I don’t want to overload you, so below are just some samples. If you want more, please let me know.
The most pressing matter is that a comprehensive, objective assessment of the possible human health effects of the proposed Desert Wind project (Iberdrola/Atlantic Wind: Elizabeth City) needs to be authorized.
Additionally it would be much appreciated if you would use your connections as the NC State Health Director to see that a NC Health agency is an automatic participant in all future NC industrial wind project permitting approvals. As we discussed, that is not the case now.
In our conversation you raised a good point: what are the human health and safety effects of wind projects compared to those resulting from a coal facility?
This is a classic case of comparing apples to oranges, as these sources of electrical power are profoundly different, and are not interchangeable.
Once you carefully study EnergyPresentation.Info you’ll see that no number of wind turbines equate to a single coal facility. Wind energy always must be augmented by a conventional power source, and (with the fast response times needed) it is almost always gas.
Interestingly, independent studies have shown that there is more pollution from a wind+gas combination than there is from gas alone (due to the fact that different types of gas turbines are used, different efficiencies, etc.). [See this sample discussion.]
In other words if our primary motivation is to reduce pollution from coal, we could do it more effectively and much less expensively by just using high efficiency gas turbines (as vs wind + low efficiency gas turbines).
A nuclear facility would be an even lower pollution option, but would cost more than coal. In my view, Small Modular Reactors are clearly the future — and they have significantly less environmental concerns than does a large nuclear facility. Here is an interesting study on SMR economics.
Deep-drilled geothermal power plants could be a worthwhile option, but government subsidy policies have not made them financially attractive, compared to wind energy. Hopefully this can be fixed. Here is an MIT study on geothermal.
You said that although you advocated that the state have robust rules and regulation to protect the health and safety of its citizens —that there was no money budgeted to do so regarding wind energy at this time.
My responses to that are:
1 – this issue will become larger and larger as time goes on (and more expensive), so the time to get it right is in the beginning — not after NC citizens are knowingly subjected to health and safety impacts.
2 – legislators need to hear from state health professionals about the need to address this matter scientifically. If this is properly presented to them, I’m sure that they can solve the financial part.
3 – I have contacts with independent health and safety experts who would be glad to assist in writing up any state level health and safety document. Most would provide their services for free.
4 – look at the excellent study that citizen volunteers created in the small town of Bethany (NY). This proves that objectivity and competence is possible without a high financial expenditure. The environmental/health/safety considerations that they researched and dealt with included:
1. Aesthetic / Quality of Life Impact
2. Backup Power Issues
3. Construction Disruption
4. Earthquake / Seismic Effects
5. Electronic & Electromagnetic Interference
6. Fire Risk & Fire Department Needs
7. Ground Water Impact
8. Hazards to Aviation
9. High Wind Failure & Other Breakdowns
10. Ice Throw
12. Lightning Protection
14. Noise, Including Infrasonic
15. Road Upkeep & Repair
16. Security (Vandalism / Terrorism)
17. Shadow & Flicker Effects
18. Siting & Placement Issues
19. Storm Water Runoff, Erosion & Sedimentation
20. Stray Voltage AKA Ground Current
Note that the Bethany report goes on to identify almost twenty additional important areas of concern (outside of health matters), like property value decline.
NC would be far better off just copying their document as versus doing nothing!
[UPDATE: in 2013 NC passed a statewide Wind Permitting bill (H484). Although it represents a good first step, it does not address most of the forty issues identified above.]
Let me know any questions.
Since wind energy is a technical area, most people get confused with terminology. Before delving into wind assessments, I would strongly recommend reading through this fine summary of wind energy related terms, written by an independent energy expert.
I tried to arrange the following items by topic. You should also keep in mind that I have the contact information for almost all of the experts who authored the following studies/reports/articles. If you want any of their contact info, please let me know.
Mostly Acoustical Matters —
7 – The Acoustical Ecology Institute goes to great lengths to take a balanced position regarding wind turbines and acoustical consequences. Here is their discussion.
9 – “Wind Turbine Syndrome” (extract of an early version);
“Wind Turbine Syndrome” (current version, full book).
15- A fine summary of what transpired at the 2011 third annual Wind Turbine Noise Conference.
Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Concerns —
17-Some of the most recent studies on EMFs.
18-An EMF assessment of a specific wind project.
Shadow Flicker —
21-”Shadow Flicker Modeling“.
Ice Throw —
22- Dr. Terry Matilsky on Turbine Ice Throw.
Miscellaneous Health & Safety —
25-Repercussions of wind turbine operations on human health by the French Academy of Medicine, which recommends turbine setbacks of approximately one mile.
27-Here is a good site that keeps track of wind turbine related accidents and deaths.
Government Health & Safety Documents —
You also asked for an example of a state wind energy health policy. Unfortunately, the reality is that politics have trumped science in most places. Minnesota’s, though, is a reasonable assessment.
As mentioned, many government agencies have a difficult time in separating political policy from a true scientific assessment. For instance, here is an Australian government document “Wind Turbines and Health” with some insightful scientific commentary by world-renown expert Dr. Nina Pierpont (MD, PhD).
Due to public pressure on the Australian government by its citizens, their Senate set up a high level panel that conducted a nationwide inquiry into wind energy. Their comprehensive and reasonably balanced report “The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms” was just released 6/23/11. Chapter 2 discusses health matters.
As I touched on in the beginning, the citizens of the small town of Bethany (NY) did a superior job in itemizing and explaining many of the concerns with industrial wind development in this study.
Likewise, the citizens of Union (Wisconsin) wrote a superior wind ordinance that discussed and dealt with many health and safety matters. UPDATE: Some other examples where citizens came up with reasonable ordinances include: Sumner (Maine), Eddington (Maine), Sweetwater (Wyoming), Trempealeau County (Wisconsin), Madison (Idaho), and Jackson (Maine).
In my view, these are the types of reports that should be generated by NC agencies that are interested in presenting this topic to NC citizens in an objective, scientific manner. (I can provide you with dozens of additional good local ordinances, etc. if you like.)