To understand the implications of siting industrial wind turbines, the average citizen has to wade through a plethora of conflicting information. Promoters continue to paint a rosy picture of industrial wind, while local citizens, because of regulatory inaction by their elected representatives, have formed alliances opposed to industrial wind. They contend that there is a dark side to industrial wind, including detrimental impacts on the environment, wildlife, human health and quality of life, and property values, with creation of fewer jobs and lower tax revenues than originally thought, and even decadal relinquishment of property rights to wind developers. How can one decide?
Scientists are naturally critical of work done by peers, examining closely the quality and quantity of data and repeatability of results. Based on hundreds of studies, I know that forest fragmentation can reduce the success and number of forest birds. A handful of studies have shown that rotating turbine blades annually kill thousands of bats and sound levels of turbines in mountains cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy.
Because of research by doctors on turbine noise and health and quality of life, it has been recommended that turbines not be sited any closer than 1.5 miles from homes, and up to 2-3 miles in hilly terrain. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the wind literature that says wind turbines must be sited next door to homes and workplaces.
The information being promulgated by the wind industry is oftentimes the best-case scenario, not the average or most frequent. They are not necessarily being dishonest, but are selective in their reporting.
After studies have been repeated numerous times in a variety of locations, we begin to develop an understanding of the probabilities of particular outcomes. However, we cannot always wait for these definitive studies. This minimally regulated industry has a tremendous potential for detrimental impacts; therefore, we should proceed with tremendous caution.
Based on the precautionary principle, if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public (or environment), in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action. I might also add that in the absence of such proof the best course of action is no action, for if built and found to cause severe or irreversible harm it is highly unlikely that it will be unbuilt!
J. Edward Gates
13 March 2008
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