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Brown County wind farm plan still generating debate

A key state health official has notified the attorney for a Brown County citizens group that there isn’t sufficient evidence to show that wind turbines have a negative effect on human health.

To that, attorney Ed Marion replied, “There’s no question in my mind that there’s such a rush to build wind turbines that policymakers are simply ignoring all the evidence against building them. People who dismiss wind turbine complaints are flat wrong.”

Marion, former chief of staff for Gov. Tommy Thompson, represents the Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy, a group that opposes a plan by Chicago-based Invenergy LLC to construct a wind farm of 100 turbines in the towns of Glenmore, Holland, Morrison and Wrightstown.

Seth Foldy, state health officer and administrator for the state’s Division of Public Health, said his conclusion is based on a study of scientific evidence.

The citizens group claims considerable evidence shows wind turbines can cause a variety of health problems for nearby residents, including sleep disturbance and headaches.

The PSC-appointed wind siting council has sent proposed turbine rules to the PSC, which is expected to vote on the rules next week. The major issues are decibel limits and setback restrictions.

“Our review of the scientific literature concludes that exposure levels measured from contemporary wind turbines at current setback distances do not reach those associated with objective physical conditions, such as hearing loss, high blood pressure, or flicker-induced epilepsy,” Foldy wrote in a July 19 letter to Marion.

“From this, we conclude that current scientific evidence is not sufficient to support a conclusion that contemporary wind turbines cause adverse health outcomes in those living at distances consistent with current draft rules being considered by the Public Service Commission.”

Marion said he sent three letters to Foldy before receiving a reply and said additional studies have been completed since Foldy’s July 19 letter.

“Washington University in St. Louis, a prestigious institution, released a study this month that said there’s an urgent need to do more research on wind turbine effect,” Marion said.

Marion’s May 13 letter to Foldy cited five studies that he said concluded wind turbine noise can cause health problems.

“Wind energy proponents claim that it has not been proven that wind turbine noise causes adverse health impacts,” Marion wrote. “More to the point, it has not been proven that wind turbine noise does not cause adverse health effects.”

He called on the state Division of Public Health to conduct more in-depth research on the issue.

Foldy wrote that symptoms such as sleep disturbance and headaches are common and caused by “a wide variety of conditions.

“For example, sleep disturbance is a common problem in the general population and may be a sign of an underlying medical disorder. The same is true for symptoms like nausea, headache, problems with equilibrium.”

He said the department’s staff reviewed the five reports Marion mentioned, as well as more than 150 reports on wind turbines and health. He said the department will continue to review evidence as it becomes available.

Barnaby Dinges, spokesman for Invenergy, said the company “has no comment on the letters between Marion and the state since it was not part of the exchange. It’s really a dialogue between those two parties.”

Invenergy is expected to resubmit its application for the farm after the siting rules are approved.

Tony Walter writes for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.