Talk veered in other directions Tuesday when nearly 70 people came together at Eastern Oregon University for the Oregon Public Health Division’s meeting on possible effects of wind farms on health. Hosted by the division’s Office of Environmental Health, the meeting was a “listening session” for the office’s upcoming wind energy facilities health impact assessment.
Program Manager Jae Douglas told the crowd her office has been tasked with writing an assessment that will be used to guide people involved in siting decisions, including the Oregon Department of Energy, and local officials.
She said information gathered from citizens and data from scientific research will be included in the assessment. The assessment will be presented in draft form for public comment this spring before it is finalized in June.
“Our job is to provide that kind of look to decision makers,” she said. “We want to make sure that human health is considered along with all the other issues.”
Rather than accept formal testimony, staff directed the attendees to break into groups for round-robin discussions. Before talk swung to specific health issues, people were asked why they choose to live where they do and how they feel about wind farms in general.
In Union County, Horizon Wind Energy has plans to build the 300-megawatt Antelope Ridge wind farm near Union, and siting is a controversial topic.
Talk at the tables took in a host of issues outside health, including wind farm decommissioning, possible impacts on the tourism industry and property values, and more.
When health issues were discussed, people brought up possible wind turbine effects such as headaches, nausea, rapid heartbeat and mental stress.
“Stress may be exacerbating existing health conditions,” one woman said.
Pat Lang, a city councilor from Union, came armed with a long list of written concerns, a primary one being “stray voltage,” a form of electrical pollution said to be caused by wind turbines. Some dairy farmers claim the phenomenon is responsible for decreased milk production in cows.
“If there is such a thing as stray voltage, I want it acknowledged,” Lang said after the meeting. “I’m a city councilor and my main things are health and safety. When it affects our town, our schools, our children, I’m concerned about it.”
Larry Knowles of La Grande said he came to the meeting because he supports wind energy but wants to better understand why others don’t.
“I really wanted to know about people’s concerns and it’s very apparent they are concerned,” he said.
He said he has worked in the wood products industry most of his life and has seen that Oregon has stringent rules about noise levels in the workplace.
He said he came to the meeting seeking answers about appropriate noise levels around wind farms.
“I want a reference point,” he said.
Bonnie Dunn of Union said she is pleased that health officials are looking into possible wind farm health effects. She said she hopes heath impacts are well-researched before Antelope Ridge is built.
“It was nice to be able to tell the health officers about our real true feelings. We wish there would be more studies,” Dunn said.
Shane Kirkland, a Vestas employee who works at Horizon Wind Energy’s Elkhorn Ridge wind farm, said as the meeting come to a close that talk should have centered more on health impacts and less on other issues.
“I feel the information you collected may not be true to fact,” he told Douglas. “I think the process that was used here may not be pertinent to health.”
Douglas replied that her agency is dealing with a complicated issue and wants to look at many factors.
“We’ll take a good look at it, and analyze it. We are charged with assessing the risk to human health and we’re going to stay focused on that.”
Other listening sessions are scheduled today in Pendleton and Arlington.
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