November 13, 2010
Minnesota, Opinions

Setbacks key for turbines

By: GARY CARLSON, Guest Columnist, Northfield News, 12 November 2010

Northfield residents should be aware that there is a proposal to place two 400-plus foot industrial size wind turbines on the bluff at the southeast corner of Northfield. International and U.S. research and media reports document that people living too close to wind turbines are getting sick. Their symptoms include sleep disturbance, headaches, difficulty concentrating, irritability and fatigue, as well as ear symptoms like dizziness or vertigo, tinnitus and the sensation of ear pain or pressure. The most common of these is sleep disturbance.

Why does this happen? Sound waves, both audible (20-20,000 Hz) and inaudible (0-20 Hz) produced by the turbines and their blades can affect our internal ear gyroscopes which control our sense of motion, balance and position (think getting carsick as a child). It is the infrasonic and low frequency sounds that you cannot hear that are especially problematic.The wind industry wants you to believe that what you can’t hear can’t hurt you, but that has proven to be false. People are especially affected at night when they are trying to sleep. Young children – whose inner ear is still developing, those over 50 and anyone with a chronic medical problem are at higher risk.

Wind energy is good, but wind turbine setbacks are key. Our present setbacks are outdated. Most are at 500 to 1000 feet from property lines or residences. Placing the turbines one mile from the edge of towns and preferably one mile from rural homes minimizes potential health issues. Many European countries, who are about 15 years ahead of us in experience with wind turbines, started with our present guidelines but have learned through experience that people get sick when they live too close.

Wind companies argue that the newer generation of turbines is quieter, but you can’t capture the wind with 270 foot diameter blades chopping through a two acre vertical air space without disturbing the air, i.e., generating audible and inaudible noise.

Many highly respected researchers like Alec Salt Ph.D., from the Department of Otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine; Richard James, one of the premier noise control consultants in the country and Nina Pierpont M.D., author of “Wind Turbine Syndrome,” all argue for one-mile setbacks from industrial size turbines to prevent health problems.

Additionally there are regional precedents for longer setbacks. Goodhue County now has a 10 rotor setback which is 2,475 feet. Wabasha has a draft proposal on the table similar to Goodhue’s but also requires two-mile setbacks from towns. Trempealeau County, near La Crosse, Wis., has setbacks that are at least a mile from the nearest home and a half-mile from neighboring property lines. In regard to the Spring Creek Wind proposal on the southeastern border of Northfield, draw a one mile circle around the turbine closest to Northfield, and that circle will extend into the soccer fields and Jefferson Parkway. Clearly the proposed turbines’ location does not meet these new evolving municipal standards. Remember, once a wind turbine is erected it will be there for the next 25 to 30 years.

Please contact your Northfield city council representative or your county commissioner to register your concerns.

In the spirit of full disclosure I live 2,200 feet west-northwest from one of the proposed wind turbines.

— Gary Carlson, MD, is board certified in family medicine, holistic medicine, and medical acupuncture. He works at the Allina Medical Clinic in Northfield and the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing at the Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

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