Widex is one of Denmark’s richest family owned businesses and ranks among the six biggest producers of hearing aids. The company has established new headquarters with green technology and a wind turbine that throws shadows over the neighbours’ lives and the company’s marketing of itself as environmentally friendly and CO2 neutral. The price of this idealised picture is paid by the neighbours that up till now have protested in vain.
The noise and the shadows from a 100 meter high wind turbine has turned the lives of its neighbours in rural surroundings into a psychedelic nightmare since the blades began to rotate in the beginning of July 2010 in Lynge in Northern Sealand, about 30 km north of Copenhagen.
Here the Danish company Widex has built new head quarters that houses more than 600 employees. Widex is one of Denmark’s richest family owned companies and international producer of hearing aids with subsidiary companies in 30 countries and a share of the world market of 10 per cent according to information from the company itself.
The architecture of the new domicile is attractive and it is equipped with advanced green technology giving it a high advertising value. On its web page Widex writes: “We also believe in clever solutions and that things can always be done better. Our entirely CO2- neutral headquarters in Denmark is testament to this commitment.”
An idealised picture
“The building […] stands out as a prime example of a cutting-edge and environmentally friendly building, which combines the use of renewable energy with the maximum recovery of energy.
“The geothermal system, where groundwater is used like a heat reservoir, is the first of its kind in Denmark. The system is very effective, reducing CO2 emissions by seventy percent compared to traditional heating systems.
“Widex has also mounted a windmill at the premises which delivers more power annually than Widex uses in total. Not only does this make the headquarters completely CO2- neutral – it also allows Widex to deliver excess power to the electricity grid, providing a CO2-free contribution to the local area.”
This is an idealised picture that beautifully veils the harsh realities.
It is horrendous
Widex presents itself as a role model for others and make use of the PR value of its green technology in order to stand out as exceptionally environmentally friendly. However, because of the wind turbine – a Vestas V 80 of 2 MW – it is to the detriment of the lives of its neighbours.
The wind turbine is situated 120 meters from the new head quarters and in a way so that the building at no time is affected by the impact of the shadows. But the neighbours are and they are also strongly affected by the special wind turbine noise.
The wind turbine is placed extremely close to the 70 hectares Birkholm Nursery (app 173 acres). It is owned and managed by Ole Schjellerup, 52, who lives in his house 423 meters from the turbine. He says in short and to the point:
”The wind turbine has ruined our lives. We built a house that we now have to sell because we simply cannot live here anymore. It has also become a hell for my employees”.
Each of the turbine’s three blades is 40 meters long. The 60 meter high turbine tower is placed 50 meters from the boundary of the nursery. When the blades are horizontal and point towards the nursery there are only ten meters between the tip of the blade and the boundary. It is not surprising that the workers may experience a sense of danger when they carry out their gardening work near the boundary.
On Oct 1st 2010 the sun was positioned in a way so that the wind turbine for the first time darkened Ole Schjellerup’s house because of the impact by the shadows from the turbine. He describes to a local newspaper the experience with these words:
“It is horrendous. The living room is like a psychedelic disco. Everything blinks. It makes your head spin.”
This peaceful garden has become like a haunted place because of the noise, the newspa- per reported.
“We cannot use our front garden or our verandah any more. The verandah door to our bedroom is normally open during the summer. But we cannot leave it open now. There is simply too much noise. It is both the engine noise from the turbine as well as the whistling noise from the blades. There is also a sound at times that penetrates everything, way into the house as well. Fortunately there are long periods when the turbine is idle. There isn’t that much wind. But we experience days when it is hopeless”, Ole Schjellerup explained.
Peter Hørning is another neighbour who together with his wife Gabriela lives in a thatched house 526 meters from the wind turbine. Their lives have also been seriously affected by the shadows that create an on off blinking sensation in the rooms of their house. Peter Hørning puts it like this to the local newspaper: “It is like someone that keeps switching the light on and off ”.
Video on YouTube
In order to document this constant nuisance the couple made a recording of the effect of the shadows. The effect of the shadows lasted 40 minutes.
On the company’s website you can see the wind turbine:
It is the noise that the couple find the most disturbing. “When the weather is good and it is not very windy it sounds as if there is a tractor working on the other side of the hedge”, says Peter Hørning to Frederiksborg Amts Avis (Frederiksborg County News).
Widex bought the site for its new head quarters from Allerød municipality allegedly at a price of approx. 65 million DKK. The revenue from the sale was a welcome contribution to the municipality ́s strained economy. So is the tax income. The municipality is bud- getting on a tax income of 12 million DKK from Widex, the mayor Erik Lund has told Rotary in Allerød. He voted for the building of the wind turbine and thus did a complete political U-turn around.
“No big wind turbines are allowed inside the boundaries of Allerød. This has been decided by a political majority in the city council”, it was reported in the newspaper Frederiksborg Amts Avis 23rd November 2007 thus putting a stop to the plans of building two 143.5 meter high wind turbines.
At the time Erik Lund was the group chairman for the conservatives in the town council.
“This is the end of the wind turbine debate in Allerød. We do not want wind turbines whatsoever” he said to the newspaper and pointed out that Allerød is one of the least windy places in Denmark. Apart from that his party was of the opinion that turbines of that size belong in the sea not on land.
1st December 2008 Erik Lund was appointed mayor and Widex was given permission to build a 100 meter high wind turbine.
All in all Allerød municipality has given Widex a considerable degree of preferential treatment.
This is reflected in the very short handling time for the wind turbine building permission. The paper work was done in a year which is an exceptionally short time as in Denmark this normally takes 3-4 years. It is likely that some rules have not been adhered to such as insufficient research into the Widex turbine’s negative effect on the surroundings. However, the authorities have not reacted by ordering a stop to the operation.
A good deal
The Vestas turbine allegedly cost 15 million DKK. But it was a very good business set-
up. Widex gets a state subsidy* of 11 million DKK and can sell surplus electricity. And the PR value is invaluable.
[*Every Danish wind turbine is allocated a subsidy according to what it theoretically can produce when fully operative for 22,000 hours. The contribution is 0.25 DKK per kWh. For the Widex turbine of 2MW the arithmetic looks like this: 0.25 DKK/kWh × 22,000 hours × 2.000 kW = 11,000,000 DKK. How long time it takes for the turbine to use up the allocation depends on how it produces electricity. Turbines with plenty of wind will use the allocation typically over 4-6 years whereas it will take the Widex turbine 10-14 years to use it up because of insufficient wind.]
To the outside world Widex can present itself as an environmentally conscious business that is mindful of the climate and the CO2 emission. The fact that the neighbours of the wind turbine are seriously affected by for instance the effect of the shadows has made no impression on the management. As Richard Tøpholm expresses it: “They will have to draw the curtains and put the light on”.
Richard Tøpholm is CEO Jan Tøpholm’s oldest son. He is an engineer and a likely candidate to become the next generation’s chief executive. In the local newspaper Allerød Nyt (News) he has cheerfully encouraged people to visit and get acquainted with the turbine and dispel any fears by giving it a pat.
Widex may very well have the municipality and the rules and regulations on their side. But one thing is the law. Morals and ethics is very different … !!!
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