I’ve always had a fondness for windmills. I loved the story Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates as much for the illustrations of the quaint windmills in the Netherlands as for Hans’ need to win the silver skates. I used to be wild about those handheld, plastic windmills that a whoosh of breath would send spinning. Windmills strike an old-fashioned chord with me, reminding me of a childhood long gone, of a time when there was only one way to friend someone.
My bias toward windmills and my deep conviction that we need to lower CO2 emissions kept me from questioning the value of industrial wind turbines. When homeowners balked at a proposal to have industrial wind turbines near them, I dismissed their concerns as a case of NIMBYism. When a reporter said that the proposed turbines would create enough energy to power 900 homes, I basked in the feel-good, saving-the-world moment. So good, that I started researching the developer proposing to put up the turbines. Something in what I read gave me pause.
The part where the developer said damage to birds would be, “negligible.” Well, maybe. But not if you happen to be a bird. I started thinking about that eagle I spotted near Holland Pond and I wondered if she would be fast enough to avoid the massive rotors that spin at 180 miles an hour.
So, I kept reading. I realized that the most compelling argument against erecting industrial wind turbines is also the most disturbing. Industrial wind turbines don’t do what their proponents claim.
Because the wind is unpredictable, wind energy must always be embedded with a conventional power source, usually gas. Traditional power stations must be online at all times to assure continuous power. Open cycle gas turbines have to vary their outputs in order to adjust to the fluctuations of wind energy. In order to do that they operate at low levels of thermal efficiency. The lowered thermal efficiency leads to higher CO2 emissions.
Industrial wind turbines do not reduce the need for conventional power use. They exacerbate the very problems they are supposed to help resolve.
The manufacture and use of industrial wind turbines, beginning with the radioactive waste from the mining of neodymium in China for their electromagnetic parts, sickens people and pollutes the planet, and causes environmental damage. Their transport and construction increase the use of fossil fuels. When the wind turbine isn’t generating electricity it still needs a substantial amount of energy just to maintain itself. It takes this electricity FROM the grid.
And then there’s the sound. Not the audible sound developers compare to a quiet conversation.
Not the sounds that developers measure with A-weighted measurements, omitting a portion of the sound spectrum. I’m talking about infrasound, low-frequency sound that has led some homeowners from New Zealand to Nova Scotia to flee their homes. Infrasound has led to complaints of dizziness, inability to concentrate, anxiety, tinnitus, memory problems, nausea, agitation, sleep deprivation, inability to balance, and tachycardia.
The adverse effects of infrasound have been recognized for over 20 years. Yet developers continue to place their infrasound emitting wind turbines within communities, saying, “To date there is yet to be a definitive study that shows wind turbines to have adverse consequences on the health of community members.”
If there is controversy over the siting of industrial wind turbines within close proximity to people, sound public policy demands that we err on the side of public safety.
The World Health Organization has said:
“Health effects due to low-frequency components in noise are estimated to be more severe than for community noise in general…the evidence on low-frequency noise is sufficiently strong to warrant immediate concern.”
The French National Academy of Medicine issued a 2006 report that concluded, “The sounds emitted by the blades being low-frequency which travel easily constitute a permanent risk for people exposed to them.”
Germany, one of the world leaders in the number of industrial wind turbines, now says that the turbines should not be sited within two kilometers of residents.
Wind turbines present physical safety hazards. Blade failures have occured, sending blades through the roofs of homes while the occupants were in bed. Fires have broken out atop turbines, leaving firefighters little to do but stand and watch as flaming debris fell from turbines taller than the Statue of Liberty.
Turbines have fallen over. Light and shadow flicker causes disorientation, and can precipitate seizures in seizure-prone children and adults.
It is a reckless act to place these industrial wind turbines near homes. It is a nonsensical, environmentally destructive act to place them anywhere at all.
We live in Vermont, a state that doesn’t allow billboards on its highways. Yet we let wind power developers, flush with subsidies, destroy our mountains, compromise our safety, harm our wildlife, and risk making our homes uninhabitable in exchange for a puny amount of expensive, unreliable electricity that’s tainted with high-frequency transients.
Let’s stop building industrial wind turbines. Let’s take a fraction of the billions of tax dollars that go into lining the pockets of wealthy wind investors and use it to shore up the existing power grid. Adding ground resistors to the 5,000 transformers in the North American grid would go a long way toward protecting the transformers from the electrical currents discharged during electromagnetic storms. Those solar blasts that have been sending the northern lights farther south have the potential to make our electricity-addicted lives quite uncomfortable for months at a time.
And what are we doing? Littering our planet with colossal monuments to hubris and folly.
Where’s Don Quixote when you need him?
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