As turbines rise in Ocotillo Wind Express, questions remain over the type of impacts the project will bring to the Valley and its westernmost community.
Some fear about their health. But whether turbines do in fact pose health concerns is an issue of much contention as studies and experts sit on opposing sides.
Those who believe turbines do cause negative health impacts note woofing noise and infrasound coming from turbines as triggers for various forms of health impacts that range from sleep deprivation to hypertension and even depression.
In response, organizations across the world and various states across the country have set out to address the issue.
In a 2006, a study by the French Academy of Medicine noted that people living near the towers, the heights of which vary from 10 to 100 meters, sometimes complain of functional disturbances similar to those observed in syndromes of chronic sound trauma.
And yet, according to a 2012 literature review, commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to a panel comprised of experts from the Harvard Medical School, the University of New England and Boston University of Public Health – to name a few – reported that human response to wind turbines “relates to self-reported annoyance,” which could be influenced by the attitude toward wind turbines.
Furthermore, there is only limited literature of epidemiological studies on health effects of wind turbines, the study notes, and existing studies are limited by their cross sectional design, self-reported symptoms, limited ability to control for other factors, and to varying degrees of non-response rates.
In addition, “the study that accounted most extensively for other factors that could affect reported symptoms, had a very low response rate,” the commissioned study reads, as it also notes that one study that considered whether individuals benefited economically from the turbines reported “virtually no annoyance regardless of whether those people could see or hear a turbine.”
No definite answer
The Imperial County Public Health Department has also reviewed the issue, according to Supervisor Jack Terrazas, who represents Ocotillo. “And at this time our health department has concluded that there is no health issue,” he said after acknowledging that there are two schools of thought on the matter, and no definite “yes” or “no” answer exists.
When asked about the same issue, Gordon Hughes, an expert on natural resources and environmental economics from the University of Edinburgh, said that “in all honesty, and in most circumstances, I think these (health impacts) tend to be exaggerated.”
Hughes, a former senior adviser on energy and environmental policy at the World Bank, notes, however, that turbines “are not beautiful things,” adding “there are quite lots of people who object to having them nearby.” But he also said that when properly sited, turbines “should not be major problems” in terms of health and environmental damage.
But for Palm Springs resident Joyce Manley, turbines are major problems. For 20 years she’s lived about half a mile from turbines, she said, and lives near 3,000 turbines.
“They are noisy, they leak oil and grease, that runs down to the ground and that could eventually percolate into the aquifer,” said Manley, adding turbines impact her views and have blinking red lights at night. In addition, “we don’t have eagles; occasionally we have hawks; we don’t have bats anymore; we have very few rattlesnakes. All the natural predators are gone, so we are overrun with lots of bunnies and squirrels,” Manley said.
When asked about health effects in her life, she responded she didn’t don’t know what the effects are with certainty.
It should be noted that many of the turbines in Palm Springs are older ones, as Pattern Energy’s Matt Dallas wrote in an e-mail. “The turbines being installed at Ocotillo are state-of-the-art machines manufactured by leading turbine manufacturer Siemens, which has an excellent track record of trouble-free operations.”
Dallas also said Pattern won’t pursue adding any more turbines in the area and added that in terms of avian wildlife, Pattern will use radar technology to minimize the risk of golden eagle collisions. This radar, he said, will allow turbines to be shut down in the event a golden eagle is approaching a turbine.
A bad investment?
Hughes is somewhat skeptical about radars, while at the same time is skeptical about birds running into turbines.
“Birds will tend to avoid turbines,” he said and latter added, “I don’t buy the story of them (turbines) causing huge environmental damage. I do, however, think that wind farms, wind turbines in general are just simply dreadfully bad in economic terms.”
Wind turbines are expensive, capital intensive and generally don’t run as many hours a year, he said; “the only reason they make sense for investors to build, is because they are heavily subsidized. Investments in wind energy around the world, with very few exceptions, are entirely driven by subsidies.”
Ocotillo Wind Express isn’t receiving tax credits, and in fact just two days ago announced closing its financing. However, Pattern acknowledges that it will pursue tax credits.
But back in Ocotillo, not everybody fears turbines. In fact, resident Ernie Minor, who runs a local grill, said Ocotillo Wind Express “is progress” and considers it a benefit.
Minor’s business has doubled thanks to the project “based on employees coming in having lunches, breakfast, and some dinners.” Other local businesses feel the same, said Minor, who isn’t bothered by turbines and is quick to say he doesn’t think the project will impact his health.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding