Health problems experienced by residents near a Brown County wind farm are being debated as the developer of that project seeks approval for a larger wind project in St. Croix County.
In a series of tests conducted last month, acoustical experts from various sides of the wind power debate sampled homes in Glenmore, near the Shirley Wind project, for low-frequency noise.
The study was funded by the state Public Service Commission but will ultimately be paid for by Emerging Energies, the developer seeking to open the St. Croix County Highland Wind Farm, a project with 41 500-foot turbines.
The study detected low-frequency noise measured at a home near the Shirley Wind farm.
But proving a link to nausea, headaches and other health problems experienced by homeowners who have moved away from houses near the wind turbines is more difficult.
One consultant experienced health problems himself during the study, while the others did not.
“The four investigating firms are of the opinion that enough evidence and hypotheses have been given herein to classify LFN (low frequency noise) and infrasound as a serious issue, possibly affecting the future of the industry,” the report says.
Opponents and proponents of the Highland Wind Farm are taking sides on what the study means.
“This study makes it clear that more research is needed before the Public Service Commission should consider granting a permit for the Highland Wind Farm. The risk of putting more families at harm is too great,” said Brenda Salseg, spokeswoman for Forest Voice, the group opposed to Highland.
Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere) said the study raises enough concerns that the state Public Service Commission should suspend its permitting process for future wind projects.
But wind power supporters say the link with the health effects is not proven.
“The study didn’t find anything unusual there that would explain these people’s symptoms,” said Katie Nekola, general counsel at Clean Wisconsin, which helped facilitate the study. “So where does that leave us? We can’t conclude from that, that the wind turbine noise is causing these people to get sick.”
There have been no peer-reviewed studies that link inaudible noise with health problems, said Tyson Cook, Clean Wisconsin’s staff scientist.
David Hessler, an acoustical expert who previously consulted for wind farms developed by We Energies, said, “Current indications are that the levels of low-frequency noise from the project are quite low and nothing was found that would suggest a problem.”
Paul Schomer, an expert hired by the opponents of the St. Croix County wind farm, recommended further study to help verify whether residents inside a home can tell whether a wind turbine is spinning or not, even when the sound made by the wind turbine is inaudible.
The debate over low-frequency noise comes at a time when the Brown County Board of Health is considering regulations for low-frequency noise, whether from wind farms or from cooling towers, said Bill Acker, an engineering consultant who has worked on the wind farm and cooling tower issues.
Acker said he believes there is a connection between the health problems experienced by homeowners in Glenmore and the wind turbines, but he agreed more study is needed.
Acker was struck by how many Glenmore residents signed affidavits about the health problems they’ve experienced.
“I’m not against wind turbines by any means,” he said. “Their price per kilowatt isn’t too bad, and it’s the cheapest of all renewable electricity. So if we support renewable electricity, then that’s the way to go, but not at the price of people’s illnesses.”
Denmark and Germany have moved to regulate low-frequency noise, and Wisconsin and other states should follow suit, he said.
The issue keeps alive a debate over the siting of wind power projects in Wisconsin, which has far less wind development than Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota.
One of Gov. Scott Walker’s first proposals when he took office was to propose siting rules that would move wind turbines farther from people’s homes.
The proposal became controversial after wind developers said it would make projects uneconomical and drive them to develop projects in other states, along with the construction and maintenance jobs that wind projects create.
Wind power projects are more controversial in Wisconsin in part because they’re located in areas with more homes nearby than projects built on the open spaces – and larger farms – of the Great Plains.
Peter McKeever, a lawyer for Forest Voice, opponents of the Highland project, said the issue isn’t whether people are for or against wind power.
“This case isn’t about wind,” he said. “This is about location, location, location and how far these turbines should be from people’s homes.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding