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Shadow flicker adds to wind farm health issues

The Golden West Wind Energy Center in Calhan, Colorado, consisting of 145 453-foot tall industrial wind turbines, became fully operational in October 2015. Since then, residents living within the wind farm project’s footprint have reported physical and psychological effects from the turbines.

According to the September 2015 issue of The New Falcon Herald, the issues range from feeling dizzy and nauseous to concerns about dirty electricity and the potential for the electromagnetic waves to cause atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heartbeat.

According to an article published online in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society Sept. 30, 2011, a certain portion of the population living near wind turbines experiences symptoms of ill health. “The symptoms are likely caused by a combination of noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, ground current and shadow flicker,” the article states.

G.H. (she requested that the NFH use her initials only) is a resident living within the wind farm’s footprint. She said she spoke in opposition of the wind farm project at the Feb. 5 El Paso County Board of County Commissioners meeting because she had concerns about the shadow flicker cast by the turbines. The closest turbine is 1,600 feet to the east of her house, with three more creating an arc to the north, she said.

“The closest one affects us inside the house, but the others affect us in the pasture and the barn area,” G.H. said. “The first time we noticed it, it was really disorienting. It was like a strobe light.”

The turbines spin to catch the wind at the optimal angle; and, depending on how they are positioned, G.H. said she often gets a double-flicker. “That is what I call it when the sun catches two blades on one turbine,” she said.

G.H. said the only way to combat the flicker inside her house is to close the blinds on her windows, but not all her windows have coverings.

Kory Feick, another resident living with turbines three-quarters of the way around her house, said she also has to pull her blinds down to block the flicker. The closest turbines are situated about 1,320 feet from her home, she said.

“I have a lot of windows in my house,” Feick said. “I have to have my blinds down so they are only about one-quarter of the way up so I cannot see the turbines. I can let light in, but I cannot see outside.”

The flicker is bad, but the spinning of the blades makes her violently sick to her stomach, Feick said. The turbines are always spinning, and it is impossible not to see them, even out of the corner of her eye, she said.

“Ten years ago, I thought I would move from California and have this nice, calm life,” Feick said. However, since the turbines were built, she has been placed on anti-anxiety medication because she feels almost claustrophobic, being basically surrounded by them, she said.

“I am 64 years old and I am on medication for throwing up,” Feick said. “I am on medication to keep from falling down. I have been bruised up from falling. I have a constant headache every single day, and I have to live with these things.”

When the Golden West Wind Farm Center was first approved in December 2013, the BOCC required different analyses of potential issues, including a shadow flicker analysis. According to that analysis, submitted to the county in 2013, standard industry practice allows up to 30 hours per year of shadow flicker. “In situations where the hours per year continue to exceed this threshold, turbine location canceling, relocation, or mitigation techniques are recommended,” the analysis states.

G.H., who said she receives up to 45 minutes of shadow flicker each morning, could potentially have 273.75 hours of shadow flicker per year, well above the stated standard industry practice. “There is no regulation as to how much shadow flicker a person can be exposed to,” she said.

A major hurdle in securing regulations for potential health hazards like shadow flicker or infrasound is the denial that health-related threats exist. According to an article published online in the August 2011 Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, the lack of conclusive evidence is not the problem; the problem is the denial of the health hazards’ existence.

“The adverse event reports provide compelling evidence of the seriousness of the problems and of causation in this case because of their volume, the ease of observing exposure and outcomes incidence, and case-crossover data,” the article states. “Proponents of turbines have sought to deny these problems by making a collection of contradictory claims, including that the evidence does not ‘count,’ the outcomes are not ‘real’ diseases, the outcomes are the victims’ own fault, and that acoustical models cannot explain why there are health problems so the problems must not exist.”

In a first-of-its-kind decision, the Brown County Board of Health from Brown County, Wisconsin, officially declared the Shirley Wind Farm there a human health hazard, in a 4-0 vote Oct. 14, 2014, according to the meeting’s minutes. The Board of Health does not have the enforcement powers to require any action on the part of Duke Energy, the owners of the Shirley Wind Farm, but the Brown County Health Department does.

Chua Xiong, director/health officer for the Brown County Health Department, said in her public statement on Dec. 15, 2015, “Presently, there is insufficient scientific evidence-based research to support the relationship between wind turbines and health concerns.”

However, according to an email sent to Xiong’s intern, Carolyn Harvey, and obtained through an open records request from the Brown County Citizens for Responsible Wind Energy, on Nov. 15, 2015, Xiong wrote: “Carolyn, the times I have been out there by the Wind Turbines, I get such migraine headaches. I think I should take some preventative Tylenol before I head out there.”

Xiong submitted her resignation to Brown County March 4, and her last day was March 18, according to a press release from the BCCRWE.

“I cannot go outside because I start getting a headache,” Feick said. “I did not move out here to live like this.”