SUAMICO – A sound expert said Tuesday the Shirley Wind Farm is making some people who live near it sick. But an occupational-health expert insists it isn’t.
Duke Energy Renewables, which owns the eight wind turbines, says it has had no health complaints from its employees who work on and around the site. Dr. Herbert Coussons, a Green Bay physician, says he has treated six area residents for illnesses related to the facility.
For more than four hours Tuesday, four scientists debated the potential impacts of vibrations from the turbines on people who live near the wind farm. But the discussion and subsequent question-and-answer session left issues unresolved and minds unchanged among the wind farm’s neighbors and the county officials who arranged the meeting.
“We’ve heard about a lot of studies and not a lot about the human impact,” said Erik Hoyer, the supervisor who heads the county’s Human Services Committee. “We know we have people experiencing some issues – a small number of people – but I don’t know that we’ve reached critical mass to the point where we can do something.”
Almost 90 people living near Shirley Wind claim the turbines’ spinning blades produce low-frequency sound that makes them ill with sleep problems, headaches, nausea and irritability. Three families abandoned their homes.
Duke, which has operated the farm since 2011, cites studies that say there is no link between wind farms and human illnesses.
“Millions of people live near wind turbines,” Tammie McGee, spokeswoman for North Carolina-based Duke Energy, said outside the meeting. “We do not receive these types of complaints from people who live near our other wind farms.”
Many of the roughly 100 people inside the Bay Port High School auditorium, however, believe symptoms they and their neighbors have reported are real. About 15 wore brightly colored shirts and some bore signs saying “I am a wind refugee” or “I am the evidence.”
Jim Vanden Boogart, who heads a group of neighbors, said during a break in the meeting that he is frustrated that state officials seem disinterested in finding ways to help residents of the area.
A number of neighbors, meanwhile, applauded after a scientist who studies wind-turbine noise said wind farms near homes cause some people to suffer a version of motion sickness.
“There’s only one reliable noise-control option … and that is distance,” said Robert Rand, who heads an acoustics firm. If an existing wind farm is producing complaints, Rand said, “the only reliable (solution) is shutdown.”
A judge this year ordered Falmouth, Mass., to stop operating its wind farm because neighbors were getting sick, Rand said. Local officials had previously reduced the hours they operated the turbines, hoping that would cut the number of illness complaints.
But Dr. Robert McCunney, a Massachusetts physician and environmental-health expert, said a study done in Canada in 2015 showed that though some people living near a wind farm reported symptoms, there was little evidence that wind turbine noise was the cause.
“Self-reported health effects (such as migraines, sleep problems and ringing in the ears) … were not related to wind-related noise levels,” said McCunney. “The results do not support an association.”
Coussons and Mark Werner, who heads the Environmental Epidemiology and Surveillance Section of the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, also spoke.
McCunney acknowledged that Duke had paid him to appear on the panel but said his opinions were impartial. The other panelists said they were not paid to speak.
Hoyer’s committee co-hosted the meeting with the county Board of Health. The health panel’s chairman, Howard Supervisor Richard Schadewald, organized the event.
For years, health questions surrounding the wind farm have flummoxed elected and appointed officials in the county.
Some supervisors say government should act to protect neighbors, but that only the state has the power to step in. Others, though, acknowledge that they likely lack the scientific evidence to say conclusively that neighbors’ complaints are caused by noise from the wind farm.
Previously, the Board of Health declared the wind farm a human-health hazard. But the county’s former health director concluded in 2015 that insufficient evidence existed to link the wind farm to people’s health issues.