Health and Safety Concerns

Because the number of wind turbines in the United States is climbing every year, concern over public health and safety has grown as well. Citizens are questioning whether a renewable source of energy is worth risking their well-being. Scientists are exploring the health hazards posed by turbines and the safety of wind turbines from a functional standpoint has been questioned. Overall, most of these worries are unfounded. Wind turbines offer a solution to climate change, which has proven to be dangerous for the well-being of our bodies and the earth itself.

Health Concerns

The primary health concern associated with wind turbines is infrasound. The large wind turbine blades can spin at speeds of up to about 180 mph. In high winds, rapid spinning can produce sound and vibration as well as disruptions in air pressure. Some theorize that bats die near wind turbines due to the extremely low air pressure causing their blood vessels to burst. There are mixed opinions on whether turbines emit infrasound and if the amount emitted is more than that of diesel engines, waves crashing on the beach, and so on (Layton).

Infrasound is part of a larger issue: wind-turbine syndrome. Symptoms of the syndrome include headaches, sleep problems, night terrors or learning disabilities in children, ringing in ears, mood problems, concentration and memory problems, and issues with equilibrium. It should be noted that these symptoms have been observed by a limited number of sicentists studying small groups of people. The scientific community has not concluded whether the syndrome even exists (Layton).

Safety Issues

Most safety issues regarding wind turbines relate to their design and durability. The number of wind turbine failures is limited; however, when turbines are destroyed by strong winds, the press very heavily covers the incident. For example, gale force winds of 112 mph ripped off the blades of three wind turbines during a storm in the UK earlier this year. While no one has been hurt by a wind turbine accident in over a decade there, turbines received major criticism across the pond for this failure (Gray).

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One of the damaged wind turbines in Scotland.

Preventing Climate Change for a Better Life and World

Wind turbines reduce emissions, thereby decreasing climate change. Despite health and safety concerns from the public, the threat of climate change should be of paramount importance. Ultimately, the effects of climate change will do far greater damage to our bodies and our environment if left unchecked.

According to the EPA, the prevalence of many diseases and other threats to human health depend largely on local climate. Extreme temperatures can lead directly to loss of life. Climate change can disturb ecological systems as well. While that may seem less harmful to humans, it actually changes the range of infective parasites that cause often fatal diseases (EPA).

Humans are directly exposed to climate change through changing weather patterns. Extreme weather events, like hurricanes and floods, result in deaths, injuries, infectious diseases, and stress-related disorders. Indirect exposure takes place through changes in water, air, food quality and quantity, ecosystems, agriculture, and economy. Though the effects seem small at first, they will progressively increase with time (EPA).

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Are we ready to face the destruction and devastation wrought by climate change-induced natural disasters? Pictured above: Japan.

The choice is ours to make. Would you rather support wind turbines that reduce climate change and risk the unproven health and safety concerns, or face the numerous proven consequences associated with climate change?

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

I have extensively researched the topic of wind turbines, and something stunning I came across was the many pieces of art dedicated to these structures. Perhaps some of this artwork will convince anti-wind advocates that wind turbines can be a thing of beauty.

Selected from artist and designer Asbjorn Lonvig’s windmill collection:

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Vision

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Human Resources

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Value Creation

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Innovative Solutions

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Reliability

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Knowledge

A few pieces featured at the REimaginations: Beauty of Wind blog:

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How do you feel about the appearance of wind turbines after experiencing these breathtaking representations of wind energy?

Cartooning About Change

Political cartoons are a medium of communication that achieved widespread popularity in America during the Boss Tweed era in the 19th century. These illustrations still provide commentary on political, economic, and sociocultural issues- and the wind turbine controversy is no exception. Below are a few of many wind energy cartoons, each of which emphasizes a prevalent theme surrounding the issue.

Wind Energy Reliability

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This cartoon comments on the questioned reliability of wind turbines. A major criticism is that they cannot be depended upon for a consistent supply of energy. As we discussed in the post on myths, wind turbines are as reliable as other sources of energy.

“Not In My Backyard” Mentality

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This cartoon is brilliant in both message and execution. Anti-wind activists and residents have a total “Not In My Backyard” mentality that is completely unjustified considering the harm and danger posed energy sourced from nuclear, oil, and coal.

Ecological Effects

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Wind turbines face opposition due to their ecological impact as well. As noted in the cartoon above, bird deaths are cited as a key reason against the use of wind turbines. The fallacy in this comparison between bird deaths is that it equates truly catastrophic events like the British Petroleum oil spill with wind turbines that cause no other environmental problems and actually offer many benefits to the communities in which they are constructed.

Financial Costs of Wind Energy

Image Wind energy is disparaged for being too costly. While the upfront capital costs for developing wind turbines and farms are high, the cost-savings they yield in the long-term render it less expensive than the current energy sources used in the United States.

Wind Energy is a Better Energy

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This cartoon is modeled on the British Petroleum oil spill. By replicating the event using wind turbines instead of an oil tanker, the cartoonist conveys the message that wind turbines lack the negative effects associated with traditional energy sources.

What messages found in wind turbine cartoons do you agree or disagree with? What themes have you noticed that I didn’t mention?

“Wind Uprising,” a documentary

The award-winning documentary “Wind Uprising” chronicles the hurdles project developers overcame during the implementation of Utah’s first wind farm in the city of Spanish Fork. Throughout the film, the viewer gains insight into the complex navigation of government policies, cost-related problems, and residents with that “Not in My Backyard” mentality we know all too well.

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The completed Spanish Fork Wind Park in Utah.

This project spanned four years, and “Wind Uprising” was there every step of the way. The documentary included interviews with utility executives, the Governor’s energy advisor, and representatives from the legislature. On the whole, this film is a valuable asset to those involved with wind energy projects.

This 30 minute film is a must-see for those of you interested in learning about the process of completing this kind of project in your community. Take a look at the trailer!

Did you watch the trailer for “Wind Uprising?” Thoughts?

“Windfall,” an anti-wind documentary

The documentary “Windfall” opened in February of this year. The film focuses on the alleged dangers and disruptions caused by wind turbines. Specifically, the town of Meredith, NY, was the area of discussion in the film.

Most of the claims made in this documentary are false and exaggerated. It is understandable that residents are fearful of the unfamiliar, but the film portrays wind turbines as some kind of ominous threat. While the unease of Meredith’s citizens truly appears sincere, it is baseless. Wind turbines are being built because they save towns thousands of dollars and provide a clean, renewable source of energy. “Windfall” likens wind turbines to actual public dangers and health hazards, like contaminated water or pollution. This kind of analogy is simply inaccurate.

Check out the trailer for “Windfall,” and perhaps watch the film if you have time. While the claims made in this movie are egregious misrepresentations of wind turbines, it is important to educate yourself on the discourse surrounding an unjustifiably controversial topic.

After watching the trailer for “Windfall,” what are your initial reactions?

“Unlimited: Renewable Energy in the 21st Century,” a documentary

“Unlimited: Renewable Energy in the 21st Century,” is a short documentary addressing renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. The film follows a group of sixth graders who care about the issue of global warming and want their fellow citizens to stand up for the environment. Melding discussions among the students with commentary from global warming and energy experts, “Unlimited” enlightens viewers about the promising future that can be provided through solar, wind, and tidal power, as well as explores issues associated with transportation and food sustainability.

I very much enjoyed this documentary. “Unlimited” is short, sweet, and jam-packed with interesting information. It was inspiring to hear such young students speaking out against global warming and offering their insights on controversial energy issues in the United States. If the children of today are educated on renewable energy, it means that the adults of tomorrow will be informed citizens capable of affecting meaningful environmental change.

I urge you to watch “Unlimited.” At only 26 minutes, you really have no excuse not to check out this film!

Did you end up watching the film? What were your thoughts and why do you think its messages were conveyed so effectively?

Common Myths Debunked

Despite the increasing popularity of wind turbines, many Americans know little about them other than that they generate clean, renewable energy. Due to this unfamiliarity, it is all too easy for myths that are detrimental to the growth of the wind energy industry to spread. I hope to put some of these rumors to rest and provide you with the truth on wind turbines.

Myth: “Turbines are Noisy”

Fact: Wind turbines are quiet. As we discussed earlier, they are far from noisy, especially in comparison to other sounds we hear on a daily basis. An operating modern wind farm at a distance of 750 to 1000 feet is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Turbine Lighting is Excessive”

Fact: Lights at wind farms are non-intrusive, and improvements in design will make them even less so as the technology expands. Lighting is a necessity because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends it for most structures taller than 200 feet to ensure aviation safety (“Myths vs. Facts”).

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Wind turbine lights, pictured above, are no more intrusive than things like holiday decorations and street lights.

Myth: “Nearby Residences Will Be Affected by Shadow Flicker”

Fact: Shadow flicker is a term describing the moving shadow caused by rotating turbine blades coming between the viewer and the sun. Shadow flicker is almost never a problem for residences near new wind farms, and in the few cases where it could be, it is easily avoided (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Turbines Interfere with Television and Other Communications Signals”

Fact: Interference is rare and easily avoided. Large wind turbines can interfere with radio and television signals only if the turbine is in the “line of sight.” Improving a receiver’s antenna or installing relays to transmit signals around the wind farm can easily resolve this issue (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Turbines are Ugly”

Fact: That’s simply a matter of opinion. Some people find wind turbines to be majestic. Whether one considers them beautiful or an eye sore, you cannot deny that they represent progress and a better future for our world (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Projects Depress Tourism”

Fact: There is no evidence to indicate that wind turbines drive tourists away. In fact, wind turbines can even draw tourists. As you know, I grew up in a beach town with heavy tourism during the summer months. I work at a souvenir shop in town, and we even sell custom-made t-shirts and coffee mugs bragging about Hull Wind! People love our two wind turbines, and I am certain that tourism has only increased since their inception (“Myths vs. Facts”).

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The t-shirts sold at Carousels and Ships Gift Shop, a beachfront store in Hull, MA.

Myth: “Wind Projects Don’t Contribute to the Local Tax Base”

Fact: Installing millions of dollars of equipment in most areas significantly increases the local taxes assessed. Wind farms support the local tax base, helping to pay for schools and roads far more than their impact to local facilities. Indeed, economic development associated with a new wind farm extends far beyond taxes to increased employment (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Turbines aren’t Safe”

Fact: While people argue that blades can cause dangerous ice throws and that turbines may throw blades or collapse, that is not the case. Ice throw, while it can occur under certain conditions, is of little danger. Modern wind turbines are so safe that they successfully operate near schools, in urban settings and densely populated areas, and in rural communities. In Hull, Hull Wind 1 is located right next to the local high school. Hull Wind 2 sits amidst residential homes and a very large condominium complex. Turbines are perfectly safe (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Turbines Harm Wildlife”

Fact: While I will delve deeper into this topic in later posts, suffice it to say that wind energy’s overall impact on birds is very low compared to other human-related activities. People also assert that wind projects fragment wildlife habitats; however, most wind farms are built in areas close to transmissions lines, where habitats have already been modified and fragmented (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Turbines are Unreliable”

Fact: A common misconception is that back-up generation is needed for all wind turbines. On the contrary, the inherent design of the grid makes it unnecessary to back up every megawatt of wind energy with a megawatt of fossil fuel or dispatchable power. Some believe that wind turbines only operate a small fraction of the time, but in actuality they generate electricity most (65-85%) of the time. While the output amount is variable, it is still a dependable energy source. Finally, people posit that wind energy will never provide more than a little electricity. As I have demonstrated, we have the ability to supply all of our energy needs if we implemented enough turbines. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that America’s wind energy potential is much larger than total U.S. electricity consumption today (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Turbines are Inefficient, Expensive, and Heavily Subsidized”

Fact: Part of the wind turbine’s underlying beauty is the fact that it is incredibly efficient. The energy payback time for wind is perhaps even better than that of conventional power plants. In the larger sense, wind turbines are highly efficient because they generate electricity from a natural, renewable resource. Wind energy is inaccurately perceived as expensive because it has higher up-front capital costs. However, wind energy is now in a range that is competitive with power from new conventional power plants. In the long run, wind turbines are the more cost-effective choice. And while wind energy is indeed subsidized, the fact that every energy technology is subsidized is largely ignored (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Did you believe any of these myths until reading the post? Why do you think that the facts about wind turbines are being misrepresented?