Break like the wind

A Twin Cities Fox News affiliate has launched an investigation into noise from wind turbines and related health effects. And they’ve found that the noise near one man’s home is so bad, you can hear it some 80 miles away.

The story, by reporter Jeff Ballion, says sound and shadow flicker from turbines shows that wind power “is not the feel-good, pollution-free alternative you might think.” It’s titled — I’m not making this up — “Braking Wind.”

The story focuses on Bernie Hagen, a Vietnam veteran with tinnitus who says wind turbines near his home are causing severe ringing in his ears. While the shot switches from various shots of turbines surrounding Hagen’s home, we hear an annoying swooshing noise.

I’m not going to dispute Hagen’s claims or the authenticity of the noise track. But a curious thing happens as the story shifts to a farm 80 miles away near Rochester, Minnesota.

While the farmers are speaking (pointing out that the turbines do make some noise but that they aren’t bothered by it), you don’t hear anything other than their voices. But at the 4:05 mark, when we start panning from the farm to the wind turbines…

… we hear that what sounds an awful lot like that same sound again. In fact, if you listen closely throughout the report, you’ll notice that whenever Ballion is speaking and there is a shot of a wind turbine, that swooshing sound is being played, ever so faintly, in the background.

Now, the story does point out that there is no conclusive research linking wind turbine noise to health problems. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that the noise and shadow flicker from a wind farm can be annoying, and the effects depend on the circumstances and the individual. Nothing misleading there.

But I don’t see how exaggerating the noise from the turbines helps Hagen’s cause. It may make for good TV, but it also makes it easy to dismiss what may be legitimate concerns.

7 thoughts on “Break like the wind

  1. Note also that Hagen’s hearing was damaged in Vietnam, and that he had tinnitus BEFORE the first turbine was installed.

  2. Thank god no other forms of energy make any noise. In WI our annual coal consumption comes via 250,000 train carloads. I bet no one has ever heard a train, no? Personally, I find the glint of solar panels to be highly offensive.

    Actually, to put the sound standards used in siting decisions into perspective its great to have a sound meter and show people what 45 and 55 dB sounds like. There are apps for android phones that can use a phone’s microphone as a sound meter.

  3. Peter, you may notice that Mr. Hagen chose to not live beside a train line servicing a coal-fired station. He chose to live in peace in the country probably as part of his accommodation for his disability. He had tinnitus before the turbine was installed. His pre-existing condition was exacerbated by the arrival of a new industrial machine. Companies like Alliant Energy should have a formalized public compensation program for landowners like Mr. Hagen. But I can assure you that the most common business practice is to deny that there are any impacts, to delay settlements, and to defend any litigation aggressively. When pursued to the point of a settlement, ‘gag’ clauses are mandatory to prevent the affected family from ever talking about the negative impact that IWTs had on them. Same strategy exactly as the gas companies (often they are the same companies).

  4. I have the utmost respect for disabled veterans, but you cannot ignore the enormous impact that low-density rural residents have on everyone else due to their overwhelming reliance on cars, the fuel and the endless roads required to service them. Many disabled Americans cannot drive and live in areas where they use public transit and have much lower demand for all resources. The poor will also be disproportionately near the true “industrial” landscapes of coal trains, asphalt plants, and foundries needed to service the “industrial” sized demands of low-density residential life.

  5. Let’s try to stay on topic here. Bob Smith raises a good point – are wind developers doing enough to compensate landowners? And how do we sort out legitimate claims from the spurious?

  6. You’re right Ken, I should have ignored the “industrial” pejorative used for wind energy. We definitely should have a society that compensates people who are negatively impacted by energy demand. I think that the microscope focused on wind power does raise a much bigger point: where do we start enforcing the compensation? On new technologies like wind that are orders of magnitude cleaner than traditional fossil fuels? People near existing fossil fuels plants are not compensated for major public health impacts, much less nuisance impacts.

  7. There is an element of social justice involved as well, as power plants of any kind are rarely located near the homes of the powerful and the affluent. So it has always been — but it doesn’t have to be that way in the future.

    If the wind power industry is wise, it will create its own rules on how close turbines can be built to residentitial structures, and stick to these rules.