Gov. Cuomo last month ordered state officials to study the health effects of hydraulic fracturing — and so continued to prevent drillers from exploiting the Marcellus Shale. But if he’s truly interested in public health, the governor must also put a freeze on wind-energy projects in New York until their health impact can be gauged.
After all, residents across rural New York — indeed, country-dwellers around the world — are waging bitter fights against industrial-scale wind projects, and one of their main concerns is the health effects of the audible and inaudible noise created by large wind turbines.
They’re ugly, too: Turbines from the Maple Ridge Wind Farm tower over a Lowville, NY, farm.
To date, the state has assumed that oil and gas drilling is “guilty (dirty) until proven innocent” but wind-energy development is “clean.” Indeed, if New York is to meet its renewable-energy target — to obtain 30 percent of all electricity from renewables by 2015 — several thousand new wind turbines will be needed.
But about two dozen New York towns have already passed rules banning or restricting wind-energy development, and more will come if turbine construction takes off.
It’s not simply that wind projects can be ugly. Health officials from Canada to Australia and the UK to New Zealand are seriously examining the effect that wind-turbine noise has on humans.
In July, Health Canada announced a study, with the results due in 2014. That investigation was initiated after Ontario’s Environment Ministry logged hundreds of health complaints about the noise generated by the province’s growing fleet of wind turbines.
Last year, the Canadian province’s Environmental Review Tribunal concluded, “The debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the Tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents. The debate has now evolved to one of degree.”
Over the past two years, I’ve interviewed people from New York, Wisconsin, Missouri, New Zealand, Australia, Ontario and Nova Scotia who’ve had wind turbines built near their homes. All of them complain about the noise in nearly identical terms.
Dave Enz, a retired millwright, was forced to abandon his home after a spate of windmills went up nearby in Denmark, Wisc.; he and his wife Rose now live in an RV. He said that when he and Rose are at their home and the wind is blowing, “Some of the symptoms we experience are headaches, ear pain, nausea, blurred vision, anxiety, memory loss and an overall unsettledness.”
The April issue of Acoustics Today features an article by Peter Narins, a distinguished UCLA professor and expert on auditory physiology, and Annie Chen, a student. Their findings: “High levels of infrasound and low-frequency sounds generated by wind turbines pose a potentially serious threat to communities near wind farms.”
They conclude that “further studies are needed to examine the effects of wind farms on the quality of life in sensitive individuals.”
Rural New Yorkers are already responding to what they see as a threat. Meredith, NY, was the subject of Laura Israel’s recent documentary “Windfall,” which recounts a rancorous fight for control of the town board that concluded with a ban on wind turbines. Just two months ago, the Cape Vincent town council voted unanimously for strict restrictions on wind projects.
Of course, the wind-energy industry, and its many supporters, want to dismiss the noise issue — and the widespread rural opposition — because it contradicts their near-religious belief that wind energy is “green.”
But the backlash is real. The European Platform Against Windfarmsnow lists 555 signatory organizations and fights are raging against industrial wind projects throughout the UK.
The backlash can even be seen in Denmark, a country frequently lauded for its pro-wind policies. In 2010, The Copenhagen Post reported that state-owned Dong Energy had “given up building more wind turbines on Danish land, following protests from residents complaining about the noise the turbines make.”
The bottom line is as obvious as a 400-foot-high wind turbine: Unless Cuomo’s decision to study the impact of fracking is merely a political payoff designed to placate New York’s potent Green lobby, he should demand that the same public-health analysis be applied to wind energy.