18 Mar 2013
A study of mine published Thursday night delivers a double whammy to those who argue that wind turbines cause health problems in communities.
Earlier this week researchers at the University of Auckland published an experimental study showing that people primed by watching online information about health problems from wind turbines, reported more symptoms after being exposed to recorded infrasound or to sham (fake) infrasound. The study provided powerful evidence for the nocebo hypothesis: the idea that anxiety and fear about wind turbines being spread about by anti-wind farm groups, will cause some people hearing this scary stuff to get those symptoms.
The double whammy for the scaremongers comes in the form of an historical audit of all complaints made about wind farm noise or health problems on all of Australia's 49 wind farms. Australia's first wind farm, which still operates today, started generating power in 1993 at Esperance in Western Australia. Twenty years on, our 49 wind farms have seen 1471 turbines turning for a cumulative total of 328 years.
In recent years, and particularly since 2009, we've heard a lot about health complaints involving wind turbines, thanks to the efforts of groups such as the Waubra Foundation (none of whose directors live in or near the Victorian town of Waubra) and the interconnected Landscape Guardians. And, just as the nocebo hypothesis would predict, the great bulk of health and noise complaints have arisen since 2009: 82% of complainants made their first complaint after that date.
There are some 32,677 people living within 5km of these 49 wind farms around Australia, and just 120 or one in 272 of them have ever made formal complaints, appeared in news reports or sent complaining submissions to government. Moreover, 81 (68%) of these are people living near just five wind farms, each of which have been heavily targeted by wind farm opponent groups.
Our study tested four hypotheses relevant to the nocebo hypothesis:
- Many wind farms of comparable power would have no history of health or noise complaints from nearby residents (suggesting that factors that don't relate to the turbines may explain the presence or absence of complaints)
- Wind farms which had been subject to complaints would have only a small number of such complaining residents among those living near the farms (suggesting that individual or social factors may be required to explain different 'susceptibility')
- Few wind farms would have any history of complaints consistent with recent claims that turbines cause acute health problems (suggesting that explanations beyond turbines are needed to explain why acute problems are reported)
- Most health and noise complaints would date from after the advent of anti-wind farm groups beginning to foment concerns about health (from around 2009) and that wind farms subject to organised opposition would be more likely to have histories of complaint than those not exposed to such opposition (suggesting that health concerns may reflect 'communicated' anxieties).