Are Wind Opponents a Noisy Minority?

May 4, 2018

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
 Are full of passionate intensity. – WB Yeats

Observing public meetings relating to wind turbines over the last year suggests strongly to me that a well organized, noisy minority can be mobilized to intimidate the larger community.
It’s a symptom and sign of the current state of our politics.  Time for the majority to stand up.

Renewable Energy World:

While most surveys suggest that the public generally supports wind and solar poweropposition from local communities and residents sometimes blocks or delays specific new projects.


Consider the ill-fated Cape Wind offshore project, which was slated to be powering Cape Cod by now. Although Massachusetts has some of the nation’s strongest renewable energy policies, a group of coastal homeowners in that state objected vociferously soon after Cape Wind Associates, the developer, first proposed building it in 2001. They ultimately filed more than a dozen lawsuits over 14 years, creating hassles and delays that along with opposition from other parties doomed it.

As renewable energy researchers witnessing similar storylines play out across the country, we wanted to see how much local opposition there is to existing wind farms. With funding from the Energy Department and help from our colleagues, we teamed up to undertake the largest scientific study to date on how people who live near U.S. wind farms perceive them.

Wind Rush

As of the end of 2017, about 50,000 utility-scale wind turbines were supplying nearly 7 percent of the electricity in the U.S. With experts foreseeing another 3,000 turbines per year on average coming online in the years ahead, more and more people will be living near wind farms.

Clearly, community support or opposition could either speed up or slow down the growth of this renewable energy source.

And there’s no doubt that fighting about wind power makes for interesting journalism. It’s a story that highlights the conflicts that can arise among local residents and efforts to reap global benefits. While renewable energy is supposed to save the world, questions have arisen regarding its potential impacts on wildlife, public health — in the form of ailments allegedly caused by wind farms — and perceived fears of eroded property values and tourism revenue.

In general, we have observed that the media coverage of attitudes toward wind energy tends to be very anecdotal. Vivid stories of suffering dominate the discussion, which is often devoid of fundamental or methodical analysis of public opinion, the severity of the associated annoyances or even the extent of discontent among people living next to or near wind farms.

Facts vs. Anecdotes

Our research is meant to help fill that gap. In this Lawrence Berkeley National Lab-led project, we asked 1,700 people living near 250 wind farms across 34 states to tell us how they really felt about being so close to those turbines.

We found that as of 2015, more than 1.3 million homes are within five miles of a utility-scale wind turbine, a number that is increasing. And despite what you may have read in the media, our survey showed that most people living within five miles, and even within a half-mile, of wind farms don’t mind the turbines.

We also looked into the most common reactions to wind turbine sounds, shadow flicker, lighting and landscape changes, as well as the perceived fairness of the public planning and siting process.

As it happens, we found that only 16 percent of all residents within five miles of wind farms had ever heard the turbines make any noise. Of those, 27 percent found the noise moderately or very annoying. Further, we learned that roughly two-thirds of those who were aware of their local planning process for the wind project perceived it as having been largely “fair.”

In general, the positive attitudes the survey’s respondents expressed about wind projects followed a few patterns. People hosting turbines on their property, as well as those being compensated for the power they generate were more apt to say the planning process was fair and to view wind power in a positive light.

People who harbored negative attitudes about wind power were more likely to be annoyed by sounds the turbines make, to say that wind turbines clashed with the surrounding landscape and to say that they found the project’s planning process to have been unfair.

Engagement Helps

There is no magical way to resolve siting conflicts that sometimes arise over wind farms.

While turbines may be getting quieter due to technology improvements, they are also getting bigger. Taller towers and longer blades are driving down the cost of energy production and allowing production in areas previously considered uneconomical due to low average wind speeds, such as Delaware, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Since bigger turbines are harder to miss and can be seen from farther away, this change may create more conflict in the future.

But no matter what, wind project developers clearly must actively engage, coordinate and cooperate with local communities and community members. Inclusive and transparent planning processes can dissipate local residents’ fears. Local ownership and financial benefits may help sway nearby residents who would otherwise object to a new wind farm.

Below, reposting accounts of the powerful effect of negative suggestion on so-called “Wind Turbine Syndrome”.

Sidney Morning Herald:

Study author, Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University, said the results suggested that ”wind turbine sickness” was a ”communicated disease” – a sickness spread by the claim that something was likely to make a person sick. This was caused by the ”nocebo effect” – the opposite of the placebo effect – where the belief something would cause an illness created the perception of illness.


He found a much greater correlation between negative attitudes to wind turbines and reports of sickness than any ”objective measures of actual exposure”.

And he cited studies suggesting that the spread of communicated diseases was much faster when the ”illness” had a name – such as Wind Turbine Syndrome, Vibro Acoustic Disease and Visceral Vibratory Vestibular Disturbance.

Professor Chapman also cites a recent New Zealand study in which some healthy volunteers were exposed to actual ”infrasound” – the sub-audible noise from wind farms claimed to cause health problems – and others to complete silence, which they had been told was ”infrasound”. In both cases the volunteers who had been told about the potential harmful effects of infrasound were more likely to report symptoms.


..the alleged health problem has been adopted by demagogues and parroted on popular climate-skeptic websites. But the bigger problem is that “wind turbine syndrome” is what is known as a “communicated” disease, says Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney. The disease, which has reached epidemic proportions in Australia, “spreads via the nocebo effect by being talked about, and is thereby a strong candidate for being defined as a psychogenic condition,” Chapman wrote several months ago in The Conversation.

What Chapman is describing is a phenomenon akin to mass hysteria—an outbreak of apparent health problems that has a psychological rather than physical basis. Such episodes have occurred throughout human history; earlier this year, a cluster of teenagers at an upstate New York high schoolwere suddenly afflicted with Tourette syndrome-like symptoms. The mystery outbreak was attributed by some speculation to environmental contaminants.

But a doctor treating many of the students instead diagnosed them with a psychological condition called “conversion disorder,” as described by psychologist Vaughan Bell on The Crux:

It is unlikely that the New York teenagers’ problems are linked to an “unknown virus”, “mystery illness,” or “toxin,” which many media outlets mentioned as potential causes: Viruses, bacteria, or poisons are most likely to cause these symptoms by damaging the neural pathways—something we can normally detect fairly easily. So when the LeRoy cheerleaders were diagnosed with “conversion disorder,” the doctor was saying that although the symptoms appear to be due to neural damage, there were no problems with the neural pathways, and there was no evidence of faking, so the symptoms were likely due to psychological factors.

As for “wind turbine syndrome,” Chapman noted that “17 reviews [.docx file] of the available evidence about wind farms and health” had found no strong evidence that turbines were making people ill. One meta study released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health early this year concluded that wind turbines cause no noticeable increase in health problems, though the turbines’ sound and shadow flicker might annoy nearby residents.

For a condition that seems to have no physical basis, Chapman says wind turbine syndrome has an impressive list of medical problems (“an astonishing 155” [.docx file]) attributed to it: “I have worked in public health on three continents since the mid-1970s. In all this time, I have never encountered anything in the history of disease that is said to cause even a fraction of the list of problems I have collected.”


ANTI-WIND farm activists around the world have created a silent bogeymanthey claim can cause everything from sickness and headaches to herpes, kidney damage and cancers.

Despite the ubiquitous nature of infrasound, anti-wind farm groups such as Australia’s Waubra Foundation like people to think that it’s only inaudible infrasound from wind turbines which might send residents to their sick beds.

But two new studies suggest the cause of health complaints by people living near wind farms could in fact be down to the scare campaign of the anti-wind groups and reports about such scares in the media.

The first study Can Expectations Produce Symptoms From Infrasound Associated With Wind Turbines? was published earlier this month in Health Psychology – a journal of the American Psychological Association.

The researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand wanted to find out if simply exposing people to warnings that turbines might make you ill was enough to cause them to report typical symptoms such as headaches and nausea.

Using 54 people, the researchers showed half the group five minutes of footage of people complaining that wind farms had made them ill. Some of the footage was taken from this Australian Broadcasting Corporation report (watch it here) into “Waubra disease” where residents were filmed complaining about a wind farm at Waubra in Victoria. Footage was also taken from this CTV Network report from Canada about a wind farm in Ontario.

This group was called the “high expectancy group” because the information they were given had led them to expect they might experience certain symptoms if exposed to infrasound. The other half of the group was shown interviews with experts stating that the science showed infrasound could not directly cause health problems.

The researchers then told each person they were going to be exposed to two 10-minute periods of infrasound in a special acoustic room when, in fact, for one of those periods they would be exposed to no sound at all, or “sham infrasound” as the researchers describe it.  So what happened?

The response from the “high expectancy” group was to report that the “infrasound” had caused them to experience more symptoms which were more intense. This was the case whether they were exposed to sham infrasound or genuine infrasound. The report explains that “the number of symptoms reported and the intensity of the symptom experienced during listening sessions were not affected by exposure to infrasound but were influenced by expectancy group allocation.”

In the low expectancy group, the infrasound and sham infrasound had little to no effect. In other words, the study found that if a person is told that wind turbines will make them ill then they are likely to report symptoms, regardless of whether they are exposed to infrasound or not.

Clearly, this points the finger at anti-wind farm campaigns as a potential cause of people’s symptoms, rather than “infrasound” from turbines. The research added: “The importance of findings in this study is that symptom expectations were created by viewing TV material readily available on the Internet, indicating the potential for such expectations to be created outside of the laboratory in real-world settings.”

Writing about her research on The Conversation, lead author Fiona Crichton says

The findings indicate that negative health information readily available to people living in the vicinity of wind farms has the potential to create symptom expectations, providing a possible pathway for symptoms attributed to operating wind turbines. This may have wide-reaching implications. If symptom expectations are the root cause of symptom reporting, answering calls to increase minimum wind-farm set back distances is likely to do little to assuage health complaints.

Reading some news reports (such as those offered by The Australian newspaper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd or anti-wind activist and UK anti-wind columnistJames Delingpole) and material from anti-wind farm groups, it might seem that health complaints are common among people living near turbines.

But an as yet unpublished study (and therefore not peer-reviewed) just released by Simon Chapman, the Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, suggests only a tiny proportion of people living near turbines do actually complain and, when they do, the complaints coincide with campaigning from anti-wind groups.

Chapman looked at health complaints made by residents living within 5 kilometres of all 49 wind farms operating in Australia between 1993 and 2012. After reviewing media reports, public inquiries and complaints to wind companies themselves, Chapman found evidence of only 120 individuals having actually complained – representing about 1 in 272 people living near wind farms.

But significantly, Chapman found that 81 of those 120 residents were living beside just five wind farms “which have been heavily targeted by anti wind farm groups”. What’s more, some 82 per cent of all the complaints had occured since 2009 when Chapman says anti-wind farm groups began to push the health scare as part of their opposition to turbines.

Some 31 of the 49 wind farms studied had never been subjected to a complaint either about noise or health.

“The 31 farms with no histories of complaints, and which today have some 21,530 residents within 5km of their turbines have operated for a cumulative total of 256 years,” says Chapman’s report. In Chapman’s research, he says that anxiety among residents increases as media reports spread the stories of health concerns and as researchers start investigating.

One down side to this research is, of course, that it tells anti-wind farm groups that by concentrating on unproven health concerns, their campaigns can illicit a steady flow of complaints and negative sentiment from communities.

Remarkably, surveys show that residents of wind farm areas who are compensated for turbine proximity are much less prone to complaints about noise, visuals, or “syndromes”.  It’s a miracle!



13 Responses to “Are Wind Opponents a Noisy Minority?”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    Are Wind Opponents a Noisy Minority? Yes, they are.

  2. Keith McClary Says:

    Link should be:?
    Mass Hysteria Can Strike Anywhere, Anytime

    Did they ever find the cause of the Cuba “sonic attacks”?

  3. grindupbaker Says:

    They’re just trying to wind you up.

  4. MorinMoss Says:

    Some of them are trying to make a quick buck

  5. Eclipse Now Says:

    All of this ignores the cost of firming wind, which is something James Hansen said believing in is like believing in the Tooth Fairy.

    As Environmental Progress reports (yes, that Shellenberger character who’s running for Governor of California):-

    “Over the last several years, Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo and many politicians have pointed to Stanford scientist Mark Jacobson’s modeling as proof that we can quickly and cheaply transition to 100 percent renewables. What is the lie? That we can increase the amount of power from U.S. hydroelectric dams ten-fold. According to the U.S. Department of Energy and all major studies, the real potential increase is just one percent of that. Without all that additional hydroelectricity, Jacobson’s entire house of cards falls apart. That’s because there’s no other way to store all of that unreliable solar and wind energy, given the shortcomings of current battery technologies.

    The authors diplomatically call Jacobson’s lie an “error,” but it is in fact a lie and everyone — Jacobson included — knows it. In his response, Jacobson writes, “Increasing hydropower’s peak instantaneous discharge rate was not a ‘modeling mistake’ but an assumption.” What is an assumption? It is “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof” [emphasis added].

    But what have Jacobson, Gore, DiCaprio and politicians around the world been insisting for years? That Jacobson’s study proves not only that we can power the world with renewables-alone, but also that doing so would be cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Upon the big lie rest others.

    For example, around the world, politicians and renewables advocates seeking to close nuclear plants justify their actions by claiming Jacobson’s work proves that nuclear plants are not needed as an alternative to fossil fuels. Jacobson himself told the audience during our debate at UCLA last year that California would replace our last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, entirely with renewables — and at a lower cost than keeping the plant running.

    Jacobson says these things even though he knows perfectly well that everywhere in the world nuclear plants are closed, fossil fuels are burned instead. There are other victims, too, as Environmental Progress Fellow Jemin Desai recently discovered. For his summer project, Jemin has been comparing the mining, material use and waste impacts of different energy sources including renewables like solar and wind, which we tend to think of as having little to no environmental impact.

    The first thing he discovered is that solar panels in fact contain significant quantities of toxic metals like lead, chromium and cadmium — known carcinogens — and yet no nation outside of Europe has a plan to safely dispose of them. Many could end up in waste dumps in poor communities in Asia and Africa and poison drinking water supplies.
    How much solar waste is there? About 300 times more per unit of energy than there is from nuclear power. As a result, if solar and nuclear waste from producing the same amount of electricity were stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km).”

    Scientists Sharply Rebut Influential Renewable-Energy Plan
    Dr Ken Caldeira says storage would have to become 100 times cheaper to enable wind and solar to go 100%!

    The bottom line? As a rough rule of thumb (which of course depends on location), wind and solar and hydro could provide about half our energy, and nuclear the other half, to have a stable grid. But if we just mass produce nuclear we could quickly hit 75% of the grid compared to similar schemes from wind and solar. How do we know? The French increased their nuclear capacity by 63% in one decade!
    Basically, it’s nuclear power or climate change. Take your pick.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      anyone that wants to build a nuke should have at it. The barriers in the US are not coming from greens, but rather from investors who have been burned too often by nuclear projects. You’re looking at a trillion or so in subsidies and loan guarantees to get started. Please post again on your efforts to promote that support in the tea party congress.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Although “Basically, it’s nuclear power or climate change. Take your pick” overstates things a bit, it does have truth in it.

        Yes, nuclear is “too expensive” for the profit-minded greedy SOB’s who have destroyed the planet, but we need to ask what price is too much to pay to save the life on the planet.

        There’s a reason James Hansen and all those other scientists wrote that letter in support of a massive ramp-up in nuclear power, and it does NOT have anything to do with its cost relative to other power generation.

        (And saying that the “barriers (to nukes) are not coming from greens” is a bit disingenuous. I used to be one of those anti-nuke greens, and our opposition did cause the costs of building a nuke to increase).

      • jfon Says:

        Wind, solar, and nuclear are all capital intensive – they cost a lot to build, not much to run. Gas and coal are the opposite – cheaper to build, the main cost is fuel. If there is a renewables mandate, rather than a low carbon mandate, gas does ok – if wind blows 40% of the time, and solar works 20% of the time, gas can fill the gaps. Nuclear can’t do that. Most of its costs are fixed, so if it can only sell power for 12 hours of the twenty-four, it’s twice as expensive. Solar and wind can run at a loss, using production tax credits and renewable mandates. Gas is also running at a loss, as far as many of the fracking outfits are concerned, but the oil majors can easily afford to write it off and play the long game. If nuclear gets squeezed out, that’s 20% of the US electricity market up for grabs. Wind and solar will get some, but a lot will go to gas, and when the turbines slow down of an evening, there’ll be no competition left to hold prices down. Batteries are nowhere near cheap enough to run a country, and probably never will be.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      Nuclear is neither sustainable nor is it cheap. Renewable energy is already cheaper than nuclear and much less toxic as well.

  6. It is a case of NIMBY. I dont think they(the noisy wind oponents) will prefer to have a coal powered station in their back yard either.

  7. Gingerbaker Says:

    Resistance to RE is organized by special interests who have billions of dollars to lose if FF use goes down.

    The Koch brothers alone have billions of dollars to spend, an international network of shell companies to hide payments, and a consolidation of such enormous political and judicial power that they have no compunctions against making public announcements of their intent to destroy RE and EV cars.

    I don’t think it is helpful to attribute objections to RE technology as the normal skepticism of well-meaning unbiased citizens. Virtually all objections to RE, whether they are voiced by honest folks or not, are the fruit of the lies, mistruths, and propaganda paid for by special interests.

    And that, my friends, is subversion. It is against the law. And, eventually, if there is justice in this world, people will be prosecuted for it.

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