Bursting the bubble of anti-wind astroturfers

When it comes to criticising wind energy, you don't need to exert yourself too hard to pass off opinion as a hard-earned scientific truth. There's a good chance your claims will go happily unchecked and gloriously unchallenged. Just relax, and let your creative juices flow. 

A gratifying example: last year, an anti-wind doctor read quotes from a New South Wales Department of Health (NSW DOH) report, touting the harms induced by wind energy on a radio interview. A manic Alan Jones agreed excitedly with every word. 

The NSW DOH report was actually about the health effects of mining operations that use 'blasting' – the use of explosives to disintegrate rock. These blunders regularly go unchallenged, in the heady and tumultuous public discourse around wind farms.

A fellow employee in the energy industry recently brought something similar to my attention. It serves as a brilliant example of how emotionally-driven opinion is passed off as established, empirical truth.

On February 23 this year, Andrew Carswell of the Daily Telegraph published an article deeply critical of wind energy*.

"While wind energy proponents continue to deny the theory of land devaluation surrounding wind farm projects, and outright deny the thought of noise pollution, a study produced by Wind Burst Publishing found that regardless of property type, properties up to 2km from turbines had a high chance of being uninhabitable and ‘‘unworkable without serious discomfort’’. 

“It claimed farm residences with such proximity could see their property valuations plummet by as much as 50 per cent. For those properties in between 2km and 5km away, valuations could fall by 30 per cent."

The author’s concern about the effect of wind turbines on land values seems based largely on the report he cites – published by 'Wind Burst Publishing'. The awful pun should have rung alarm bells.

The report, published 16 days before the article, is hosted on the website 'wind turbine property loss’ – dedicated to spreading the myth that wind farms reduce property values in surrounding homes. You can find the pdf through a Google search.

The author of the document, hidden in the file’s metadata, is listed as ‘Susan Richmond’.

Richmond is responsible for the registration of the ‘Waubra Foundation’ website – home to an organisation dedicated to spreading health fears about wind farms. She is also the author of several pdfs on the website, including one in which the Waubra Foundation makes claims of a 'contemporaneous and coordinated press campaign prominently featuring chronic critics of the Foundation’s works'. The report itself is replete with crude phraseology: 

"City folk sometimes opine that they like the aerofoil shape of turbines (generally as they drive past a small project) but they do not back this up by bidding for hobby farms sited among or adjacent to turbines." 

"City folk" is not, I assume, a term often deployed by professionals in real estate. 'Windburst Publishing' is actually listed with ASIC, and was registered on 31/10/2011. Its director, secretary and sole shareholder is Tim Orr – an objector to the Stockyard Hill wind farm. It’s clear the author of the report is strongly associated with the Australian anti-wind movement. Yet, the report is presented as an authoritative examination of property value impact.

Another masthead for the spread of renewable energy health fears, windturbinesyndrome.com, reproduces an email stating that ‘Windburst Publishing has commissioned the preparation of the attached document “Universal Rules for the Public Approval of Wind Energy Projects”’. The mysterious ‘susanr’ is listed as the author of that document.

The ‘Universal Rules’ are just as hyperbolic as Windburst’s more recent work, claiming, for instance that “the technical inability of virtually all governments to challenge industry statements” forms part of the basis for their document. Despite this explicit dismissal of government competence, the document is listed as a submission to the draft NSW wind farm planning guidelines.

Last year, two valuers subjectively opined that the construction of a wind farm may reduce the value of a property – they state: "We have agreed there is insufficient sales information currently available from which we could ascertain the level of reduction in value applicable to rural properties in close proximity to wind turbine facilitie." The findings of the family law case have been touted as firm evidence that wind farms harm property values.

No coverage of the ruling stated that the differences between the two valuers’ original estimates were greater than the subjective, assumed impact of the wind farm. Nor is it stated that the parties in the case have been involved in “vigorous opposition to the wind farm”. The rather noteworthy fact that the ruling concerns a proposed (rather than operational) wind farm is considered to be an irrelevant afterthought.

This myth is nothing new. In 2011, the Herald Sun reported that ‘There is "no doubt" wind farms have a negative effect on the value of adjoining properties, according to a senior rural real estate agent’. The real estate agent in question was Elders Rural Services national sales manager Shane McIntyre. The Weekly Times reported a few days later that "Mr McIntyre said the email was for the personal use of the recipient and forwarded without his consent, and it did not represent Elders' view on wind farms or land use". 

Ranging from leaked private emails, bogus reports and non-existent wind farms, the ‘evidence’ offered to support the hypothesis that wind farms damage property values is weak. In 2009, the NSW valuer general assessed sales data related to existing wind farms. The preliminary finding was that ‘the wind farms do not appear to have negatively affected property values in most cases’ (it’s worth noting that they were limited in the amount of data they could collect, affecting the strength of their conclusion).

If anything is likely to reduce property values around wind farms, it is the repeated assertion that wind farms are responsible for an implausible assortment of symptoms, promoted by pseudoscientific anti-wind lobby groups. Reporting these unfounded fears verbatim, and framing them as authoritative scientific statements, is undoubtedly damaging.

Consistently, wind farms fail to have the cataclysmic, ruinous impact often prophesised by anti-wind groups. The Snowtown wind farm, in South Australia, has had a positive impact on the surrounding community and businesses. 

Capital Wind Farm, the subject of Carswell’s article, has also had positive impacts on the surrounding  community, as explored in research conducted by the CSIRO:

“It was noted that the Bungendore Chamber of Commerce adopted a new logo featuring wind turbines as a reflection of the positive impact and presence of this wind farm on community businesses.”

Anti-wind groups will no doubt continue to disseminate hyperbolic misinformation through the veil of secretive front organisations, compensating for a lack of evidence with the assumed authority of a registered company name. Let’s hope they choose a better pun next time.

Ketan Joshi is a Research and Communications Officer at Infigen Energy. He blogs on wind energy here, and tweets about science and energy here. His views do not necessarily represent those of his employers or his colleagues.

*The wind farm mentioned in the article is Capital Wind Farm, owned and operated by Infigen Energy.

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So I looked up Infigen Energy on Google and went to the webpage which tells me "Infigen Energy is a developer, owner and operator of renewable generation with interests in 24 wind farms (1,646 MW equity interest) across Australia and the US."

Well since he wrote the article above maybe their research and communications officer might actually read a comment or two about it.

You do not improve your credibility by deriding those who are suffering - from whatever cause - and especially if they believe that the source of their difficulties lies in a side effect of your main product. So what have you actually done about this on a scientific level? I can't find acccurate researched figures for hum and low frequency vibration and noise emitted by wind turbine farms. I do find material deriding the possibility that such vibration could possibly be damaging. Everything seems aimed at discrediting the sufferer rather than starting from his suffering and seeking the cause. That is crap "science"

I find this particularly interesting because I get low frequency hum in my own dwelling that definitely does not come from wind turbines. I can hear it, my wife can't. She often has trouble hearing the lower frequencies just as I cannot hear the higher ones. The result is that the low frequency noises affect me - often keeping me awake. But they have no effect I am aware of on her. i am also affected by flicker. My own life experience tells me there could indeed be a problem, both auditory and visual, with present turbine design.

So why not look a little closer at the problem instead of making a policy decision to deny it and then seeking views that confirm your policy? If there is a problem it will come out in the end and liability will be massive.

It may be a simple redesign that is needed - possibly a different kind of rotor such as a cylindrical one on a vertical axis. Noise cancellation might aso be possible and better vibration suppression

Certainly as things stand - with all this cruel denial - I would not buy real estate anywhere near wind farms. I am only too well aware from the nature of Australian Politics at the moment that Denial is a form of lying that is often used to promote a largely hidden agenda

Even Green Capitalism has a responsibility to be ethical, you know. Sometimes in solving one problem you can create another - In another area completely it happened with Thalidomide. When research beginning with the suffering was carried out, the cause was found. But sadly that research was done too slowly, too late, for many.

Enough said - It is your own bubble you just popped.

Hi Phil,

Your concerns aren't invalid. Hopefully I can assure you they're concerns that have been at least partially addressed by government authorities in Australia.

The South Australian Environmental Protection Agency examined infrasonic emissions from wind farms earlier this year, and compared these to other environments. Wind farms do not produce any more infrasound than you'd be exposed to in rural, urban and CBD environments. See:

http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/xstd_files/Noise/Report/infrasound.pdf

With regards to low-frequency noise, the Victorian Department of Health recently released information about wind farms, also pointing out that these sound levels are quite low, and almost indistinguishable from the wind itself:

http://www.health.vic.gov.au/environment/windfarms.htm

I also hope you recognise that nowhere in my article have I derided or abused those who claim health effects from wind energy. I believe firmly that those people are reporting real health issues, and have been issued advice by members of the anti-wind lobby, leading them to attribute their symptoms to the presence of wind turbines. These statements aren't supported by Australian government health departments.

The Thalidomide crisis resulted in the deformation and death of tens of thousands of infant children in 46 different countries. I don't believe that Thalidomide is comparable to the operation of wind farms.

Thanks,
Ketan

I much appreciate such a polite and speedy reply. With a quick perusal of one of the documents I note the following, "While it is apparent that infrasound only becomes annoying when levels exceed the hearing thresholds, it is important to note that the degree of annoyance can increase markedly for only relatively small increases in the infrasonic noise level once it is above the hearing threshold."

I would be a little curious to know here how this would apply to ground carried or resonant vibration, neither of which could easily be measured with air testing, but both of which in my experience can be quite severe in effect without showing on an air sound meter. But the real key to this paragraph is that it makes it clear that the problem is subjective - and as such if it indeed is of an accoustic or vibration cause then no "average" response is relevant.

To give an example my wife sometimes drives in the wrong gear because she neither hears the low frequency noise of an engine that is struggling in too high a gear, nor can feel the vibration even though both are readily perceptive to other people. Now the last thing one actually wants to do is back seat drive - but sometimes the labouring of the engine just goes too far not to say something (and then duck). People in general do not want to be annoyed or feel forced to intervene. No one wants to move. If I could sleep through the low frequency noise I hear in my isolated suburb I would certainly not wander round at three oclock in the morning trying to find its source (which I suspect to be a combination of resonance and noise caused by ventilators on the roof (yes they do revolve but that is not related to wts)

What I would like to see is credibility given to the sufferers of sufficient level to demand that we must get an answer and stick at it until we have found it. If a hundred locations and a thousand people have to be tested then do it. Co-operate with people overseas who are claiming simlar problems. Co-ordinated international research is possible via internet

Your article would seem to suggest that this is some kind of an Australian fad. If that is th case then why are there some 600 associations worldwide of potential sufferers concerned about this problem in 27 countries and, according to the net complaints coming from 65 countries?

This genie is out of the bottle. There is a problem out there of whatever cause that needs fixing. To take one obvious confirmable problem - flicker - it is patently obvious that if the light source - probably the sun - is behind the turbine you will get flicker and a flickering shadow. Strobe light is generally only used if the audience is warned first, for flicker can induce an epileptic fit or a migraine. So there is "A" problem - maybe there are more after all. Lets find them and fix them. in the meantime there are millions of remoter locations

Phil, On reading your posts, I suspect you my suffer from a hearing condition whereby people hear the workings of their own body, they hear low frequency and sometimes High frequency noise associated with muscle movements and nerve signal transmissions sometimes they actually hear their own blood circulating . I am in no way qualified to diagnose this sort of condition however from what I have read you might be one such person. Typically these noises will only be heard in the dead of night, probably because of the auditory masking effects of ambient noise is reduced at night.

Part of the reason that you wont be able to measure infrasonic noise on a typical sound level meter is the so called weighting curve A-weighting being the typical. With an A weighted meter, sensitivity rolls off rapidly below 100hz. so 1hz infrasonic signals will be practically undetectable, Even with the weighting curve is turned off, the meter itself will typically be very insensitive at infrasonic frequencies because the way cheap microphones are constructed. For measuring very low frequencies a simple pressure transducer is a better instrument than a microphone.

Thanks for your suggestion Robert - however I did isolate the possibility it was a hearing problem. The hum is real but I suspect it comes from a couple of sources including the ventilators on my roof and the fact that my location is on the fringe of Sydney and hears it as general background noise. I only introduced the noise into my post to show that I did have experience of low level, low frequency noise being very stressful and that not everyone would necessarily hear it

I am not against wind turbines having even considered putting a small one up myself. I'd like to see the problems fixed and us have many more of them. I think the present design is unnecessarily ugly and boring. But it is always difficult to solve a problem - climate change is an obvious example - where the people who cause the problem, often quite innocently, decide that the most convenient response is to deny the existence of the problem and then find a few professionals who are prepared to confirm their denial

There will always be such people - The Vatican found plenty to confirm the Churches denial that the Earth went round the sun, and that the sun was not the centre of the universe. No doubt if we searched hard enough we would find scientists prepared to say that the Earth indeed rests on the back of four elephants standing on a turtle - but no doubt they would describe that as being "in a spiritual way of course"

Technological progress always has the odd glitsch or two - look at nuclear power - but instead of abandoning progress we have to move on and fix the problems. Denying them gets us nowhere except eventually into avoidable public conflict. Recognise a WT problem, if there indeed is one, and we should have it fixed in the blink of an eye. Piece of cake!