Needless Human Suffering the Price of Wind Industry Corruption

Under-the-table transactions...
Made-to-measure noise report? Sure, no problem …


For far too many acoustic engineers ethics runs a poor second to pocketing fat piles of easy cash from the wind industry for knocking out noise reports that (always) show ‘compliance’ with the noise conditions of planning consents – even if that requires fabricating data – as occurred at the Waubra and Cape Bridgewater wind farms: Pacific Hydro & Acciona’s Acoustic ‘Consultant’ Fakes ‘Compliance’ Reports for Non-Compliant Wind Farms

The stink attached to that kind of behaviour hasn’t gone unnoticed. Professor Colin Hansen from the University of Adelaide wrote this stinging riposte earlier this year and it is as pertinent now as then.

Collateral Damage, Engineering Ethics and Wind Farms
Sound & Vibration
Colin H. Hansen
April 2016

When a major infrastructure project is undertaken, there are many in the general population who benefit when it is completed, otherwise we would hope that the project would not have even been planned, let alone started and finished. Invariably, there is always a percentage (hopefully small) of the population whose lives are disrupted, who are put under considerable stress and whose health suffers as a result.

For a highway or rail construction project, the collateral damage is the health and well-being of people whose residence has been forcefully acquired because it lies in the construction corridor, or those who live nearby who now have to tolerate a much higher level of transportation noise than they had to prior to the construction taking place.

As a society we need first to freely admit that people genuinely suffer as a result of such projects being undertaken, and we also need to openly discuss what collateral damage is acceptable. That is, what is the acceptable number of people to have health problems as a result of the project and what is the acceptable number of people who are displaced from their homes so the project can proceed.

We also need to ask, “Is the project of sufficient benefit to a sufficient number of people that the collateral damage it will inflict is acceptable?” How does this fit in with the code of ethics for engineers, which states to the effect that engineers should place their responsibility for the welfare, health and safety of the community before their responsibility to sectional or private interests?

What it means in the context of this discussion is that it is the duty of engineers to inform both the potentially adversely affected community as well as the benefiting community of the negative as well as the positive aspects of any project. In too many instances, professionals with a vested interest in the success of a project may support the view that any complaints by those who are affected are unjustified, especially if the project is for the common good.

Whether or not the ill health suffered by these people is a direct result of a physical phenomenon, such as noise associated with a project causing direct physiological harm, or a result of lack of sleep caused by the stress and annoyance arising from something associated with the project is a moot point. The end result is that in some way the project is the underlying cause of the adverse health effects, and the direct cause is not particularly important to the sufferer.

One important example that illustrates the preceding discussion is the construction of wind farms in the vicinity of residences. Most people who don’t live near a wind farm believe that they are of considerable benefit to society in that they play an important role in reducing greenhouse gases, even though they may raise the cost of energy production.

However, until the energy storage problem is solved, wind farms have the capacity to contribute very little to the reduction of greenhouse gases. This is because gas-fired power stations need to be constructed and then left continually idling so they can be brought to full power in a short time should the wind farm power output be suddenly reduced. This is not all that uncommon.

Even in a large country such as Australia, where the electricity supply to the eastern power in 2010 in the Eastern grid fell below 2% of capacity on more than 100 occasions lasting 5 minutes or more (with the longest being 19 hours) and below 10% capacity for approximately 10% of the time (Miskelly, 2012).

It is important that we ask, “Are wind farms of sufficient benefit to the community as a whole that we can accept the collateral damage of health impacts to a small but significant proportion of the population?” Many will answer that there is no impact of wind farms on residents, and others will argue that when the energy storage problem is solved, wind farms will be a valuable part of our energy mix.

In support of the former statement, several studies on the adverse health effects caused by noise generated by wind farms have been conducted by the Australian medical research body, NHMRC, and Health Canada. These bodies have concluded that there is no evidence to support the view that wind farms cause adverse health effects, despite numerous cases of anecdotal evidence and case studies indicating that wind farm noise is a problem for 10% to 20% of the population who reside in their near vicinity.

However, both bodies recognize that more research needs to be done. There exist numerous case studies of residents living near wind farms who suffer health problems that did not exist prior to the wind farm becoming operational. Most of these people suffer from sleep deprivation as well, again a condition that did not exist prior to wind farm operation.

It is unknown whether the adverse health effects are a result of sleep deprivation resulting from audible noise or whether there is a direct physiological effect of long-term exposure to low-level, periodic infrasound. Not enough research has been done to rule out the latter, so it should not be discarded as a possible mechanism.

Regardless of the mechanism, these adverse effects seem to be prevalent in a small but significant proportion of the population residing in the vicinity of one or more wind farms. To help these people, should wind farms be shut down at night?

With night-time being when most people are trying to sleep, it is also the time when wind farm noise becomes more audible due to amplitude modulation being more apparent. By the time the noise has reached most residences and been transmitted into a bedroom, it has become dominated by low-frequencies. And even though it is often at a very low level, it can be extremely annoying to some.

The annoyance is exacerbated when excessive amplitude modulation kicks in, possibly as a result of high wind shear causing blades to stall near the top of their arc or as a result of blade-tower interaction. The result is often a “thumping” or “whomping” noise that sounds a bit like the bass one hears when someone is having a party a few houses away, especially when a residence is downwind of a wind farm.

I have raised some questions here that can only be answered by referring to the codes of ethics that underpin engineering bodies around the world. Personally, I do not have the answers, but some things are clear to me. There must be open communication between wind farm developers and the communities where they intend to construct those farms.

It’s time to stop denying that wind farm noise causes adverse health effects in some people. It’s insulting to sufferers to be accused of only suffering from a “nocebo” effect. Everyone who is adversely affected by wind farm operations deserves to be heard and deserves adequate compensation, which should include an offer to purchase their property at a fair price.

Finally, society and its politicians should honestly evaluate the benefit of wind farms and whether any benefit is justified by the huge financial burden on society.
Sound & Vibration

Prof Colin Hansen
Prof Colin Hansen: it’s about the health & well-being of people, not money.

5 thoughts on “Needless Human Suffering the Price of Wind Industry Corruption

  1. When did it become the norm to bury common sense; to put vested interests above public health and safety; and when did it become acceptable to have no regard for truths which oppose those interests? Innocent rural people unfortunate in living near modern day industrial emitters of harmful sound, are being disturbed and disrupted; lives put on hold while good or poor health is being enormously, detrimentally impacted. Rural people are selling up or want to, and we noise sensitized people search for quiet, safe peaceful areas as vast areas are becoming ‘noisy’, no go zones.

    Independent health studies in conjunction with acoustic investigation are long overdue to discover how we previously healthy and happy rural residents are being made ill, in pain, sleep disturbed, stressed and fatigued etc. by un-monitored, prolonged exposure to high and industrial low frequency noise. Studies must be performed in our homes and while the sound, vibration and radiation nuisance occurs. Unabated and unfixed noise from wind turbines or gas turbines etc. eventually force us to leave our homes and places in despair. Sound permeates our floors, walls and roofs and is both heard and unheard; it drives us mad and there is no escape from it in or outside our homes.

    The current willfully blind persistence of our Government to dismiss the findings of previous Senate Inquiries into the social, economic and impacts of wind farms; and valid Australian and overseas research on the existence and impacts of infra-sound and LFN is dysfunctional. Blindness contributes to the increasing unacceptable failure to protect unfortunate residents from being a ‘collateral damage’ percentage.

    Failure to listen to and treat the symptoms caused by harmful sound exposure breaks all the rules of provision of best health care and dismissing any health complaints without thorough and appropriate investigation is negligent. It is not appropriate to be treated by a GP with no understanding of the issues while the AMA and the NHMRC staunchly refuse to believe or to act on the link between wind farms, other installations and the health issues being similarly experienced globally.

    Investigation of these sounds and impacts is fairly useless when conducted off site and at a desk without ever meeting the affected people. Determining the extent of correlation between industrial operations and progression of daily health symptoms is required and only possible by investigating impacted people in our homes simultaneously being inundated with LF or broadband noise.

    The current planning and health system promotes ignorance about LFN and a diabolical view that small numbers of rural people being harmed by ‘noise’ is ok. To promote a belief that people may somehow be protected by current inadequate noise regulations, distance, type of geography or that they have a healthy body and mind so it must be nocebo, is inept.

    Ever growing numbers of approvals and payments for wind turbines etc being built near people is increasing collateral damage numbers and at what percentage will the harm stop? How is this ongoing damage to people and properties prevented and lives restored and repaired? Common sense and integrity are the means for resolution and the preventative measures recommended by the Senate Inquiries into wind farms. Because surely no bank, health or property insurer will cover the cost of needless human suffering.

  2. Its amazing how experts in different fields can always come up with a positive for the companies when writing their reports. How so few do not emphasize the negatives especially if they have to add some glaring ones that could not be ignored, then concentrate on the positive even if there are very few.
    A report for a customer is not a good report if it doesn’t give the customer what it wants is the requirement of some, especially if ethics and reputation are set aside to meet the needs of a client.
    What is needed are reports written not for the company’s but for the approving body, these need to be written by people with no other connection than they are being paid by an independent body to provide honest assessments, experts with very high ethical standards, who know if they step aside off the code line they will loose respect from everyone including their peers.
    These people/company’s should be on a list and they should be hired in rotation so none of them becomes the most used. None of them should know which project they will be ‘assigned’ until they are contracted.

    Could be some difficulty in setting this sort of thing up, but it should not be reliant on operating funds from any industry company or anyone/company that will benefit from association with any person or company which will benefit from Wind energy Projects and their associated suppliers and supporters.

  3. Wind test reports are required for turbines to be used prior to planning approval. This did not happen at Waubra and other wind farms. The wind test report for Waubra departed from the required wind test, filtering out cut-out sounds by removing winds speeds between 3 and 6 m/s. At these speeds there are louder sounds at start up of the turbines; these sounds carry a lot of high frequency sounds in short bursts together with large air pressure variations – the filtering out of these sounds distorts the prediction of sound emissions.

    The predicted sound has been measured and has revealed the discrepancy in private measurements. In 2009 ACCIONA publicly claimed testing was done at our property, and in a letter to the wind farm commissioner the Managing Director of ACCIONA has said post construction sound measurements were NOT done at our property and that they were done at a house location that does not exist.

    Data and information taken from our property has revealed low frequency sound/air pressure explosions. These explosions occurred at blade pass frequencies and contain a wide range of frequencies so excessive that the measuring equipment went in to over load on a number of occasions. These sound pressure readings reached well in excess of 100dB. I believe this has caused acoustic trauma / torture that has impacted our hearing as well as had an affect on the inner ear causing pain and balance issues that resulted in sudden falls without warning.

    The Windfarm Commissioner has refused to discuss the Dean Report and undertake the agreed conciliation in the compliance process. This, together, with the fact that the National Windfarm Commissioner, ACCIONA, the planning Department and the local Pyrenees Shire are Scientifically illiterate.

    In August 2012 Brett Wickham of ACCIONA wrote to a person in the planning department saying of the draft testing plan developed by SLR and Marshall Day that it was not ACCIONA’s wish to implement the testing proposed in the plan, throwing up fake reasons why. This draft plan appears to have been in ACCIONA’s possession, provided to ACCIONA by the person in the planning department to make sure that the testing plan would make the Windfarm appear to be compliant. When they realised it was not the draft plan, it was withdrawn. At this time Mr Wickham suggested that if the testing was delayed for say 6 months there would be no requirement for targeted testing to be done at all.

    This interference by the operator resulted in the draft targeted testing not being done by independent acoustic people: ACCIONA’s facility manager claimed to be doing it herself – no measurements just turn up for 10 minutes for a night of ‘testing’, when turbines were not operating, and again when a tractor was operating between the turbines, she admitted that this was cheating.

    People near proposed wind farm developments must demand to have independent noise test results made publicly available prior to any wind farm planning hearings. This with the complaints handling process and complaint resolution closure are all human rights issues. Planning departments must ensure these plans are available prior to planning hearings, and make sure that there are no cleverly written escape clauses. These demands should be rammed home with the National Windfarm Commissioner and without bogus conciliation talks with developers.

    Noel Dean, Ballarat

  4. Hi,

    I started a PETITION “SA PREMIER JAY WEATHERILL : Demand the RESIGNATION of the Energy Minister for HIGH POWER PRICES CAUSING SA’s JOBS CRISIS and 15,000 household POWER DISCONNECTIONS, frequent POWER BLACKOUTS and the JULY 2016 POWER CRISIS” and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name.

    Our goal is to reach 100 signatures and we need more support.

    You can read more and sign the petition here:

    Please share this petition with anyone you think may be interested in signing it.

    Thankyou for your time.

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