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Some facts about National Wind Watch

One of the Wind Power Ethics pages*

This page discusses the truthfulness of the National Wind Watch (NWW) Internet pages and gives some specific examples of lies published by NWW.

Like so many anti-wind power organisations, Wind Watch seems to be willing to publish anything that puts wind farms in a bad light, no matter how ridiculous the claim might be. If Wind Watch and the rest of anti-wind power lobby are fighting for right and goodness against the 'evil wind power industry', why do they resort to lies and misleading statements to make their case?

Written 2012/10/25, modified 2016/03/16 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (David Clarke)
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Why you should not believe that wind turbines cause sickness



 
Wattle Point Wind Farm at sunset
Wattle Point
When a car travelling at an estimated 60km/h came within about half a kilometre of me I could no longer hear these turbines, in spite of standing within about 300m of the nearest.

Introduction

National Wind Watch and the rest of the anti-wind power lobby are motivated by selfishness; they don't want wind turbines near them (NIMBY), they don't much care about what climate change and ocean acidification will do to the planet if we fail to adopt renewable energy and the millions of people killed each year by air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels doesn't bother them.

Most of the links in the text below lead to more information on the subject under discussion.

Environmentalists have long urged people to "think globally, act locally"; anti-windpower groups such as Wind-Watch change this to "think deviously, act selfishly".

An example of a ridiculous claim published by National Wind Watch

 

Don Quixote

Mr Papadopolous calls himself Don Quixote and this is very appropriate. Don Quixote was a deluded romantic who fought windmills in the mistaken belief that they were monsters. In fact, of course, they were (and are) valuable machines.
Wind Watch published a piece by George Papadopolous on wind turbines and low frequency noise. In his piece Mr Papadopolous almost entirely ignores sound intensity (not to mention common sense); this allows him to claim that noise problems due to wind turbines can persist as much as 35 or even 70km from wind turbines. I have visited many Australian wind farms on many occasions. The greatest distance from which I have ever heard wind turbines is 2.5km (correction, on 2013/07/07 I managed to just hear some turbines 3.0km away), and then only in near ideal conditions; I noticed at the time that if a car was travelling within 2km of me the noise it made drowned out that of the turbines.

Homoeopathic strength wind turbine sound

Mr Papadopolous does not consider the inverse square law of physics in his claim. It can be calculated, using this law, that whatever the strength of some radiation or sound coming from a wind turbine at a distance of 70km, at a distance of 100m it would be nearly 500 000 times as strong; yet we find that wind farm workers, who often come at least this close to wind turbines, are quite unaffected.

But perhaps we should not be surprised that Mr Papadopolous believes this, he is apparently a believer in homoeopathy. In mainstream medicine there is a principle called the 'dose-response-relationship', in which the severity of the response to a poison or an exposure to a harmful radiation varies with the dose. Perhaps those who believe homoeopathic claptrap and the writers of Wind Watch do not accept this? Perhaps they believe that the air carries a 'memory' of a wind turbine that it passed by, just as homoeopaths believe that water carries a memory of substances it has been mixed with.

The fact that Wind Watch is willing to publish such arrant nonsense as that written by Mr Papadopolous shows how low are their standards for reasonableness.


Wind turbines save lives, but the people of Wind Watch choose to ignore this. There have been around 20 reviews of the research literature; not one of these concluded that wind turbines cause any illnesses. On the other hand, it has long been known that the emissions from fossil fuel power stations cause numerous serious illnesses and deaths. The electricity generated by wind turbines mean that less electricity need be generated by burning fossil fuels. The top medical journal, The Lancet, quantified the deaths and serious illnesses caused by burning fossil fuels in power stations.

But let's look a bit more closely at the factual content of Wind Watch.

 
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Some of the lies in Wind Watch

 
North Brown Hill Wind Farm, South Australia
Turbines and power lines
The power lines and pylons, which predated the wind farm, will kill far more birds than the turbines.
The first sentence on the home page of Wind Watch makes false claims about wind turbines, wildlife and the environment.
In fact:
  • Wind farms are not a threat to wildlife. For example, the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is so convinced that wind power will be good for birds that they have built a wind turbine at their headquarters. The prominent US bird protection group, Audubon, recognise that climate change poses a far higher threat to birds that do wind turbines. Australia's Conservation Foundation (ACF) is supportive of wind power too.

  • Wind power is very environmentally friendly. Negligible emissions are produced during operation, very little water is consumed, very little land is taken out of production, the energy used to construct a wind farm is paid back in about six months of operation, what little remnant native vegetation is damaged is replaced, and few birds are killed by turbines.


The second sentence of the home page includes more lies about wind power: regarding carbon emissions and the dependence on 'other fuels'.
In fact:
 
Emissions intensity on the Australian NEM
Emissions intensity
Emissions intensity (EI) from the four large states in the Australian Graph credit – Professor Mike Sandiford, University of Melbourne; data from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO)
  • Wind power does significantly reduce carbon emissions. This is so obviously true that no person having any intelligence or knowledge of the power system would deny it. Electricity has to be consumed at the same rate as it is being generated. If wind-generated electricity is fed into the grid, some other electricity generation must be lessened; this almost always is fossil-fuel generated electricity.

    The graph on the right shows emissions intensity (EI) from the four large states in the Australian National Electricity Market (NEM) and the average for the whole of the NEM, including Tasmania. Tasmania's EI is off-scale at the bottom of this graph. Note the very large decline in South Australia's EI, due almost entirely to the introduction of wind power.

  • Wind power does reduce dependence on other fuels. For example, at the same time as wind power in South Australia went from 0% to 26%, coal-fired electricity went from 42% to 25% and emissions went down. The last coal-fired power station in South Australia was due to be shut down by mid 2016.
Wind Watch writes of "Strobe lights day and night" on wind turbines in an obvious effort at sensationalism. The phrase "strobe lights" produces a mental picture of dazzling flashing lights like those in a discotheque, the lights on wind turbines are only bright enough to be seen by pilots at night. Some wind farms have aerial navigation lights for safety, most don't. They can be annoying for those who like the look of the starry night sky in the country without the distraction of flashing lights on the horizon (I am one of these), but it is hardly going to harm anyone, and unlike town lights it doesn't stop you seeing the stars. Are they left on during the day? I very much doubt it, but would it matter if they were?

 
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More facts about wind farms that are contrary to claims in Wind Watch:

  • Wind power is efficient. The state of South Australia had near zero renewable electricity in early 2003; in 2012 around 26% of its electricity is being generated by the wind; practically no fuel at all is consumed to produce all that electricity – what could be more efficient than that? (More at Efficiency of wind turbines.)

  • Wind power is economical. Wind power is at present the most economical form of renewable energy; why else would so many countries be installing so much wind power? In fact, if the cost of pollution is taken into account, wind power is much more economical than fossil-fuel-generated power. (More at Cost of wind power.)

     
    Waterloo Wind Farm in South Australia
    Wind turbines
    This photo shows how little scrub need be cleared for a wind farm
  • Wind power is safe. Wind power has an excellent safety record; there are far fewer deaths per GWh of wind energy generated than for coal, oil, LPG and hydro electricity. There is absolutely no evidence that wind turbines cause ill-health.

  • Wind turbines are not noisy contrary to claims by Wind Watch. One can easily carry out a normal conversation right beneath a wind turbine without raising one's voice at all. A wind turbine is quieter than a car travelling at 80km/hr. I have visited many wind farms and have only once heard a wind turbine from a distance greater than 2.5km, and they can only be heard at those distances in near ideal conditions (for example, if there was a car travelling on the road within 2km of me, I could no longer hear the turbines because of the noise made by the car).

  • Wind farms do not reduce property values. Falls in property values is another common lie perpetrated by Wind Watch and the rest of the anti-wind community. There is no evidence that more than minor, temporary, reductions to property values result from wind farm construction.
If you get the impression from this page that there's not a lot of truth on the pages of Wind Watch, you'd be very close to recognising it for what it is; a tissue of lies.
 
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Low frequency noise; What about intensity?

 

The same quote is very widely used by wind farm opponents

If you Google "Low frequency noise causes extreme distress to a number of people who are sensitive to its effects" you will see that there are a great many groups of wind power opponents who don't care about the truth. They have all quoted this sentence without looking into its context. They are willing to repeat anything that seems negative in regard to wind power.
In the piece by George Papadopolous published in Wind Watch and mentioned above Mr Papadopolous writes about wind turbines and low frequency noise. It quoted the internationally known acoustician Dr Geoff Leventhall.

Dr Leventhall wrote "Low frequency noise causes extreme distress to a number of people who are sensitive to its effects". He went on "The noise levels are often low, occurring in the region of the hearing threshold, where there are considerable individual differences". What Mr Papadopolous and Wind Watch didn't say was that the infrasound levels from wind turbines are hundreds or thousands of times less than the threshold of hearing. It is probably that Mr Papadopolous doesn't understand the concept of intensity; that would explain why he thinks that wind turbine sound can harm people at distances up to 70km.

Figure 6 in Dr Leventhall's paper showed that the threshold of hearing for sounds below 20Hz vary from 80dB to over 100dB. (Infrasound is defined as being sound at frequencies below 20Hz.) The decibel scale is logarithmic, 60dB is ten times the sound energy of 50dB, 50dB is ten times the energy of 40dB, etc. (Dr Leventhall's original paper can be obtained from Westminster Research.)

Infrasound levels from wind turbines at distances of several hundred metres are no more than around 50 to 60dB(G), they are similar to the levels to be measured near roads in urban areas and are significantly less than those from the surf of a beach. (See Sonus report.)






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Lies in Wind Watch
What about intensity?

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