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#1 ChaseChrome

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 11:06 AM

 

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Wind power opponents may be blowing hot air

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Photo by Tim Wilson via Flickr

Opposition to windmills often centres on health effects, but what is it about wind power that causes people to feel ill? According to recent research, it may not be the infrasound from wind-energy installations but, oddly enough, the warnings from opponents.

For a study published in the American Psychological Association’s Health Psychology journal, researchers from New Zealand’s University of Auckland showed readily available anti-wind-power film footage to 27 people. Another 27 were shown interviews with experts who said infrasound, such as that created by wind turbines, can’t directly cause negative health effects. Subjects were then told they would be exposed to two 10-minute periods of infrasound, but were actually only exposed to one.

After both real and “sham” exposure, people in the first group were far more likely to report negative symptoms than those in the second. In fact, subjects in the second group reported “no symptomatic changes” after either exposure. According to the researchers, “Results suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.”

Another study, which has yet to be published, shows people living near wind-power installations report more health problems during anti-wind campaigns. Researchers from Australia’s Sydney University found only 120 complaints from people living within five kilometres of the country’s 49 wind farms between 1993 and 2012. But 68 per cent were from people living near five wind farms targeted by anti-wind-farm groups, and 82 per cent occurred after 2009, when wind-energy opponents started highlighting health scares in their campaigns.

The power of suggestion can be extremely effective, especially when it comes to human health. Unfortunately, in the case of wind energy, this can delay or even stop wind-power installations that are a necessary part of the shift from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy, as has happened recently in Canada.

In fact, science shows that wind energy does not negatively affect human health in any significant way. An independent panel convened by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection reviewed the available research and released a report last year. It found no scientific evidence to support most claims about “Wind Turbine Syndrome”, infrasound effects and harm blamed on wind power such as pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease and headache/migraine.

At worst, there is some evidence that wind installations may cause annoyance and sleep disruption. But most of the resulting minor effects can be overcome by regulations governing how close windmills are to residences. In Ontario, the required setback is 550 metres. At this distance, audible sound from windmills is normally below 40 decibels, which is about what you’d find in most bedrooms and living rooms.

On the other hand, we know that using fossil fuels for energy has profound effects on human health – and on the economy. The Canadian Medical Association reports that in 2008 air pollution in Canada was responsible for 21,000 premature deaths, 92,000 emergency room visits and 620,000 visits to a doctor’s office. And a new study by the Pembina Institute found that “health impact costs associated with burning coal for electricity in Alberta are close to $300 million annually.”

According to Pembina researchers, “Coal plants are a major source of toxic air contaminants, including mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter. The study shows that in Alberta each year this pollution contributes to over 4,000 asthma episodes, over 700 emergency visits for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and around 80 hospital admissions, with chronic exposures resulting in nearly 100 premature deaths.”

Factor these costs into the equation, and coal and other fossil fuels don’t seem like the bargain they’re purported to be – especially considering the sector is subsidized by about $1.9 trillion a year worldwide, according to the International Monetary Fund. With the costs of renewable energy coming down, and the technology improving, more and more research shows that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy is feasible.

When it comes to wind power, we have to be careful to ensure that impacts on the environment and on animals such as birds and bats are minimized, and we should continue to study possible effects on health. But we must also be wary of false arguments against it.


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#2 BackwoodsBassr

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:20 PM

Now Chase I don't think that large industries would actually stoop so low as to use scare tactics backed by unreliable research results to manipulate public opinion.

 

...unless there's money involved.


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#3 ChaseChrome

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:43 PM

:huh: 

 

indeed


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#4 guest

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 01:12 PM

they all need to get fly rods..period.


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#5 MadocFlyGuy

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 04:16 PM

Renewable energy is quite the conundrum really. Interesting to see what the solution will be in 50 years. At least Ontario is decommissioning our coal power plants!

Although, albeit more green than coal, is there really "green" energy? I was part of a design team in my final year of studies in university and we did a project for a hydro company that involved designing a turbine to be used in Northern Ontario. It's pretty crazy how much one hydroelectric facility can effect its surroundings, small or large. I don't know a whole heck of a lot in terms of wind power, but at least it's one step in the right direction - away from coal :P!

 

That last statement may be hypocrisy at its finest :P I hate the idea of fossil fuel usage (says the chemical engineer - figure that one out :P), but at the same time, I sit here and type on my computer, with parts made out of plastic, which at the end of the day comes from fossil fuel. It's used so frequently in our everyday lives (in our clothes, maybe even our waders?!), that when the change from fossil fuel occurs, society will be so culture-shocked :P


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#6 BackwoodsBassr

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 04:26 PM

Oil is a fantastic resource Madoc you're right. It is unlikely that we will find a replacement that is as versatile and accessible in the near future. All the more reason to use it responsibly though!

And I also agree with your statement about hydro electricity...not as clean as many think it is...

It is not an easy road ahead, but the sooner we bite the bullet and commit ourselves to developing cleaner and more sustainable energy the easier the transition will be in the long run imo.

Always nice to have an engineers perspective on things bro! My scientific knowledge is limited to say the least.
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#7 coldfeet

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 05:32 PM

Took a course on alrenative energy at my union hall.Hydro is clean pollution wise, it just that it alters the river and land forever. Major barrier for migratory fish. Microturbines are pretty cool, if I had property with a stream I would try to utilise them.W5 did a show on wind in Ontario recently, most people living nearby had sleep issues.We're talking huge turbines. Small ones also have quite a noticeable noise, not real loud but if you're outside you notice it. All said though no pollution.  Solar - silent  but expensive if microgenerating. Worked at the gas co-generation plant at Portlands when it was built, not sure of the emissions but certainly cleaner than coal. The Alberta pollution you mention is probably related to the upgraders used in the oil patch. Remember 98% of all statistics are inaccurate ;-)


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#8 salmotrutta

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Posted 19 April 2013 - 10:38 PM

I thought this was going to be a thread about what happens when you eat a can of beans before fishing


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#9 BackwoodsBassr

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Posted 20 April 2013 - 03:33 PM

Took a course on alrenative energy at my union hall.Hydro is clean pollution wise, it just that it alters the river and land forever. Major barrier for migratory fish. Microturbines are pretty cool, if I had property with a stream I would try to utilise them.W5 did a show on wind in Ontario recently, most people living nearby had sleep issues.We're talking huge turbines. Small ones also have quite a noticeable noise, not real loud but if you're outside you notice it. All said though no pollution.  Solar - silent  but expensive if microgenerating. Worked at the gas co-generation plant at Portlands when it was built, not sure of the emissions but certainly cleaner than coal. The Alberta pollution you mention is probably related to the upgraders used in the oil patch. Remember 98% of all statistics are inaccurate ;-)

 

I'm no expert in alternative energy but I've read that the danger with hydro electric dams is that the plant sediment builds up in the reservoire and emits a very significant amount of greenhouse gasses. Some studies say the amount is about half that of a coal plant, others say it can be worse...it depends on the plant growth native to the region etc...

 

To be honest though I haven't had the benefit of studying the issue in a class so if you've heard anything which contradicts the above I'd be grateful if you could let me know...hard to keep up with all the information haha!

 

Cheers.


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#10 SmackUm

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Posted 07 June 2013 - 08:11 PM

I have no problem with wind power from what I've seen in Dorion , Ontario at the Greenwhich Windfarm... Atikokan is switching to wood pellets in 2014... http://www.northerno...n-Atikokan.aspx
Hopefully Thunder Bay will follow suit!
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#11 Icehut

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Posted 06 August 2013 - 11:41 AM

Wind and whatnot is fine. I think the big windmills are beautiful. The loud voices screaming that they're the end of the world are the folks whose neighbors are getting a nice fat rent check from the wind co's.

 

All said and done, though, we have to go full on nuclear. Safe, and clean. Thorium reactors are the way to go.

 

Wind, solar, it's all just a drop in the bucket, will never satisfy our greed for energy. Gotta go nuclear, sooner the better.

 

Or simply triple the price of gas... what they pay in Europe... that makes people conserve like crazy.


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#12 RonnieTO

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Posted 24 August 2013 - 05:41 AM

I happened to have just watched several documentaries on water from Netflicks and now the experts believe that the dams they have built over the years for hydro-electric and or citys water supplys water conservation is actually bad news as the water becomes toxic with a build up mercury and other heavy metals, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides..... but we all knew that.
Even the farmer adding pig and cattle manure as a slurry is getting it into the rivers and streams and then into the lakes and so all these toxic chemicals arent just coming from industry or or careless use of herbicides and pesticides. All these heavy rains we have been having are just running off the land washing whatever off the land before its had a chance to soak in and replenish the aqua-fir and thats caused an other problem.
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