Are windmills too noisy?

Crest Halifax has a thoughtful discussion about the problem of low frequency noise from windmills, and the illness some say it causes.

Of course it is possible that those reporting the symptoms of Wind Turbine Syndrome are more sensitive to sound and vibration than most people, or even than detection instruments. It’s also possible that other factors are at work. Could the illness be, to some extent, psychosomatic in nature?

Attitude clearly influences how our bodies handle stress. Hugh Piggott, editor of the Scoraig Wind Electric site, comments, “Experience has shown that the degree of irritation or pleasure derived from the odd little noises made by wind turbines depend to a large extent on the perceived benefits therefrom. … Noise is one of the few byproducts of wind energy production. For some it is music and for others it is not.”

Whether the underlying cause is psychosomatic or not doesn’t change how sufferers feel. Their symptoms certainly are real. And if noise from turbines is the cause, it should be addressed. Better Designs, Better Locations.

An infuriating aspect of 21st-century environmentalists is their penchant for opposing every solution to the environmental problems they rightly flag. Elizabeth May built a national profile demonizing Sydney’s environmental woes, then kept the problem alive for two decades by opposing every practical solution. (She’s still at it.) Environmentalists have done a great service sounding the alarm about climate change, but too many reject all available solutions: nuclear, hydro, clean coal, biofuel, biomass, wind, etc., etc. The Crest piece includes an all too rare attempt to address this issue:

An otherwise ideal location for a wind farm [may] be close to some residential neighbors. At some point, proceeding with a wind farm may mean accepting the fact that it’s impossible to please everyone.

No solution is perfect, so if we wait for the ideal answer we’ll never move beyond our present situation. Eventually we’ll find ourselves in the dark. Kienitz observes, “Wind power will never be the whole answer to our energy problems, but it can be a part of it. We have to make choices as a society of what we want. We need to be solution oriented, and that means deciding what the compromises are that we are willing to accept – aesthetically, financially, environmentally. I have run into people who bemoan the aesthetics of wind power, the environmental impact of hydro, the pollution of thermal plants (coal, oil) and are horrified at the thought of nuclear energy. But they still want their lights to work when they flick the switch.”

Keeping the lights on may mean accepting a compromise. Kienitz concludes, “When it comes right down to it, I would rather have a wind turbine in my backyard than a coal fired station in my neighborhood.”

As Voltaire put it 327 years ago, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”