, Newburyport, MA

January 19, 2012

Dismissing Wind Turbine Syndrome

A report this week commissioned by the state that concludes there is no evidence to support the existence of Wind Turbine Syndrome is welcome news to wind energy proponents. But the study does not invalidate the complaints and suggestions raised by residents who live in their shadow and think that homes and wind turbines are a bad combination.

Like any other power generator, wind turbines come with their own unique set of annoyances and potential dangers. Newburyporters who live in the Back Bay neighborhood — located across Route 1 from the city's only wind turbine — raised a host of issues when the turbine was erected a few years ago. They ranged from "flicker," which is annoying reflections from the massive blades, to visual pollution to the slim potential for turbines to fling huge chunks of ice or catastrophically fail and explode.

Some residents also complained of ailments such as headaches and sleeplessness. Over the past few years, a handful of doctors have suggested that the variety of symptoms reported by people who live near wind turbines are in fact a bona fide malady. It's been dubbed Wind Turbine Syndrome, caused by the vibrations, sounds and visual effects of wind turbines.

The syndrome is a theory that has sparked much controversy within the field of wind power. There's been a host of studies that have concluded the syndrome is more likely caused by modern-day life's stresses. The Massachusetts study adds more weight to that pile of evidence.

Whatever effect wind turbines may or may not have on people, it's increasingly clear that they need to be placed a considerable distance from homes. That wasn't widely understood when Newburyport's 292-foot-tall tower was erected. It's about 800 feet from the closest home — too close for many of the neighbors.

Newburyport officials have put considerable time into studying the proper way to site wind turbines, and it seems unlikely that another will be built here. Newbury and Amesbury have also been eyed as proposed wind turbine locations.

Wind turbines are best sited in places where they can take full advantage of strong prevailing winds, are close to existing power infrastructure and reasonably far away from homes. The "syndrome" may not exist, but that doesn't lessen the importance of siting wind turbines in locations where they'll be no more of an annoyance than a gentle breeze.