Does living near a wind farm blow?
October 3, 2012 10:03 AM   Subscribe

What's it really like living near a wind farm?

We just found out that there's a planning application in to put up 5 wind turbines and the nearest one to us will be 1.5 km from our house. They're going to be 80m tall. I'm trying to find out the real story about what it would be like to live this close to a wind farm.

When I google it I get a lot of what I would call greenwashing from the industry, and a lot of possibly unsupported pseudoscience from the opposing camp about negative health effects. It also seems like a lot of people who do have wind farms near them don't want to speak up for fear of lowing property prices.

If it would be a very bad thing, then we're going to object to the development. We're in the UK, specifically Scotland. So I'd also be interested in hearing from anyone who's been through the process of objecting to a new development near them and how that played out.

Personally I don't believe wind farms are the answer to our energy problems. I know there are different views on this but I'd really like it if this thread did not become a debate about that issue. I'm really interested in hearing about peoples' experiences. Thanks.
posted by hazyjane to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
They put up a bunch of wind turbines on the farmland around the house I grew up in, many of them less than a mile away. (This was on the Buffalo Ridge of southwest Minnesota.) Caused no problems that I can think of. In fact, I rather liked them.
posted by themanwho at 10:17 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

My inlaws were involved in fighting off wind turbines in their area, they were very much opposed and felt like it would negatively impact the area based on everything they had read and heard. The talk in this video is from some folks who live very near a wind farm and are not especially happy about it.
posted by waterlily at 10:24 AM on October 3, 2012

I know some people who live near a wind farm (in the US) and they have no problem with it. The farm is on a mountain, in the woods, and not visible from either the road or their house, FWIW.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:28 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The dark side of wind turbines. Pretty horrifying. (Link to my mom's website.)
posted by John Cohen at 10:29 AM on October 3, 2012

Annecdotally, my Aunt lives in a small village in the UK, it is in a valley, on the farmland/moor over looking the valley (say about 2 k's away) is a small windfarm, less than 10 turbines. It has made no difference to her. When I visited I heard nothing and felt nothing different from the times before I had visited her and rather liked watching them as we sat in her back yard, I found them relaxing, I don't however have to live there. Having said that if there was anything annoying about them she'd be the first to let everyone know and she didn't seem at all bothered.
posted by wwax at 10:39 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents live near some and there are some a few miles offshore from my house (I live a quarter mile from the coast). I enjoy watching them spin and that's the sum total of the impact they've had on my life.
posted by fshgrl at 10:45 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

They did punch the transmission line through some nearby woods but its just become a walking trail so not a huge deal.
posted by fshgrl at 10:45 AM on October 3, 2012

I don't live near a wind farm, but I've spent a fair bit of time up in Scotland close to wind farms (my mother in law lives near several wind farms). I've also stayed on a farm with a sizeable wind turbine 100m from the main house.

Ultimately, most of the objections, regardless of how they are dressed up, come down to aesthetics and their impact on the pristine beauty of the land and/or house prices. I personally like the aesthetics. You may not. That debate does not appear to have had much traction on the west coast because there are a fair number of wind farms, albeit that most of the exist ones are sub 50m tall. Nonetheless, they are typically sited on high ground, so the additional height will not make much difference. If you don't like a 50m wind farm, an 80m one will be no better or worse.

The second issue is noise. The can be noisy close up, and you will definitely hear them at 250m away. At 1.5km you may hear them when the wind blows in your direction but basically it won't affect you. You can see a good video here on this. On the farm I stayed on, you could hear the turbine noise but it was very, very close. I loathe irritating noise and it did not bother me.

The third issue is bird strikes. In honesty, the data has gone back and forth on this and it doesn't look like they are great bird killers.

The fourth issue is house prices. It's a valid worry, although studies are inconclusive. I believe guidance in Scotland is that wind farms should be no closer than 2km to houses, although it is less elsewhere in the UK. I have heard little talk of it affecting house prices although there was some opposition to a large offshore wind farm. But then, where I go (Kintyre) Vestas has a manufacturing plant so locals tend to be quite pro onshore wind farms. The scare stories elsewhere, such as they are, tend to be for houses much closer to wind farms and it bears repeating that the house price fear is circular - if people fear their largest asset will devalue, then it will devalue. If or when the perception changes (and west coast Scotland is a good example) then that perceived devaluation shrinks markedly.

Finally, on the economics. Suffice to say the whole green energy debate is contentious and a lot of the criticism of green energy either does not compare apples with apples on cost (capital costs, integration costs, levelized costs, maintenance costs etc) or just glosses over that wind, solar power are immature technologies with falling costs and improving efficiency.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:49 AM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

My in-laws have lived north of Palm Springs in Painted Hills, California for about 30 years and are surrounded on 3 sides by hundreds (maybe thousands) of turbines. They live up on a hill and were initially pissed about the disruption of their views, but have grown to enjoy the spinning of the propellers. They've had no other complaints and my father-in-law often says he much prefers turbines over housing developments.

Here's a view of their neighborhood
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:56 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

The dark side of wind turbines. Pretty horrifying. (Link to my mom's website.)

Wow if that wasn't fearmonger-y. The whole time they really couldn't say anything bad about the turbines at all, except that one fell over once. I liked how they pointed out that they're tall, and heavy. I like the foxes fighting at the end, too, very relevant.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:19 AM on October 3, 2012 [15 favorites]

Well, the scene showing the shadow of the blades constantly sweeping over the yard/house made me pause. I can see how that would be annoying. In my town, blinking neon signs are not permitted.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:29 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The most direct questions that I've been asked at wind open house meetings are:
  • Will I see it?
  • Will I benefit financially from it?
These are remarkably strongly indicated in how accepting someone will be to wind turbines. Is there enough information in the developer's info package for you to work this out for where your house is? Sometimes these documents are larger and more complex than they need to be.

I'd be happy to take a look at the project info and see if there's anything major missing from it; memail me. I design and build wind farms, but not in Scotland.
posted by scruss at 11:38 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much, scruss, I'll send you the details by memail. And thanks very much for all the answers so far, this discussion has been very helpful already.

We'll definitely see it. It's going to be 1.5 km (so a little less than a mile) from the house and the land around here is pretty flat. The Scottish government recommends not having them within 2 miles of a settlement but they don't enforce this at all and it isn't a law.

We won't benefit financially at all. It's the strobing and the noise that I worry most about rather than just the appearance. We're also getting yet another wind farm about 5 miles away that we'll see in the distance, and that doesn't bother me at all.
posted by hazyjane at 11:44 AM on October 3, 2012

We recently moved, but lived about 1.5 km from three wind turbines before and hardly noticed them. The distance should be enough so that sweeping shadows should not be an issue. We used to live in an area of Germany where many, many wind turbines (in groups of between three and 15) were erected during the last five years, and as far as I heard, there weren't any issues. It's a rural area with a lot of wildlife, especially birds like kites, buzzards and herons, and it didn't seem to pose a problem for those.

In my humble opinion, wind turbines are better than non-renewable energy sources. The urge to shout "Not in my back yard!" may be strong, but we have to face the fact that oil, gas, coal or nuclear power won't be around much longer, so alternative sources of energy have to be used.
posted by amf at 11:44 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

They've started putting these up all over the place where I live.

At 1.5 km away the only effect will be visibility. (I think they're quite pretty personally but I recognize that's a matter of taste.) I've hiked quite close to some here and there is no noticeable noise -- I suppose there might be some during a high wind storm, but it'd likely be masked by the sound of the actual wind. If you're really concerned about shadows, find out where the site is, do some trigonometry to figure out where in the sky the turbine will wind up, and see if the sun ever crosses that spot. (they turn surprisingly slowly, so itd be more like a clock tick than a strobe effect, though I can see how that might be a bit annoying if you wind up in direct shadow.)

There were a lot of town meetings before the first ones went in, and the fearmongering was weirdly intense. (self link). In the end it seems to be pretty much a non issue. I still wonder about the guy who angrily claimed that they would use more energy spinning the turbines on calm days (so people would think they're working, you see) than they could ever generate on windy days.
posted by ook at 12:18 PM on October 3, 2012

I am very much pro-wind, but I will try and be neutral on this. Obviously none of this constitutes legal or professional advice.

A 2006 study by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (who aren't boosters for wind by any definition) found that wind turbines might have some effect on house prices in the UK, a 2007 RICS study suggested they had no effect on house prices in the UK.
A similar study in the US by Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggested similar findings in the US (top result here). However, a 2008 case saw someone get a reduction in their council tax, with the court accepting an argument that the value of their property was reduced by 20% due to the proximity of a wind farm (at 930m from the property). (I hadn't heard of this before, I am astonished they came to this figure though.)

I am sitting in my office about 1000metres from a wind farm as I type this, I have literally never heard a sound from the turbines over here. It might be worth your while to see if you are anywhere near a wind turbine next time you are out and about and see what you think of the noise at various removes. I visit them quite a lot and its quite possible to have a normal conversation directly under a turbine (though you wouldn't want to live there) and the noise decreases quite quickly as you move away. Also consider where the turbines are in relation to your house, if they are to the NE then the prevailing wind will carry any noise away, even if you are somewhere rural.

Regarding health impacts, there is no reliable evidence of negative impacts, and I have looked quite hard because I teach a course on social and environmental impacts of renewable energy. A Plymouth GP, Dr Amanda Harry published a report in 2007 that said that wind led to health impacts but this was unrefereed. An American author, Nina Pierpont, has published work also suggesting health issues but this was self-published and has been criticised for poor study design, as reported on this NHS webpage.
The only signficiant impact which can be reliably demonstrated and which is unpleasant is the flicker effect, ie where the sun shines through the moving blades such that it creates a flicker through your window. If you could demonstrate with a bit of trigonometry that this would happen that would likely be a legit objection, but the proposer of the wind farm should have checked for that already and from memory I think it would be unlikely to impact you at your distance from the turbine, and no chance at all if you are south of the turbine of course.

As a general supporter of wind I would suggest the planning process can be a bit of a crap shoot, it depends who you get for the planning officer. Scotland is generally pretty politically pro-wind and the approval rate is quite high. If its anything like the process in my English county then you can put in an objection on the local authority website and they come back to let you know a decision. You might also turn up to a planning meeting to try to raise your own points if you like. They can go on for a week and consider different aspects at different times, so you might want to check when they are considering the particular thing you want to raise.

IIRC, depending on how big the windfarm is that you want to object to, the government can step in and overrule the planning officer, but I think yours will be too small for this to apply.

This UK Parliamentary document suggests Scotland recommends a 2km buffer around wind turbines, which might give grounds for objection.
posted by biffa at 3:40 PM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of the few bastions of decent journalism left in our country did a very thorough report about this.

I think the following (from the transcript) might interest you:
Professor Wittert, the head of Discipline of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, has given expert evidence for ACCIONA in a recent court case.

But he has also completed one of the first independent studies that found there’s no connection between wind farms and sickness.

PROFESSOR GARY WITTERT: We looked at two wind farm areas in Victoria. We looked at Waubra and Yambuk. And we looked at Snowtown and Hallett Hill in South Australia.

ANDREW FOWLER: How many people did you look at?

PROFESSOR GARY WITTERT: The total number of people would be 10 to 12,000, I guess, maybe a bit less.

So what we did was we drew a 10 kilometre zone around the wind farm. This is the 10 kilometres that Dr Laurie tells us is the danger zone, so we thought that was reasonable to choose.

ANDREW FOWLER: Using data from the the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Professor Wittert compared the number of medical prescriptions issued to people living in areas with and without turbines.

PROFESSOR GARY WITTERT: I can tell you from a preliminary look - and we will send this to peer review as soon as it's fully analysed - there is no hint of any effect on a population basis for an increased use of sleeping pills or blood pressure or cardiovascular medications whatsoever.
It's not green-washing you need to be worried about - it's the links a lot of windfarm opposition has, by way of funding, to traditional power generators and climate change denialist orgs funded by the same.
posted by smoke at 4:21 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Here's an article by a professor of public health about "wind turbine syndrome", with links to research (spoiler: it's almost certainly not real).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 2:37 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Onshore wind farm consenting in Scotland is now not as, eh, relaxed as it was before - which means that your objections, if you choose to raise them, may have the desired effect - and a lot of planning applications are speculative. Much will depend on the local authority, as some LAs are fairly rigorous and others have in the past seemed less so.

Equally, it is now harder to get financing for the construction of an onshore windfarm (as what money there is for wind power is being poured into offshore projects, which are signif. more capex intensive). Consent is usually precondition for financing of onshore projects, so even if the consent is granted doesn't mean you'll have a windfarm going up. I realise that this doesn't address your questions, but I thought it worth mentioning, to give some context.

On your specific query, I don't live 1500m from a windfarm but I can attest that the noise from turbines at Whitelee Windfarm (Europe's largest onshore wf) does not carry 1500m.
posted by my face your at 4:09 AM on October 4, 2012

I drive (within 50 yards) past a single windmill that is part of a pilot program for a larger deployment twice daily. There's a fishing pier right by it and no one there seems bothered by it. Nor does any of the wildlife the live in the miles of wetlands behind the barrier islands on the south shore of Long Island. I'd like to see them build more.

Sea By The City covered the windmill and there's a bunch of comments so you can see what local reactions are like. Most significantly, I really think you should check out this link, in that series is the article The Skinny on the Big Wind Turbine. It pulls out highlights from the 112 page long EA-1816: FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT, Town of Hempstead Wind-to-Hydrogen Project, Point Lookout, New York, written by a guest blogger, George Povall, who lives nearby and is interested in renewable energy. There's also a blog post with a series of wind turbine photos.

Regarding some of the issues I've read here:
  • Noise: none that I can hear
  • Killing birds: the cars that drive by on the road kill more birds than this does, if you're worried about birds, make everyone ride bicycles on the parkway; impact on wildlife specifically mentioned in the above assessment
  • Flicker: mentioned in the assessment as well, not an issue
  • Property values: it's metro-NY, they're still sky high (personally, I'm curious if property values took a nose dive when water towers started going up)
  • Tourism: my small city makes a decent chunk of change from charging non-residents to use our fantastic beach; still seems to be doing OK there, though this windmill is over a mile away and the 7 story apartment buildings that line the boardwalk would block the view of it if it were closer

posted by Brian Puccio at 1:03 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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