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Monday, August 26, 2013

The nocebo effect, and why it’s much more dangerous than wind turbines

David Perry's article for the Renew Economy blog addresses health concerns surrounding the infrasound produced by wind turbines and concludes that they are just another unfounded claim by antiwind energy campaigners.True, wind turbines produce infrasound, but at levels far below what is necessary to cause harm. In countering these unfounded assertions, Perry relies on research by Prof. Geoff Leventhal on infrasound effects and finds that self reported health impacts are nothing more than textbook examples of the nocebo effect: If you believe something bad is going to happen, then chances are your brain will make it happen.

By David Perry
Anti-wind energy activists have shifted the goal posts over the years, with aesthetic, birdlife, carbon abatement and even economic issues getting a run. But by far the most cutting attack has been around noise, and the supposed health impacts that result. 
There is no question that wind turbines create sound, and that in some circumstances this sound can be heard at nearby residences. Rigorous noise standards are designed to give a reasonable level of protection against sleep disturbance, taking into account the location of turbines, the model, and existing background noise. This approach is not unusual, and similar standards are applied to a range of man-made noise sources, from pubs to freeways.

While this is good enough for most people, some still find the residual noise levels annoying. At this point, noise level alone isn’t a good predictor of annoyance — personality and existing attitudes tend to dominate. Those residents with a clear view of the turbines tend to find them more annoying, while those receiving an economic benefit are more tolerant . Compounding this, residents with negative-oriented personality traits tend to perceive turbine noise as being louder. At the extreme, I’m aware of at least two wind farms where complaints have been received about excruciating, intolerable levels of noise, only for the resident to be told that the wind farm was shut down at the time.

Just because these factors cannot be quantified with a sound logger does not mean nothing can be done. Community engagement, face-to-face discussion and education go a long way, as does ensuring a lasting community benefit. In some cases landscaping or improved sound insulation can solve the problem. While this undoubtedly affects indoor sound levels in many cases, it also empowers residents with a sense of control over the situation, improving their outlook more generally. Developers are now keenly aware that listening to the local community and sharing the financial benefits is pivotal in getting a wind farm built, and keeping neighbors happy.
That should be the end of the story.
Alas, all manner of health issues (216, at last count) have been attributed to wind farms, even when the wind farm is completely inaudible, located tens of kilometers away, or, as mentioned, not even operating. These physics-defying claims are largely a result of fear mongering around infrasound.

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