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What Vestas knew, and when

By Max Rheese - posted Monday, 17 February 2014


This is a story about the wind industry and turbine manufacturer, Vestas and the global campaign to counter dissent about the adverse impacts caused by their product to an often ignored minority of people living in rural communities worldwide.

It is also about the useful idiots co-opted to help sell its message.  A term used for those who are seen to unwittingly support an objectionable cause which they naïvely believe to be a force for good.

For a decade individuals and community groups have been calling for studies into the adverse health impacts of wind turbine noise both in Australia and overseas. 

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This relatively recent phenomenon coincides remarkably with the growth in size of wind turbines from 50m in height to over 150m, taller than the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Noise from these massively larger turbines has increased correspondingly with low-frequency noise broadcast over a much larger area according to Danish experts Professors Moeller and Pedersen who said “It must be anticipated that problems with low-frequency noise will increase with even larger turbines.” 

The common refrain from wind energy companies and their supporters is that there is no evidence of adverse health impacts to nearby residents.  To be factually correct they should have been saying there was no published evidence, which is why those affected want an independent properly constituted health study acceptable to all parties.  Despite these claims by the wind industry as of late 2012 there were over a dozen peer-reviewed published papers linking wind turbine noise with health impacts.

Supporters point to 20 reviews, mainly of existing literature, held in various countries that have found no conclusive evidence linking turbine operations with poor health.

Literature reviews of previous studies serve a purpose as do the plethora of separate studies by acousticians, sleep experts and physicians, many of which draw the conclusion there is a strong prima facie case that low-frequency noise generated by wind turbines causes chronic sleep deprivation in some people which then degenerates to adverse health impacts.

Global wind turbine supplier, the Danish company Vestas, launched their Act on Facts campaign in Melbourne during 2013 to counter the “success” of community groups, the Waubra Foundation and the Australian Environment Foundation in convincing parliamentarians of the need for a study.

The Act on Facts campaign, as the name implies, is to quash ‘myths’ and counter ‘misinformation’ by those who have concerns about the uncritical acceptance of wind energy.

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Therefore the recent discovery of a 2004 PowerPoint presentation by Vestas employee Erik Sloth to the former Australian Wind Energy Association (now the Clean Energy Council) demonstrating Vestas knew a decade ago that safer buffers are required to protect neighbours from noise, their pre-construction noise models are not accurate and that “we know that noise from wind turbines sometimes annoys people even if the noise is below noise limits” is a disturbing contradiction to their rhetoric and the ideals of their campaign.  It is also confirmation the global wind industry have in fact been peddling misinformation rather than facts.

Issues referred to in the Vestas presentation were commented on in the previously mentioned peer-reviewed paper by Professors Moeller and Pedersen published six years after the Vestas presentation, where they stated “that minimum distances to dwellings are often calculated from noise data that lack an appropriate safety margin.  Using data without a safety margin, such as mean values for a given turbine model, measurements from a single turbine, or ‘best guess’ for future turbines gives in principle a probability of 50 per cent that the actual erected turbines will emit more noise than assumed and that noise limits will be exceeded.” 

This statement no doubt accounts for some of the known instances of wind farms exceeding noise guidelines as detailed in a Supreme Court case in South Australia.  The level of angst in rural communities from disruption to their lives through intrusive noise and wind industry resistance to long-held community concerns has driven more than one expensive court proceedings. 

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About the Author

Max Rheese is the Executive Director of the Australian Environment Foundation.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Max Rheese

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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