Professor: 'There's a lot of misinformation out there' about wind turbines

Aaron Krause • Aug 20, 2014 at 11:37 AM

The Ohio Power Siting Board will vote at its meeting Monday on whether to approve a proposed windpark in Greenwich Township.

The project is one of several listed on the agenda for voting by the board's members.

The global wind energy development company Windlab has applied to construct a windpark that would cover about 4,650 acres of privately leased land. It would include 25 wind turbines with a total generating capacity of up to 60 megawatts of electricity.

The Ohio Power Siting Board, a separate entity within the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, has the final say as to whether the park is built. Their next meeting is set for 3:30 p.m. Monday at 180 E. Broad St., Room 11B, Columbus.

A group opposed to the project, Greenwich Neighbors United, has brought up concerns about the effects of the turbines' noise on human health and wildlife.

Recently, Greenwich Neighbors United (greenwichneighborsunited.com) invited Phil Hartke, past president of the Illinois Farm Bureau in Effingham County, to speak to the group about his own opposition. Hartke said his children have suffered from sleep deprivation due to wind turbines around his home. One of them, a 495-foot tall, 1.6 mW turbine, sits 1,665 feet away from his home, he said.

His 7-year-old daughter, Sophia, wrote as a class assignment her feeling about the turbines.

"You may think wind turbines are good but when you have 50 by your home...You can't sleep in your own room and you try to sleep but you can't because of the wind turbines' (noise).

Hartke has compared the sound to a powered-up diesel truck parked outside one's bedroom.

"I don't think kids should have to put earmuffs on to sleep," Hartke said.

But Duncan Estep, a Lorain County Community College (LCCC) associate professor who teaches engineering and alternative energy, said that's a stretch.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there," said Estep, who also teaches technicians to work on turbines. He doesn't have a stake in the proposed Greenwich area windpark.

"They do for a fact make noise," Estep said about turbines, but described it as a "whooshing sort of noise."

Estep said he's stood under turbines and the rotating blades resulted in a "soft whoosh" kind of like a breeze in the trees.

Estep said he can't imagine wind turbines keeping people awake at night when they're 1,600 feet away any more than the sounds on a windy night.

Larger turbines move slower than smaller ones and make less noise, he added. When they're about 1/4 of a mile away from where you live, they're hard to hear, Estep said.

During Hartke's address to members of Greenwich Neighbors United, he said as a result of nearby turbines by his house "our enjoyment of the backyard, garden, outbuildings, treehouse and creekbed has been taken away and replaced with nausea, headaches, irritability and stress."

The educator said there's no reliable research to suggest that wind turbines can harm people's health.

However, if you stand directly under wind turbines when they're operating, they can produce a vertigo type effect, he said.

Occasionally, bird will fly into them, Estep said.

"As a society we do kill a lot of birds," he said. Glass windows, for example, "take out of a lot birds."

Estep cited statistics from the American Wind Energy Association, which he said indicates less than 1 percent of all bird deaths are attributable to wind turbines. Over a decade, one seagull has flown into a turbine by the Great Lakes Science Center off Lake Erie in Cleveland, Estep added.

The associate professor, who read a recent Reflector story recounting Hartke's talk, said the residents are concerned because of a possible change coming to their neighborhood. Any possible change can cause uncertainty, Estep said.

"Wind and solar are good in the sense that they don't continue to burn fuels," Estep said.

Still, the energy community needs a mix of alternative and traditional energy. That's because fossil and nuclear sources of energy are more consistent; they generate power on demand. Turbines, meanwhile, generate energy only when wind blows, Estep said.

When it does blow, and windmills are in operation, a lot of people who live among them "have no problems whatsoever," said Monica Jensen, vice president of development for Windlab.

"Anything I try to provide to an anti-wind person, (in their mind) it's perceived, it's made up, it's bogus, (it's) propaganda from (the) wind industry" even if it's peer-reviewed from the scientific community.

"It's never good enough."

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