Scott Walker Wants To Spend $250,000 To Study Health Impacts Of Wind Turbines

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Wind turbines in Cornwall, in the United Kingdom.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s newly-released budget proposal includes funding for wind turbines. The money isn’t for advancing clean energy in his state, however: it’s for research on the potential health impacts wind energy.

Walker’s $68 billion budget proposal includes $250,000 to be spent on a “study on wind energy system-related health issues.” Walker’s press secretary Lauren Patrick told Huffington Post that the study is meant to provide Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission “with comprehensive information to consider as they receive requests for future wind energy projects.”

Tyler Huebner, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, told ThinkProgress that though he isn’t opposed to more research being done on the possible health impacts of wind, he wants that research to be peer-reviewed. Since the study will be completed by the state’s Public Service Commission, he’s worried it won’t be as scientifically sound as peer-reviewed studies.

“The concern for us is that, if study is going to be done, it’s not going to be rigorous, and there will be very little value in it,” he said.

Huebner said that RENEW Wisconsin was planning on looking into what it would take to make this study rigorous, and hopes to communicate those points to the legislature.

Studies have cast doubt on the theory that wind turbines could cause a threat to human health in the form of so-called “wind turbine syndrome,” which some have claimed can affect people living close to wind turbines. Last year, an MIT-led study concluded that those living near wind turbines weren’t more likely to suffer health affects than those living far away.

Another study provided information on the supposed impacts of wind turbine syndrome to a group of test subjects, then made the subjects listen to the low-frequency infrasound that wind turbines make. It also made them listen to “sham infrasound,” or silence. The study found that those who were exposed to the information on wind turbine syndrome were likely to report experiencing symptoms from both the infrasound and the silence.

Those results, the study’s authors write, “suggest psychological expectations could explain the link between wind turbine exposure and health complaints.”

Another study has found that the sound emitted by wind turbines is quieter than a human heartbeat, and that the sounds are often masked by other environmental sounds, such as traffic.

Last November, however, the Board of Health in Brown County, WI declared an eight-turbine, 2.5-megawatt wind farm in the county a public health hazard. The decision, which is one of the first of its kinds in the U.S., was made after the completion of a year-long survey on residents’ health complaints and claims of being able to hear the turbines’ infrasound in their homes. Audrey Murphy, Chairman of the Brown County Board of Health, said residents living near the wind farm reported experiencing ear pain and pressure, nausea, headaches, and sleep deprivation. Jay Tibbetts, another member of the Board of Health, said three families living near the wind farm ended up moving.

This Board of Health decision may have influenced Walker’s choice to call for the health study, Huebner said. But Walker has been critical of the wind industry before, saying in 2010 that wind power was “an expensive, inefficient source of electricity and thus any further construction of wind turbines simply is not a policy goal or objective that should be pursued further.” He also introduced a bill in 2011 to limit wind farm development.

Huebner said that wind development in the state “basically stopped” in 2011, when Wisconsin halted its new rules on siting wind farms. Because wind developers weren’t sure how these new rules, which stipulated how far away wind farms must be from houses, would pan out, wind developers left the state, and Huebner said Wisconsin’s wind industry has “never recovered” from that. The lack of wind development in Wisconsin hurts the state from a business standpoint, Huebner said: states with strong wind industries, such as Iowa and Minnesota, are attracting companies like Google and Facebook that want to become more reliant on renewable energy.

“Right now Wisconsin is totally missing out on that,” he said.