Recap: Western NY Health and Wind Energy Forum

On November 21st, 2019, the New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV) co-hosted a forum with the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, New Yorkers for Clean Power, and the Union of Concerned Scientists on health and wind energy at the University at Buffalo. The goal of the forum was to provide attendees with scientific and fact-based information about the health impacts of wind turbines. Expert panelists included Dr. Jonathon Bunicore, Mike Hankard, Dr. Bob McCunney, and Jason Kehl. Featured lecturer, Dr. Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney, Australia spoke via telephone. All of the panelists agreed on the importance of addressing myths about wind energy using science and facts.

As New York State expands its investment and use of renewable energy, like wind power, it is important to address any potential impacts. The panel addressed many of the common myths associated with the impacts of wind energy and health, including the wind turbines cause insomnia, depression, and even cancer. The panel of scientists discussed these concerns and concluded that there is no scientific basis for many, if not all, of these myths.

Dr. Jonathon Bunicore, a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, presented his research on the public health benefits of wind energy. By first citing the endless dangers of climate change on human health, he said that renewable energy is needed to transition away from polluting fossil fuels that do pose proven threats to public health.

A common concern from community members living near proposed wind projects is the impact of noise pollution from the wind turbines. This was addressed by panelist Michael Hankard, a principal acoustic consultant from Wisconsin. Mike clarified many of the scientific measurements of sound that he says are often conflated on the internet and among wind opposers. He described his research on the noise levels of standard wind turbines and concluded that wind turbines are not even close to registering above unsafe levels.

Dr. Bob McCunney, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, further explained the lack of evidence for health impacts from wind turbines. Dr. McCunney described a Health Canada study that he was involved with that looked at the effects of wind turbine noise and health. He concluded that the study shows no association between the two. He highlighted the need to be careful when assessing the causality of symptoms, as there are many outside variables that could produce adverse health effects, not necessarily due to the wind turbine itself.

Speaking on his own experience living in close proximity to wind turbines, Jason Kehl, a dairy farmer from Sheldon, NY expressed his appreciation for renewable energy. With 10 years of having multiple wind turbines on his property, Kehl says he has had no issue with noise levels or bird strikes. Among the benefits he discussed, he emphasized the financial incentives of having no town taxes and increased property values as a result of the wind turbine installation. For the town of Sheldon, he says that this project has been widely successful and he has personally seen no adverse impacts from the wind farm.

Featured speaker Dr. Simon Chapman, an Emeritus Professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney Australia, gave the concluding presentation on “Wind Turbine Syndrome.” This phrase, as he explains, refers to widely circulated myths about how wind turbines negatively impact health. While the previous panelists spoke of the lack of evidence for these false beliefs, Dr. Chapman reviewed the anti-wind farm claims and highlighted the phenomenon  of “confirmation bias.” Those with such strong opinions against wind turbines are likely to set out to find information that confirms these false beliefs. Dr. Chapman stressed the need for the public to follow only peer-reviewed studies and facts, and to be wary of the vast amount of false information on the internet.

These expert panelists highlighted the lack of scientific evidence that wind turbines cause negative health outcomes. In fact, the panelists demonstrated the benefits renewable energy, like wind power, can bring to society, including as a way to combat climate change and address local air quality concerns.

A recording of the event is available on YouTube, and ACE NY published their own recap of the event (including photos).

Thanks again to the University at Buffalo for hosting this forum and to all of our partners for organizing it with us: ACE NY, New Yorkers for Clean Power, and Union of Concerned Scientists.