On Tuesday of this week the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and Department of Public Health (MDPH) released the Wind Turbine Health Impact Study: Report of Independent Expert Panel (January 2012). Among other things, the expert panel was charged by the two agencies with identifying and characterizing the attributes of concern most commonly reported by individuals residing near wind power projects (e.g., noise, infrasound, vibration, and shadow flicker) and then – based on a evaluation of peer-reviewed scientific studies – assessing the magnitude and frequency of any potential impacts and risks to human health associated with the operation of these projects. Findings by the expert panel include:
- Most epidemiologic literature on human response to wind turbines relates to self-reported “annoyance,” and this response appears to be a function of some combination of the sound itself, the sight of the turbine, and attitude towards the wind turbine project.
- There is limited epidemiologic evidence suggesting an association between exposure to wind turbines and annoyance.
- There is insufficient epidemiologic evidence to determine whether there is an association between noise from the wind turbines and annoyance independent from the effects of seeing a wind turbine and vice versa.
- The strongest epidemiological study suggests that there is not an association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health.
- Scientific evidence suggests that shadow flicker does not pose a risk of eliciting seizures as a result of photic stimulation.
- There is limited scientific evidence of an association between annoyance from prolonged shadow flicker (exceeding 30 minutes per day) and potential transitory cognitive and physical health effects.
- There is no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
MassDEP and MDPH will be holding three public meetings on the Report in February and will receive public comment until Monday, March 19 at 5 p.m. Electronic comments may be submitted to: WindTurbineDocket.MassDEP@MassMail.State.MA.US How the Report will be used both in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the northeast will be interesting to follow.
Additionally, although not part of the expert panel’s original charge, two members of the panel also provided MassDEP and MDPH an addendum, A Brief Review of Wind Power in Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Vermont, and Maine (January 2012). The addendum looks at wind power development in the two New England states and three countries with the goal of identifying whether there are best practices or lessons learned that could benefit Massachusetts. The authors identify three factors they believe contribute to greater project success:
- Local planning efforts aimed at achieving national renewable energy goals,
- Community engagement, and
- Multi-pronged setback regulations.
The addendum identifies the Fox Islands Wind project on Vinalhaven Island in Maine as the one project in Maine or Vermont that is “especially noteworthy” because of its success and community involvement.