The answer is blowing in the wind

Wind energy is increasingly being considered a viable and attractive power source.

Wind energy is increasingly being considered a viable and attractive power source.

Many countries, including the U.S., Germany, Spain, China, and India, are putting policies into place to drive the development of their wind energy industries. In Canada, the amount of wind energy being harnessed for use in our homes, offices, and factories has grown quickly over the past few years, led by Ontario with its Green Energy Act.

However, a backlash has been growing in many places where wind power is being developed. In Ontario, one of the main criticisms of wind development has been its impact on human health, mostly because of the noise that wind turbines produce. Yet, the peer-reviewed scientific research indicates that the sound from windmills, which generally falls into three categories (audible sound, low frequency, and infrasound), has little to no impact on human health.

This is especially true if windmills are built far enough away from residences.

For example, the required setback in Ontario is 550 metres. At this distance, the audible sound from windmills has been found to be below 40 decibels, which is around the level of sound you’d find in most bedrooms and living rooms.

Studies from the University of Massachusetts similarly found that even if the sound were audible, annoyance would be minimal.

Critics have also pointed to low frequency sound and infrasound as the source of health impacts from wind turbines. These are sounds that are either difficult to hear or inaudible to humans. However, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health did a review of the scientific literature and found no evidence that low frequency sound from wind turbines causes adverse health effects.

Research from Sweden and the Netherlands may shed some light on the opposition that windmills are facing, despite the lack of evidence for human health impacts. At or just under 40 decibels, 73 per cent of people could notice the sound and six per cent were annoyed.

But those who did not like windmills or found them ugly were more likely to notice the sound and were more likely to be annoyed by it.

Though we should always remain open-minded about new and emerging research on any issue, the evidence seems clear that wind turbines built with appropriate setbacks do not constitute a health hazard.

And wind becomes a more attractive energy source when you consider the health impacts of the main energy alternative, burning coal and other fossil fuels.

The Canadian Medical Association estimated that in 2008 Canada’s air pollution was responsible for 21,000 premature deaths, 92,000 emergency room visits, and 620,000 visits to a doctor’s office. Even if you look only at the health impacts of Ontario coal-fired power plants, the numbers are significant and startling.

When considering whether Canada needs to curtail the development of its wind resources or expand wind power in the way that Ontario’s Green Energy Act proposes, we should heed the conclusion of Maine’s Center for Disease Control. After dismissing the notion of a moratorium on wind development due to its health impacts, the Center’s Dr. Dora Ann Mills concluded, “If there is any evidence for a moratorium, it is most likely on further use of fossil fuels, given their known and common effects on the health of our population.”

As for the impacts on wildlife, that’s another story.

But most scientific research shows that newer technologies and proper locating can overcome most of the threats to birds and bats. One recent study also noted that “the number of birds killed in wind developments is substantially lower relative to estimated annual bird casualty rates from a variety of other anthropogenic factors including vehicles, buildings and windows, power transmission lines, communication towers, toxic chemicals including pesticides, and feral and domestic cats.”

It’s never easy to find energy technologies that will satisfy everyone, but with the world facing ever-growing negative consequences of burning fossil fuels, we must weigh our options. In doing so, wind power comes out ahead.

If we ensure that care is taken to use technologies with minimal environmental impact and to locate turbines in areas where effects on humans and animals are also minimal, there is no good reason to oppose wind power.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation climate change policy analyst Dale Marshall.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the 500 deaths from COVID-19 in the province are a tragic milestone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta hits ‘tragic milestone’ with more COVID-19 deaths

Province up to 500 COVID-19 deaths, adds 1,265 cases

A recent investigation by the RCMP Central Alberta District Crime Reduction Unit led to the arrests of 24 people. (Contributed photo)
24 people arrested following RCMP investigation in central Alberta

Twenty-four people are facing a combined 235 charges following an investigation by… Continue reading

Photo from Town of Sylvan Lake Facebook page
Sylvan Lake communities band together on development plan

Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan expected to be approved next spring

Tribe restaurant owner Paul Harris, left, consults with manager Brandon Bouchard about how to proceed under pandemic rules that make it hard for eateries to be profitable. (Contributed photo).
New pandemic rules deemed workable for Red Deer retailers

Stricter COVID-19 reduction measures introduced in lead-up to Christmas

Quentin Lee Strawberry
Man accused in 2019 Red Deer murder will stay behind bars

Quentin Strawberry going to trial next year on second-degree murder charge

Hockey Canada suspends world junior selection camp after positive COVID-19 tests

Hockey Canada suspends world junior selection camp after positive COVID-19 tests

Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Liberals to present bill on single-game sports betting

Liberals to present bill on single-game sports betting

Bayern, Man City win to advance to Champions League last-16

Bayern, Man City win to advance to Champions League last-16

FILE - In this March 26, 2006 file photo, former soccer player Diego Maradona smokes a cigar as he watches Argentina's first division soccer match between Boca Juniors and River Plate in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Argentine soccer great who was among the best players ever and who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity, died from a heart attack on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at his home in Buenos Aires. He was 60. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)
Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona dies at 60

Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona dies at 60

In this July 1, 2020, photo, Salt Lake Tribune data columnist and Utah Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen poses for a photo. Larsen is a sports writer, but with much of that world sidelined during the pandemic he's been digging into coronavirus data and its sobering implications. So when he found himself with a cache of spare change, partially from his childhood piggy bank, he knew plenty of people could use it. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
Tweet on spare change generates big money for virus aid

Tweet on spare change generates big money for virus aid

FILE - In this Wednesday, March 18, 2020 file photo, a view of a 'Matterhorn-Express' gondola lift in front of Matterhorn mountain in the Zermatt ski resort, in Zermatt, Switzerland. Restrictions to slow the curve of coronavirus infections have kept ski lifts closed in Italy, France, Germany and Austria, as well as countries further east. But skiers are already heading to mountains in Switzerland, drawing an envious gaze from ski industry and local officials in mountain regions elsewhere on the continent who lost most of last season due to the virus. (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP, File)
As season nears, Europe ponders skiing during pandemic

As season nears, Europe ponders skiing during pandemic

FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2015 file photo, actor John Boyega, right, pose with Star Wars characters during the Japan Premiere of their latest film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in Tokyo. Boyega stars in Steve McQueen’s “Red White and Blue,” the third film in the director’s anthology of West Indian life in London from the ‘60s through the ’80s. The five-film series will debut Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
John Boyega isn’t going to ‘take the money and shush’

John Boyega isn’t going to ‘take the money and shush’

The Hockley Motel in Mono, Ont., is shown in this undated handout photo. An Ontario motel that served as a backdrop for the beloved CBC sitcom "Schitt's Creek" is up for sale. The Hockley Motel in Mono, about an hour's drive northwest of Toronto, was listed for $2 million today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Colliers International
Calling all eccentric millionaires: ‘Schitt’s Creek’ motel up for sale for $2 million

Calling all eccentric millionaires: ‘Schitt’s Creek’ motel up for sale for $2 million

Most Read