01 Jun Understanding the Health Effects of Wind Turbine Noise
In 2014, approximately $30 billion was invested in clean energy sources in Canada. That’s an increase of 9 percent from 2013. Among these clean energy sources, wind power has grown in popularity across Canada, highlighted in BC by the $400-million Meikle Wind project, which is located 33 kilometres northwest of Tumbler Ridge. With a capacity of 185 megawatts, Meikle Wind will provide enough electricity to power approximately 54,000 homes every year when it begins operation in late 2016. BKL conducted the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Act (BCEAA) noise assessment to gauge the project’s potential effects on human health and wildlife in the area.
Considering the growing demand for renewable energy and the accompanying public concerns over wind turbine noise, Health Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academics to commission a panel of experts to review and assess existing evidence regarding potential health impacts of wind turbine noise and also identify areas for further research.
“The panel looked at what had been written on the potential health effects of exposure to wind turbines, in the scientific literature, legal cases, and the most informative public documents,” said Dr. Tee Guidotti, Panel Chair. “We identified 32 health issues and then analyzed the published peer reviewed studies on each problem to determine if there was evidence for a causal relationship with wind turbine noise.”
In a report published last month, Dr. Guidotti and the panel list the following main findings:
- Evidence shows that exposure to wind turbine noise causes public annoyance.
- More research is necessary to properly understand the connection between wind turbine noise and sleep disturbance.
- Exposure to wind turbine noise at regulated volumes and distances does not cause hearing loss.
- The relationship between exposure to wind turbine noise and other health effects including fatigue, tinnitus, vertigo, nausea, dizziness, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, etc., is difficult to properly evaluate due to limited evidence.
- Technological developments in the near future are unlikely to alleviate public concerns over the perceived health effects of exposure to wind turbine noise.
- By sharing knowledge, impact assessments and community engagement efforts limit annoyance and improve community control over wind projects.
The panel also found that many noise assessment methods aren’t necessarily suited to evaluate every characteristic of wind turbine–generated noise, especially low-frequency noise and amplitude modulation.
“We’ve been looking at how wind turbine noise is assessed for a while now, and this report confirms the limitations we’ve noticed in the existing standards,” says Mark Bliss, Partner and Senior Consultant with BKL. “When we assess noise generated by wind farms, we consider factors that might be overlooked by conventional noise modelling practices. Our goal is to use the best techniques available, and this new study provides us with an another resource to help inform how we assess wind turbine noise.”
Ultimately, the panel identified a lack of evidence concerning the health impacts of wind turbine noise, a factor that limited their assessment and led them to recommend further research.