Wind Energy is an important area of renewable energy development for the Pacific Northwest and for the United States. As a key area of energy and economic development, wind energy has positive contributions to offer to Oregon and to the communities that host and are served by wind energy projects. In response to ever-growing energy demand and concerns over environmental and health impacts of petroleum and coal-based energy production, many states have enacted laws and policies requiring that increasing portions of their energy portfolios be derived from sustainable energy production, such as hydro, wind, solar, geo-thermal and wave sources. In 2007, Oregon’s Legislature enacted one of the most aggressive sustainable energy plans among other states in the U.S. by passing a renewable energy bill that requires large utilities to obtain at least 25% of their retail electricity portfolio from renewable sources by 2025.
There is little doubt that sustainable energy development is here to stay, but some who live and work in locations where this development is occurring are expressing mixed reactions to the projects being built in their backyards. As these developments are sited near more communities around the state, there are questions and concerns about the potential impacts these projects have on nearby communities.
Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a tool that is being used with increasing frequency around the world. Developed in the European Union in the 1990’s and ratified by consensus of the World Health Organization, HIA is “a combination of procedures, methods and tools by which a policy, programme or project may be judged as to its potential effects on the health of a population, and the distribution of those effects within the population.”1 HIAs are guided by the World Health Organization’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
An HIA, as endorsed by the World Health Organization, aims to ensure that:
- people can meaningfully participate in a transparent process for the formulation, implementation and evaluation of policies that affect their health, both directly and through elected political decision makers,
- both positive and negative impacts are shared equitably across a community,
- both short term and long term impacts are considered in the decision-making process, and
- different scientific disciplines and methodologies are used as needed to get as comprehensive an assessment as possible.
This Health Impact Assessment was conducted as a “strategic HIA”, as differentiated from a site-specific HIA. A site-specific HIA is designed primarily to answer questions about the health impact of a specific project. In contrast, this HIA is a more general assessment of the ways that wind energy developments in Oregon might affect the health of individuals and communities where they are built and maintained. It is designed to provide both a framework and relevant reference material for future HIAs that may be conducted on proposed wind energy installations. It is intended for use in Oregon, but we recognize that there are communities outside of Oregon where wind energy is being proposed and developed who may also find this a useful framework.
All development projects have both advocates and opponents, and the passions around wind energy developments in Oregon were running high when this HIA was conceived and executed. So it is not at all surprising that this HIA engendered some controversy. I want to recognize the staff that worked on this HIA, particularly the project lead, Dr. Jae Douglas, and thank them for their willingness to guide this project through those choppy waters, and maintain their professionalism and commitment to the goals of this project. Similarly, I want to recognize and thank the members of the project Steering Committee for their extremely constructive engagement with us, despite the passions which this work may have aroused.
Sometimes in the heat of controversy about development projects, economic development and health protection get portrayed as in opposition to one another. But this is a false dichotomy. A robust economy is a powerful driver of good health, just as healthy workers are a critical ingredient to a sustainably robust economy. Both are needed for a truly healthy community. While individual decisions related to a specific development project may of necessity involve compromising one of these goals in favor of another, the long-term public interest is best served when the interdependence of these goals is recognized and balanced through a process that empowers people to shape their lives and communities. It is my hope that this HIA will be a useful tool to do just that for future wind energy development projects in Oregon.