People have been harnessing the power of the wind for more than 5,000 years. Initially used widely for farm irrigation and millworks, today’s modern wind turbines produce electricity in more than 70 countries. As of the end of 2008, there were approximately 120,800 megawatts of wind energy capacity installed around the world (Global Wind Energy Council, 2009).
Wind energy enjoys considerable public support, but it also has its detractors, who have publicized their concerns that the sounds emitted from wind turbines cause adverse health consequences.
In response to those concerns, the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations (AWEA and CanWEA) established a scientific advisory panel in early 2009 to conduct a review of current literature available on the issue of perceived health effects of wind turbines. This multidisciplinary panel is comprised of medical doctors, audiologists, and acoustical professionals from the United States, Canada, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. The objective of the panel was to provide an authoritative reference document for legislators, regulators, and anyone who wants to make sense of the conflicting information about wind turbine sound.
The panel undertook extensive review, analysis, and discussion of the large body of peerreviewed literature on sound and health effects in general, and on sound produced by wind turbines. Each panel member contributed a unique expertise in audiology, acoustics, otolaryngology, occupational/ environmental medicine, or public health. With a diversity of perspectives represented, the panel assessed the plausible biological effects of exposure to wind turbine sound.
Following review, analysis, and discussion of current knowledge, the panel reached consensus on the following conclusions:
- There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.
- The ground-borne vibrations from wind turbines are too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.
- The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique. There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds and the panel’s experience with sound exposures in occupational settings, that the sounds from wind turbines could plausibly have direct adverse health consequences.