2022-08-14

Opponents of wind energy in Michigan and elsewhere frequently assert they oppose wind farms because of their impact on public health. But Checks & Balances Project (C&BP) spent several weeks reviewing health statistics from American communities with significant numbers of wind turbines. The records and relevant public health authorities report no negative health effects from the operation of turbines in their areas.

Wind has become the fastest-growing energy source in states such as Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. Residents and elected officials often welcome the developments, through in a growing number of incidents, proposed wind farms are blocked by vocal minorities claiming their health will be hurt. Specifically, opponents claimed wind turbines disrupt sleep and increase stress, which in turn can cause cancer, diabetes, depression and heart disease.

Wind opponents have cited non-peer-reviewed studies and opinion articles to back their claims that wind turbines made people sick. Such claims have been routinely debunked. In January, C&BP showed that wind ordinances in rural Michigan falsely claimed that health studies show that wind turbines made people sick.

C&BP’s new reporting goes beyond that. In fact, it is the first to use actual public health records in areas with active wind turbines to show there is no evidence that turbines cause negative health effects.

C&BP’s analyses of health statistics from counties and states in Michigan and elsewhere around the country show no correlation between the presence of wind turbines in those communities and higher incidences of those health issues. Our findings are mirrored by the definitive study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of Americans who live near wind farms. It found that a majority of Americans who live within a half-mile radius of wind farms have a “positive” or “very positive” experience with nearby wind farms.

In each state for which C&BP reviewed records, opponents tried to derail wind projects by citing a handful of flawed studies to prove their claims. Those reports, which touted conditions such as “wind turbine syndrome,” have been debunked by multiple researchers for relying on biased samples, misleading data and inaccurate references to other studies.

Texas

No state has invested as much in wind farms as Texas, which now has almost 33,000 megawatts of wind power capacity, enough to cover 20 percent of the state’s electricity generation.

In Nolan County, which has been home to the Sweetwater wind farm since 2007, there has been no increase in cancer rates, state and federal statistics show. In fact, the most recent statistics show the incidence of cancer in Nolan County has decreased slightly.

In Mitchell, Nolan and Scurry counties, home to the Roscoe wind farm, the five-year profile for cancer cases has decreased, state records show.

C&BP was unable to find any Texas health records showing signs of sickness related to wind turbines.

Oklahoma

A 2014 federal lawsuit aimed to stop the development of the Kingfisher Wind project claimed that the farm’s 149 turbines would produce low-frequency sounds that would cause nearby residents to suffer from high stress levels and cardiac issues.

In 2016, U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti rejected that claim, writing that “The harm alleged by Plaintiffs and their experts, at this juncture, is speculative at best, and in the Court’s view, a reasonable trier of fact could not conclude, based on the evidence presented to date, that the shadow flicker or sound/infrasound from the turbines has caused or will cause adverse health effects to Plaintiffs.” 

DeGiusti’s ruling also noted that none of the plaintiffs actually reported any health problems caused by the wind turbines.

Not only did DeGiusti reject the claims about higher cardiovascular issues due to wind turbines, public health records show that Kingfisher County’s rate of cardiovascular issues since the opening of the Kingfisher project in 2016 is lower than the statewide rate.

As in Texas, C&BP was unable to find any Oklahoma health records showing signs of sickness related to wind turbines.

In 2020, federal records show that wind generated 41 percent of Oklahoma’s electricity and has overtaken gas as the state’s main electricity generator.

Failed lawsuits and ordinances

In counties in Iowa and Wisconsin with wind turbines, attempts to derail wind projects with claims that turbines make people sick have been debunked or failed in legal challenges.

Madison County is one place in Iowa where officials have curbed the development of wind energy. The Macksburg wind farm has operated there since 2014.

Health records for Madison County show the same trend as elsewhere in the state, deaths from cancer rates and heart disease are down over the last 30 years.

Madison County’s board of health also appears to have based its decision to stop wind development on a 2016 article by two Michigan scientists – Jerry Punch and Richard James – that the County’s officials claimed was peer-reviewed.

However, Punch and James published their report on a blog dedicated to hearing issues, which is not peer-reviewed. Not only did they not subject their report to peer reviews, but the Punch and James article contained multiple criticisms of the peer reviewing process, including “While the peer-review process has many virtues, it also has its shortcomings, which are well known.”

Researchers, they wrote, needed to go outside peer-reviewed sources, particularly if the other sources have greater credibility. They went on to cite reports by widely criticized opponents of wind energy, such as pediatrician Dr. Nina Pierpont and  Dr. Robert McMurtry, whose work has never been peer reviewed and which has been roundly criticized by multiple scientific experts. In 2019, both of Iowa’s Republican senators, Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, labeled claims that wind turbines caused cancer as “idiotic” and “ridiculous.”

Iowa counties that have had wind farms for at least 10 years show no signs that turbines have worsened public health, records show.

Worth County has had the Barton wind farm operating since 2009. Rates of deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease have dropped from 2010 to 2020, according to Iowa vital statistics.

Wisconsin

Starting in 2014, wind opponents in Brown County, Wisc., began a crusade to close the 11-turbine wind farm operating in the county, claiming the turbines made residents sick.

Between 2010 and 2017, the last year statistics were available, county health statistics show decreases in hospitalizations for cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

In fact, Brown County Public Information Officer Jeff Flynt told Checks and Balances Project that “there have not been any recent health-related complaints about wind turbines, and there have not been any new studies conducted by Brown County or its designees.” A Wisconsin state government report also says turbines do not cause health problems.

Michigan

Huron County, Mich., has 472 turbines, the most in the state. Between 2004 and 2018, the most recent year statistics were available, deaths from heart disease have risen slightly from 200 per 100,000 to 211.8 per 100,000, while cancer rates have dropped from 497.9 per 100,000  to 462.7 per 100,000.

Reports from the Michigan Thumb Public Health Alliance, a group representing four counties in the Thumb area of Michigan, contain no references to wind turbine-related illnesses. That’s according to the six reports on the alliance’s website that list health priorities released by the alliance since 2016.

In Gratiot County, home to six major wind farms, the same is true. Cancer rates have dropped. So have deaths related to heart disease.

County health officials have issued no calls for help to cope with wind-related illnesses.

Ray Locker is the executive director for Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.

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