Michigan neighbors sue to shut down new wind farm
Neighbors of a 56-turbine wind farm built last year in Mason County, Mich., have filed a lawsuit claiming that the turbines have negatively affected their health and wealth and should be shut down.
The lawsuit [PDF], filed by 17 property owners in a community along the east shore of Lake Michigan, alleges that Lake Winds Energy Park keeps them awake at night and has left them fatigued and stressed, unable to concentrate properly, and stricken with headaches, dizziness, nausea, and ringing and aching in the ears. They also say it has decreased their property values. They are seeking financial payouts and a shuttering of the facility.
Power plant developer Consumers Energy told MLive that it has met all permit requirements and is working to reduce the turbines’ impacts on neighbors:
Consumers Energy is reprogramming some of its turbines to account for the possibility that “shadow flicker” — a strobe effect when sunlight passes through moving blades — may carry further than earlier models predicted. The reprogramming should be complete by Monday, April 15, the company said. Wind turbines have shadow-flicker detection systems intended to stop blades from rotating when the sun hits them at an angle that affects neighboring residents.
Once a relative anomaly on the American landscape, wind farms have been popping up all over in recent years, helping the country move away from fossil fuels.
But with the growth of the wind sector has come a growing number of complaints about the shadows, flickers, and weird pulsing noises generated by turbines. A self-published 2009 book gave birth to the term “wind turbine syndrome,” a sickness characterized by the same ailments listed in the lawsuit.
Many scientists question whether such a syndrome even exists. For a paper published in this month’s Journal of Environmental Health [PDF], researchers reviewed a number of studies on the issue and found no evidence in the scientific literature that wind turbine syndrome is real. They did, however, find that wind turbines can be seriously annoying for neighbors:
At present, a specific health condition or collection of symptoms has not been documented in the peer-reviewed, published literature that has been classified as a “disease” caused by exposure to sound levels and frequencies generated by the operation of wind turbines. It can be theorized that reported health effects are a manifestation of the annoyance that individuals experience as a result of the presence of wind turbines in their communities.
Nonetheless, complaints of this supposedly debilitating syndrome have been growing since the term was introduced, mostly afflicting residents in communities where organized campaigns have been waged in opposition to wind energy farms. That led Australian researchers to conclude recently that people who live near wind turbines are being fooled into experiencing symptoms that the turbines do not actually cause.
We wish the people of Mason County the best of health. We trust they are not feigning sickness just to shut down a clean power source that they do not like, and we hope that efforts by wind energy companies can help reduce annoyances while still delivering a steady stream of renewable energy. We need that renewable energy to escape the clutches of fossil fuels — and we all know how sick the fossil fuels have made us and our world.
Get Grist in your inbox