I’m glad I did this. Meeting people who are experiencing the downside of wind power has taught me some important points which will help me direct my enthusiasm for wind energy in future.
What I did for my time in Clear Creek was in fact a respected form of research. I did not ask a large group of people the same questions and then crunch the numbers representing their answers. Nor was I a participant-observer, because I did not keep track of what I learned while simultaneously living as the local residents do. I’m not employed in Norfolk County, nor was I living there as, for example, a stay-at-home parent or a retiree. I didn’t shop locally – my hostess cooked up a storm every day. What I did was qualitative, contextual research.
Here are some highlights of what I learned.
Local control and local benefit are missing. The Clear Creek residents I met explained that a multinational corporation owns the turbines, which are controlled remotely in the U.S.; 75% of the profits leave Canada. A believer in local community resiliency, I find this tough to take. And in this context, it would be interesting to know the nature and extent of any Canadian federal, provincial and/or local subsidies and/or grants that have been provided, and to whom.
People’s lives have been changed in a number of ways. Just one example: the immediate area has long been known as a route for migratory birds. Sometimes, huge numbers have settled briefly on the cropped corn stubble, picking over kernels left behind. Now, residents who say watching the birds fly over had long been a personal pleasure report that they see birds approach overhead, then turn back to fly elsewhere.
Area residents have formed a group, Norfolk Victims of Industrial Wind Turbines; members communicate with Wind Concerns Ontario, which connects similar groups in other areas of the province. Some area residents don’t participate because they approve of the turbines, or have no opinion, as they feel no ill effects personally. Others refuse to participate even though, privately, they cite negative experiences since the turbines began rotating a year ago, in November, 2008.
These ill effects include headaches, dizziness (in some cases leading to falling), impaired hearing, a feeling of stuffy ears and/or pressure, sleep disturbances, feeling tired, and difficulty concentrating and maintaining one’s train of thought. How did I feel? I slept wonderfully, never felt dizzy. Forthcoming residents noted that their problems did not develop immediately after the turbines were turned on last year, and that it took each of them a while to wonder whether the turbines might be causing their problems. We all realized that the day mid-week when the turbines were still, because there wasn’t any noticeable wind, meant whatever I might be experiencing would be perforce less cumulative.
For some of yesterday, I had a headache. That highlighted the research challenge. Was it a low pressure weather system? Or was I a little carsick? Might I be reacting to a visit to a neighbour who lives in a lovely hollow, where the turbine effect is said to be different? Or had the low-frequency vibrations started affecting me? Without proper measurement and recording, we can’t know the answer.
And then there’s the power of suggestion. Both yesterday and today, a few times my ears felt plugged up, briefly. Ordinarily, if that happened (and it has), I’d think, “Hmmm … it’ll likely go away in a minute,” (and it has). There, I thought, “Hmmm … the turbines?”
Some research has been done. Careful, thorough research on specific concerns that have developed in areas with industrial turbines installed is needed, and designing reliable studies that will be useful in making public policy decisions will not be easy. One particular challenge, one that public policy-makers don’t often deal with well, is evaluating and coping fairly and responsibly with unintended consequences.
We were all up plenty close and personal with these behemoths. Someone asked me if I’d touched one. That had never occurred to me. On the way home, I got out of the car and did so, noticing that I heard the rhythmic whooshing everywhere nearby, but not directly under the turning blades. Through my hand on the column, I definitely felt small, rapid vibrations, not at all the same speed as the blades.
Finally, just one of my hostess’s delicious recipes: mix plain yogurt with cut-up seasonal fruit (unpeeled apples and pears, halved fresh mandarin orange sections, banana chunks); top with large-flake oats and dried cranberries.