PART 3: THE FALMOUTH EXPERIENCE:
March 9, 2011
Residents in the town of Falmouth say that a nearly 400-foot wind turbine has severely impacted their quality of life.
They talk about noise issues, ringing in their ears and changes in pressure when they are outside.
But sound isn’t the only thing generating discontent.
As Sean Corcoran reports in the third part of our series, The Falmouth Experience: The Trouble with One Town’s Turbine, there also are complaints about a phenomenon called shadow flicker.
Malcom Donald sits in his kitchen, near some of the extra windows he and his wife installed last year. He says a light-flicker caused by the turbine’s blades have degraded his quality of life.
FALMOUTH, Mass. — It’s just after 8 in the morning, and as a light show begins in the kitchen, Malcolm Donald goes over to his computer and fiddles with its music player.
“Well, is it time to put on Dancing Queen?” he asks. “You have to do something to make it a little more tolerable, and I’ve been putting on a little disco music.”
What just a few minutes ago was a well-lit kitchen now is filled with flashing light.
The reason stands some 1,900 feet away in the form of a 400-foot wind turbine at the town’s waste water treatment plant called Wind One. Some neighbors allege the noise from the turbine is making them sick. Donald feels fine. But what he does have is this “shadow flicker,” which creates a strobe light effect on the neighborhood as the sun rises behind the moving blades.
Filmed by Malcom Donald in his kitchen
“I don’t know why we should have to be exposed to this. Somebody’s put up a machine, we lived here 20 years, and now all of a sudden we have flashing lights in the morning,” said Donald.
The intense flashing can make reading, watching television and even having a conversation a challenge. A good analogy might be to imagine trying to read a book in a moving car as the sun flashes through the trees. Donald says that this time of year the flashing continues for about 30 minutes.
Two years ago, that wouldn’t have been too much of a problem. But last year Donald and his wife installed a half-dozen new windows in the rear of the house in an effort to eat breakfast with the sunlight.
“We’ve just done major renovations, taken out some walls so we can live here and enjoy the sunshine. And now the sunshine is flashing at us,” Donald said.
Shadow flicker outside the Donald home
Opponents of wind turbines typically give a wide range of reasons for opposing it. There’s talk about alleged human and animal health effects, questions about connecting to the electricity grid, and concerns about cost, industrial accidents, property values and general noise.
David McGlinchey of the non-partisan Manomet Center for Conservation Studies in Plymouth says shadow flicker often is another source of concern, but more of an annoyance.
“As far as we know, there are no health affects related to flicker. On the other hand, if that’s your house and it’s occurring when you want to eat breakfast, it’s an impact. It’s a nuisance,” explains McGlinchey.
In recent wind debates on Cape Cod, there’s been confusion about shadow flicker. Some speakers have said it can cause health effects. And it’s not uncommon to hear claims that the flashing light can cause epileptic seizures. Heather Goldstone says that’s unlikely to be a problem in Falmouth.
“I’ve seen two studies that directly address whether shadow flicker from wind turbines can cause seizures and they both conclude that the only risk comes from small turbines that turn quickly enough to cause shadows to flicker at least three times per second. At their fastest, the blades on Falmouth’s Wind 1 interrupt the sunlight once every second and a half. It’s just not fast enough to be a risk,” Goldstone said.
The primary reason Malcolm Donald opposes Falmouth’s wind turbines is because his neighbors say sound from Wind One is making them sick. But even flicker, he says, is reason enough to stop wind projects near neighborhoods. To his aggravation, when he makes such a suggestion, the reaction he often gets from wind advocates is skepticism and indifference.
“‘You know, ‘Get over it. You’ll get used to it.’ It’s maddening. A certain small segment of the population shouldn’t have to sacrifice for the good of the entire community,” Donald argues.
Unlike noise complaints, the source and scope of which are highly debated, shadow flicker is an impact turbine developers say can be predicted by computer modeling, and often avoided or at least mitigated.
But so far, Donald says he’s received little comfort from being advised to cover his windows, grow more trees in his yard and to keep his lights on in order to reduce the flicker.
More from this series:
YOU CAN'T BE FORCING THIS ON PEOPLE
Source: WGBH Boston
March 8, 2011
In Part One of his series, The Falmouth Experience: The Trouble With One Town’s Wind Turbine, WGBH radio reporter Sean Corcoran spoke to Neil Anderson, a Falmouth resident who says the nearby wind turbine has had catastrophic effects on his health. Here’s more of their conversation, plus a series of photos of the log Anderson and his wife keep of the noise and its effects on them.
Neil Anderson: We knew there was a turbine going over there, we were not notified of any meetings or any type of concerns. In other words, there was no input from this residence.
I am an energy conservationist, I’ve had my own passive solar building company for 35 years. I was actually looking forward to that turbine being erected there. Although when it went up it was quite astounding the size of it.
I was proud looking at it from this viewpoint until it started turning. And it is dangerous, Sean. Headaches. Loss of sleep. And the ringing in my ears is constant. Never goes away. That started probably in May. It’s a constant reminder of that thing. I can look at it all day long, and it does not bother me. It’s quite majestic. But it’s way too close.
Sean Corcoran: How long after it started to spin did you start feeling some sort of symptoms?
Myself, it took me about a month and a half, maybe two months, to manifest all the symptoms. First it was the pressure in the head. The ears popping for no reason at all. Trying to get the water out of your ears and there was no water there. My wife, the first day, she feels it and notices it, and she feels it and notices it every day.
People talk about the noise, it gets loud. It gets jet-engine loud from this point right here. But the noise is the minimum component of that turbine. There is a pressure involved that gets into your ear, like you’re climbing at altitude in an airplane and your ears pop.
And there is a low-frequency pulse that particularly drives me crazy and some of the neighbors around here. It is a once-per-second low-frequency pulse, and it messes up your vestibular organs in your inner ear. And gives you a sense of off-balance and vertigo.
We both have signs of these symptoms. Headaches. My wife gets headaches three or four times a week, she wakes up with a headaches. She’s actually sleeping in a back bedroom right now with earplugs and a white noise machine trying to mask the sound. But it is really not doing any good because the sound just comes right through the windows, right through the insulation, right through the earplugs. And the pulse is right there.
Can you hear it right now?
You don’t hear it. It’s inaudible. There’s testimony from all over the country of the same thing, people complaining about the turbines. Denmark, Australia, Canada, the United States. But there is really no peer-reviewed medical info, which I hear all the time. Prove it, they’re saying. Prove it. Come down here and hear it yourself if you want.
And do you take that as people calling you a liar or people calling you a fool?
I’m not sure. I think they just don’t want to believe it. It’s so ironic, here I have to try to get that thing knocked down. Basically it’s a good principle, anything that can wean us off the number-two fuel, heating oil, and that type of thing is good for us, but it has to be done correctly. In this case it certainly wasn’t.
They look at us as being the bad aspect of this. But the people in the wind industry, you cannot turn a blind eye to this. You know about it.
I’m sorry we don’t have doctors that have come to prove it. I welcome anybody to come down here with their testing equipment and test what this thing does, but I will tell you, it does hurt the wind industry. And I know there are properly-sited wind projects out there that are getting knocked down because of this. But that’s okay too.
I think everybody should just stop for awhile and figure this out. You can’t just be forcing these on people.
The Andersons decided to keep a calendar to document the turbine’s noise and its effects on them. They let us photograph parts of their log: