It seems like when it comes to energy we all want it to be the same things; cheap, reliable, and plentiful, clean would be nice, but it’s not mandatory, and since clean energy tends to be more expensive in this market, it’s often overlooked. Furthermore, if these clean energy alternatives happen to be aesthetically unpleasant, then it’s definitely avoided. But in the cases where renewable energy (such as wind or solar) does make sense, often times, it is opposed for a number of reasons by local residents, much to the dismay of green-minded individuals. But why are so many local residents opposed to clean energy projects? Do they really find solar panels and wind turbines that ugly? Are they paranoid? Or are they just misinformed? The answer is rather complex, but in reality, it is all of the above.
Here in Ontario, there has been a significant amount of opposition to new renewable energy projects (wind turbines in particular). Many residents in Bruce County fuel the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY for short) sentiments that seem to be gaining traction. Local residents claim that the noise and vibrations from turbines can cause a number of different sicknesses, leaving many sleepless, disgruntled, depressed and above all, disgusted from the sight of wind turbines. This phenomenon isn’t just confined to Canada. In the United States, some 45% of all clean energy projects are delayed or scrapped altogether due to some form of local opposition.
It seems strange that though there are opponents to clean energy projects citing health and safety concerns, they seem to remain silent in regards to other controversial projects. Residents of Bruce County have been quite vocal in their opposition to wind farms, but they don’t seem to be at all concerned about having the world’s second largest nuclear facility in their own backyard. Although, Bruce Nuclear Generating Station has never had any serious issue, surely the potential for one should have the entire county up in arms. In the Southern Ontario counties of Haldimand and Norfolk, opposition to wind turbines has been quite strong as well, but did local residents forget that up until the end of 2013, the nearby, coal-fired Nanticoke Generating Station had been consistently spewing pollutants into their air for over 30 years?
It is said that familiarity breeds contempt, well if that’s true, unfamiliarity seems to breed downright hostility. Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney, has surmised that perceived ill-effects of things like wind turbines and solar panels can be explained by the nocebo effect. The nocebo effect (opposite of placebo) is a term to describe general feelings of malaise when a harmless substance (or in this case, object) is introduced to a subject who perceives it as harmful. So essentially, those who look at wind turbines with disgust may end up feeling sick simply because they dislike the wind turbine, not because the turbine is actually making them sick.
Still, however, there are those who are convinced that wind turbines do actually cause illnesses to those who live near them (aka Wind Turbine Syndrome), despite study after study confirming that wind turbines do not cause any harm to humans. To date, wind turbines have been blamed for the increase of more than 100 illnesses in areas where they are built. This list includes insomnia, migraines, nausea, anxiety, depression, and even epilepsy. Interestingly, some other illnesses supposedly caused by wind turbines include lung cancer, sudden weight gain, sudden weight loss, and most perplexingly of all; herpes. It often seems like the only people who live near wind turbines who aren’t getting sick are those making money through them. I guess the cure to Wind Turbine Syndrome is money.
Misinformation and hysteria seem to be the driving factors for many wind opponents, and unfortunately, these sentiments are behind moratoriums on further renewable energy projects in a number of jurisdictions. Where we put our wind turbines and solar panels is not a health question, but purely one on aesthetics. I agree that local residents do need to be consulted before large scale projects are undertaken near their doorstep, but if we don’t want to burn coal, oil or gas, enrich uranium, or capture the wind or sunlight, our energy options will become severely limited.