The European office of the World Health Organization has updated its noise guidelines and included for the first time wind turbines, indicating in the report that the findings are relevant for the rest of the world as well.
By Stefan Gsänger, Secretary General, World Wind Energy Association, Germany
One can wonder why the World Health Organization (WHO) issues noise guidelines for a specific technology such as wind turbines while the other sectors on which guidelines have been published are rather broad: road traffic, air traffic, etc. There are many other, certainly much more relevant noise sources than wind turbines – why are they not the subject of WHO guidelines? Hopefully there is no hidden agenda behind this.
Against this background it is significant that the WHO emphasises ‘the importance of wind energy for the development of renewable energy policies’ and at least touches indirectly on the broader picture – the manifold benefits of renewable energy including wind power for human health and general well-being.
However, some of the media took the guidelines and reported them as if the WHO had warned that wind turbines are a health risk. It can be expected that some anti-wind groups will refer to the WHO publication and will try to misuse it for their purposes; hence, the wind community should be able to provide answers.
The main, although not binding, WHO recommendation is that the noise level from wind turbines should not exceed 45dB, without specifying what that actually would mean and even admitting that many factors have to be taken into consideration for the assessment of noise around a wind farm: ‘in addition to the distance, other variables – such as type, size and number of wind turbines, wind direction and speed, location of the residence up- or downwind from wind farms and so on – can contribute to the resulting noise level assessed at a residence’. Therefore the WHO guidelines are not only conditional but are too vague for practical implementation.
The report also says that the empirical basis for the recommendations is very weak, admitting that aside from the factor ‘annoyance’, no studies are available supporting the evidence that the noise from wind turbines is directly causing any health problems.
The publication becomes very interesting when it comes to concrete suggestions for how to deal with suspected noise problems: ‘Nevertheless, proper public involvement, communication and consultation of affected citizens living in the vicinity of wind turbines during the planning stage of future installations is expected to be beneficial as part of health and environmental impact assessments.’
This means that once more we have to conclude that the best strategy for wind power deployment and for social support is to make citizens stakeholders or, even better, shareholders in wind farms. Let local citizens become the drivers of their own wind farms, and they will easily find the best locations for the wind mills, they will be able to minimise any potentially negative impact and they will maximise the benefits for society.