While wind farms are a clean, renewable, and relatively cheaper source of energy, they also have disadvantages such as land use and noise. Among those people residing near a wind farm, about 30 percent are either only slightly irritated by the noise or not affected at all. On the other hand, 10 percent are reported to experiencing stress, manifested by their irritability and difficulty in falling asleep. However, noise is just one of the reasons wind farms are stressful to some people.
Starting 2012 until 2014, a group of researchers including environmental psychologists and Professor Gundula Hübner and Dr. Johannes Pohl of Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) studied a wind farm in northern Germany by conducting surveys of residents. Sound recordings of the wind turbines were also analyzed by their project partner UL DEWI (UL International GmbH). The results published in the current issue of the journal Energy Policy are summarized below.
- Absence of Other Noises
According to the study, the distance of a resident’s house to the wind farm is an insignificant factor in their irritation. The irritating sound coming from the wind farm during night time were recorded by several residents and these recordings were analyzed by UL DEWI researchers.
“The wind and the movement of the rotor blades can cause amplitude modulation, in other words, an irregular pulsating of the volume. These irregularities are what annoy some of the residents, something which they perceive to be irregular humming or swooshing,” says Dr. Johannes Pohl from the Institute of Psychology at MLU.
Dr. Pohl explains that a quiet, steady background noise is easier to ignore and most of the complaints occurred in the night or in the early morning hours when there are fewer other noises.
The environmental psychologists also considered the weather in their study and concluded that the noise from wind farm tends to be more noticeable when there is frost and it is humid. The researchers also observed that at least once a month, the symptoms of stress were experienced by the about 10 percent of the residents irritated by the wind turbines.
“Symptoms include problems falling asleep, disturbed sleep in general, a negative mood, and strong irritability,” explains Pohl. This is comparable with the number of people who are stressed with traffic noise, which is 16 percent of the same group of people surveyed.
- Critical Attitude Concerning Wind Farms
The most intriguing factor to the stress brought by wind turbines is the critical attitude of residents towards a wind farm. The study reports that this attitude stimulates the experience of stress. This was evidenced by the large decrease in the fraction of residents that experience stress after two years. The repeat survey two years later showed that from 10 percent, only 6.8 percent of the residents remained irritated with the noise.
“Many residents get used to the noise from the wind farm or they have resigned themselves to it. A good one-fourth of those affected close their windows at night so that they are no longer disturbed by the noise,” says Dr. Pohl.
The residents that comprised the 6.8 percent that remained to feel stressed by the wind farms were those who were already very critical of the wind farm from the beginning. According to the researchers, the little interest in finding ways to soothe their selves and cope with the stress manifested in these people. This means that the established attitudes are difficult to change.
A proactive solution to this behavior, according to the researchers, is a better information policy during the planning phase by addressing the problems and concerns of residents. “The way the residents experience the planning and construction phase is a decisive indicator of how strongly or weakly they will be impaired in the long run by the wind farm,” Dr. Pohl explains.
It is critical for a community, prior the installation of a wind farm, to develop the most positive experience possible with early information campaigns and community meetings. Involving the residents in the planning stage is also highly recommended.