Sunday, 27 November 2011

Vanishing credibility & missed opportunities

There is a full page article in today's Sunday Post highlighted the possible health impacts of sighting wind turbines too close to people's houses. It features quotes from two long suffering neighbours of Hadyard Hill: The Baldwins and the Siddells. The members of these families are both intelligent and reasonable people - unfortunately they have been, and continue to be engaged in a struggle against the might of Scottish and Southern Energy and by association, our incumbent government.

The article contains a series of quotations from Dr Chris Hanning and Dr Sarah Laurie. Dr Laurie is a GP in Australia, and Dr Hanning is a sleep disorder specialist. Dr Laurie has encountered a considerable number of cases of health disorders that in her professional opinion are directly attributable to the sufferer's physical proximity to operating wind turbines. Dr Hanning is a panel member of the Society for Wind Vigilence and has presented a number of papers and given a number of presentations on turbine proximity sleep related issues.

Unfortunately, I cannot link directly to the article. But I don't really need to. Instead, I'll quote the one passage from the article that demonstrates the mentality of what the Siddells and Baldwins have to try and battle against (along with countless other individuals). From a Scottish Government spokeswoman:

'All wind farms in Scotland have to comply with strict guidance on noise. We are aware of no peer-reviewed research showing any impact on health from wind farms and Dr Laurie's examples relate to other countries.

Now, there are some real issues with this. The first is that medical research does not necessarily become invalid because it was carried out in another country - unless there was something very specific in the research that made it unique to the country in which it was carried out (such uniqueness is generally highlighted in the research as a constraint to applicability). Nothing in the research that I have read coming from Australia limits its applicability to just that continent. I am not a doctor or medical researcher, but I can read - and think. At the very least, such research should be accepted as possibly relevant, and its relevance and plausibility then tested in the UK. It is simply not good enough to dismiss research or observations out of hand on the basis that they originated in another country.

The other problem we have with this quote surrounds noise. First, the noise limitations placed upon wind farm operations are almost exclusively designed so as 'no to overburden the development of such facilities' (such phrases or similar litter ETSU-R-97). They are not particularly stringent. Even worse, the techniques for modelling noise emissions during wind turbine operation appear in many cases to be unfit for purpose. The noise standards in effect in Scotland are precisely the same as those in England and if they were so good, why is there a case going through the High Court in London right now (and yes, it's still going on), based upon noise nuisance from a wind farm? If these standards were so effective, why according to the Daily Mail have 1 in 6 wind farms built since 2008 attracted noise complaints? Why do the Siddells (mentioned in the article itself) sometimes experience noise levels approaching 100 decibels? I'm sorry, but the credibility of our current Government is vanishing rapidly. And the renewables industry? Their standard quotes are precisely the same - and their credibility is vanishing just as fast.

Missed opportunities? Well, there have been concerns about wind turbines and their effect on health for a number of years now (at least 8 years that I'm aware of). When our first set of renewable energy targets were announced, there was a real opportunity to establish once and for all whether cause and effect could be linked. It would have been a relatively trivial exercise to implement health monitoring at these early sites -and perhaps set a gold standard for the industry as a whole. Indeed, health monitoring could still be implemented now - if there was a true desire to do so. Instead, I'm afraid the very department that is charged with looking after the health of our nation hides behind the sort of statement I have quoted above - and it is that that very action coupled with the ever growing mountain of (foreign) evidence that makes myself and a great many other people even more suspicious and concerned. Our government's lack of understanding and its unwillingness to accept it could actually be wrong displays a political arrogance of astounding proportions.

My message to that spokeswoman and her department? Have a care - we are actually human beings out here in the sticks you know - and yes, we are also voters.