Chris Rickert: Rural life has risks; wind turbines aren’t one

As a born-and-bred urban- and suburbanite, I've long felt a certain low-grade awe for country folk and their ability to live with risk. Among the benefits of being ensconced in a city's incorporated boundaries are a safe and reliable water supply, speedy access to medical care, a well-plowed street and the likelihood that if you collapse while mowing the lawn, someone with a cellphone's going to walk by and call 911. It's different in the country, where you have to drill your own well, take your chances with snow-drifted roads and if on the unlikely chance a far-flung neighbor does happen by as you're grasping your chest in the front yard, the hospital is probably so far away you'll die before you get there. So I've always been a little flummoxed that the fear mongering over wind turbines has been able to gain a foothold among such a hearty breed — as evidenced by the opposition to a 41-turbine wind farm planned for the sparsely populated towns of Forest and Cylon in St. Croix County. As part of the state's review of the project, researchers looked for health risks from a wind farm in Brown County, this newspaper reported Friday. Like many similar studies before it, it found, well, not much. Yes, the researchers concluded, "enough evidence and hypotheses have been given herein to classify (low-frequency noise) as a serious issue," even if they couldn't say whether the nausea, dizziness, headaches and other ailments reported by the wind farm's neighbors were caused by the turbines. Indeed, of the three homes where researchers detected such barely audible or inaudible noise, in only one case was the noise from outside the home itself. "Regarding health impacts from inaudible sound, it's important to note that these sounds are not new or unique to wind turbines," said Tyson Cook, a staff scientist with the group Clean Wisconsin, which supports wind power. "Infrasound and low-frequency noise are always present at some level, from both natural and manmade sources." Plus, isn't "inaudible sound" an oxymoron? Cook shared with me studies on the effects of wind farm noise, the upshot of which is that there is little evidence the noise is anything more than annoying to some minority of people. Significantly, most of the turbine-noise research shared with me by the anti-wind farm group The Forest Voice was also less than definitive. "A lot of it I think is in the mind of people," UW-Madison senior outreach specialist and renewable energy expert Scott Sanford said of the alleged ill effects of wind farms. There are no wind farms in my decidedly urban, East Side Madison neighborhood, although the noise pollution is far from low-frequency: jets regularly coming in for landing at the Dane County airport, train whistles from the tracks down the street, the screams of kids — including my own — playing up and down the sidewalks. Despite all this, health-wise, I feel pretty good. Perhaps we urbanites are heartier than I thought — or simply blessed with far less sensitive hearing.
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