By Dr Laurent Chevallier
(English translation by Elizabeth Chafer)
People swear by these symbols of ecological cleanness. Yet there is an abyss between the myth and the reality, and possibly a scandal!
Ecology is a good excuse. European companies try by all means possible to install giant wind turbines (nearly 200 m) in the French countryside, close to dwellings.
The fact remains that wind turbines are not ecological. Thousands of tons of concrete are needed to support these steel monsters. With regards to the production of energy, experience of existing installations shows that the amount of energy actually produced is far from that expected.
As a doctor and a member of the European Association of doctors for a healthier environment which is currently being formed, my concerns are related to health.
A report published in 2006 by the National Academy of Medicine concluded that it was necessary to suspend (or prohibit) the construction of wind turbines with a capacity exceeding 2.5 megawatts at less than 1500 metres from dwellings. Indeed, they are in fact industrial installations inducing nuisances, particularly noise.
Industrial wind turbines are classified as "ICPE" (installations and factories likely to be source of risks or danger). Several scientific studies are currently in the process of publication. They will be recommending a minimum of 2.5 km between dwellings and wind turbines. The clinical observations of Dr Michael Nissenbaum on two wind turbine sites in the State of the Maine in the USA indicate that there is a link between the distance between a dwelling and a wind turbine and the inhabitants’ health problems.
The Prefects are liable
A certain number of doctors have already identified multiple health disorders related to living in proximity of these industrial machines. The “wind turbine syndrome” has been defined in medical terms. This syndrome includes an increase in headaches (noise and turbulence being the triggering factors for migraines), ringing in the ears like tinnitus, sleep disorders, and an increase in anxio-depressive problems. Dr Jean-François Ferrieu stresses that sometimes the occurrence of “nausea, dizziness, palpitations, all of these chronic disorders can lead to genuine depression.”
This dimension is not, or not sufficiently, taken into account by the public authorities, probably due to lack of information. In the meantime, various local companies continue to pressurise town councils to accelerate the installation of wind turbines which are sometimes only 500 m from dwellings. Indeed, it is rare that only one wind turbine is installed. Usually there are several grouped together and this increases the impacts. More often than not, these local companies subsequently sell the operation to legally well-structured international companies. As it is the Prefects who grant the planning permission, they are legally responsible.
Suspension of the current projects
In view of the information which is currently available it would seem prudent to recommend a minimum distance of 5 km between industrial wind turbines and dwellings. Ideally, it would be advisable to immediately suspend all of the current projects and investigate the health aspects in depth to avoid new pathologies on a large scale.
It may be that the conclusion is reached that the installation of industrial wind turbines on land should be prohibited in order to protect the health of humans and animals such as birds, livestock and bats. Bats are invaluable natural "insecticides" and were the subject of a report by the American Academy of Science (Pnas, 29th September 2014).
As Nicolas Hulot pointed out “initially, wind turbine energy is a very good idea, but in the end, it's a tragic achievement. If we were only told that it would enable some nuclear power stations to be shut down, but this is not the case.”