You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, as Bob Dylan said. But whether or not it's a good idea to build wind turbines to harness wind energy has been a matter of some debate in communities throughout the country and world.
One of the main arguments used by those who oppose the turbines is that they decrease property and home values. But a new study effectively puts that argument to rest.
The study, published this month, looked at more than 50,000 home and property sales near 67 wind facilities in nine U.S. states and found no average decrease in home properties when windmills were built nearby. Study author Ben Hoen, a policy researcher focusing on public acceptance of renewable energy issues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said it's the second large-scale study he's been involved with that's shown such a result.
"Regardless of the home's model and construction, regardless of how we slice the data set, we still ended up with the same result: We cannot find evidence of an impact that turbines have on nearby property values," Hoen said.
Several arguments have risen in the debate against wind turbines. Some say the noise they create is annoying and can disrupt sleep. One such typical example is that of Doreen Reilly, a resident of Kingston, Massachusetts, who told the Boston Globe that a turbine less than 1,000 feet from her house "sounds like a 'jet liner hovering,' " and that the noise has kept her up at night.
Another annoyance: The turbines can create shadows as the sun shines through spinning blades, an effect called "shadow-flicker," Hoen said. Reilly told the Globe, "she gets headaches because the spinning blades from the 400-foot-tall structure cause sunlight to flash like 'a strobe light' throughout her home."
Others have argued that turbines can have health-related effects. For example, Wisconsin State Senator Frank Lasée wrote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that in his district, "there are many families that have developed serious health issues because the turbines were placed too close to their homes. The problems run the gantlet from nausea to overwhelming migraines to heart arrhythmia."
Still, most studies haven't found a link between wind turbines and negative health effects, Hoen said, although he added that this was not his area of expertise and he was aware that wind turbines have definitely caused annoyance in some areas.
For example, Mars Hill, Maine, where research found that noise from turbines disrupted the sleep and "impaired the mental health" of residents living within about a mile of wind turbines, according to the Boston Globe. The study was conducted by Michael Nissenbaum, a physician at the Northern Maine Medical Center, who was asked to testify before an Australian Senate committee, the Globe reported. "I think it's ridiculous that people jump to conclusions that it's a placebo effect," Nissenbaum told the Globe.
Most windmills aren't placed in densely populated areas, however. In this case, the argument can become a matter of aesthetics, with some claiming they are eyesores. But many also see them as beautiful kinetic sculptures, John Rogers, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told LiveSience.
The fact that windmills usually don't affect home prices suggests that the other concerns (annoyance, potential health effects, etc.) aren't widespread enough to have an economic impact, Hoen said. Or widespread enough to detract from their environmental upside.
Studies have shown, however, that windmills may in some instances have significant impacts on birds and bats. Usually, though, "there are ways to find proper sites for wind farms to avoid, minimize or compensate for the impact it might have on wildlife," Rogers said.
This is an area that warrants further study; research on the impact of turbines on bats has declined significantly since white nose syndrome—the contagious fungus that is now wiping out bats throughout eastern North America—became the focus of bat researchers.