Beware windmills bearing gifts, says an article in this week’s New York Times.

Wind power is a clean, sustainable source of electricity and a boon for the rural economy. Or, wind turbines are expensive unreliable machines that bring with them health problems, corruption and neighborhood discord.

Take your pick from this week’s news.

We’ve heard the good news about wind power. For example, oilman T. Boone Pickens says the country can generate 20 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, and he met recently with Democrat Barack Obama to discuss his plan. (Here is Pickens’ statement after meeting with the Democratic presidential nominee.)

But not so fast. There is an inevitable back and forth in the news, and in the past week there have been a number of stories that have found the dark side of wind.

Richard Cockle reports on a number of new studies that describe “wind turbine syndrome,” health effects felt by those living near the giant, twirling machines. The research find that living close to wind turbines can cause sleep disorders, difficulty with equilibrium, headaches, childhood “night terrors” and other health problems. Dr. Nina Pierpont of Malone, New York, named this “syndrone” according to Cockle, and will publish a book next month: Wind Turbine Syndrome: A Report on the Natural Experiment.

According to Cockle, “Pierpont’s findings suggest that low-frequency noise and vibration generated by wind machines can have an effect on the inner ear, triggering headaches; difficulty sleeping; tinnitus, or ringing in the ears; learning and mood disorders; panic attacks; irritability; disruption of equilibrium, concentration and memory; and childhood behavior problems.”

A British physician, Amanda Harry, describes a similar phenomenon. She studied ten families living close to turbines and eight eventually moved out of their homes. “All these problems were resolved as soon as these people got away from the turbines, got in the car and drove away from the house,” Harry said.

Meanwhile, Associated Press writer Helen O’Neill reports that the big turbines “split town and families” in upstate New York. Some folks don’t like the looks of the machines. Others think they disrupt sleep. Sons argue with fathers over whether family land should be turned over to the wind machines. And communities argue over payments from the wind turbine companies. O’Neill finds a retired dairy farmer who allowed the turbines on his land. “The sound don’t bother me,” Ben Byer said. “And it sure beats milking cows.”

Paul Driessen takes on T. Boone Pickens directly, finding that wind power is both costly and ineffective. The senior policy adviser for the Congress of Racial Equality wrote that it would take 300,000 turbines arrayed across the Midwest to generate 20% of the nation’s power. Driessen favors nukes and coal plants, doubting that humans are causing catastrophic climate change.

Finally, New York Times reporter Nicholas Confessore writes a story on the front page of the newspaper Monday with a headline announcing, “In Rural New York, Windmills Can Bring Whiff of Corruption.” Confessore explains:

Turbines near Churubusco, New York.
Photo: DanYork

Lured by state subsidies and buoyed by high oil prices, the wind industry has arrived in force in upstate New York, promising to bring jobs, tax revenue and cutting-edge energy to the long-struggling region. But in town after town, some residents say, the companies have delivered something else: an epidemic of corruption and intimidation, as they rush to acquire enough land to make the wind farms a reality.

“It really is renewable energy gone wrong,” said the Franklin County district attorney, Derek P. Champagne, who began a criminal inquiry into the Burke Town Board last spring and was quickly inundated with complaints from all over the state about the wind companies. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo agreed this year to take over the investigation.

“It’s a modern-day gold rush,” Mr. Champagne said.

Mr. Cuomo is investigating whether wind companies improperly influenced local officials to get permission to build wind towers, as well as whether different companies colluded to divide up territory and avoid bidding against one another for the same land.

The industry appears to be shying away from trying to erect the wind farms in more affluent areas downstate, even where the wind is plentiful, like Long Island.

Corruption, according to the Times, is a “major concern.” There is evidence in 12 counties of “possible conflicts of interest or improper influence.” The story goes on, with tales of cash and payoffs.

It’s hard to know how to take all these stories. Perhaps there was less corruption in upper New York State when the economy was stagnant. As for the health problems associated with wind turbines, we found this helpful article by Michelle Bennett that describes the research into possible physical effects of the machinery. The writer finds “known” problems, such as noise, and suggests that turbines be placed at least 1.2 miles from houses. Then there are “unknown” problems, such as the low-level sounds that may cause problems with sleeping or heart rhythms. The writer then proposes that most of these issues could be taken care of with proper buffer zones between humans and machines.

Now, if we could only we could erect a buffer zone between some humans……

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