Disadvantages of Wind Energy: Do Wind Turbines Affect Health?

By: Julia Layton & Austin Henderson  | 
wind turbine
Wind energy currently accounts for about 8 percent of the total energy output in the United States. Global Wind Energy Council

Wind energy is rapidly catching wind (pun intended) in the energy sector. As of May 2017, about 8 percent of the electricity in the U.S. comes from wind power. Those towering wind turbines are turning breezes into volts, and they might just be in a neighborhood near you soon!

But there's a twist — some people are claiming that the disadvantages of wind energy include health problems for those living near wind farms. Is there any truth to this?


Wind Energy: A Growing Powerhouse

As of May 2017, wind power made up about 8 percent of electricity production in the United States. That's no small feat, considering that wind is now the leader in renewable energy sources.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Vision aims for wind energy to provide 20 percent of U.S. electrical demand by 2030, and a whopping 35 percent by 2050.


Globally, wind energy is flexing its muscles too. As of April 2019, more than 90 countries jumped on the wind power bandwagon, and 30 of those have more than 1 gigawatt of installed capacity.

When it comes to championing wind, Denmark takes the crown with 41 percent of its electricity generation coming from wind power.


The Traditional Controversies: Birds, Bucks, and Beauty

Before we delve into the human health aspect, it's worth noting the more traditional cons of wind energy. These include:

  • Bird and bat deaths: A fluttery problem for sure. It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of birds die each year due to collisions with turbines.
  • Cost: The initial investment can make your wallet weep, although low operating costs often balance this out over time.
  • Landscape aesthetics: Not everyone's a fan of how wind farms alter the natural scenery.


Wind Turbines and Your Health: Fact or Fiction?

Australia wind farm
Many residents living near wind farms like this one in Australia complain about noise and other health problems. Global Wind Energy Council

What Is Wind-turbine Syndrome?

Some residents near wind farms have reported a host of health issues, often grouped under the term "wind-turbine syndrome." Symptoms of wind-turbine syndrome might include:

  • Headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Night terrors
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Mood problems (irritability, anxiety)
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Issues with equilibrium, dizziness and nausea

But is this a real condition or just hot air?


Infrasound and Audible Noise

Wind turbines do make some noise and can cause fluctuations in air pressure. The main concern here is infrasound, which is sound lower in frequency than the average Joe can hear.

Those who argue that wind turbines are health hazards believe that these low-frequency sounds and vibrations are the root cause of the symptoms.

Studies and Scientific Opinions

Research has been a mixed bag. A study by the University of Toronto found no direct link between living near a wind farm and health problems like sleep disturbances or stress. Other scientists maintain that we need more research, especially in relation to infrasound.


Are Modern Wind Turbines Quieter and Safer?

wind turbine
Jobs for wind turbine service technicians are expected to grow astronomically during the next 10 years. Global Wind Energy Council

Modern wind turbines have undergone several upgrades. Sound-dampening systems make them quieter, while better-insulated housings and improved turbine blades also contribute to noise reduction.

Recommendations and Regulations

Many experts recommend larger buffer zones between wind farms and residential areas. While the "perfect" distance remains a topic of debate, it's generally agreed that more space could alleviate potential disadvantages of wind energy related to noise and health.


Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The U.S. Bureau of Labor expects wind turbine service technicians to 96 percent from 2016 to 2026. Compare that to to just 7 percent growth for all occupations combined.


The Final Spin

So, do wind turbines cause health problems? Most signs point to "no," but the debate is still up in the air. What we do know is that the wind energy sector is evolving, and technological advancements are minimizing the potential disadvantages of wind energy.

The key is finding a balance that lets us harness this incredible renewable energy source without losing sleep.


This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

Wind Turbines Health FAQ

Do wind turbines give off radiation?
Wind farms do not pose a risk of radiation exposure. Electromagnetic field levels in the vicinity of wind turbines are actually lower than what's produced by most common household electrical devices and are well below any regulatory guidelines.
Do modern wind turbines still cause problems?
With advancements in technology, modern wind turbines are designed to mitigate noise and are generally considered safer.
What are the symptoms of wind-turbine syndrome?
Wind turbine syndrome is an idea that wind power endangers the health of people who live near windmills. Reported symptoms include headaches, nausea, sleep problems, night terrors, tinnitus, irritability, anxiety, concentration and memory problems, and issues with equilibrium and dizziness. Many people believe this can be attributed to the infrasound — sound lower in frequency than 20 Hz or cycles per second — created by wind turbines.
What distance should a wind turbine be from a domestic property?
Since the scientific community doesn't agree whether living near a wind turbine has any negative consequences on a person's health, there is currently no consensus on how far away a residential home should be from one. Buffer-zone regulations may eventually be introduced, but there aren't any in the U.S. at this time.
Is it dangerous to live near wind turbines?
Wind turbine syndrome symptoms have been observed and documented by a limited number of scientists studying small groups of people, and the scientific community hasn't conclude­d whether the syndrome exists or whether it's unsafe to live near wind turbines.
How many deaths are caused by wind turbines?
Fatalities due to wind turbines are significant, but mostly for birds and bats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that between 140,000 and 500,000 bird deaths occur at wind farms each year. However, scientists in Norway recently presented a nine-year study where they painted wind turbines a highly visible black and observed a 70 percent drop in bird deaths. These findings may help reduce the impact of wind turbines on migratory animals in the United States.
Are wind turbines bad for climate change?
Quite the opposite! Wind energy is one of the cleanest forms of energy, contributing far less to greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels.

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