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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Ill wind: Six big fears about wind farms
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online Magazine

Wind farms have been blamed for everything from causing headaches to risking the lives of air travellers. Now farmers in India claim they have been the cause of a severe drought.

If Britain is to stand a hope of meeting its commitment to renewable energy, it must take wind farms to its heart.

The commitment to generate 10% of electricity from sustainable sources by 2010 has prompted a flood of interest in wind power and plans are afoot to build the world's biggest wind farms just off the coast of England.

Yet despite assurances, suspicions persists about the long-term impact of such projects. In India, a government inquiry has been set up after farmers blamed wind turbines for a severe drought.

So what are the concerns and what do advocates of wind power say in response?


Farmers in the central Indian state of Maharashtra have forced an inquiry after claims the 1,700 windmills in the region have contributed to a drought by chasing away the monsoon rains. Last month protesters tried to sabotage several turbines.

Altamont wind farm
Do turbines chase away the clouds? UK experts are very sceptical
One theory is that the blades' magnetic pressure draws in clouds only to "slash through" and "fragment them" before driving them away.

Industry insiders in the UK say the theory is "bunkum" and some observers believe the inquiry has more to do with local politics than science.

The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) says previous research shows rainfall marginally increased downwind of tall buildings. In addition, taking energy out of the wind increases precipitation says Alison Hill of the BWEA.


Low-frequency "ghostly" noise, felt through the vibrations of huge rotating propellers, has been blamed for causing headaches and depression among people living close to an on-shore wind farm at Padstow, in Cornwall.

Defenders say in 20 years of wind power, there have been no medical conditions arising from normal operation.

Yet there are also concerns about the effect on marine life, which could be significant in future given the projected surge in off-shore projects. Advocates, however, point to how the tall poles actually promote the natural growth of mini reefs which draw in more aquatic life.


Guide to off shore wind power in the UK and Europe

Arguments about propellers slashing birds in half were rekindled in January when the dismembered body of a red kite - one of Britain's rarest birds - was found near a wind farm in Wales. A post-mortem found the injuries were consistent with being cut by a wind turbine blade.

The UK protest group Country Guardian says turbines have "killed birds in large numbers". But the issue has split the environmental lobby.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds backs wind farms but says they must be sensibly located. Supporters also point to the long-term environmental benefits of turbines in helping to preserve breeding and foraging grounds.


With huge off-shore wind farms pencilled in for the Thames Estuary, the Wash on the east cost, and the North West/North Wales coastlines, it's only a matter of time before a ship crashes into one.

So said an all-party group of MPs last month, who questioned why the maritime industry had been frozen out of consultations on where new wind farms should be built.

Alison Hill of the BWEA says turbines are mapped, fitted with fog horns and lights and located on sandbanks, where skippers already navigate a careful route.


Fears about radar operators mistaking aircraft for turbines, and vice versa, has led the Ministry of Defence to be the biggest objector to new wind power projects. Turbines also create "clutter" that obscures planes in the vicinity and, according to aviation authorities, compromises safety.

Engineers are working on a technical solution that will filter out moving turbines just as radar now ignores office blocks.


Windmill, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
The aesthetically acceptable face of wind power
One of the strongest objections has been how wind farms deface rural landscapes. There are now 87 wind farms in Britain, with 1,103 turbines, each reaching up to 80 metres to the sky. Last year Country Life readers voted them the worst eyesore and intense campaigns are being fought to oppose new wind farms on moor lands in the North West among other places.

The push for off-shore sites - where wind is stronger anyway - has taken some of the sting out of this. The new farms will be about five miles off shore and, according to Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, the turbines will be nothing more than dots on the landscape. The BWEA, meanwhile, prefer to turn the argument on its head. Many people, they say, like the look of wind farms.


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