Spatio-temporal differences in the history of health and noise complaints about Australian wind farms: evidence for the psychogenic, “communicated disease” hypothesis.

14 March 2013

Background and objectives With often florid allegations about health problems arising from wind turbine exposure now widespread in parts of rural Australia and on the internet, nocebo effects potentially confound any future investigation of turbine health impact. Historical audits of health complaints across periods when such claims were rare are therefore important. We test 4 hypotheses relevant to psychogenic explanations of the variable timing and distribution of health and noise complaints about wind farms in Australia. Setting All (n=51) Australian wind farms (with 1634 turbines) operating from 1993–2012 . Methods Records of complaints about noise or health obtained from wind farm companies regarding residents living near 51 Australian wind farms, expressed as proportions of estimated populations residing within 5km of wind farms, and corroborated with complaints in submissions to 3 government public enquiries and news media records and court affidavits . Results There are large spatio-temporal variations in wind farm noise and health complaints.33/51(64.7%) of Australian wind farms including 17/34(50%) with turbine size >1MW have never been subject to noise or health complaints. These 33 farms have some 21,592 residents within 5km of their turbines and have operated complaint-free for a cumulative total of 267 years. Western Australia and Tasmania Have seen no complaints. Only 131 individuals across Australia representing approximately 1 in 250 residents living within 5km of wind farms appear to have ever complained, with 94(72%) of these being residents near 6 wind farms which have been targeted by anti wind farm groups . About 1 in 87 (126/10901) of those living near turbines >1MW have ever complained. The large majority 104/131(79%) of health and noise complaints commenced after 2009 when anti wind farm groups began to add health concerns to their wider opposition. In the preceding years, health or noise complaints were rare despite large and small turbined wind farms having operated for many years. Conclusions In view of scientific consensus that the evidence for wind turbine noise and infrasound causing health problems is poor, the reported spatio-temporal variations in complaints are consistent with psychogenic hypotheses that health problems arising are “communicated diseases” with nocebo effects likely to play an important role in the aetiology of complaints.