Setbacks are key: they should remain unchanged until informed by sound science

For your further reading pleasure, the letter to the editor I wrote for today’s Northfield News (before it was edited a bit by The News, and their somewhat misleading headline inserted):

To the editor:

Setbacks are key: they should remain unchanged until informed by sound science

I agree with Gary Carlson (“Setbacks key for turbines,” November 13) that wind turbine setbacks are important. All energy facilities, even relatively benign ones such as individual or small numbers of utility-scale turbines, need to be sited carefully, with appropriate, science-based setbacks.

Unfortunately, Carlson’s proposed one-mile setback is not based on sound science. The information summarized in his opinion piece, and submitted to the Northfield Planning Commission, contributing to their ill-advised split decision on the proposed Spring Creek Wind project (“Planning Commission says no to turbines in township,” November 30) is composed of anecdotal reports and case studies, is not reflective of mainstream science, and is not supported by recognized health authorities.

For example, a May 2010 report from an unbiased source (“The Potential Health Impact of Wind Turbines,” The Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario,, notes that “published papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and reviews by recognized health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) carry more weight in the assessment of health risks than case studies and anecdotal reports.” The review concludes that “while some people living near wind turbines report symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and sleep disturbance, the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a direct causal link between wind turbine noise and adverse health effects. The sound level from wind turbines at common residential setbacks is not sufficient to cause hearing impairment or other direct health effects, although some people may find it annoying.”

The setback issue is, indeed, key. At Carlson’s proposed setback of one mile no wind turbines could ever be sited anywhere in Rice County. Nor could they be sited anywhere else near electricity loads (i.e. where people live and benefit from electricity). The only possible wind projects would be large, remote corporate wind farms, requiring massive, controversial power line investment and construction, running through somebody else’s backyard.

Some modest, reasonable revision of Minnesota’s (and Rice County’s) wind turbine setback requirements may be advisable in the future as the science evolves. However, it surely is not the place of the City of Northfield to arbitrarily comment negatively to Rice County (the permitting authority) on the proposed project based on such weak evidence.

I urge supporters of responsible local clean energy development to voice your support of the Spring Creek Wind project to your city council representative (prior to Tuesday’s meeting at which the council will review and comment) and Rice County commissioner.

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