Monday, June 17, 2013

Wind Turbine Problems in Miaoli... Wait a second

A protest against the Infravest project in Yuanli winds down.

UPDATED: Ketty Chen has a much longer and better piece on her blog

The Taipei Times ran an article on the wind power protests in Yuanli in Miaoli today. I'm a longtime proponent of wind energy, back to when I was working in Washington DC writing on US energy policy in the early 1990s. It was then that I became a huge wind enthusiast.

When I first heard about the protests in Yuanli a while back I assumed that some of the locals were engaging in the common tactic of using public "protests" as a way to extract some cash from the the big firm. I've encountered this on many occasions before, most notably on this one. I went up there a couple of months ago on my bike but I arrived soon after the protesters left. So I was quite intrigued to hear that the student protesters had gotten involved, and that Dr. Ketty Chen, wise in the ways of things Taiwan, would be heading down to Miaoli to scout the situation. Those two facts alone suggested I might be wrong.....

A number of things struck me about the article.....
He learned that the firm intended to build 14 wind turbines, each capable of generating 2,300 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy, along the township’s 2km pristine coastline.
I've biked this coast a zillion times. There is no "pristine coastline" here. Check GoogleMaps, the satellite image there is old (map link) and gives some idea of what used to be there. There are concreted ports, "improved" stream mouths, ponds, roads, bike paths, and a seawall on either side of it. See this Taipei Times photo that was with the article. Just south of the port the dunes are protected by fences (image). Note in that image the bike path sign.... it's an enjoyable set of paths, winding among the wind machines at some points...

...which leads to another thing that bothered me rather deeply:
They apprehend the low-frequency noise generated by the turbines and fear they might develop a condition known as wind turbine syndrome from living so close to them. Although the condition has yet to be medically recognized, a number of scientists believe there could be a correlation between a higher incidence of health problems and depression due to long-term exposure to the low-frequency noise generated by wind turbines.
Actually, it's not a case of "yet to be medically recognized." "Wind turbine syndrome" is, at the moment, known to be a form of psuedoscience, right up there with the anti-vaccine movement, global warming denialism, creationism, and similar. Wiki has an excellent page on the impacts of wind power. It notes that in the last decade there have been eighteen peer reviewed articles on turbines and health, finding nada. Many observers have noted that communities targeted by anti-wind activists are the ones that worry about wind turbine syndrome. As the Wiki page points out, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) sardonically noted that wind turbine syndrome has a cure: money...
The second factor is whether people derive income from hosting turbines, which miraculously appears to be a highly effective antidote to feelings of annoyance and symptoms."
It should be intuitively obvious that with two decades of operation of wind machines around people, wind turbine syndrome should be robustly appearing in communities that host wind machines, among wind energy researchers and engineers, and so on. No such body of data exists. Interested readers can google "wind turbine syndrome" and bone up on the topic. This article from Slate is a good start.

Despite the positioning of the article as "big business vs the local community" to me this one still has a strong feel of the kind of thing where nobody is on the side of Right, though I have no doubt that opponents are sincere in their opposition. Alas, not every case of residents fighting city hall is the Miramar Hotel fiasco redux. If residents of Yuanli really want to remove something of proven toxicity from their environment, they might think about that fossil-fuel fired power plant just up the road in Tunghsiao (visible in the top picture, ghostly in the background). That thing is going to kill and sicken far more residents of Yuanli than the wind machines ever will.

Bottom line: the worries over wind turbine syndrome can be cured with a healthy injection of cash. Someone needs to take the lead on that. It would also be nice if someone introduced Taiwan's big firms to the idea of managing community relations so that this sort of thing is stopped before it starts.

REF: this image shows the art gallery discussed in the article. It is located here. The bike path goes right past it. Beautiful grounds, well worth a visit. Also, in 2008 residents of a village in Taoyuan defeated an InfraVest plan to deploy wind machines there. UPDATED: Infravest Taiwan's backgrounder on the issue.
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StefanMuc said...

That's a shame, Taiwan really could do with less pollution and seems ideal for wind power.

Michael Turton said...

Thats my problem too. By putting up this fight, the locals make it much harder to put in wind machines anywhere in Taiwan. Infravest has now been driven off twice by local communities.

I'm very curious about the origin of this protest. Whose idea was it to scare the shit out of the locals with psuedoscience like wind turbine syndrome and with the idea that the turbines might fall on them?


les said...

A friend has his ancestral home in Houlong, not far up the coast. A group approached the family asking for their support in an attempt to get compensation for the noise and whatever psuedo-science nonsense about the turbines. No mention was made about getting them decommissioned, moved, operating hours restricted or anything else. Only a campaign to get cash compensation was presented.