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Senate committee weighs wind health impacts

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Green Mountain Power barely had its 21 turbines up and spinning on Lowell Mountain this fall, before complaints from a handful of local residents about noise and other health concerns began rolling in.

"It sounded like a rushing loud-- like an airplane-type of sound," said Mike Nelson of Albany.

It has been called Wind Turbine Syndrome; low, infrasound vibrations below the threshold of human hearing that some claim can account for a range of health problems, from headaches to sleep loss. Whether it can be chalked up to medical science or emotions running high-- the verdict is still out.

On Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources Committee waded into the issue as part of its hearings on a proposed three-year moratorium on ridgeline wind development.

Vermont health officials say that from their review of the literature, as well as research by a number of other states, they can find no evidence that turbines cause health problems.

"People can be annoyed by wind towers. They could be annoyed by that ugly building across the street, the barking dog. And annoyance in and of itself can cause health effects in terms of having anxiety, having trouble sleeping. So, there may be effects related to wind turbines, but they're not specific to wind turbines," said Dr. Harry Chen, the Vermont health commissioner.

Wind opponents argue that there are valid health concerns that have been overlooked.

"I don't think they understand what's happening to Vermont families, to Vermont communities and that they're downplaying what's happening in the real world and looking at some out of date evidence and ignoring the latest date investigations which show that infrasound is a real issue and that there's more science necessary to understand the depth of the problem," said Matt Levin of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Sen. John Rodgers, one of three committee members who are co-sponsors of the bill, says whether it's called a moratorium or something else, further study into health impacts is needed.

"It's quite disturbing because I've read several studies that say there are health effects, but they only seem to read the ones that say there are no health effects," said Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans. "It does depend on the studies you read."

An extensive new study just getting under way in Canada to measure health effects of people living near wind turbines should be available next year and may provide further insight into whether wind turbines are making Vermonters sick.

In addition to health, moratorium supporters have raised other issues, from environmental concerns to impacts on tourism. Lawmakers this session will not be able to review the recommendations of the governor's Energy Siting Commission. That group's report isn't expected until April.

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Future of wind energy debated in Lowell

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