What’s it like to live near an industrial scale windfarm?
What’s it like to live near an industrial scale windfarm? I set out to find an answer to this question, and found it surprisingly difficult, because few people wanted to talk about it.
I’ll be upfront about this: I wanted to know, because there were proposals for one near my home. There’s lot’s of controversy: some saying it would wreck my life, others saying it would be fine. Who was right?
It’s easy to find websites claiming that living near a windfarm is not nice. But they are written mainly by people campaigning against a windfarm being built, not by people who have actually experienced living near a wind farm.
On the other hand, the people claiming that living near a windfarm is fine, and that complainants are NIMBYS, tend not to live near windfarms themselves.
It’s difficult to find reports of living near a windfarm by people who are actually experiencing it, because after a windfarm is built, media reports tend to disappear. Is this because there’s actually not much to say? Is it because it’s like when other new developments arrive? For instance, new supermarkets often generate opposition at the planning stage, but after it’s built, people get used to it, then often end up shopping there.
Or, are suggestions that windfarms make people ill true, and these people have no strength for further complaints?
I wanted to find out what it was like to live near a wind farm after the hype had died down. However, this proved surprisingly difficult to do.
Here is an account of what I did, and what I found out.
I aimed to be as impartial as possible, and avoid ‘putting words into people’s mouths’. I simply asked, “Tell us what it’s like to live near a windfarm.”
I began in late 2009, tracking down the addresses for parishes with windfarms in them, and contacted the Parish Clerk, asking him/her to display a poster asking people to get in touch with their windfarm experiences. I contacted 23 parishes in total. Some were in Yorkshire, Cumbria, and Co Durham, because these are areas where many windfarms are springing up. I also contacted parishes in Cornwall because this is the site of some of our oldest-established windfarms. These people would have real, long term, practical experience of living near a windfarm.
The result was: nothing. I got the odd email, one or two phone calls – but mainly, a resounding silence.
Disheartened, I picked on two windfarms that I could easily travel to: Knabs Ridge near Harrogate, and Lissett Airfield near Bridlington. I searched online and in the telephone directory to find people in these areas who I could call. These people gave me other contacts, and gradually, I built a collection of comments.
I can’t say that I had a statistical sample – but I did try to find as many people as I could, and to ask the open question ‘tell me what it’s like to live near a windfarm.’
They could have answered ‘no different to before it was built’ – and a few did. But many did not.
Findings: Knabs Ridge
I tried to get an overview, by asking a ward councillor what she’d heard from people in the area. Cllr Hill said that she felt there was divided opinion, but she had heard that, “Many people had to have their TV satellite dishes changed because of the towers. And there’s noise – a whoosh whoosh for those living near, but I can’t say how close.”
She also commented that on one occasion, Felliscliffe Parish Council had contacted the windfarm operators to complain about the noise – and that the company “knew immediately what was wrong, and they fixed it immediately.”
“The community fund has been paying out. It was controversial, the borders of it spread out and out. Parish Councils can’t ask, but community groups can.”
On the whole, though, she felt: “It’s not an ongoing problem. It’s like when a large new estate is built – it’s a fait accompli.”
I rang quite a few people from Kettlesing and Felliscliffe, who I found at ramdom in the telephone directory. Many were not keen to speak to me- when I said ‘windfarm’, they became silent. I am not in the habit of harrassing members of the public, so I apologised and left them be.
Of those who did speak, few would give their names.
One man emailed to say that he enjoyed seeing the turbines as he drove past on his way to work – he thought they looked beautiful. He didn’t say where he lived.
Mike Lowsley, who lives in Harrogate, represented the Ramblers’ Association when they objected to the windfarm being built. He said, “I’m no longer on the committee , so I can’t speak for the RA. But on a personal level, I think the impact is even greater than we expected. There are a number of smaller windturbines – less than 6kW – on farms in Nidderdale, but they don’t seem to have the same landscape impact. It’s a question of scale.”
A member of staff at a nearby restaurant on the main A59 road said that she’d noticed no effects from the windfarm. “No-one’s said anything to me,” she said.
A lady living in the nearby village of Kettlesing said, “The windfarm doesn’t affect me very much, as I’m in a dip, and I don’t see them from my house. I’ve never noticed any noise. But the A59 is a busy, dangerous road, with traffic most of the time. The traffic noise outweighs the noise of the windfarm.”
But, she added, “Nobody wanted it. It is an eyesore, to be honest. The person affected very badly had a house under the windfarm. She got no compensation. She moved away. It took 3 years to sell, and it went at a giveaway price.”
One man summed up the general feeling when he said, “We live in the AONB, and we’re not allowed to do anything without special permission. The windfarm is only 25 feet from the AONB. We had a lovely view, then these things popped up, whining, with red lights flashing at night. Although we’ve got used to it, we’d definitely prefer them not to be there. The people who want them live miles away.”
Many people said that they felt that their opinions, and those of the district planning authority, had counted for nothing. The District Council had refused planning permission for the windfarm, but this was overturned at appeal – and people said they felt this was a ‘done deal’ from the start.
‘A field away’
One man was prepared to give his name: Peter Kershaw. He said, “We live at High Moor Farm, about half a mile from Knabs Hill. The wind farm looks on top of us because it’s that big – we’re about a field away. No-one else is really in line like us. We’re on the east side, the westerlies blow over to us. There’s no one to the west. On the southern side, there’s nobody for a mile or so. There’s only us who seems to be in this bit.”
“It’s noise as much as anything. When they’re operating, you get a whuff-whuff-whuff. In certain wind directions, it’s horrendous. Most prevailing wind is from the west, so we get most of it. The next neighbours are about a mile away, the sound’s dropping off that far.”
“And you get blade flicker when the sun’s setting – it drives you mad.”
“We’ve complained, but it’s like banging your head against a brick wall. This last year, we’ve given up. For the last 8 to 9 months, we’ve not bothered complaining.”
“We had Harrogate Council on it – even though she offered to come out on nights when it was windy, we got nowhere, so we’ve given up.”
Peter and his family run a caravan holiday park, and, he said, “It’s cost us a lot of trade, we think , though they won’t accept it because they say it’s down to the recession, which started two and a half years ago. [Knabs Ridge began operating in September 2008.] Though in other recessions, we’ve not dropped off. Caravanning holds up when people can’t go abroad.”
A spokesperson for Harrogate Council said, “We have just two complaints and they were from the nearby caravan park. These complaints were not progressed as the residents didn’t provide us with any details and the complaint has been closed. No doubt they moved on too if they were only holidaying. So they are the only two complaints we have on record.”
I’d say that at Knabs Ridge, the majority of people I spoke to didn’t like the windfarm. At Lissett, opinion was much more divided. People living in Lissett village said they had no problem with the windfarm, while people a short distance up the road complained. It seemed odd that feelings could be so different over such a short distance, so I took a trip to see for myself.
My main findings are published in Dalesman Magazine, August 2011, with extra information written here in my blog.
As soon as I parked my car and walked up Lissett’s main street, I could see why people in the village said they couldn’t see the windfarm, even though it was so close. From the main street, I couldn’t see the windfarm, because a copse of trees happened to be in exactly the right place to block the view of it.
But would people hear noise, even if they couldn’t see the windfarm? I walked around and asked people who I met – even banged on a few doors. One man said that if the wind was high, and he was in his garden, he could hear it, but added, “It really doesn’t affect me.” Everyone else said that they didn’t notice it: no problems at all.
Eddie Bartram lives in Lissett village and said, ”I was on the Parish Council during the planning phase. I’m now retired from the Parish Council, so this is my personal opinion. There are 32 houses in Lisset, at the time of the planning, there were 82 adults. The Parish council did a straw poll, and 92% of 82 people were totally in favour, OR, didn’t give a toss. 5 households out of 32 were against it. So we had no problem as a Parish council in supporting the application.”
“From a personal point of view, anything that cuts carbon dioxide gets my vote.”
From his home, he sees little of the turbines, because of the trees. And, he said, “In the village where we live, we can’t hear a thing.”
Complaints ‘outside the parish’
“There’s a village nearby called Gransmore, about two and a half miles from the turbines, and they have an unobstructed view. One family had a justified complaint – it was in clear view – I did appreciate that. But they were outside our Parish.”
He added, “Two complaints dealt with strobing, if the sun is behind the blades it can be a problem to certain people – but it’s not a problem here. They [objectors] also said it would interfere with TV, but we haven’t had any problems here.”
“Personally, I’ve had no problems from noise, TV interference, or strobing – no adverse effects.”
Eddie added, “There’s another element, a clawback in cash. The windfarm people put £25,000 per year, for the 25 year life of the windfarm, into a pot. They take claims for good causes. It’s a good thing.”
“158 Squadron flew from Lissett, and lost 851 aircrew. Novera [the windfarm developers] funded a memorial, now in the village’s keeping.”
“The only thing I can remember from before the windfarm was that we didn’t get £25,000 a year.”
Houses for sale
Eddie likes visiting Scotland, and is hoping to move there. Therefore, his house is for sale. He said, “When I see the wind turbines– they’re all over Scotland – when the blades are turning, I find them beautiful and comforting. But when they’re stationary, I find them threatening. I don’t know why, it’s illogical – but I’d rather see them turning. Their proper place in life is motion.”
There were several houses for sale in Lissett, but with the housing market currently moving slowly, it’s hard to say whether this was unusual. And people who were planning on staying in Lissett, and even those recently moved in, all said they weren’t troubled by the windfarm. The copse, and the position of the village relative to wind, sun, and the turbines, seems to have saved them from problems.
Along the road to Gransmoor, people weren’t so lucky. Their position relative to sun, wind and trees meant that they got shadow flicker in their homes (a strobe-like effect when the turbine blades move between the viewer and the sun), and noise was blown towards them.
aking a complaint
The man universally acknowledged to have the clearest view of the windfarm, John Ost, had made a formal complaint. Having done so, he was asked to keep records of when there was a problem. This was necessary in order to see whether the windfarm was, or was not, operating within the rules set for it.
However, keeping those records was a job in itself. John showed them to me: pages and pages of dates, times, and descriptions. He is aware that keeping such records brings its own problems. He said, “I can see that it is evidence, but I try not to listen out for it. I only record it if impinges on us – I don’t want to get into obsessive behaviour.”
It’s also a lot of work: a complaint could easily founder if the complainant hadn’t the time, skills, or inclination for weeks and weeks of meticulous documentation.
John had taken the trouble to do this for noise, which was troubling him by keeping him awake at night. However, when it came to shadow flicker, he gave up on the record keeping. He explained: “They asked me to identify which individual turbine was causing the effect, so as to get the operator to turn that turbine off. But it varies, as the sun sets at different spot on the horizon every day, so the turbine can be different –sometimes there’s two. AND I don’t want to be looking out for things all the time, to report them so that they can do something – that’s very paranoid.”
So when shadow flicker strikes, he pulls the curtains. He said, “It’s like an invasion into the house. That sounds over the top, but we had a lot of it last week as it’s been fine weather. We have to live with it and be stoical.”
I called the wind company, and their spokesman said that they had carried out action to reduce the noise, and that they were waiting for a module which would calculate when shadow flicker would be a problem, and turn the turbine off for that time. He couldn’t say why this hadn’t been installed when the windfarm was built, as the company that now owns the windfarm is different to the one that built it.
John tries not to let it get to him. He said, “I’m a cheerful chap, I’m bright and happy. I don’t think I’m miserable, but you did ask me what the effects are and this is it. I did consider asking for reduced council tax, but decided not to because somebody else would have to pay more.”
“I’ve not got used to it. I did consider moving, but we do like it here. When you asked if I want to put my name to this I thought maybe I was talking it down a bit – but maybe there’s someone who loves windfarms. But we have no plans to move at present.”
“I’m not an embittered man, but if more are going to go up, they need to be very careful when they’re near to people’s houses.”
In February 2011, the spokesperson for East Riding Council said, “The council can confirm that we had a complaint of noise nuisance arising from the windfarm in August 2009. A second complaint was made but no further contact was forthcoming from the complainant when asked for details. The complaint has been dealt with by using the conditions of the Planning consent that allowed the Council to request a noise investigation to be carried out by the windfarm company. Such investigations do tend to take some time as a period of noise monitoring needs to be carried out for a sufficiently long time to cover the types of weather conditions that prevail when the noise is reported to occur. This was completed in 2010 and the noise consultant concluded that there were some weather conditions during which the noise did exceed the limits detailed in the planning consent. Some mitigation measures were installed last autumn ie replacement of some bearings in the turbines and the programming of some turbines to shut down during specific wind speeds and directions. Some further works are planned to be done when the necessary parts become available. It is likely that a further period of noise monitoring will be carried out to confirm the results of the mitigation measures when completed. “
‘Living amongst monstrosities’
When I asked another lady living on the Gransmoor to Lissett road what it was like to live near a windfarm, she replied, “Not nice. It’s like living among monstrosities, that overpower you. We’re about half a mile away. I can never get used to it. They weren’t there and we had a view, now we’ve got a view of these things. Whatever room we’re in, or in the garden or the yard, they’re there.”
A lady from Gransmoor said that she was particularly concerned about flicker in her house, as a family member suffered from photosensitive epilepsy. She said, “When the sun’s shining, we have to keep the curtains closed because of the the blade flicker reflecting on the wall. And at night – you have the curtains closed anyway – the lights constantly flicker on and off. [There are lights on top of the turbine towers at night.] Plus there’s the extra flicker due to the blades passing in front.”
She added, “Then there’s the farce that people think that people in the community are getting free electricity. NO WE DON’T. In fact, we pay the green energy supplement –the ROCS- are added onto our electricity bills.”
TV reception lost
Another lady in Gransmoor said that everyone in the village lost their TV reception when the windfarm went up. The company paid for freeview satellite boxes for each house, but residents said that the TV reception still didn’t always work properly.
And, echoing Peter Kershaw’s comments, she said, “We’ve seen so much hassle that we’ve given up shouting. It’s like banging your head against a brick wall.”
Planning ‘split the village’
While issues such as noise and shadow flicker have affected some homes more than others, the thing that struck me was that so many people complained of bad feeling over the windfarm. I was told that at the planning stage, some people had supported the windfarm, and others had opposed it. Time and again, I was told, “It split the village.” Divisions formed then had, it seems, not healed – the windfarm went online in 2009, and I visited in January 2011. Others grumbled about the Community Fund.
I was also told that several houses in Lissett village are owned by the landowner who benefits from the windfarm – and that those tenants may therefore have felt that they didn’t want to comment on the windfarm. However, I did not find anyone in Lissett who refused to speak: everyone I found in Lissett spoke postively about the windfarm.
It’s common practice for windfarm developers to set up some form of community benefit fund. In fact, at the time of writing, guidelines were being set up for what this should be.
They should be a good thing – certainly Eddie Bartram was a fan of the financial benefits of the Lissett fund.
However, like money everywhere, Community Funds seem to provide fuel for discontent. At Knabs Ridge, one person called it a ‘farce’, as the area of benefit was extended until it included people who were deemed not to ‘suffer’ at all from the windfarm.
A council officer at East Riding Council explained how this can happen. She said that setting the area of benefit was a decision for the wind companies, but that they sometimes ask for advice from the Council. In this case, she said, “Given that we have a lot of windfarms, we don’t want one parish trapped between two areas of benefit, and will never get a windfarm. So we say that if a windfarm is in a parish, don’t just consider that parish, but also consider those that get construction noise and visual impact.”
East Riding supplies the services of its Communities Officer to administer the Lissett fund, keeping records, auditing etc. She helps groups with their applications to the fund, ensuring that they provide the proper paperwork, and that applications are not for things that the council should provide.
“If you complain, you can’t sell your house”
One lady, I don’t know where she was from, because she insisted on anonymity, got in touch to tell me I was being “naive or disingenuous – of course no-body’s going to say what it’s like, because we’re all trying to sell our houses.”
She went on to explain that if a complaint is made to the council, this has to be disclosed to potential buyers of the house. Hence, ‘nobody was going to complain.’
After many hours speaking to people living near windfarms, I would say that my impression is that living very close – say within half a mile – of a windfarm is likely to be unpleasant. There could be noise, shadow flicker, the ‘mesmerising’ effect of the moving blades, the sense of being overshadowed by huge towers, and possible TV interference.
Beyond that distance, being affected seems to depend very much upon wind direction, the position of the sun, and intervening features such as hills and woodland. Some people will be affected, others won’t.
For those badly affected, there seems to be little remedy. Making a formal complaint requires dedication and meticulous work over a long period, and therefore, many give up.
Financial compensation is little – maybe a reduction in Council Tax, and a community fund going to good causes, but not to individual property owners.
So I can see why people oppose windfarms near their homes.
With windfarms proposed in my area, I’d embarked on this research hoping that I’d find that I didn’t need to be worried.
But now I am.
Read more in Dalesman, August 2011, Living with a Windfarm