An information leaflet titled “Renewable Energy Project Wind Information Leaflet” included a frequently asked questions section that listed several questions and answers. Two of the questions featured were:
“Q. Do wind turbines affect health?
A. No, wind energy is one of the cleanest, most environmentally friendly energy sources. This subject area has been studied extensively and all reputable studies concur with the World Health Organisation’s finding which states that "there is no reliable evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health".
Q. Do wind farms affect property values?
A. Research carried out in the United States, the UK and Australia has proven there to be no statistical evidence that home values near wind farms are affected in the post-construction or post-announcement/pre-construction periods. To date, over 250,000 property transactions have been studied internationally to reach the above conclusions.”
The complainant objected to the advertising leaflet on the following grounds:
The complainant considered that the question and answer section titled “Do wind turbines affect health” in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the leaflet was misleading and contained false information that was being circulated widely in their community in order to persuade people to support the erection of wind turbines by the advertisers.
The complainant noted the reference to a quotation by the World Health Organisation; however, they were unable to locate the source of the quotation. The complainant noted that the World Health Organisation had stated in 2018 that:
“Further work is required to assess fully the benefits and harms of exposure to environmental noise from wind turbines and to clarify whether the potential benefits associated with reducing exposure to environmental noise for individuals living in the vicinity of wind turbines outweigh the impact on the development of renewable energy policies in the WHO European Region".
The complainant also referred to “Table 42, Summary of the assessment of the strength of the recommendations” from the Recommendations Section regarding wind turbines of the World Health Organisation’s Noise Guidelines 2018 (1) . The table comprised of two columns, one titled ‘Factors influencing the strength of recommendation’ and another titled ‘Decision’ and the complainant highlighted one section from the table – “Additional considerations or uncertainties” who’s decision was stated as:
“There are serious issues with noise exposure assessment related to wind turbines”.
In view of the above the complainant considered that the statement quoting the World Health Organisation was misleading and could result in adverse effects on health.
The complainant also objected to the question and answer section titled “Do wind farms affect property values?” on the grounds that the answer listing research from the UK, the US and Australia contained no references to the studies.
The complainant also considered that the answer was misleading as the independent body, the UK Spatial Economics Research Centre, funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), released a paper entitled "Gone with the Wind: Valuing the Visual Impacts of Wind turbines through House Prices" (2) in 2014 which had stated on page 27 that:
“A wind farm with 20+ turbines within 2km reduces prices by some 12% on average, and the implied effect of the visual dis-amenity is around 15%.”
The complainant included a further quote from page 27 that stated:
“However, even at 8-14km there is a 4.5% reduction in prices associated with large visible operational wind farms -28 -and the willingness to pay to avoid visibility is 6.5%.”
The complainant considered that the circulation of the flyer could have an adverse effect on property values in the community.
The advertisers stated that they had carried out an investigation into the complaint and responded to the issues raised by the complainant as follows:
The advertisers said that after investigating the matter they noted that the quotation included had been inaccurately attributed to the World Health Organisation. They said that the quotation had been from the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council. Following this they said that they would not be distributing any further leaflets that contained the inaccuracy.
In response to the complaint regarding the effect of wind farms on property values, the advertisers stated that they did not agree that their statement was misleading. They referred to research from Australia by Urbis titled “Review of the Impact of Wind Farms on Property Values”, July 2016; the UK by Renewable UK titled “The effect of wind farms on house prices”, March 2014 and the United States published by Ernest Orlando Lawrence, Berkeley National Laboratory titled “A spatial hedonic analysis of the effects of wind energy facilities on surrounding property values in the United States” Authors: Ben Hoen, Jason P Brown, Thomas Jackson, Ryan Wiser, Mark Thayer and Peter Cappers. The advertisers considered that the studies showed that there was no statistical evidence that homes near windfarms were affected in the post-construction or post-announcement/pre-construction periods and they provided the Executive with links to the studies in question.
In carrying out research, the ASAI Executive sourced a position paper by the Health Service Executive titled
“Position Paper on Wind Turbines and Public Health” by the HSE Public Health Medicine Environment and Health Group” (3).
The paper sets out issues that have arisen in Ireland re sustainable energy and included in that section is the following statement:
“A number of comprehensive evidence reviews have been conducted in recent years in order to examine the effects of wind farms and wind turbines on human health. While a range of effects have been reported anecdotally, there is no published scientific evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health. However, there is a lack of high-quality evidence investigating possible relationships between wind farms and health outcomes, and further research is required.”
In regard to the reference by the complainant to an extract from the World Health Organisation’s Noise Guidelines, the ASAI Executive noted that the HSE Position Paper had also included a reference to noise which stated that:
There is no direct evidence that exposure to wind farm noise affects physical or mental health. While exposure to environmental noise is associated with health effects, these effects occur at much higher levels of noise than are likely to be perceived by people living in close proximity to wind farms. Infrasound is sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz per second, the "normal" limit of human hearing. There is no direct evidence that considered possible effects on health of infrasound or low-frequency noise from wind farms. The World Health Organization states that ‘There is no reliable evidence that sounds below the hearing threshold produce physiological or psychological effects.”
Finally, the ASAI Executive noted the following from The Solution section of the article:
“Further research is required to investigate the effects of wind farms on public health. Large-scale prospective cohort studies would be most informative for identifying potential health effects of exposure to wind turbine noise; further cross-sectional studies are unlikely to contribute meaningfully to the current limited evidence base.”
“Overall, scientific evidence of adverse impacts of wind farms on health is weak or absent. However, many studies of wind turbines and health have limitations and it may well be that our understanding of types of noise and types of sleep disturbance is not comprehensive. Anxiety and annoyance in itself, may lead to reduced quality of life and stress related health effects. International experience with uncertainty in environment and health issues such as this advocates a precautionary approach. We therefore welcome efforts to address concerns of local communities through revised national planning guidelines. In light of the uncertainties involved, evidence on what makes risks more acceptable to those most likely to be affected should be considered.”
The ASAI Executive noted
• that the UK study referred to by the advertisers had been published by Renewable UK and was joint research between Renewable UK, the trade body for the wind, wave and tidal industries, and Cebr, the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
• in regard to the Australian study, that the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) commissioned Urbis to investigate the potential impact of wind farm developments on property prices in New South Wales, and
• in regard to the United States study, that it had been prepared for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Wind and Water Power Technologies Office U.S. Department of Energy.
The ASAI Executive also noted that in regard to the study referred to by the complainant, that the Spatial Economics Research Centre was set up to provide a rigorous understanding of the nature, extent, causes and consequences of disparities in economic prosperity, and to identify appropriate policy responses to the disparities.
The ASAI Executive made enquiries with representatives of the property industry to see if any Irish studies existed on the impact of wind farms on property values in Ireland. The Executive were advised that no such studies had been carried out in Ireland, however, the industry’s experience was that they were not seeing any evidence that property values were being affected. They noted that some buyers were happy to purchase in an area close to a wind farm while another buyer may not be.
As part of the investigation, the ASAI Executive conducted research, sourcing two research documents: The first titled
“What drives people's opinions of electricity infrastructure?”
Empirical evidence from Ireland by Valentin Bertsch, Marie Hyland and Michael Mahony, published by the ESRI (4).
The study discussed the results and methods of a nationally representative survey carried out in Ireland exploring people's opinions of different electricity generation and transmission technologies. In this study, the authors refer to research carried out in 2012 in Germany that concluded that energy related technologies, including wind power, could negatively impact property values.
The ASAI Executive reviewed the 2012 research document titled:
The Impact of Wind Farms on Property Values: A Geographically Weighted Hedonic Pricing Model by Yasin Sunak and Reinhard Madlener. (5) ,
The ASAI Executive noted that the aim of the study was to investigate the impact of wind farms on the surrounding areas through property values by means of a hedonic pricing model, using both a spatial fixed effects and a geographically weighted regression model.
The study’s abstract concluded that:
“Focusing on proximity and visibility effects caused by wind farm sites, we find that proximity, measured by the inverse distance to the nearest wind turbine, indeed causes significant negative impacts on the surrounding property values. Thereby, local statistics reveal varying spatial patterns of the coefficient estimates across and within the city areas and districts. In contrast, no evidence is found for a statistically significant impact of the visibility of the wind farm turbines.”
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response.
The Committee noted that the frequently asked question section titled “Do wind turbines affect health” had incorrectly attributed a quote to the World Health Organisation. The Committee noted that the attribution of the quote “there is no reliable evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health" to the World Health Organisation was incorrect.
The Committee also noted that, in relation to the complaint issue of the product having any effect on health, the advertising content was definitive and unconditional in conveying that there were no health effects. The Committee noted the research material sourced by the ASAI Executive and in the absence of any evidence to substantiate the claim in the advertising, they considered that the advertising was in breach of Sections 4.1, 4.4, 4.9 and 4.10 of the Code.
The Committee noted that the advertisement had referred to three studies which demonstrated that the proximity of wind farms had no effect on property prices, although the base in one study was insufficient to determine effect. They also noted the research referenced by the complainant and sourced by the ASAI Executive which indicated that there could be an effect on property prices, although in one study caution was advised in interpreting the results.
The Committee also noted that none of the research related to the Irish market.
Given that there was conflicting evidence, even though the advertisement had referenced three specific studies, a definite statement that proximity of wind farms did not affect property prices had not been substantiated and was in breach of Sections 4.1, 4.4, 4.9 and 4.10.
The advertisement should not appear in its current form again.
The Committee noted that the advertisers had stated they were no longer distributing leaflets that incorrectly quoted the World Health Organisation.