Bonfiglio hears the buzzing whenever he’s home. It’s worse at night, but also noticeable during the day.
“The noise gives me a headache. My renter lives a mile up the road. When she came to pick up her mail one day, she told me she was going to the doctor because she thought she was losing her mind. ‘I keep hearing this ringing noise, and no one else is hearing it,’ she told me. And I said, ‘I hear it all the time. You aren’t crazy. It’s the windmills.’”
Dr. Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD — she was educated at Johns Hopkins and Princeton — coined the term “Wind Turbine Syndrome” to describe symptoms experienced by many who reside near windmill installations. Side effects include: headaches, vertigo, ringing of the ears, nausea, panic attacks, sleep disturbance, and memory and concentration issues. California State San Marcos researcher Arcela Nuñez-Alvarez found that 68 percent of those living on the Manzanita Reservation suffer from chronic sleep disorders and other problems associated with Wind Turbine Syndrome.
“I’m really disappointed,” says Bonfiglio. “I used to spend seven nights a week here, but now I only come down three days a week. The noise from the turbines makes it hard to sleep. [Green-energy companies] are ruining this beautiful backcountry community.”
Illnesses attributed to the low-frequency noise — infrasound — produced by wind turbines, have been compared to a Navy study on motion sickness induced by the physical vibration of pilots in flight simulators. Sickness occurred when the vibration frequency was in the range of 0.05 to 0.9 Hz, with the worst effect being at about 0.2 Hz, similar to the frequency of large wind turbines.
The industry’s response to claims of excessive low-frequency noise from wind turbines has always been that the levels are so far below the threshold of hearing that they are insignificant.
The Wisconsin Public Service wind-infrasound study at the Shirley Wind Farm demonstrated that industrial-scale wind turbines can be linked to the adverse health effects grouped under Wind Turbine Syndrome. At most locations where health problems occur, the wind turbines are generally not audible. Health problems were unrelated to those arising from noise problems and associated annoyance issues. Residents could sense when the turbines turned on and off, even when they couldn’t “hear” them. The measurements at Shirley showed that low-frequency infrasound is present and relevant.
The tests demonstrated that not only do wind turbines produce significant levels of infrasound, they also produce it in a frequency range below the ability of most professional acoustical instruments to accurately measure. This explains why other studies of wind-turbine infrasound have failed to identify similar levels.
The World Health Organization concludes that, as with X-rays and UV radiation — where you can’t see what causes harm — what you can’t hear can also hurt you. Populations most vulnerable to infrasound include “elderly persons, children, especially those younger than age six; and people with pre-existing medical conditions, especially if sleep is affected.”
In 2011, Don Bonfiglio wrote a letter to Robert Eben, superintendent of the Southern California Bureau of Indian Affairs, concerning an alarming sight he encountered while walking through the Kumeyaay Wind Farm. Bonfiglio claimed to have witnessed a worker driving through in a golf cart. “The golf cart stopped about 50 yards away from me. I watched the driver pick up and throw something in the back of the cart. As I came side-by-side with the cart, I stopped, and to my disbelief and shock I noticed over a dozen large dead birds. One of the birds was the largest horned owl I have ever seen.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing to issue “take permits,” which allow wind-turbine developers to suffer no consequences when federally protected eagles are killed by the wind turbines.
Iberdrola Renewables, a company that received over $1.5 million in U.S. stimulus funds and is planning a wind farm in Boulevard, is a key player in pushing take permits for the wind industry.
Bonfiglio bought property in Boulevard 13 years ago with a plan to retire on his 250 acres of land. With the noise from the turbines, however, and plans for more to go up, he’s looking to move. Bonfiglio views the turbines as more trouble than they’re worth.
“Those things are down more than they are up. The propellers come off. One year, all of them shattered. I talked to a gentleman up there [who was] working on them, and he said something is always going wrong. They aren’t really making any money off them, but the government wants them out there. They don’t care if it doesn’t work. They don’t care who it impacts. They’ve shoved it all out here. These windmills — most people think they’re really cool, but they don’t live by them. It’s green energy, but it’s not really green.”
Bonfiglio is concerned about the indifference many in Boulevard seem to feel about the projects.
“I hate to hear people [in Boulevard] say, ‘It’s already done, there is nothing we can do about it.’ I don’t think most people in town realize what is about to happen. By the time they realize and try to get involved, it will be too late. They will be here already. There are only 25 of them right now, but once they put in those 160, people are going to be pissed off. It’ll be too late then. People are going to move. [Boulevard] will become a ghost town.”
Bonfiglio makes an effort to attend the monthly meetings held by the Boulevard Community Planning Group. He is thankful to have Tisdale fighting to protect Boulevard.
“I like what Donna stands for and what she is trying to do. She is trying to keep [Boulevard] a country community and not let it become something it’s not intended for. If it wasn’t for her, [Boulevard] would already be done for. She has been fighting ever since I have known her. I don’t know where she gets the energy, time, or the money, but thank God she’s here. I send her a couple of hundred a year for her cause. I’m not rich, but I try to do what I can.”