Meet The Dutch Climate Refugees Fleeing ‘Unbearably Noisy’ Wind Farms
The first Dutch climate refugees are a fact. Not because of wet feet, but because citizens cannot cope with the noise of wind farms.
Residents close to biomass power stations also complain bitterly. Are health and the environment in the Netherlands subordinate to our climate goals? “I do see a similarity with the Groningen gas and the Limburg mines: energy interests outweigh other interests.”
Every time he sent his Connexxion public transport bus across the Haringvliet Bridge, Claus van de Wiel looked to the northwest with concern. Towards five wind turbines two hundred meters high, ten kilometers away, near Piershil.
“How’s the wind? Isn’t it too windy? What will it be like when I get home? Will it be another evening where the turbine noise rumbles like a rolling, roaring surf above the TV? “I never slept a wink. Sometimes I got back on the bus after only three and a half hours of sleep.”
Windfear. The bus driver and his partner Ine van den Dool suffered from it after the Spui wind farm was set up five hundred meters from their house. The initiator still boasted about the Rolls-Royce among the wind turbines – so quiet.
“But we were shocked. The noise was unbearable. The house was built by my parents, I grew up there and thought I would only leave between six planks, but we could not stand it,” says Aan de Wiel.
Soundwaves banged on the facades from three sides. Even the moles disappeared from their garden.
Van den Dool loved the greenery and space in the Hoeksche Waard.
“It was a heavenly, healing place. Where we sat in the garden with friends until late. The wind farm has destroyed that. It was as if a jet plane kept circling overhead. I developed severe asthma and could not stop coughing at night. As if my body was screaming: this is not safe, you have to get out of here.”
And so the pair left. As a climate refugee in their own country.
It is the compression of air when a wick sweeps past the mast that makes the typical turbine noise.
“Our noise standards for wind turbines are much more flexible than in neighboring countries,” says Fred Jansen from Schagen.
Ten years ago, as chairman of the National Critical Platform for Wind Energy, he already opposed the cabinet’s new noise standards. According to Jansen, they only work in favor of wind farm builders. “Local residents are the victims.”
The World Health Organization recommends that the wind turbine noise for local residents be kept below an average of 45 decibels per day (45 L-den). Louder noise “is associated with adverse health effects,” according to the 2018 report “Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region.”
However, Dutch law allows an average of 47 decibels during the day and peaks well above 50 decibels. Since every three decibels means a doubling, that saves a sip on a drink, Janssen believes.
Sound expert Marcel Blankvoort confirms the Dutch exceptional position. Our country works with averages, where other Western European countries, apart from Norway, allow a maximum peak load on the facade.
“And we don’t include background noise. Elsewhere, a turbine in an industrial estate is allowed to make more noise than in the countryside, because there is more noise there anyway. Here, the same standard applies everywhere. That is why wind turbines in a previously quiet polder are more likely to be perceived as a deterioration in the living environment.”
In the ‘Nijpelsian landscape’ (named after the architect of the Dutch climate agreement), full of wind farms, those sound waves hit more and more citizens.
It is not only wind energy that the government is helping, on paper, to halve CO2 emissions by 2030. Subsidizing the burning of woody biomass also helps the accountants in The Hague to comply with the Paris Agreement.
Billions of euros in subsidies have already been promised for hundreds of biomass plants. But the nuisance for local residents has caused a fierce social debate about wood burning.
“Recently our bedroom was full of smoke again,” says Rini Ruitenschild from Ede. He lives with his family at a distance of one hundred and eighty meters from one of the local biomass plants, which does not burn gas but wood for district heating.
“It is not the first time. My wife has a lung problem. If your whole house is full of dirty air again, then you will become unruly.” Officially, the heat company adheres to the rules.
That also applies to Zaandam. But residents of the senior apartment De IJdoorn are done with it. From the eleventh floor, Co and Jeanne Meester regularly see smoke drifting from the much lower chimney of the biomass power plant about two hundred meters away.
“The stench is unbearable. How do you get it into your head to place such a thing in the middle of a residential area, right next to a school and close to a hospital?” Says Meester. “We are concerned about the effect on our health and that of my flatmates.”
The disadvantages of wood burning for energy have been known for years, says Fenna Swart of the Clean Air Committee.
“It’s expensive, it destroys ecosystems and it’s bad for biodiversity. In addition, the emission of wood combustion causes air pollution. We don’t even have standards for ultrafine particles entering our lungs. And then there are other substances of very high concern that no filter will help against. It is not without reason that people who cook on wood in developing countries develop health problems. And we are now returning to that on a large scale, in the Netherlands, and throughout Europe.”
The Dutch Lung Foundation is also concerned about health effects and regularly receives complaints about biomass burners.
In the summer, the Foundation responded with satisfaction to the “phasing out of the use of woody biomass,” as the Social Economic Council, an important advisory board to the Dutch government, wishes.
“But we don’t see anything of that phase-out yet,” Swart criticizes. “Because Minister Eric Wiebes fails to make it concrete with an end date and buy-out schemes. The House of Representatives stands by. Industry and politics are holding on to each other and our health is in check.”
“Wind Turbine Syndrome”
In Piershil, Ine van den Dool searched for an explanation for her physical complaints since the wind turbines were running. She came across the “wind turbine syndrome,” a term coined by the American doctor Nina Pierpont.
Scientifically, there is still much discussion, but Pierpont registered a list of identical complaints about several people who live near wind turbines: sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus, dizziness, nausea, irritation, and cardiac arrhythmias.
“Very recognizable. Falling asleep and staying asleep was no longer possible. I fled the house as often as I could.”
Dutch doctors are also stirring gradually. Some GPs, such as Sylvia van Manen in the magazine Medisch Contact, already warns against the effects of low-frequency noise, shadow cast, and flashing red lights at night.
The Leiden University Medical Center recently recognized a worsening of heart disease due to low-frequency sound.
“If there are so many indications that it is wrong, then we should investigate further, right?,” says Fred Jansen of the Critical Platform Wind Energy. “Or at least follow the WHO advice. But yes, that would mean that fewer windmills would fit in the Netherlands.”
At the Cauberg Huygen engineering firm, Marcel Blankvoort works as a knowledge leader for wind farm developers as well as for interest groups who oppose it.
“It is always a trade-off between several interests, including those of residents and energy generation. It is clear, however, that our government has made its choices about noise standards in such a way that sustainability through the energy transition is possible. I do see a similarity with Groningen gas and the Limburg mines: energy interests again outweigh others.”
The climate refugees from Piershil have moved to a quieter place on Goeree-Overflakkee since the summer. They are the sixth family within two years to move from Oudendijk.
Aan de Wiel now says he feels a lot calmer on the bus. “I now understand the gigantic stress situation we were living in. It was as if I was there waiting for my death; once at home, I didn’t feel like doing anything anymore. But if they tear down those turbines tomorrow, I’d love to return. I miss the place I used to be.”
“We are no longer ‘bunker citizens,’” his partner agrees. “We couldn’t sleep there with the window open, nor sit in the garden. Here we live outside again. And we sleep like marmots as if we need to sleep in for a century.”
Within two weeks after the move, Van den Dool was off the drug Ventolin, because her asthma complaints disappeared like snow in the sun. ‘Is that a coincidence? No, it proves to me what an abnormal life we had to live under the violence of those rotten turbines.”