Windfarm company issued 'misleading' leaflets locally

A company behind a possible windfarm project in South Westmeath distributed "misleading" leaflets which suggested that wind turbines have no impact on health or property values, the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) has found.

The leaflets distributed by Enerco Energy quoted the World Health Organisation as saying there was "no reliable evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health."

However, when contacted by the ASAI on foot of a complaint by a Moyvoughley resident, Enerco admitted this quote had been incorrectly attributed and had not come from the World Health Organisation.

Following this, the company said that they would not be distributing any further leaflets which contained the inaccuracy.

Last month, Enerco Energy said it had identified "a potential site for approximately 10 wind turbines" in the Ballynacorra area, located between Moyvoughly and Drumraney.

Local residents said a second company has been in touch with landowners, in addition to Enerco, and their understanding is that a combination of windfarm projects could see up to 21 or 22 turbines being proposed in the area.

It's understood that the leaflet which prompted the Moyvoughley resident's complaint to the ASAI had been distributed in the locality in 2019.

Entitled, 'Renewable Energy Project Wind Information Leaflet', it included a 'frequently asked questions' section. Two of the questions were, 'Do wind turbines affect health?' and 'Do wind farms affect property values?'

The leaflet's reply to the health question said this had been "studied extensively" and it asserted that "all reputable studies," and the World Health Organisation, found "no reliable evidence" of wind turbines impacting on health.

The complainant told the ASAI that he had not been able to locate the source of the quote which the leaflet had attributed to the World Health Organisation. In its response, Enerco said it had investigated the matter and found the source it had cited for this quote had been incorrect.

"(Enerco) 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," reported the ASAI.

The advertising standards body, in its report on the complaint, referred to a position paper by the HSE on wind turbines, which found "no direct evidence that exposure to wind farm noise affects physical or mental health," but added that further research into this area was needed.

"Overall, scientific evidence of adverse impacts of wind farms on health is weak or absent," said the HSE document.

"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."

The section of Enerco's leaflet about property prices cited research in the United States, the UK, and Australia which showed "no statistical evidence" of home values being affected by their proximity to wind farms.

Enerco told the ASAI that it stood by its claim about property values, and did not agree that this had been misleading.

In its report, the ASAI noted that a UK study which Enerco referenced had been published by Renewable UK and was joint research between Renewable UK, a trade body for the wind, wave and tidal industries, and CEBR, the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

The advertising standards body said it had contacted representatives of the property industry in Ireland and was told that no studies had been carried out on the impact of wind farms on property values here.

"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," said the ASAI.

The ASAI also referred to research carried out in Germany, in 2012, which concluded that energy-related technologies, including wind power, could have a negative impact on property values.

In issuing its decision on the Moyvougley resident's complaint, the ASAI said the statement made in Enerco's leaflet about windfarms having no impact on health had been "definitive and unconditional."

The ASAI said this had not been substantiated, and therefore was in breach of four sections of its code, including that marketing should not mislead "by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise."

On the property prices issue, the ASAI said there was "conflicting evidence" and therefore Enerco's "definite statement that proximity of wind farms did not affect property prices" had not been substantiated and was also in breach of four sections of its code.

Having upheld the complaint about the leaflet, the ASAI ruled that the advertisement "should not appear in its current form again."

The ASAI is due to publish its decision on the complaint in its next complaints bulletin during the second half of this month.

It noted that, in "limited circumstances" either party in the case can apply to have the decision reviewed by a Review Panel.