The government’s plans to set up wind turbines to generate electricity in the Galilee were supposed to herald a new environmental era. But residents are campaigning against the enterprise, out of fear of damage to the landscape, noise and other hazards.
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Galilee residents have been plagued by several environmental hazards in recent years, such as dust-emitting quarries, illegal waste-burning and sewage flowing in streams. But none of these afflictions seem to have evoked such intense protests as the planned wind turbines.
With the advance of the plans for the turbines, companies have contacted several communities, including Yanuh-Jat, a Druze locale, and Lapidot, a moshav, to rent land, some of it agricultural,to set up the devices. The entrepreneurs promise not only payment for using the land but employment for the locals.
When the region’s residents discovered the scope of the plans and size of the turbines – some of them are to be more than 100 meters tall – they became concerned about the impact on their quality of life and on the Galilee landscape.
“I started to understand that the open landscape I grew up in will be filled with dozens of turbines and be more like an industrial zone,” says Naama Salomon of Harashim, a community north of Carmiel. “There will be constant noise of the turbine blades and strong artificial light. All this will be in a region where people are close to nature and [will be] not far from their homes,” she says.
The residents of other Galilee communities became concerned when they learned that members of Kibbutz Merav, in the Gilboa, are complaining about the noise caused by turbines set up nearby.
“We are looking into the problem and took preliminary measurements in the community, but we still can’t say if the noise exceeds the permitted level,” says Roy Gotlieb of the Environmental Protection Ministry, at a discussion of the committee for renewable energies in the Knesset last month.
But the fear isn’t only from the noise but from “infra sound,” a low frequency noise that the human ear cannot detect, but which can cause a disturbing physical sensation and sleep disorders.
Another concern is that the turbines will hinder firefighting aircraft from extinguishing fires. “The aircraft saved us in the last big fire here,” Salomon told Haaretz.
An inter-ministerial committee recently stated that turbines must be set up no closer than 600 meters from communities or sensitive facilities in fire-prone areas to enable air protection in case of fires. However, the committee noted that in some places where turbines are located, it may not be possible to operate firefighting planes.
Some residents are worried that the jittering light, creating an intermittent shadow, from the turbines to their homes, could constitute a hazard.
Several local governments in the area have joined the campaign against the turbines and six of their heads, including those of Misgav and Dir al-Assad, have expressed their concerns to the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Finance Ministry. They said the turbine plans are being advanced without the necessary regulations to ensure the residents’ health and quality of life.
The opposition to the project is not unanimous. Some residents and local governments see the turbine enterprise a means for promoting development and wealth that would not impair the quality of life. The local council Yanuh-Jat has already contacted a company to build turbines on community lands.
“We love nature, but we cannot ignore the economic importance of such an enterprise,” said council head Maada Hasbani in the Knesset debate.
“The research on health effects has [produced] different findings. Some places in Europe have been near turbines for 50 years and I haven’t heard of lawsuits over health damage,” he said.
Enlight Renewable Energy, a company that advances wind turbine projects in the Galilee and Yatir area, corroborates this. “Such facilities exist throughout the world, with power generating force of more than 480 megawatts,” a company official says.
“Most of them are in rural areas close to housing. The model of operating turbines close to communities has proved to be a safe environmental model and contributed to growth, generated employment and prevented using polluting alternatives,” he says.
However, most of the facilities in Europe are different than the ones in Israel. The dozens of turbines operating in Gilboa, Sirin Plateau (in the lower Galilee) and the Golan Heights are of a relatively old generation and are smaller than those planned.
In Lapidot the residents are divided over the issue. The same goes for the Har Amasa community in Yatir.
At the Knesset debate another aspect of the issue emerged. Some Druze communities fear that their neighbors’ objections to the turbines is a guise to limit their use of their lands. The head of Yanuh-Jat council said so explicitly and was joined by MK Akram Hasoon (Kadima). “We Druze don’t have much land,” he said. “We won’t let the strong rob the weak any more and we won’t allow our rights to be infringed upon.”
But other Druze object to the project. Nabia Assad, head of the Kasra-Samia council in the north, says “at first we agreed because we were nave. But now we object. It will change the village’s view and cause noise, and I fear for the people’s health.”
The Galilee residents’ hopes to receive backing from the Health Ministry were dashed last month by a letter from Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to the council heads who had asked for his help. The minister wrote that according to his ministry’s findings, the claims of possible health implications caused by the turbines are scientifically unfounded. The only relevant claim is about the low-frequency noise (infra-sound), which could cause sleep disorders. So the ministry will demand an evaluation of the noise intensity when the turbines are being built up to one kilometer away from a place of residence.
The minister said that the ministry’s current noise restrictions already limit setting up turbines close to places of residence, “since entrepreneurs won’t risk having the turbine activity stopped” by exceeding our recommended limits.
Eitan Parnas, director of Green Energy Association, Israel’s main green energy lobby, is convinced there is no going back. “In the world, turbines are part of the view and that’s how it will be in Israel as well. “There’s no way to fulfill the government’s renewable energy goals without significant generation of wind energy. The intimidation campaign against green energy in the north is selfish and wrong, favoring open landscape at the expense of the health and clean air of the residents of Hadera, Ashkelon and other cities suffering from power stations’ pollution.”
In about a month, the planning and construction authorities in the north are due to discuss plans to build wind turbines in the Upper Galilee. The committee has decided to give priority to turbines which are located at least 500 meters away from communities and which don’t fundamentally damage the Galilee’s unique landscape.