Abbott era business advisor Maurice Newman has reignited his ferocious opposition to wind farms and has penned a personal submission to an independent planning review of stage 3 of the Crookwell wind farm that revives old myths about the impacts of wind turbines.
Newman – a former chair of both the ABC and the ASX – served as a member of then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Business Advisory Council, and while serving in the advisory role, frequently called for the abolition of policies supporting renewable energy.
Newman labelled the Renewable Energy Target a “a crime against the people“, and has claimed that climate change was a UN hoax designed to establish a ‘new world order’.
The planning assessment for the Crookwell 3 wind farm was referred to the NSW Independent Planning Commission, with a recommendation by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment to refuse approval, largely on the basis of the wind farm’s potential visual impacts.
Crookwell stage 3 would see the construction of an additional 17 wind turbines in the NSW Southern Tablelands region, which is a reduction from the original plans to construct 23 turbines, after the project developers offered to reduce the size of the wind farm in response to concerns raised by residents.
Many opponents to the proposed wind farm are familiar voices in anti-wind farm sentiment, including Newman, who made a personal submission to the independent enquiry calling for the rejection of Crookwell 3, labelling the project “socially divisive”.
Newman’s wife, Jeanette, has served as Chairwoman for the Crookwell District Landscape Guardians, that also made submissions to the Department of Planning and Environment objecting to the wind farm.
Newman owns property in the Crookwell region and made a submission as a landowner, and on behalf of three families that live on the property. While Newman owns the property, he does not live there, instead residing in Sydney.
“Any wealth creation enjoyed by the district from wind farm developments has been net negative. The small financial contribution which has been actually delivered, has been more than offset by the capital losses suffered by landholders; realised or not,” Newman said in his submission opposing the wind farm.
This proposition was challenged by many who made submissions to the independent review process, highlighting that the construction of Crookwell 2 in the region stimulated substantial economic activity, and Crookwell 3 was set to do the same.
“The civil construction component of the Crookwell 2 project alone delivered more than $12 million into local businesses and $14.5 million across the Capital region. Crookwell 3 is slated to provide a similar slew of investment into the area, including at least 100 jobs during construction and 10 full-time jobs servicing the turbines post construction,” Australian Wind Alliance has said.
Claims of potential negative impacts on property prices were also challenged by a study commissioned by the NSW Government that found “that the majority of published reports conclude that there is no impact or a limited definable impact of wind farms on property values.”
In his submission, Newman went on to invoke some of the tired arguments about the health concerns of wind turbines, claiming that some did not speak out in fear of “reprisals”.
“You will have heard of the health fears and objections raised by residents of the proposed wind farm expansion,” Newman said.
“Many of these fears are based on empirical research and, not least, the anecdotal evidence of the health effects suffered by those already living in close proximity to existing developments.
“Often these effects are kept within families for fear of reprisals if the victims go public. However, regular sleep impairment is a common complaint. Interruptions to local radio and television reception are among other commonly heard grievances.” Newman added.
However, there is negligible research that shows that wind turbines are a fundamental cause of health impacts. In their comprehensive analysis of the claimed health impacts of wind turbines by Emeritus Professor of the Sydney School of Public Health Simon Chapman and Auckland University’s Dr Fiona Crichton described the effects as a “communicated disease.”
“Wind turbine syndrome shows all the hallmarks of a communicated disease: that is, an illness that is spread by people talking and writing write about it. In short: people are worrying themselves sick,” Chapman and Crichton said.
Newman’s claims almost channel those of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who claimed that wind turbines shake worms out of the ground.
Ironically, Newman may also find an unlikely ally in former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, who has expressed opposition to the Robbins Island wind farm in Tasmania’s north-west. Brown shared his own concerns about the visual impacts of the Robbins Island wind farm, labelling it a “hairbrush of tall towers” and suggesting it would kill birds.
Newman went on to claim that wind turbines are a detriment to agricultural production, despite the small physical footprint of a wind farm development, and the ability of agricultural production to continue in the presence of turbines.
“When does the desecration and reduction in productivity of some of the country’s best agricultural and most scenic land reach a point of saturation?” Newman said.
However, when RenewEconomy spoke to landholders in the region, some pointed to the fact that the ability to host wind turbines on an agricultural property can help alleviate pressures on the land.
With the turbines providing hosts with an additional source of revenue, landholders have less pressure to work the land quite so hard, leading to reduce degradation of grasslands and soil.
Fourth generation Crookwell farmer, and member of the board of directors for Farmers for Climate Action, Charlie Prell, also told a public hearing with the Independent Planning Commission that climate change was also a looming threat to agricultural production, and that its impacts would eclipse those of any wind farm unless action was taken.
“I also hear the sound of the sheep and the cattle on my farm. I hear the birds in my – in the garden around my house that were all supposed to be killed by the turbines that are now there, and I also hear something else.
“There’s a much quieter sound out there that not many people are hearing but more and more are waking up to, potentially, the most damaging amongst all of this cacophony, and that’s the silent creep of climate change.” Prell told the hearing.
“Wind turbines are an excellent option for this future-proofing, because they are totally compatible with agriculture.”
The wind farm would reside within the electorate of federal energy minister Angus Taylor, who has previously been fervent in his opposition to new wind farm developments.
Taylor’s office confirmed that it had not sought to make a submission with respect to the proposed Crookwell 3 development.
Submissions have now closed, with the Independent Planning Commission working towards making a final planning decision for the wind farm.
The Commission has written to the NSW planning department seeking advice on the impacts of proceeding with the smaller, 17-turbine wind farm, which will likely be a decisive factor for whether it will award planning approval.