The beleaguered Australian wind industry hasn’t had much to cheer about in the last few years, what with policy stagnation, a lack of finance, and some hysterical and ideological opposition in the media and the new government. But on Tuesday it got some welcome good news. In fact, it got three.
The first two came after two separate inquiries into the supposed health impacts of existing wind turbines and a proposed wind farm found in the industry’s favour. And the third came when a noted anti-wind campaigner met locals in one community who actually quite like the wind farm that operates in their back-yard. All three events reflect what can happen when a few good facts are placed in front of a scare campaign.
The wind industry in Australia is facing a series of obstacles. First is a series of noisy and high profile opposition to wind farms, that extends from loud shock-jocks through to the back-benches who have vowed to stop the industry, and even the front bench of the new government, which wants to stop renewables in general. It’s a campaign based around the allegation that wind turbines are bad for health, and on the supposition that wind energy doesn’t contribute much to electricity grids. Both claims are nonsense, as we’ve explained here, here and here.
The second set of problems has been a range of planning restrictions that is making development difficult, and potentially costly. And the third is the absence of clear policy that would encourage power purchase contracts to be signed and wind farms to be financed. Both are impeding Australia’s much needed transition to a low carbon economy.
The developments on Tuesday will at least go part of the way to address that.
One of the most important is the finding by the South Australia Environment Protection Authority, which released a noise study on the Waterloo Wind Farm following the complaints of some residents who had kept “noise diaries”.
The EPA installed noise monitoring equipment, shut down the wind farm at various times, and concluded that not only did the wind farm fall below planning requirements, “rumbling” noises cited by some apparently occurred at times when the wind farm was switched off. Some residents had called for the wind farm to be switched off at night. You can read more about that in this excellent report from Ketan Joshi.
The second was on the Cherry Tree wind farm, a 50MW project put forward by Australia’s largest specialist renewable energy company, Infigen Energy. This project, near Seymour in Victoria, had been set to approved by council – its planners had given it the OK, before council decided to refer it to the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal (VCAT).
On Tuesday, at almost exactly the same time as the SA EPA handed down its decision, VCAT said it had given development consent, ruling in the developer’s favour on all ecological, noise and amenity considerations.
The tribunal ruled that the impact on visual amenity, and local plant and wildlife were acceptable, there were no increased risks of bushfire, salinity, erosion or to aviation, and it will comply with noise standards.
Notably, the wind farm found that the opponents of the wind farms were unable cite any environmental court or tribunal which had found that there is a causal link between emissions from a wind farm and adverse health effects on nearby residents.
It also cited reports by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the NSW Health and the Victorian Department of Health in support of their decision. “The current state of scientific opinion is that there is no causal link of a physiological nature between these effects and the turbines.”
Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said the two decisions add to a growing body of evidence that shows wind farms are more than capable of meeting their critics when their claims are actually put to the test. “There is credible information to blow away all the myths about wind farms and communities should feel very reassured that these claims have been scientifically tested,” he said in a statement.
Friends of the Earth say that they discovered through a Freedom of Information request show the Mitchell Shire Council was forced to spend at least $165,000 on legal costs caused by the anti-wind campaigning.
“The (state) Coalition government said their wind farm planning laws would empower local communities. All they’ve done is empower anti-wind farm campaigners, leaving councils to foot the bill,” said Leigh Ewbank, a spokesman for FoE. “Rate payers are the collateral damage in an ideological fight against clean and safe wind energy.”
One of those ideologues, Democrat Labor Party Senator John Madigan, was presented with a petition yesterday with 300 signatories from the Victorian township of Waubra, who are trying to get their town’s name removed from the anti-wind lobby group, the Waubra Foundation.
The petition was signed by people who actually live in Waubra, who live near the wind farm, and who don’t mind it at all. This is in contrast to the Waubra Foundation, which is led by a small group of people who don’t live anywhere near the town.
Madigan reportedly agreed to pass on the concerns to the anti-wind farm group. Kerryn Gallagher, a resident who has 39 turbines within 3 kms of her property, was quoted as saying: “Wind farm sound is just a part of our landscape now. It’s not excessive and it doesn’t bother us. I hope Senator Madigan will accept my invitation to visit my place and find out for himself what it’s like to live among the turbines.”
Three strikes against the anti-wind lobby, but the market for wind energy in Australia won’t change until the policy situation is resolved. That unfortunately, is not likely to happen until the Federal Government concludes the new review into the Renewable Energy Target, which it has insisted on having ever since the last one was completed less than 12 months ago.
That decision may not be delivered for another 12 months. That, though, is not just about ideology and misinformation about health impacts, it is equally motivated by the protection of vested interests.