If Australia’s wind energy industry was not struggling enough under the weight of policy uncertainty created by the Abbott government’s review of the Renewable Energy Target, this week’s call for yet another Senate inquiry into the impact of wind turbines should just about do the job.
On Monday, a group of federal senators – including David Lleyonhjelm (Lib), Nick Xenophon (Ind), John Madigan (DLP) and Family First’s Bob Day – moved to back the establishment of a Select Committee on Wind Turbines to inquire into their economic and environmental impact and report back by June 24, 2015.
The proposed inquiry would give the six-member committee a wide scope of reference, with a particular focus on the effect of wind turbines on household power prices, emissions, the implementation of planning processes and nearby fauna.
The motion will be voted on next Monday, and looks likely to pass with the added support of some of the Senate’s newer and more impressionable members.
According to The Guardian, it will have the support of The Motorists Party’s Ricky Muir, who ostensibly is a supporter of renewables and has previously promised to oppose any changes to the 41,000GWh target.
The Coalition government, which wants to cut the RET by more than half (in new projects out to 2020), mostly in a bid to curb the development of wind farms, which Treasurer Joe Hockey finds “utterly offensive”, will undoubtedly support the idea.
Not surprisingly, the move has been slammed by the Australian Wind Alliance, which described it on Tuesday as part of a renewable energy “witch hunt” that threatens billions of dollars worth of wind industry jobs and investment.
“Just today a new Climate Council report found that Victoria has already lost an estimated $4 billion in lost investment and 3,000 jobs due to restrictive wind farm planning laws,” said AWA national coordinator Andrew Bray.
“The Select Committee should be finding ways to increase investment in our rural and regional communities instead of bowing to pressure from anti-wind farm activists.
“There is no scientific basis for these ongoing attacks on wind power,” he said. “This inquiry would look a lot less like a witch hunt if it asked the same questions of coal mining or coal seam gas.”
Bray said that the issues up for discussion by the proposed new Senate Committee had been answered “many times over” and that “rehearsing the same old arguments” would be a complete waste of time and taxpayers’ money.
Indeed, this is well trod ground for the federal Senate. In February 2013, it voted down, for the second time, a motion by Senators Xenophon and Madigan to introduce their Excessive Noise from Wind Farms Bill.
In the session preceding the vote, Senator Madigan called for “independent, eminent,” rigorous and home-grown research into the health effects caused by wind farms that he said had been “belittled, mocked and ignored,” despite having been “proved”.
Far from being proved, however, a growing pile of scientifically backed studies – including from the AMA, the NSW government’s health department and one from Victoria’s – have found no evidence for ”wind turbine syndrome”, a collection of physical and psychological symptoms including sleeplessness, headaches and high blood pressure that some people believe are caused by the noise of spinning blades.
One of the most recent – the findings of a draft systematic review of the evidence on wind farms and human health by the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) – found that there was no reliable or consistent evidence that proximity to wind farms or wind farm noise directly caused health effects.
As noted here back in February, the NHMRC report marked number 20 in the list of reviews published on the issue since 2003 – all of which reached the same broad conclusions.
And as recently as this month, in northern America, a Health Canada study also found no direct link between turbines and the wellbeing of nearby residents, beyond adverse health effects connected to high levels of “annoyance.”
Seemingly undaunted, however, the forces behind the newly proposed Senate Inquiry have found new Conservative bugbears to pursue; including the effect of wind energy on power prices, and the oft-spouted myth that wind farms don’t reduce emissions.
“Politicians have faced ongoing pressure from fringe groups threatening jobs and investment in regional areas,” Bray said on Tuesday. “We should be encouraging investment in renewable energy not finding new ways to destroy it.
“Wind farms are a viable and reliable source of income for rural and regional communities.”