Collision of science and sentiment – Waterloo wind farm cleared by EPA

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Debates around wind energy span the continents of science and sentiment. Yesterday, at the Waterloo wind farm, science won.

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The most interesting places on Earth are the subduction zones where tectonic plates of science and emotion scrape relentlessly. Buried in these dynamic boundaries we find the most telling insights into human nature. Wind energy spans the continents of science and sentiment, and discourse is dominated by this violent collision of empirical reality and unbridled passion.

Though living full time in this fissure might seem unenviable, I guarantee it is stirring. Yesterday, the plates grated once more, as the South Australian Environmental Protection Agency (SA EPA) released the long-anticipated results of their study into low-frequency noise levels at Waterloo Wind Farm.

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Waterloo wind farm. Source: ABC News.

First, some history. In May 2012, Graham Lloyd of The Australian mused in an article whether the Waterloo Wind Farm could be the culprit behind the mutations of chicken embryos, spikes in “sheep deformities” and “reports of erratic behaviour by farm dogs” – a joyful foray into absurdity that served as a textbook example of implication by proximity.

If it happens near a wind farm, it’s caused by a wind farm. Later in the year, a local resident near the Waterloo Wind Farm, Mary Morris, sent an email to a large group of residents living nearby. It strongly urged residents to issue formal complaints to councillors and government.

“All it has to be is a simple letter stating that the noise and vibration is causing a serious disturbance to sleep and rest, and/or that people are becoming sick – mention elderly and frail people AND children as well, especially if this applies to you”

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A Today Tonight reporter asks questions of a resident who claims the wind farms are causing embryonic egg mutations. Source: Youtube

 

Earlier this year, the SA EPA released two reports they’d commissioned from the acoustics firm Resonate. Respectively, they examined low-frequency and infrasonic noise emissions from wind farms, and compared them to other environments, such as the offices of the EPA. Resonate found that the levels of infrasound and low-frequency noise at wind farms were low, compared to the environments we’re exposed to regularly.

Yet, these were immediately deemed by wind farm opponents as irrelevant and insufficient – a consequence, I suspect, not of the EPA’s methodology but of their conclusions. Their prostrations centred around the theory that the EPA had measured only down to ten hertz, and used only a g-weighted scaling for infrasound measurements – something quite literally untrue.

When the study of low-frequency noise and infrasound at Waterloo wind farm was announced, it was largely supported by wind farm opponents. Graham Lloyd wrote “the Waterloo tests will provide information on what is really going on acoustically…[the SA EPA] will use very sensitive, and expensive, equipment to measure sound frequencies as low as 0.25 hertz”. Today Tonight covered the announcement of the study as well, focusing on the lowest frequencies measured. They also mention that the turbines will be turned on and off to assess the contribution of the machines to noise measurements.

At the end of the story, the host promises a follow-up once the results are released. The unironically-named ‘Stop These Things’ also praised the EPA for their choice to study Waterloo Wind Farm, and the ‘fine work done by journalists Graham Archer and Lucy Polkinghorne’.

The results were announced yesterday afternoon, at a town hall meeting in Clare. Their outcomes seem relatively clear:

“Where detectable, noise levels from the wind farm were found to comply with criteria in the EPA Wind Farm Environmental Noise Guidelines…..Background noise resulting from local winds and other noise sources, was shown to contribute to increases in low frequency noise that were comparable with, or higher than contributions from the wind farm”

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The results are announced in Clare, South Australia. Source: 7 News

Interestingly, the EPA found that residents were reporting noise issues from the wind farm during periods that the turbines were shut down:

“A ‘rumbling’ effect was found using diary records to focus the analysis, which could only be heard with amplification of audio records; however, in many cases, the EPA was unable to determine that described events could be attributed to the turbines; and at times reported events coincided with shutdowns of the plant”

That residents seemingly perceived noise they attributed to wind farms during a shutdown is difficult to reconcile with the claims of anti-wind groups.

The EPA also measured a large amount of ambient noise. For instance, at the West Site, “the noise environment was generally dominated by noise generated by wind acting on vegetation and by noise from other sources” and that “the noise contribution from the wind farm was too insignificant to be detectable”.

At times, the EPA were able to detect signatures of wind farm noise, but always at levels below the relevant criteria, and far from the amplitudes that might be required to cause Lloyd’s embryonic chicken mutations. It’s clear that residents may have been experiencing real noise issues, but they had been attributing these to the wind farm. I’d posit that the activities of wind farm opponents played a big part in this misattribution.

Sometime this year, the anti-wind lobby’s acceptance of the EPA’s study withered. In a pre-emptive post published on Monday, the anti-wind blog labelled the SA EPA ‘rotten’, ‘clowns’, ‘idiots’ and ‘bastards’. The content of the post, and a comment from ‘MM’, (presumably Mary Morris), theorises wrongdoing due to the placement of a microphone near a tree (if wind farm noise can be suitably masked by proximity to a tree, their problems are easily resolved by a requisite row of saplings). Apparently, two other acousticians, conducting measurements at the same time as the EPA and labelled ‘independent’ by wind farm opponents, had their microphones ‘away from the trees’.

This pattern, of demands trailed by livid, insult-ridden rejection, is precisely what can be expected from groups that are hoping simply to fill the gaps between a set of pre-ordained conclusions. The upcoming months of protestations and conspiracy theories will serve as an informative illustration of the frayed relationship between anti-wind groups and science. Logic rarely satisfies demands born of sentiment, and reality often fails to adhere to the rules set out by wind farm opponents.

The solution to the tricky problem of attempting to satisfy the concerns of residents whilst fending off the onslaught of misinformation from anti-wind groups lies somewhere deep in the subduction zone, where science and sentiment collide. Within this ever-churning fault line are the clues that will help us develop large-scale renewables that can meet the social, electrical and political demands of society.

Ketan Joshi is a Research and Communications Officer at Infigen Energy. He blogs here, and tweets here.

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35 Comments
  1. patrickg 6 years ago

    Good on you Ketan, it’s time this ridiculous fear-mongering is called out as the arrant nonsense that it is, lacking support from the vast majority outside a coal-funded denialist fringe.

    • Ketan Joshi 6 years ago

      Thanks, patrickg!

  2. Blair Donaldson 6 years ago

    Excellent summary. If only Graham Lloyd and wind farm opposition groups had the integrity to accept the findings of the South Australian EPA, a lot of unnecessary concerns would be alleviated.

    Unfortunately the Waubra Foundation and Stop These Things have invested so much time and energy promoting their propaganda, it’s unlikely this evidence will force them to reconsider, they’ll just resort to further outlandish and extremist claims to justify their denial.

  3. Mike Barnard 6 years ago

    Expect Waubra: The Foundation (WTF) to double down on its charges of unethical behaviour by professional and conscientious acousticians, and claims of global incompetence by medical professionals and governmental agencies in the wake of this very well structured, executed and supported study.

    It would certainly be pleasant if ignorance were its own continent. By definition, it would be without internet or other telecommunications and we wouldn’t be plagued by communications from the inhabitants. Airdrops of food and medicine would be required of course, but this would be a small price to pay.

    • Blair Donaldson 6 years ago

      The demented rantings of Sarah Laurie, WTF and STT could be more likened to verbal incontinence. It’s odd that a group of cranks professing to be concerned about local communities never refrain from (ab)using those same communities when it suits their purposes.

    • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

      Mike, I hope you don’t miss my comment to Pedro below about trolls. May I ask what job do you do with IBM? Is it international trolling swatting negative comments on wind turbines and smart grids?

      • Mike Barnard 6 years ago

        From my up-to-date LinkedIn profile, available with a quick Google:

        Mike is assisting IBM’s largest and most complex application innovation deals across Asia Pacific to effectively bring the best of IBM’s global reach and expertise to clients. He is helping country deal teams to optimize their proposals and bring the best people, solution, technologies and price to clients the first time.

        http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=93916&goback=%2Enmp_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1&trk=spm_pic

        Do they still let you put pills in bottles George? And how is selling scam snake oil to cancer victims going under the GeoVital Academy?

        • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

          Mike, I am afraid to say that your claims about snake oil and cancer victims have no basis. What makes you think this?
          So is trolling, defamation and attacking personalities part of your job with IBM?

          • Mike Barnard 6 years ago

            GeoVital Academy sells baseless EMF/geopathy shields and specifically targets cancer victims.

            You sell testing services for GeoVital Academy that lead to sales of baseless EMF / geopathy shields.

            Logic, George. Try it.

            Snake oil. Scamming cancer victims. Disgusting behaviour for someone who at sometime actually swore some sort of medical ethics oath.

          • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

            Mike, your inability to discern “baseless” from scientifically based/evidence based solutions is a consequence of the limitations of your knowledge and perhaps something more.
            If you were concerned about scams, you wouldn’t believe in the wind industry – it is a scam. And if you weren’t promoting smart grids and wireless technologies, then I could be a bit more open about your lack of understanding on EMR and health.
            So Mike, who pays you to troll?

          • Mike Barnard 6 years ago

            Do tell us more about the dangers of electromagnetic radiation, George. I’m sure everyone will be fascinated to hear your evidence on the subject. If there is any.

            And of course to your last point I’ll just quote and link to my About page, also immediately available to anyone who cares about this subject. It contains documented material on all of the money I’ve made from this — not very much — and where it’s gone — charities — and with my LinkedIn profile, your slimy assertion is shown to be — like pretty much everything else that comes out of your mouth — baseless.

            “I’m Mike Barnard and I don’t work in or receive any money from the wind industry. I’m part of the silent majority of informed people who know that wind energy is part of the solution, but I’ve stopped being silent about it. I encourage others to make some noise to counter the tiny but very vocal minority opposed to wind energy.”
            http://barnardonwind.com/about/

            My life and work are an open book, George. You, on the other hand, are scuttling between rocks to hide under.

          • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

            Yes I agree Mike – your life and work are an open book, hence why the association between IBM, smart grids, wind turbines and Barnard is so difficult to hide…

          • sean 6 years ago

            Bahahahahaha – Oh George! Stop! My sides can’t take it any longer!

  4. sean 6 years ago

    the way to solve it, is to sell shares in the turbine to locals.

    • Don Ross 6 years ago

      It is a positive step but experience has shown that it doesn’t slow down or stop the anti-wind rhetoric from the vocal fringe groups, as their core mandate is to stop ALL wind energy projects. We have a good example of this here in Ontario where a single co-op turbine installed over a decade ago still faced strong opposition when built in Toronto and still has it’s detractors. Another single turbine recently built and owned by the Can. Auto Workers has opposition. I know where we live here in our rural area where we have tried for 13 years to get some wind turbines, including a co-op I was involved in trying to set up, that our anti’s fight everything to do with wind….plain & simple.

  5. Pedro 6 years ago

    What’s going on?? I look forward to reading the feisty slanging matches between those of common sense and those without. Have those inflammatory posts been deleted??

    • Motorshack 6 years ago

      No need to delete anything.

      I’ve been following this website almost from the beginning, and one rarely sees trolls of any kind here. There are plenty of enthusiastic debates, but usually among those who are all trying to find the best way to move forward on renewable energy, and not between proponents of renewables and their opponents.

      At a guess, I would think that even the craziest opponents of renewables are smart enough to realize they will find no sympathy here, so they do not bother commenting. Both the editorial policy and the readers are so firmly in favor of renewables that the more idiotic comments just get “laughed out of town”.

      At the same time, those with honest intellectual criticisms do get a vigorous, reasoned debate, which can be very interesting, but still no mud-slinging contest.

      So, if you are looking for mindless shrieking you will probably have better luck looking elsewhere.

      • Ketan Joshi 6 years ago

        Yes, second that. Have always enjoyed the comments sections, here.

      • Pedro 6 years ago

        Hi Motorshack

        Been following myself for about a year now. Very much enjoyed your dialogues with Suthnsun recently and have to commend you on your well reasoned thoughts and ideas especially on our culture of rampant need and consumption. When I have a bit more time I would like to ask you a few questions relating to that discussion.

        My comment was tongue in cheek as normally any wind power article attracts the likes of George Papoloupolous (not sure if I got the surname right) who seems to be a master rhetoric and truth misrepresentation.

        For what its worth I think wind turbines are beautiful and as a society it is good for people to see where their power comes from. And by the nature of solar PV and big wind a direct connection can be made between energy use and generation.

        What I notice with centralized power production is that they tend to be hidden from view or remote. 4m high berms surround open cut coal mines so you don’t see the devastation when you drive past. When in the UK I drove for about 10 miles through a forest and commented that this was the longest treed stretch of road I have been on so far. My friend then informed me that behind the forest was a nuclear power plant.

        Every thing we do or create has an impact and the best we can do is minimize the negative consequences.

        • Motorshack 6 years ago

          Sorry I missed the joke. Not only is sarcasm a little hard to detect in print, but I’m a software designer by trade, which means that I am rather more literal-minded than average to begin with.

          Anyway, if you want to take the discussion off-line, feel free to send your email address to Giles Parkinson, and he already has mine, so presumably he might be prevailed upon to put us in touch. Or maybe he should think about adding a forum for discussion threads that are not directly related to any particular article.

          As for Mr. Papadopoulos, he would appear to be the exception that proves the rule.

          Or maybe he is starting to show some of the symptoms of overexposure to infra-sound. I hear it is dangerous stuff.

        • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

          Pedro, note that Mike Barnard is attracted to any wind turbine coverage on an international scale. Any comments about him and what his role is within IBM?

    • Mike Barnard 6 years ago

      Obviously you spoke to soon. 😉

      • Pedro 6 years ago

        Checked out barnardonwind site. What’s the IBM angle George is going on about??

        • Mike Barnard 6 years ago

          I work for IBM in a job unrelated to wind energy. IBM has about 440,000 employees and does business in industry and country in the world. IBM does a reasonable amount of Smart Grid stuff — mostly asset management software related — and has a couple of Research projects related to wind energy, e.g. an island in Denmark. Over the past decade, I’ve worked for a handful of weeks on smart metering proposals — which we categorize under Smart Grid — and for about a week on an electricity distribution-side proposal.

          In George’s addled mind as well as some other anti-wind types minds, this means that anything I say can be deprecated because I work for a humungously large company that gets a tiny fraction of its annual revenue from sales tenuously related to wind energy.

          Basically, it’s conspiracy ideation. George is a flake and has no other arguments that are remotely credible, so he has to settle for claiming I’m corrupt. Slimy, as I’ve said before.

          On the other hand, George directly sells EMF and geopathic tests — flakey woo — to people, and the company he’s associated with, Geovital Academy, targets cancer sufferers. This is a pretty revolting scam. Basically, he’s throwing something he has an excess of — slime — at me.

  6. George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

    Ketan, Lord Eddington once said:
    “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scientific man to pass through a door. And whether the door be barn door or church door it might be wiser that he should consent to be an ordinary man and walk in rather than wait till all the difficulties involved in a really scientific ingress are resolved.”
    Sorry to say Ketan, but machines and measurements can’t replace the testimony of those who have been seriously harmed by the wind industry. If the SA EPA fails to use common sense, then yes, you can wait for “wind industry science” to catch up, and the heavy financial consequences will follow. I actually think there is enough evidence out there to get you worried, but not enough to “prove” it for you.

    • sean 6 years ago

      Holy crap you are stupid. No really, “I reject reality and substitute my own” should be your motto, if it isn’t already. Testimony is one of the weakest form of evidence, subjective and easily mislead. Fear is not proof, no matter how much you wish it so.

      Attempting to slander scientists in this day and age will simply earn you the mocking and derision you deserve. The wide majority has moved on from superstition. With decent education they will never go back.

      • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

        Sean, I think your response to the quote from Eddington demonstrates how little you know history and how little you appreciate science and understand its limitations.
        I’m sure the wind industry can find useful tasks for you to do.

    • Pedro 6 years ago

      Hi George

      I think the problem of proof lies with you. As you can’t prove any of your assertions about infrasound health impacts or for that matter noise levels.

      “Wind industry science”. What’s that?

      • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

        I live with the consequences and provide my story as warning to those who think that industrial machines of unprecedented scale are harmless and benign.
        If you want me to “prove” it to you, you will first need to listen. If your bias doesn’t allow you to listen then I’m wasting my time…

        • Pedro 6 years ago

          I am willing to listen critically, but need proof, not anecdotes. And so far that’s all you have provided with multiple posts on numerous occasions. So I am left questioning your motivation(s). If you believe so strongly that wind turbines are affecting your health then I suggest you move, I would. Otherwise I suspect you have some vested interest by demonizing wind farms.

          I can understand people who find them ugly and the noise irritating. I think Harely Davidson motorbikes make a god awful noise and sitting in a garage with one on would give me a headache if not drive me insane, but I would not attribute all sorts of diseases to Harley’s. For that matter jet engines are very loud. What about all the people living near an airport?? Do they have jet engine syndrome?? Maybe it’s EMF from wind turbines that makes you sick. What about the EMF from your computer or mobile phone that you hold right next to head for maybe half an hour/day. Where are all the teenage brain tumors?

          • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

            Pedro, time for a wake up call. The problem starts 35km away and can cause so much grief and torment (resonance, humming and vibration) that on the odd occasion that I drive off and spend the day or sleep in my car further out west. I have invested so much time and money over the years on my property. Then what sell up and move? Go where? Name me one rural area that hasn’t got hundreds of wind turbines installed or isn’t facing the prospect of wind developments?

            With regards to airports, there is an 11pm curfew. I spend more time in Sydney than Yass nowadays living 5km away from the airport, on a main road where there is so much background noise that it rare to notice a jumbo taking off at the airport. There are monstrosities in Sydney, but I notice that the harbour bridge, centre point etc don’t wildly spin and one aeroplane takes off every minute or so. Contrast this to 200 or so spinning monstrosities in the Southern Tablelands each spanning a foot ball field, 150m in the air.
            Whilst I find the noise in Sydney mostly benign, I would prefer the peace and quiet that once upon a time existed at my rural property.
            Pedro, electro-magnetic fields from wind turbines do not travel 35km away – you can barely detect them more than a several hundred metres away. If you think I’m wrong, let me know.

          • Pedro 6 years ago

            Unfortunately there seems to be no cure for what ails you.

            Central Australia is pretty free of wind turbines and not enough wind to justify putting them in.

          • George Papadopoulos 6 years ago

            Pedro, I can see a hint of excess in the human compassion displayed in your comment.

  7. Shane 6 years ago

    Hey Sean, your very brave from behind your keyboard as most trolls are. I know George and calling him stupid is like saying Victoria secret models are ugly.. he is also a large framed man and honestly I would luv to see you call him stupid to his face.. I would bet this farm you would disappear under the couch like the church mouse you are..

    • sean 6 years ago

      George being big or small has nothing to do with how stupid he is, not calling him on it won’t make his argument any less silly.

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