A court in South Australia has overturned opposition to a 35-turbine wind farm after dismissing much of the evidence provided by anti-wind campaigners as “not credible”.
The Environment, Resources, and Development Court of South Australia last week found in favour of Tru Energy Renewable Developments, a subsidiary of EnergyAustralia, which was seeing to overturn a ruling by the Goyder council that rejected approval of the 105MQ Stony Gap wind farm project near the town of Burra.
The ruling is notable for the manner in which it dismissed the evidence of two leading anti-wind campaigners, Sarah Laurie of the Waubra Foundation, and Steven Cooper, an acoustic engineer oft quoted by the Murdoch press. They were the key witnesses for three residents who continued to fight the proposal even after the council accepted a compromise with the developer.
“Having regard to all of the evidence and the relevant provisions of the Development Plan, there is no basis, on a correct planning assessment, for refusing to grant development plan consent,” the court ruled. “Development plan consent to construct a wind farm comprising 35 turbines and associated infrastructure is granted, subject to conditions.”
Of the evidence provided by Cooper, the court was damming.
The opponents produced reports from 11 residents of the Waterloo wind farm, which claimed all manner of ailments. These included mild nausea, insomnia, headaches, balance issues, heart palpitations, forgetfulness, stress, depression, deteriorating vision, agitation, loss of concentration, high blood pressure, sore eyeballs, neck and chest, strange dreams, ringing in the ears, frustration, irritability, aggravation of tinnitus, anxiety, lethargy, weight gain, popping ears and swollen glands.
The court noted that an EPA report investigated the claims, and found none to be proved. Some even were alleged to have occurred when the turbines were not operating.
The court found: “Mr Cooper did not mount a cogent challenge to the data in the EPA report; rather, he wishes to see further work done on the issues of infrasound and low frequency noise.”
And further: “No factual basis has been established for the refusal of development plan consent to the proposed development on the basis of noise or the perception of energy below the audibility level. Mr Cooper has a number of theories, to do with low frequency noise, which he is investigating. At present, on the basis of his evidence before us, it seems that his approach to the task includes privileging the subjective experiences of those residents who have experienced problems, and their perceptions as to the cause of these experiences, over other contradictory data.” (Our emphasis, not the court’s).
The court also did not accept the evidence provided by Laurie, who argued that wind farms create significant health impacts.
“The court rules that Laurie is not an expert in assessing whether there is a causal link between wind farm noise and health impacts. She has no relevant qualifications or experience in this kind of research.”
Nevertheless, it looked at her arguments, but concluded:
“Dr Laurie’s evidence does not contain evidence (whether from her own research, or that of others) of a causal link between contemporary operating wind turbines and the kind of health problems reported by the deponents, which is consistent with any accepted scientific or legal method of proof.”
The court noted that Laurie was presented with evidence from the Australian Medical Association, and the EPA reports, which found that no link existed.
“Dr Laurie rejects all of the studies, including the EPA studies,83 which are not consistent with her theories,” the court found.
“She admits that evidence showing a causal connection between contemporary wind farms and health effects does not exist, and she seeks to have more research done in the hope that such evidence will be generated in the future. “
It further said:
“Dr Laurie agreed that there are wind farms in Australia in relation to which no complaints have been received by the Waubra Foundation. She thought that there might be a correlation between the size of the turbines and the presence of health effects, and, because complaints have been received from the two wind farms in Australia with the same sized turbines as those proposed, she was unwilling to say that it was possible that the proposed wind farm might not cause any adverse health effects. She provided no evidentiary basis for this view.”
On the other hand, the court also heard from Professor Wittert, a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and he chair at the University of Adelaide in the Discipline of Medicine, and a senior consultant in Endocrinology at the Royal Adelaide Hospital
Wittert said there is no evidence that adverse health effects can be directly attributable to inaudible low-frequency sound emissions; there is no evidence that the level of infrasound produced by wind turbines constitutes a problem to health; and there is no evidence that audible noise resulting from the operation of wind turbines constitutes a significant risk to health in the majority of individuals provided the development is compliant with current guidelines.
The court found: “Professor Wittert is an appropriately qualified and experienced expert. We accept his evidence. There is no basis for the refusal of development plan consent to the proposed development on the grounds of health effects.”