One of the most enduring claims made by anti wind farm groups is that families have to “abandon their homes” near Australian wind farms because of the insufferable effects on their health. Details are rarely provided but a powerful image remains of lives so desperate that people walk away from their homes.
Sarah Laurie, a (not currently registered) doctor who heads the anti-wind farm Waubra Foundation, chaired by mining and fossil fuel investment millionaire Peter Mitchell, said in September 2011 that there were “well over 20 rural families in Australia who have been forced to leave their homes because of serious health problems they have developed since the turbines commenced operating”. A year later this had leapt to “more than 40“.
I wrote to Laurie nearly a year ago, asking her to send a list of the addresses of these abandoned homes. I wanted to start enquiries in each location to corroborate her claims. She replied that she had sent the information in a confidential submission to Senator Doug Cameron, who was chairing a 2012 Senate enquiry into wind farms. Cameron’s office confirmed that a submission had been received, that its contents were confidential but that the submission contained no names or identifying details of anyone claimed to have abandoned their house.
Laurie shut down the conversation by writing “As the information was provided to me in confidence, I will not be providing it to you, so please do not ask me again.” Her claims are thus not open to any scrutiny and a good candidate for factoid status: “facts” with little veracity which if repeated often enough come to be taken as real.
If people really had abandoned their homes, and lost financially in the process, it would be reasonable to expect that many would not seek anonymity, but just the opposite. Publicity to the injustice of having to walk away from a home without selling it, or being penalized for breaking a lease could focus news attention and perhaps trigger compensation. Such stories would be made for television. So where are they?
The small town of Waterloo in South Australia is said by wind farm opponents to be a hot-bed of abandoned homes. It is. But not for the reasons claimed. Waterloo is a small settlement that is looking very tired. Climate change denying journalist James Delingpole described it thus: “Waterloo felt like a ghost town: shuttered houses and a dust-blown aura of sinister unease, as in a horror movie when something dreadful has happened to a previously ordinary, happy settlement”.
Many economically non-viable towns like Waterloo are like this, with real estate agent windows full of yellowing for sale signs in forlorn hope of buyers. There are few shops or services, little employment and most children on leaving school move away. In such environments, when a cashed-up wind energy company establishes a wind farm and stories spread of the “drought proofing” rentals being paid to turbine hosts, it is understandable that some may see complaining as a potential one-way ticket out of town.
I am setting out to investigate Laurie’s “40 families” claim. So here is a very public challenge to Laurie or anyone else promoting the abandoned homes claim: provide me with the addresses of these homes. I will then investigate questions like these. When was the house “abandoned”? Was any attempt made to sell the house? What is the opinion of local real estate agents about the salability of the house? Have property prices in the area gone up or down since the wind farm commenced operation? Did the family who “abandoned” the house have any employment or did they leave to seek employment elsewhere? Were there “pull” factors known to neighbours about this family, such as a marriage break-up or children needing to be nearer a school on another town?
So far, I have two publicly known wind farm “refugees”, both from Waubra, with one’s status as a genuine refugee under a cloud because the family has quietly moved back. Thirty eight to go. Failure to supply addresses will be taken as evidence that this is a nothing but factoid.
Simon Chapman AO is a Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney – [email protected]