Australia’s federal government-appointed National Wind Farm Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, has told his first Senate Estimates Committee hearing that he is investigating 42 community complaints against 12 different wind farms – more than half of which had not yet been built.
He hopes, soon, to be out of a job.
Just four months into his appointment to the newly minted position – created as part of a Coalition deal with cross-bench Senators and some government backbenchers who are known to be vocal opponents of the wind industry – Dyer answered questions on his role as wind commissioner, his salary, and the number – and nature – of complaints he had so far fielded.
His comments, however, have attracted criticism from industry and from the Opposition, who say it is still unclear what exactly his role is, how much it is costing taxpayers, and who it is benefitting.
The committee heard that Dyer – a veteran of the large-scale solar industry and former chairman of the telecommunications watchdog – was being paid $205,000 a year for the part-time role, over a three-year contract.
So far, he has met with some stakeholders and established an ‘interim’ website – launched just two-three weeks ago – located within the Department of Environment’s website. Neither the Commissioner nor the Department were able to set a date for the launch of an independent website.
“Australians have every right to be appalled with the Turnbull Liberal Government for proceeding with this ridiculous waste of money,” said shadow environment minister Mark Butler in a statement on Tuesday.
“The Windfarm Commissioner was set up specifically to take complaints from the public, so the lack of accessibility begs the question: what has the Windfarm Commissioner been spending taxpayers’ money on since he was appointed last year?
“Despite travelling to meet stakeholders and complainants, the Windfarm Commissioner had no idea what his travel budget was. The Department couldn’t give us a figure either,” Butler said.
“The only thing that was confirmed during the Commissioners appearance was his salary: $205, 000 per year, the role was confirmed as being part-time but again neither the department or the Minister had any idea how many days or hours they were paying the commissioner for.”
Dyer said the number of complaints was 42, although he also said the number of people making them was “considerably” smaller than 42, and in some cases counted married couples’ complaints separately. He also noted that seven of the 12 wind farms being objected to had not yet been built.
“We have received inquiries on matters relating to wind farms from 42 residents. You have a situation where you might have a couple complaining about a wind farm, and I have had circumstances where the couple have expressed to me that they want their complaints handled separately. That’s why it takes some analysis to give you a precise number on the actual number of complaint matters.”
Dyer also confirmed he had yet to meet with any community members who were supporters of wind farms.
According to the Australian Wind Alliance, this raised questions about the independence of the Commissioner, and whether he would be used as a tool to block wind farm development.
“The Commissioner’s role is to manage complaints that arise out of any wind farm operations,” said AWA national coordinator Andrew Bray. “The Wind Commissioner is not there to be enlisted by wind farm opponents in their fight against this or that wind farm.
“Significant amounts of public money are spent thoroughly testing the merits of a wind farm project in the planning process. Getting the Wind Commissioner involved is simply a wasteful duplication of effort,” he said.
To Dyer’s credit, he seems to agree with this assessment, to a point, telling the Committee on Monday his aim was to improve complaint handling by state regulators and other stakeholders to a level that eventually rendered his role futile.
“One of the improvement opportunities I want to look at is to what degree… state enforcement agencies need to more involved in wind farm compliance and measurement,” Dyer told the Committee.
“So one of your outcomes might be to beef up the state regulatory agencies, rather than having them come to you. Is that what you’re saying?” asked Greens Senator Janet Rice. And when Dyer confirmed this: “So why then would you need to have your …office as well?”
“Well, clearly great success in this role is to be out of business,” Dyer said.