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Spinning in the wind and renewable energy targets

With Australia’s commitment to renewable energy uncertain, Farz Edraki takes a look at the ongoing windfarm discussion in this area and finds a few myths to unpack along the way.

If public rallies are any barometer of voter opinion on the wind energy debate, then Australians appear to be warming to wind farms.

Within hours of one another, two rallies were held mid June in Canberra — one led by Get Up to rally support for wind turbines, the other organised by Alan (“Women destroying-the-joint”) Jones. The Get Up Rally for Renewables in Civic, attracted three times as many people as Jones’ muted affair in Federation Mall.

This didn’t deter Jones, who blamed “lack of time and resources” for the small turnout, and instead focused on the negative health effects of wind farms to rally the crowd.

“Why are we terrorising, intimidating and destroying the lives of farmers and the value of their property?” he reportedly told the crowd.

Wind turbines have been blamed for chronic severe sleep deprivation, hypertension, depression, and even heart attacks. Anti-wind lobby groups tend to focus on the supposed health effects as a result of the noise of wind turbines.

“Life takes a dramatic turn for the worse once wind turbines are erected within hearing distance of homes”, argues the European Platform Against Windfarms.

By contrast, the Get Up Rally in favour of wind farms attracted over 500 people, according to reports. Amongst the speakers were farmers with wind turbines on their property, who blamed anti-wind farm lobbyists for creating false divisions within communities over wind farming.

Some data on health effects

What is the true nature of the health effects of wind turbines? How can voters separate the spin in the ongoing clean energy debate?

Residents of Bungendore will no doubt be familiar with the wind farm debate; the Capital Wind Farm has been the topic of heated discussion since it was established north of Lake George in 2008. Capital Wind Farm has 67 wind turbines capable of supplying electricity to around 60,000 homes and is almost five times the size of any other wind farm in NSW.

Capital Wind Farm’s opponents maintain that it has seriously impacted the welfare of humans as well as birds and other wildlife in Bungendore.

These concerns spurred a six-month NSW Government audit into noise levels from Capital Wind Farm, in December last year. The results of this inquiry, which also examines two other wind farms: Cullerin Range and Woodlawn, were not announced by early September.

 Bungendore residents are familiar with the debate being near NSW’s largest windfarm

Bungendore resident, Sharon Rasker, claims the wind farm’s noise levels are negligible.

“I’m in the Scouts, and we’ve had a couple of visits up there, and I was quite amazed at how low-pitched the hum was,” she told the Bulletin.

“When I first heard [the wind turbines] were coming, I was shocked as to the change in the landscape. In the beginning, I don’t think we had any idea how many, and we didn’t know what it would look like… but now they’re there, we’re used to them. At the moment, they don’t worry me.”

Rasker also maintains that the Capital Wind Farm has benefited Bungendore by bringing workers into the town. “Every morning, the bakery was full of workers. The impact on the money brought into Bungendore is huge. Financially, for the town, it’s been wonderful.”

Other residents are upset at the lack of community consultation. “I’m not against green energy; what we want is community consultation,” Jane Rotgans told the Bulletin.

Rotgans, who owns a property in a neighbourhood where one wind farm company has its sights on erecting new turbines, says that there was no general consultation with local residents.

“What happens is that companies target individual property owners,” commented Rotgans. “In small rural communities, this has effects on neighbouring properties where households might not want a wind turbine across their backyard.”

“What we want is a say as to where the turbines are being put.”

Interstate findings on wind farms

The Victorian Health Department disputes any claims that wind turbines produce enough infrasound to affect health. According to its study, wind farms do not generate enough infrasound to be audible – at best, it’s the equivalent of background noise.

The Health Department’s released a number of its findings, including:

“Infrasound from wind farms has been found to be well below the hearing threshold of 85 dBG, and therefore inaudible, even as close as 185 m from the turbines.

 

  • The evidence indicates that sound can only affect health at sound levels that are loud enough to be easily audible. This means that if you cannot hear a sound, there is no known way that it can affect health. This is true regardless of the frequency of the sound.
  • Infrasound is produced by the body at higher levels than many external sources, including wind farms. Humans have therefore been exposed to infrasound throughout our evolution.”

These findings are consistent with that of a South Australian Environment Protection Authority report from March 2013 that found that the levels of infrasound of wind farms are “no greater than that experienced in other urban and rural environments”, and well below “the perception threshold”.

The federal Labor Government is committed to a 20 percent renewable energy target – a goal that has been supported by the Coalition. However, National Party member Senator Ron Boswell denounced this target as “ridiculous” on the anti-wind rally earlier this month.

It has long been difficult to see how Australia will meet even this modest target. However, recent plans to build major solar farms for the ACT and in western NSW, the latter capable of supplying electricity to 60,000 households are positive steps.

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