Inquiry lights up windfarm debate

ACOUSTIC experts told a Senate inquiry in Canberra this week that there is no evidence to show that people are physically affected by low-frequency sound like that emitted by wind turbines, the so-called wind farm syndrome.
Inquiry lights up windfarm debate Inquiry lights up windfarm debate Inquiry lights up windfarm debate Inquiry lights up windfarm debate Inquiry lights up windfarm debate

Haydn Black


But the independent advice from the Association of Australian Acoustic Consultants has no sway with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The man who once described himself as coal's best friend, says windfarms are "visually awful" and have "potential health impacts".

Abbott told Sydney-based radio shock jock and prime ministerial confidant Alan Jones yesterday that the recent deal on the Renewable Energy Target was designed to reduce their numbers as much as the current Senate would allow.

"I do take your point about the potential health impact of these things … when I've been up close to these wind farms not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise," Abbott told Jones and his listeners.

"What we are managing to do through this admittedly imperfect deal with the Senate is to reduce the growth rate of this particular sector as much as the current Senate would allow us to do."

With the deal on the reduced RET still be finalised, Labor has accused Abbott of being anti-clean energy, and reigniting ongoing uncertainty for investors still looking for a level playing field after years of uncertainty around the RET.

"What will the renewable energy investors in wind power now think, knowing Australia is run by a bloke who says he doesn't like windmills?" opposition leader Bill Shorten said.

Not only did the AAAC tell the Senate inquiry into wind turbines on Wednesday that multiple studies had found no perceivable physical reaction to so-called infrasound from windfarms, but the National Health and Medical Research Council also concluded that "there is currently no consistent evidence that windfarms cause adverse health effects in humans" back in February.

Steven Cooper of The Acoustic Group, however, released a study earlier this year commissioned by energy company Pacific Hydro near its Cape Bridgewater wind farm in southwest Victoria, showing that people living in three houses near wind farms faced a greater risk of suffering health complaints caused by the low-frequency generated by turbines.

In his report, Cooper said the residents' observations suggested that the major source of complaint from the operation of the turbines "would appear to be related to sensation rather than noise or vibration".

However the Clean Energy Council dismissed the findings, with psycho-acoustician Dr Bob Thorne, saying the determination of the concept of ‘sensation' as distinct from 'noise' due to infrasound, low-frequency sound, audible sound or vibration was "groundbreaking and unique".

Treasurer Joe Hockey called wind farms "utterly offensive" and "a blight on the landscape" in 2014.

Polls show people would rather see windfarms on the horizon than coal mines, and there are now 24 reviews by credible bodies, such as the Australian Medical Association, that show wind energy is clean and safe.

Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, however, claims "Big Wind" is trying to bury the issue, in the same way big tobacco companies for decades denied a link between smoking and cancer.

"This is not just a problem with wind turbines. Infrasound from any source has the potential to make people sick, including people living close to huge ventilator fans in coal mines or near gas and coal-fired power stations," he said.

"Whatever emerges from the inquiry, it's clear government and industry indifference towards people suffering because of their proximity to wind turbines needs to end."

The AAAC admits more study does need to be conducted into the cumulative effect of the impacts of infrasound over the long-term, but does not expect the outcomes to change.

The inquiry is being chaired by independent senator John Madigan.