In ‘Wind power’ Category

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From engineer to activist: a renewables industry is born

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ATA member Trevor Berrill has been involved in the renewables industry in Australia since it began, as an engineer, academic, trainer and ‘alternative technologist’. He gives a personal take on the slow emergence of an industry.

My own interest in alternative technology sprang from disillusionment with the engineering education I’d received at QUT in the early 1970s. It was a time for challenging the establishment, but engineering seemed all about fostering the status quo. I worked as assistant to the maintenance engineer in a coal-fired power station near Ipswich, and also down Mt Isa Mines. I saw and smelled the pollution, and I wasn’t impressed.

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I entered an essay competition on energy futures run by Engineers Australia. My essay outlined a decentralised power system run from renewable energy. I came second in the competition. The winning essay promoted the status quo, more fossil fuels.

There had to be a cleaner, greener way. With Friends of the Earth, I was involved in activism, campaigning hard against nuclear power. But I thought we shouldn’t just be against something; we had to present an alternative energy future.

Then I was given a copy of Radical Technology, edited by Godfrey Boyle and Peter Harper. Therein lay the foundation of a future I could believe in—renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, organic food production and sharing resources in self-sufficient, ecologically sustainable communities.

Defining alt tech
It was one of those editors, UK scientist Peter Harper, who coined the term alternative technology, to refer to “technologies that are more environmentally friendly than the functionally equivalent technologies dominant in current practice.” Peter went on to be a leading researcher and educator at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, a centre that’s been showcasing sustainability since 1973.

Birth of an alternative technologist—and an industry
I went on to become a technical officer at the University of Queensland in the mid-1970s, and there I worked for leading academics in renewables research, Dr Steve Szokolay, a solar architect, and Neville Jones, a wind energy researcher. We tested solar collectors and built low-speed wind tunnels, an artificial solar sky and controlled environment rooms. In my spare time, I became an ‘alternative technologist’ at home, building solar water heaters, pedal-powered contraptions and small wind generators—perhaps in common with many ATA (ReNew’s publisher) members!
Then I got invited by Adrian Hogg, owner of Alternatives to work part-time designing and installing small PV systems throughout south-east Queensland. Adrian was a founding member of ATRAA, (the Appropriate Technnology Retailer’s Association of Australia) along with Stephen Ingrouille and Tony Stevenson (Going Solar in Melbourne), Brian England (Self-sufficiency Supplies, Kempsey) and Sandy Pulsford (Solaris Technology, Adelaide).

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

Chris's off-grid wind and solar system powers his home and electric vehicle.

Off-grid wind and solar

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It’s a windy place near Canberra, and Chris Kelman is taking good advantage of that! He describes the evolution of his impressive off-grid wind and solar system — and the avid meter-watching that goes with it.

In a quest to demonstrate the possibility of living a fossil-fuel-free life, I have now made a couple of attempts at setting up my house to run on ‘home-grown’ energy.

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My first project, back in 1987, used home-made solar hot water panels, a ‘massive’ 90 watts of PV plus a 1 kW Dunlite wind generator (pictured on the cover of Soft Technology 32–33, October 1989; Soft Technology was the original name of ReNew). At this stage, renewable energy technology was in its infancy and everything was DIY, including building an 18 m tripod tower for the turbine (overcoming a fear of heights was a personal fringe benefit). On this basic system I did manage to run lights, computer, TV and stereo, but there were thin times, of course.

These days, home energy systems are more like Lego — you just plug and play. So with a move back to the bush near Canberra a few years ago, I decided to do it all again, but this time with sufficient capacity to run a standard 230 V AC all-electric house, workshop, water pumps—and an electric vehicle.
The house I purchased had been set up pretty well as a passive-solar home, though it was connected to the grid at the time. It has a north-facing aspect, good insulation and a lot of (double-glazed) windows allowing winter sun to maintain a cosy slate floor. The result is a very stable environment for most of the year.

Energy production—phase 1
In phase one of my new project,in 2012, I installed 3 kW of PV with a Sunny Island off-grid inverter and 40 kWh of VRLA (valve-regulated lead-acid) batteries. Initially, hedging my bets, I configured it as a grid-connected system, with the grid acting as a backup ‘generator’ when required.

After a few months I realised that I rarely needed to use the grid and, as I owned a small antiquated petrol generator from my previous project, I decided it was time to cut the umbilical cord. This turned out to be a rather amusing process. My local energy provider didn’t seem to have an appropriate form for ‘removal of service’ and was bemused about why I would ask them to take the meters away. It was all a bit much for them. Even after the process was completed, I would still occasionally discover lost-looking meter readers around the back of the house!

The weather in this region is well known for its reliable solar insolation, apart from some lean months in mid-winter. Fortunately we are well supplied with wind power as well, as indicated by the Capital wind farm only a few kilometres away.

To confirm the wind resource, I set up a Davis weather station on a 12 m mast at my proposed turbine site and undertook a six-month wind survey. The results from this were compared with historical records from the area and a good correlation was found. This was enough evidence to convince me that wind power backup, particularly to cover the lean winter months, was the best option for my system.

Read the full article about Chris’s impressive off-grid setup in ReNew 134.

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Communities and wind power

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Jarra Hicks shares experiences of community-owned wind power in Europe and considers the implications for wind power in Australia.

We are currently facing a dilemma in Australia. Wind power often gets a hard rap in the press and is met with suspicion, if not concern, by communities. Yet it is currently the most deployable and cost-effective form of renewable energy, especially at larger scales.

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Although a diversity of renewable energy technologies operating at a variety of scales will likely be essential to transforming Australia’s electricity supply to largely, or wholly, renewable sources, there is no doubt that wind power will play an important role in the next decade and beyond. Wind power is projected to be the major contributing technology for achieving Australia’s 20% by 2020 renewable energy target. But will this be possible in the current socio-political context? How can we ensure wind power is delivered in a way that builds social acceptance and contributes positively to communities?

A recent trip to Denmark and Germany provided a comparison point.

In Denmark, wind development comes in all shapes and sizes and, more often than not, local people are involved in owning and benefitting from the presence of wind turbines in the landscape. Germany is much the same, with more than 50% of its installed wind capacity owned directly by the citizens (Gipe, 2012). Sometimes, wind power supplies just one home or farm; other times a group of homes, a town or a region become net electricity exporters, as happens with the larger wind farms common in Australia.

In Australia, the wind industry has been dominated by one development model: large farms, comprising 30 to 120 1.5+ MW turbines, owned by corporate developers. Although this model has meant that Australia can now boast at least a small wind industry, supplying 1.5% of national electricity demand (and 24% in SA in 2011–12), it has had some down sides.

For whatever reason (one can hypothesise about self-interested lobby groups, inequitable distribution of financial benefits or inadequate community engagement), wind power has emerged as a contentious socio-political issue, culminating in the introduction of highly restrictive wind development guidelines in Victoria in late 2011. These laws subject wind power to a development approval regime that is stricter than for any other form of development in Australia and is the strictest of any wind-related regulation in the world.

Rather than focusing on how this came to be the state of play, this article focuses on the factors that build community support; the things that can lay the foundations for a vibrant wind industry.

Read the full article in ReNew 123

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Wind power works: Doing small wind right

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On a recent trip through rural Australian countryside I saw quite a few small wind electric systems on the properties of rural homes and farms. The sight of wind systems dotting the landscape is incredibly heartening. These small wind systems represent energy independence, a hedge against increasing energy prices, decreased carbon emissions and, importantly, support for the local economy.

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Seeing small wind systems in the countryside is also heartening because wind systems produce negligible, if any, energy in urban areas. I see five of these urban turbines in Sydney on my bike ride into work and it still makes me cringe to think about these poor investment decisions (and inherently bad marketing for renewable energy).

However, on my drive through rural Australia I also saw many poorly sited wind electric systems. The owners of poorly sited systems have the best of intentions, but unfortunately these good intentions may not come to fruition when the installer does not locate or design the system appropriately. It was the drive through the countryside that prompted me to revisit some of the small wind siting truths in order to provide some guidance for those interested in installing a small wind energy system.

Why is siting important?
Small wind energy has a significant role to play in helping countries meet their goals for distributed energy and carbon reduction. According to the World Wind Energy Association’s 2012 Small Wind Report, the market for small wind turbines has seen dynamic growth this year and the total capacity worldwide has reached 440 MW: about the same as the combined capacity of all Victoria’s wind farms at the start of 2012.

However, it is no use installing wind electric systems if they are not sited correctly. A wind system, like a solar PV system, needs access to the resource.

Truth #1: Installing a wind system on a tower that is too short is akin to installing a solar electric panel in your basement. Both would be interesting to observe up close, but totally useless in terms of energy production.

The wind turbine needs to be at a height where the wind blows at a sufficient speed for energy production. Wind turbines are rated with a ‘cut-in’ wind speed, but this is often much lower than what’s needed to provide useful amounts of energy. While the blades of a wind turbine might appear to spin rapidly, you need an average wind speed of at least 5 m/s to generate enough energy to make a wind system worthwhile. More useful amounts of energy will be generated at average wind speeds above about 6 m/s, although this occurs much less frequently.

If you do not have access to average wind speeds of 5 m/s or greater at your site—even with a tower height of 40 metres—install solar PV instead.

Read the full article in ReNew 122.

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An inverter buyers guide

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Whether you live off grid or have a grid-interactive generation system, the right inverter can make all the difference. We check out what’s available, where to get them and which one is right for you.

One of the most important components in a 240 volt renewable energy system is the inverter. In stand-alone systems, this is the device that converts the DC electricity from the battery bank into 240 volt AC mains power* to run standard appliances. In grid-interactive systems, this device converts the energy from solar panels into mains power and feeds it into the house’s electrical wiring.

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It is important to have a good inverter—if your home relies solely on 240 volt power from a stand-alone inverter and the inverter fails, you will have no power, even though it is still being generated and stored.

Inverters are divided into two main types depending on the type of power they provide—modified squarewave and sinewave.

Modified squarewave inverters (sometimes referred to as modified sinewave to make them sound better!) are the cheaper of the two, but some appliances (such as VCRs, TVs and computers) may not run as efficiently using this type of power, and some may not run at all.

Sinewave inverters, on the other hand, provide the same type of power as the mains grid. Indeed, the power from a good quality sinewave inverter will usually be of higher quality and have better voltage stability than power from the grid.

Modified squarewave inverters are becoming rare in renewable energy systems as the difference in price between the two types steadily reduces, so in this guide we only look at sinewave inverters.

Independent or grid-interactive?

Sinewave inverters themselves can be divided into three broad groups—grid-interactive inverters, stand-alone units, and inverter-chargers. There is also a fourth type—sometimes called a hybrid inverter—that combines both grid-interactivity with the ability to take energy from and put charge into a battery bank.

Grid-interactive inverters are connected to both the power source (usually a solar array but sometimes a wind or hydro turbine) and the mains power grid. Power generated by the energy source is converted to AC mains power of the correct voltage and frequency, and fed directly into the grid. This supplements the power drawn from the grid by the home’s appliances. At times there will be more energy generated than being used and the excess is fed into the mains grid. At these times the power meter may actually run backwards (this will depend on the agreement with your power company and the types of meters they use). In effect, the system is using the mains grid as a battery bank.

Read the full article in ReNew 122

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A regulator buyers guide

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Using the right regulator in an independent power system is very important if you want your batteries to live a long and healthy life. We take a look at the types available, what they cost and where to get them.

While most solar photovoltaic energy systems are grid-interactive, many people live away from the mains grid and need to generate their own electricity. Also, as energy companies shift more of their charges to fixed charges (such as the supply charge), thus making energy efficiency measures less cost-effective, more and more grid-connected homeowners are likely to disconnect from the grid and go it alone with energy generation.

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All independent systems require a suitably large battery bank and other equipment. One of the most important, but often overlooked, components is the charge regulator, also called a charge controller.

The choice of regulator is an important one as the regulator can have a significant effect on the correct operation of your system and the lifespan of your batteries. In order to select the right regulator, you need to understand a bit about them and the choices that are available.
A charge regulator controls the amount of energy flowing from your solar panels, wind turbine or micro-hydro system into the batteries, in order to prevent the battery bank from being overcharged.

Regulation methods

There are several ways in which energy flow to the batteries is controlled, including high-frequency series switching, open-circuit series switching, shunt power dissipation and the more recent DC to DC conversion employed by maximum power point tracking (MPPT) regulators. The method used varies between manufacturers and often depends on the energy source the regulator is designed for.

Read the full article in ReNew 121

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Making my home free from the grid

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Martin Chape has made an independent power supply for his lights and home office. Next it will be the whole home as he tries to escape his electricity retailer.

As a semi-retired engineer I have always dabbled in technical projects and probably always will. This latest project came about when my electricity retailer Synergy cut the rate paid per kilowatt-hour of electricity sent to the grid to 7c per kWh, to coincide with the introduction of the West Australian government’s feed-in tariff in 2010.

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The thought that, after my solar feed-in tariff ended in ten years, my system would become merely a cheap generator supplying all the local air conditioners at a profit to my power company annoyed me. Especially as I would have to fund any maintenance to the solar PV system from my pension.

So I decided not to invest further in additional grid-connect panels but rather, to put my dollars into making my home office totally independent of the grid. I built an off-grid solar power system with 12 volt battery storage, supplying a 240 volt inverter at the lowest cost possible.

Online shopping for parts
I sourced a pair of new 6 volt deep cycle lead-acid batteries from a local retailer. The brand was Interstate Batteries model GC2-HD-UTL, with a capacity of 216 amp-hours each. I purchased a 200 watt, 12 volt monocrystalline solar panel for $500 from eBay store LHP Power, which came with a 25-year warranty, and found a low cost 10 amp solar controller from a Chinese eBay supplier.

The solar controller has three sets of connectors, one for the PV panel, one for the load, and the third for the battery bank. The solar controller prevents overcharging the batteries, unwanted discharge of the batteries through the PV system at night, and disconnects the load to prevent battery damage if it becomes run down.

After purchasing a couple of low cost 800 watt 12-240 volt inverters from another Chinese eBay store I was ready to roll with my first system.

Read the full article in ReNew 119.
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Wind report clean bill of health, with more research

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Wind engineer Alicia Webb was a keen participant at the recent Wind Farm Senate Hearings. She takes a look at the findings in the final report.

Read Alicia’s full article on the Senate Hearings here.

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The Senate Committee’s final report into the Social and Economic Impacts of Wind Farms was released last week, after two extensions due to the large volume of material submitted. The report states seven recommendations, which cover noise, health and complaints processes.

On the topic of noise, the report recommends that National Acoustics Laboratories conduct studies into the noise and infrasound impacts of wind farms, and noise standards for planning should include calculations of low frequency noise and vibrations indoors at impacted dwellings.

Regarding complaints processes, they suggest that responsible authorities should ensure that complaints are dealt with expeditiously and processes should involve an independent arbitrator.

Regarding health, the report recommends that the National Health and Medical Research Council should continue to review the research into wind farm health effects. They say the Commonwealth Government should undertake studies into the effects of wind farms on human health, and the National Wind Farm Guidelines should be redrafted to include any adverse health impacts found. They also recommend that further consideration be given to the development of policy on separation criteria between residences and wind farms.

The wind industry and environment organisations have generally received the report positively. Further studies are encouraged as it is anticipated that they will arrive at the same conclusions as the international studies; that is that wind farms do not affect human health.

Clean Energy Council Policy Director Russell Marsh said the report raised some issues to consider, but it was critical the industry got on with the job of building clean energy in Australia. “The Senate inquiry process was a way for the silent majority of wind farm supporters to have their voices heard,” he said.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Cam Walker pointed out the many positive aspects of the report: “The committee should be commended for their careful and balanced approach to this issue. They have considered the complaints put forward by a small number of people living near wind farms, but balanced this against the weight of scientific evidence that wind farms have no proven adverse health impacts on people living nearby.”

The Herald Sun even ran an article Wind farms’ noise found to be safe which stated “A senate committee has been unable to establish a direct link between ill health and the noise generated by wind farms.”

The setback issue is of particular interest in Victoria where Planning Minister Matthew Guy has stated an intention to give residents within 2kms of any wind farm development a right to veto. The Senate committee comment on page 20 of the report that “A difficulty with a prescribed setback distance is that, in term of noise and shadow flicker, the distance may either be too great or too little. If the setback is too great then this could limit the industry and possibly affect the amount of renewable power generation in Australia. If the distance were too little, residents affected adversely would not have any redress’.

“We’re pleased that the committee did not support a mandatory setback distance around wind farms, calling them arbitrary and saying it’s preferable to decide setback distances using scientific measurements of sound effects,” says Cam Walker. The Victorian Government should listen to this advice, and drop its proposed mandatory 2km exclusion zone around wind farm developments.”

My thoughts
While there is widespread international and Australian scientific evidence that wind turbines do not directly affect human health, there is no denying that there are a small number of health problems in rural Australia.

As I understand the issues, it appears that a lack of understanding of the nature of noise, vibrations and health is creating fear among some members of the community. It also appears that there are problems that need to be addressed in the way that community consultation is undertaken. It’s my hope that the outcomes of this inquiry will result in reassuring communities of their safety while also addressing the development processes that have arguably contributed to distress among a few community members.

Alicia Webb works in the wind industry however she attended the Senate Panel Hearings independently and these opinions are her own.

Read Alicia’s full article about the Senate Hearings

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The wind farm inquiry

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The final report into the Wind Farm Senate Inquiry has just been released and wind engineer Alicia Webb was a keen participant at the hearings.  She shares her experience with ReNew and takes a look at the findings.

One afternoon in March, I sat shaking at a microphone as I told Senator Fielding why I think that wind farms can be progressive, joyous and inclusive for a community. I can’t remember being so nervous in the last few years and I’m not normally a shy public speaker. In that room in Ballarat was a Senate Panel Hearing for the recent inquiry into wind farms, and it was attended by a lot of very emotional people telling the committee that wind farms are making them sick.

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The inquiry

The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms Senate Inquiry was launched last year by departing Family First Senator Steve Fielding, in response to claims people were suffering adverse health effects from living too close to wind farms.

“There is an obvious cluster of health issues ranging from sleep disturbance, headaches, and problems with concentration and memory in the Waubra area,” he said when seeking community support for the inquiry last year.

“Once we know what we’re dealing with then development can continue under new guidelines…given the mounting physical evidence from those living near wind farms I think it’s only fair for the Parliament to have a look at what is happening.”

The senate inquiry aimed to examine any adverse health effects for people living close to wind farms, concerns over excessive noise and vibrations emitted by wind farms which are close to people’s homes, the impact of rural wind farms on property values, employment opportunities and farm income, and the interface between Commonwealth, state and local planning laws as they pertain to wind farms.

The issues

Although there are four distinct questions listed above, the most divisive and controversial issue surrounding the Australian wind industry today is the health debate. The vast majority of people who live near wind turbines feel fine, but some people who live near wind turbines feel ill. A lot of the controversy has originated near the Waubra Wind Farm in Central Victoria, where a number of local people have formed a group called the Waubra Foundation and have appointed a medical director, Dr Sarah Laurie.

Many scientists in the international community have written about the audible and low-frequency sounds emitted by turbines and how they do not affect people’s health. However, there is no denying that some people are genuinely ill, and so the senators rightly began asking questions.

What is infrasound?

Audible sounds are vibrations carried through air or other media to your ears. Human ears can generally detect vibrations between the frequencies of 20 Hertz (Hz), the equivalent of 20 vibrations per second, and 20,000 Hz. Infrasound is sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz.

Infrasound can be caused naturally by severe weather, surf, earthquakes, volcanoes and waterfalls among other sources. Infrasound can also be generated by machinery such as diesel engines and wind turbines and by large subwoofer loudspeakers.

An independent Australian report was commissioned by Pacific Hydro and written by acoustic consultant Sonus in November 2010. The report concluded that wind turbines do generate infrasound, however, it is well below the levels allowed by established guidelines. These levels were measured both outside and inside at a variety of distances significantly less than separation distances between wind farms and houses. They also noted that infrasound levels measured in both a rural coastal and an urban environment are of the same order as levels measured within 100 metres of a wind turbine.

Submissions

The Senate received over 1017 individually written submissions and 1154 form letters (all of which were positive). Of the individual submissions, 535 were pro-wind power, 468 were anti-wind power and 14 were neutral. Many of them were written by individuals but others were written on behalf of organisations with an interest in either promoting or resisting wind farms. There were even submissions from international anti-wind farm groups such as The Alliance to Protect Prince Edward County (submission 24), a citizens’ advocacy group in Ontario Canada whose stated mission is to “challenge wind energy development” in that province.

One of the most famous international wind farm sceptics is Nina Pierpont (submission 13), an American doctor who self-published the book Wind Turbine Syndrome. Dr Sarah Laurie refers to Pierpont’s work in her submission (390) and says: “There is an urgent need for further independent medical, acoustic and scientific research, looking specifically at the populations affected by the currently constructed and operating wind developments in Australia.”

Mr Noel Dean, a farmer from the Waubra area, writes in his submission (647) that “[o]ur health, emotions, finances, sense of well being and quality of life have suffered enormously because of the operation of the Wind Farm.”

There were also many submissions from supporters of wind energy, including Codrington Wind Farm Tours (597): “Noise is possibly the principal issue discussed in the media, to an extent that it has reached ‘urban myth’ proportions! One consequence however, is that when people actually visit the wind farms and discover the lack of noise, they tend to become cynical of other information from the media and realise that much of the negativity around wind farms may not be accurate,” they wrote.

Dr Peter Seligman, who was a member of the team that developed the Australian Cochlear Implant, also made a submission to the inquiry (353). “It is not doubted that under some conditions wind farms can be heard at a distance. It is unlikely that any vibration can be felt at a distance. As far as infrasound is concerned, the body is naturally exposed to high levels from internally generated sources,” he wrote.

In my own submission (273) I mentioned research by The American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations who established a scientific advisory panel comprising medical doctors, audiologists and acoustic professionals from the US, Canada, Denmark and UK. The panel concluded that ‘wind turbine syndrome’ is not a recognised medical diagnosis but rather reflective of symptoms associated with annoyance. Factors culminating in annoyance include the nocebo effect defined as “an adverse outcome, or worsening of mental or physical health based on fear or belief in adverse affects.”

The Senate Panel Hearings

Having received hundreds of written submissions, the Senate Community Affairs Committee hit the road to meet with people and hear their thoughts first hand. There were four panel hearings held in Canberra, Ballarat, Melbourne and Perth in late March. I was fortunate to attend hearings in both Ballarat and Melbourne, which both had a very different atmosphere. The transcripts of the presentations are available online at the inquiry website.

Before arriving at the hearing I prepared a few dot points for my chance to speak. I started with the standard comment that wind farms are a progressive and clean energy technology that needs community support for Victoria to meet its renewable energy targets. I also touched on my thoughts on the health debate, which are that turbines themselves do not directly cause illness but that unwanted development, combined with inadequate community consultation had created fear and anger that was causing illness.

When I arrived I was genuinely surprised by the amount of emotion in the panel hearing room, and after half an hour of listening to people share their experiences of illness, I completely changed my mind on my own presentation. The people in the room were genuinely distressed.

Rather than speaking about illness from the point of view of a pro-wind city-based observer, I decided to keep my three-minute time slot entirely personal. Instead I spoke specifically about why I work in the wind industry and how I had attended the Hepburn Wind turbine construction picnic only days earlier. I told the senators how I had seen an example of a wind farm being joyous, inclusive and beneficial for the local community—very different from the accounts being heard that day.

The next day in Melbourne the mood was entirely different, and distinctly less emotional. As well as wind farm developers, there were presentations from the Clean Energy Council, Friends of the Earth, the Country Fire Authority and Hepburn Wind.

The health debate continued with further input from Dr Sarah Laurie. “There is absolutely no doubt that these turbines, particularly at some developments, are making nearby residents very sick, and that their symptoms worsen over time. This is resulting in people abandoning their homes and farms, if they can afford to.”

Professor Simon Chapman, (submission 605) from the University of Sydney’s Public Health Department, spoke as a representative of the Climate and Health Alliance. “There is always a relationship between energy supply and health, but these impacts are different depending on the type of energy supply. For example, there are obvious health effects from nuclear, that we are seeing played out in Japan at the moment; we are not going to spend time talking about them today. Coal, which contributes a lot of the current energy supply, makes a definite contribution to death and disease. Then we can look at renewables, like wind, which have the least impact of those three and a very small health impact compared to the others,” he said.

Professor Chapman also criticised Nina Pierpont’s wind turbine syndrome research on the basis that it lacked scientific rigour. He said that Dr Pierpont “has not done any research which has been published in peer-reviewed journals”, and that “she has produced case reports on just 10 families…my understanding is that there are something like 100,000 turbines worldwide. So the first observation I would make is that interviewing 10 families is a sample of such low representativeness…it is incredibly small.”

The Senate’s report

The Senate Committee’s final report into the Social and Economic Impacts of Wind Farms was released last week, after two extensions due to the large volume of material submitted. The report states seven recommendations, which cover noise, health and complaints processes.

On the topic of noise, the report recommends that National Acoustics Laboratories conduct studies into the noise and infrasound impacts of wind farms, and noise standards for planning should include calculations of low frequency noise and vibrations indoors at impacted dwellings.

Regarding complaints processes, they suggest that responsible authorities should ensure that complaints are dealt with expeditiously and processes should involve an independent arbitrator.

Regarding health, the report recommends that the National Health and Medical Research Council should continue to review the research into wind farm health effects. They say the Commonwealth Government should undertake studies into the effects of wind farms on human health, and the National Wind Farm Guidelines should be redrafted to include any adverse health impacts found. They also recommend that further consideration be given to the development of policy on separation criteria between residences and wind farms.

The wind industry and environment organisations have generally received the report positively. Further studies are encouraged as it is anticipated that they will arrive at the same conclusions as the international studies; that is that wind farms do not affect human health.

Clean Energy Council Policy Director Russell Marsh said the report raised some issues to consider, but it was critical the industry got on with the job of building clean energy in Australia. “The Senate inquiry process was a way for the silent majority of wind farm supporters to have their voices heard,” he said.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Cam Walker pointed out the many positive aspects of the report: “The committee should be commended for their careful and balanced approach to this issue. They have considered the complaints put forward by a small number of people living near wind farms, but balanced this against the weight of scientific evidence that wind farms have no proven adverse health impacts on people living nearby.”

The Herald Sun even ran an article Wind farms’ noise found to be safe which stated “A senate committee has been unable to establish a direct link between ill health and the noise generated by wind farms.”

The setback issue is of particular interest in Victoria where Planning Minister Matthew Guy has stated an intention to give residents within 2kms of any wind farm development a right to veto. The Senate committee comment on page 20 of the report that “A difficulty with a prescribed setback distance is that, in term of noise and shadow flicker, the distance may either be too great or too little. If the setback is too great then this could limit the industry and possibly affect the amount of renewable power generation in Australia. If the distance were too little, residents affected adversely would not have any redress’.

“We’re pleased that the committee did not support a mandatory setback distance around wind farms, calling them arbitrary and saying it’s preferable to decide setback distances using scientific measurements of sound effects,” says Cam Walker. The Victorian Government should listen to this advice, and drop its proposed mandatory 2km exclusion zone around wind farm developments.”

My thoughts
While there is widespread international and Australian scientific evidence that wind turbines do not directly affect human health, there is no denying that there are a small number of health problems in rural Australia.

As I understand the issues, it appears that a lack of understanding of the nature of noise, vibrations and health is creating fear among some members of the community. It also appears that there are problems that need to be addressed in the way that community consultation is undertaken. It’s my hope that the outcomes of this inquiry will result in reassuring communities of their safety while also addressing the development processes that have arguably contributed to distress among a few community members.

Alicia Webb works in the wind industry however she attended the Senate Panel Hearings independently and these opinions are her own.

More information
The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms website
Pacific Hydro Wind Farm Infrasound Report
Canadian Wind Energy Association Report on Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects

This article was first published in ReNew 116


This Danish wind farm is half-owned by a co-operative

How to start a wind farm

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There’s a lot to consider when planning a community wind farm. Dominic Eales guides us through a few of the vital stages.

More co-operatives around Australia are looking towards community wind farms for a local and sustainable solution for their energy needs. Taking this path certainly has rewarding benefits including reinforcing community unity, although it can be a maze of challenges, both technical and regulatory. In this article we’ll investigate some of these challenges and those who have sailed through them.

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Best wind farm location
When looking for the right site for your community wind farm a number of different criteria need to be taken into account. For starters, you don’t need a perfectly placed X on the map, but rather an area to be investigated. Although the site should be relatively windy, this is not the only thing to look out for so let’s have a look at a few other factors.
Being a community project, the visual impact and proximity to homes in relation to noise and shadow flicker should be seriously considered. It is best for everyone if the location of the wind farm has the minimum negative impact possible for the people of the community, thereby maximising the benefits of your positive, community-building project.
Another important aspect is how much it will cost to connect the wind farm to the grid. Although it may seem that setting up the wind farm on the windiest hill is the best idea, if that hill is far away from the 3-phase, high-voltage power line then the cost of getting your renewable energy to an appropriate grid connection point may significantly increase the costs of the wind farm. Even if there is a power line nearby that has the right voltage and phase, it should also be checked for connection capacity before deciding it is up for the job.
Also, how easy is it to get to the site? Is there a road nearby? Large trucks carrying the wind turbine blades, tower sections and the crane will need to get to the site easily and most often an access road will need to be built. Basically, that very windy hilltop you’ve got in mind may just be too difficult to get to, so it might be better to have a site with lower wind speeds but easier access.

Read the full article in ReNew 113

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Small wind turbine buyers guide

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Wind generators can be the primary power source in a renewable energy system, providing you have a suitable site and select the right machine. Alicia Webb updates our guide from ReNew 89 to help you plan a successful wind power system.

As readers of ReNew magazine, we’re probably all of the opinion that renewable energy is a great way to power a home. And it is.

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However, before rushing off to purchase a shiny new turbine, it’s worth considering a few very important factors such as the available wind resource and planning regulations. Putting a wind turbine in the wrong place can be a very costly mistake. As a basic guide, houses on the coast or on hills in flat, unpopulated rural land have good wind, and houses in urban areas away from the coast have less wind.

Getting a good estimate of wind resource is the most important step in ascertaining how much energy you’ll be able to get out of your turbine. The power available in the wind is proportional to the cube of the wind speed. This means that if the wind speed doubles, the available power increases by a factor of eight. This cubic law also means that for low wind speeds, even if your turbine is turning, the power generated could be next to nothing. The other big issue is turbulence, which is rapid changes in wind speed and direction, caused by obstacles such as buildings, trees or land formations. A turbulent site will not only reduce the power output of a turbine, it will also significantly increase the wear and tear on the machine.

In this buyers guide we look at issues you need to address when purchasing a small wind turbine including; measuring your wind, power requirements, horizontal vs. vertical, turbine height and towers, overspeed control, regulation, voltage, net metering, inverters, maintenance and costs.

Read the full article in ReNew 100.
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Turbines at the ready

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Five years of hard work have gone into the Hepburn Community Wind Farm, all for just two turbines. But communities all over Australia are asking the team behind Hepburn Wind how they did it, writes Alicia Webb.

Australia’s first community wind farm is heading towards completion. Over the past 18 months the Hepburn Community Wind Park Cooperative Limited (Hepburn Wind) has secured over $11.3 million from over 1000 members (most of them local), Sustainability Victoria and the Bendigo Bank. Having recently placed an order for turbines and clearing numerous other technical hurdles, it won’t be long before Hepburn Wind will have some clean, renewable energy flowing from Leonards Hill near Daylesford, possibly later this year.

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Hepburn Wind began five years ago in the towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs north-west of Melbourne. With help from developer Future Energy, the Hepburn Renewable Energy Association presented a permit application to Hepburn Shire in early 2007. Members later offered huge support to the project when its development was contested within the shire. The case received a reported 18 complaints and 320 letters of support.

These days the wind monitoring is all done and dusted. Having gathered three years of data from Leonards Hill, the mast was taken down in January. The cooperative is close to finalising the four major contracts: wind farm construction, grid connection, bank financing and the power purchase agreement. And they’re currently working on a plan with an energy retailer to allow the community and other groups to purchase branded power from the project.

Turbine selection

When it was time to choose a turbine, the technical people behind Hepburn Wind received unsolicited emails from start-up turbine manufacturers wanting to try out their product on a small demonstration installation. Following the global financial crisis in late 2008, it was even suggested that the project could go ahead using second-hand turbines. The technical team knew, however, that as they were building the first community wind project in Australia, the stakes were high and success was critical. It was decided that they could only go with highly regarded, internationally proven brands.

The Hepburn Wind project had a few extra criteria when searching for the right turbine, driven by the local community. Firstly, the turbines had to be very quiet, as the nearest houses are only just over 500 metres from the proposed turbine locations. Secondly, the turbines had a height limitation of 110 metres. If they were any taller the Civil Aviation Safety Authority can require blinking lights to be on at night, which the community didn’t want.

Pinning down a turbine manufacturer was challenging for Hepburn Wind due to the somewhat petite size of the order. Manufacturers more accustomed to receiving orders for 50 to 100 turbines at a time could conceivably push this smaller order to the bottom of their priority lists.

Fortunately, a German company called REpower Systems AG, came through with the goods. REpower already has a significant stake in Australian wind farms, as they are supplying turbines to the large Portland Wind Energy Project in south-west Victoria and six REpower turbines have been spinning since 2006 at Wonthaggi in eastern Victoria. Their machines are well respected internationally and known to be one of the quietest.

The MM82 proved to be the ideal machine for the site. It has a blade diameter of 82 metres and when operating at rated wind speed will generate 2050kW. This means that the two turbines will have a rated capacity of 4.1MW and over time will generate enough power for the twin towns of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs. Having received the order, REpower is currently busy organising contractors to do the civil and electrical works at the site. The final contracts are due to be signed as this article goes to print.

Grid connection

Grid connection for the wind farm has been a major technical hurdle. Powercor, the grid operator in the region, has never connected a wind farm of this size to the distribution network before and so a range of studies has been undertaken in order to ensure that the connection is smooth and doesn’t degrade the quality of the power in the area. Since there will be powerline upgrades in the area at the project’s expense, the Daylesford/Hepburn region is likely to have more reliable power after the wind farm is installed.

Due to the fact that Hepburn Wind is a community project, $15,000 per turbine per year will be put into the Daylesford/Hepburn area so that even the locals who are not investors will benefit from the proceeds of the energy sales. When construction is complete, it will be the closest wind farm to Melbourne, hopefully prompting a steady stream of visitors to the area.

In Europe, community-owned wind projects are commonplace. In Denmark, 5500 turbines are owned by over 200,000 community investors. And now that the first Australian one is close to being built, communities all over the country are asking Hepburn Wind how they did it. Having to take so many steps for the first time and the associated learning curve has meant that work has at times been hard and progress slow. But Hepburn Wind hopes that all the lessons learned will translate into a blueprint for others.

Hepburn Wind is still open for investment. Go to www.hepburnwind.com.au for more information. ReNew will keep readers posted this year on the progress of the Hepburn Community Wind Farm.