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.

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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