A group of Senators opposed to wind farms have launched another wind inquiry. It's called the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines. If you feel like we've been here before, you're right. This is the 13th government inquiry in six years! This inquiry shows every sign of being just the latest episode in a long running campaign to attack wind energy and drown it in bureaucracy.
It's critical that supporters of wind energy make their voice heard in this process - both in the submission process but also in the hearings that will take place around the country.
Make your voice heard
We've set up a simple form you can use to make your own submission
Submissions close Monday 4th May
- this will be the 14th review of wind farms in six years
- the main areas of inquiry have already been answered.
- Last year's Warburton Review found that wind energy is dropping wholesale power prices and keeping power prices down.
- A Senate Inquiry into the consistently proven health effects of coal-fired power is long overdue.
- Other issues of inquiry, like whether wind turbines abate more greenhouse gases than they create during construction, are myths that have no place in a serious Senate Inquiry.
- A more positive approach for the Inquiry would be to investigate how new wind developments can deliver consistent and transparent community engagement and fair financial arrangements for communities.
You can get further information about the Inquiry, including the Terms of Reference here.
Inquiry Terms of Reference
- The application of regulatory governance and economic impact of wind turbines, with particular reference to:
- the effect on household power prices, particularly households which receive no benefit from rooftop solar panels, and the merits of consumer subsidies for operators;
- how effective the Clean Energy Regulator is in performing its legislative responsibilities and whether there is a need to broaden those responsibilities;
- the role and capacity of the National Health and Medical Research Council in providing guidance to state and territory authorities;
- the implementation of planning processes in relation to wind farms, including the level of information available to prospective wind farm hosts;
- the adequacy of monitoring and compliance governance of wind farms;
- the application and integrity of national wind farm guidelines;
- the effect that wind towers have on fauna and aerial operations around turbines, including firefighting and crop management;
- the energy and emission input and output equations from whole-of-life operation of wind turbines; and
- any related matter.
Flogging the same dead horse
We're pretty strongly of the opinion that this Inquiry will not in any way progress a better understanding of wind energy development in Australia. The Terms of Reference focus largely on issues that have either been exhaustively investigated by previous inquiries or are simply furphies. As such, the Committee would be an unproductive use of taxpayers’ money whose end result, either intentionally or not, would be to put a further handbrake on the development of renewable energy in Australia. A more productive use of the Senate’s time that would support renewable energy development and regional communities would be to focus on issues around the sharing of economic benefits of wind projects.
Wind farms have been operating in Australia since 1999 providing significant levels of jobs and investment to regional Australia. In many communities, wind farms have been one of the main sources of new economic activity for decades. They have been supported by a federal Renewable Energy Target scheme that has seen the proportion of the nation’s electricity demand supplied by wind power rise to 4% in 2013. Overall, renewable energy supplies upwards of 10% of Australia's electricity.
This change to our national generation system has brought significant change to some regional communities. Like all major land use change, this has caused some local friction. It is also true however that community engagement was well executed by all early developments. The imputation, however, that the planning and compliance system is not operating correctly is not one we share.
Much, much more history - thirteen inquiries in six years
Want to know about wind farms? Well, governments and government agencies have been investigating them over and over again for at least six years. These, of course, are in addition to the Economic impacts, social impacts, health impacts, regulatory processes and any number of ancillary matters. If there were problems, there's a good chance we'd have found them by now.
Here's the list of inquiries we came up with - 13 inquiries in 6 years! Now, just think what else we could have spent this money on....
NHMRC - Statement: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health
- Climate Change Authority - Review of Renewable Energy Target
- Dept of Prime Minister & Cabinet - Warburton Review of Renewable Energy Target
- NHMRC - Review of additional evidence for Information Paper: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health
- NHMRC - Inquiry into Wind Farms and Health
- South Australian EPA - Waterloo Wind Farm environmental noise study
- South Australian EPA - Infrasound levels near wind farms and in other environments
- NHMRC - Systematic review of the human health effects of wind farms
- Climate Change Authority - Review of Renewable Energy Target
- Senate - Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Excessive Noise from Wind Farm) Bill
- SA Government - Select Committee investigation into Wind Farm Developments in South Australia (ongoing)
- Senate - Inquiry on Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind farms
- NHMRC - Public Statement & Evidence Review: Wind Turbines and Health
Different expensive inquiry, same stuff
The proposed Committee is merely the latest in what has become a cumbersome succession of inquiries into aspects of wind farms, including a Senate Inquiry into “The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms”, concluded just 3 years ago in 2011 (see list above)
In particular, the primary area of investigation, “the effect on household power prices” was exhaustively investigated by the Warburton Review, which largely confirmed a range of other studies. These showed that the introduction of significant quantities of wind power with a low short run marginal cost were reducing wholesale prices and largely cancelling the RET component of consumer bills. This would be true for all consumers, regardless of whether they own solar panels or not. It is almost inconceivable that a further inquiry at this time would discover anything not already on the public record.
The issue of “energy and emission input and output equations from whole-of-life operation of wind turbines” (Terms of Reference, item h) is similarly an issue of public record.
The Warburton Renewable Energy Target Review itself was expensive and unnecessary, costing taxpayers $500,000, for the sole purpose of providing cover for the federal government to deliver savage cuts to the target. Another review by the Climate Change Authority, which is the one actually required by legislation, was also completed, recommending the target remain largely unchanged.
All wind farm developments go through a planning process
Rightly, companies who plan, build and operate wind farms are closely scrutinised at all stages of development, through a variety of bodies including local councils and state planning departments. Several of the issues raised in the Committee’s terms of reference are regularly tested in these forums. These include fauna, aerial operations around turbines, firefighting and crop management. Findings are often retested on appeal to state based planning and environment tribunals. Further examination by Senate committee is unlikely to shed further light.
In instances where planning impasses have occurred - the ongoing uncertainty around the compliance status of the Waubra Wind Farm is an example of this - we question that a Senate committee is a useful tool to solve the problem. Delays by the previous Victorian state government in resolving this issue were unacceptable and an opportunity to rectify this may now present itself with the election of a new government. More often, such as when the South Australian EPA reexamined the noise conditions at Waterloo Wind Farm, original compliance was reinforced by later testing.
Regional jobs at risk
As the United States and China lead international momentum to develop renewable energy, there is a clear economic advantage for Australia in making the most of our world-class natural wind resources. We believe this Committee will hinder our capability to do this.
The greatest danger posed by this Inquiry is that it introduces further uncertainty at a time when wind energy investment has all but dried up because of the federal government’s attacks on renewable energy. This directly threatens billions of dollars of future investment in regional Australia and for many of our farmers and local business members, cancellation of wind projects they have been waiting on for many years. Already 85 wind tower manufacturing workers at Keppel Prince have lost their jobs and job cuts have already occurred at a number of Australian wind energy companies.
A more positive approach
There is one issue, however whose investigation could improve how wind farms are built in regional areas. It is AWA’s view that a perceived inequality of economic benefit among residents is at the heart of much of the difficulties around wind farm development. We would like to see improvements in the fairness of distribution of benefits and more consistent and transparent community engagement across wind farm developments. We believe that making new developments fairer for all residents will help local communities benefit more fully from wind farm development.
While this is a potentially difficult area with many complexities, one approach we consider is worthy of discussion is “A practical shared-benefits model for wind farms – The Proximity Rent model”.