Australian Wind Alliance

CONSERVATIVE FORCES AT WORK: The Opposition to Wind power in Australia

There is now strong opposition to new and existing wind farms from key sections of the media, politics, right-wing think tanks and the fossil fuel industry. Together they have helped to engender fear in the wider community, with the result that new proposals for wind farms rarely escape intense opposition from both locals and outsiders. At first, the issues were the threats of degradation of the landscape or what some call `visual intrusion’ and declining property values. Then, following the publication of the book Wind Turbine Syndrome in the USA in 2009, the question of possible health effects became the main driver of an opposition which has become increasingly angry and uncompromising.

In this timely report, writer and filmmaker, Neil Barrett, takes a close look at the opposition to wind farms in Australia. Powerful organisations like Newscorp and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), aided by an anonymous website and the mischievously-named Waubra Foundation, are trying hard to limit, or even destroy, the wind industry. Interestingly, these organisation save all their criticism for this rather benign industry whilst letting the highly damaging fossil fuel industry off scot-free. Though difficult to prove, it is likely that the fossil fuel industry and those who are funded by it (such as the IPA) are playing a significant role in the whole campaign. After all, it is now well-known that renewables could provide all our energy needs at reasonable cost and that this is a huge threat to the large coal, oil and gas companies and, getting more down-to-earth and personal, to our mining billionaires. 

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30th January 2014.

 

CONSERVATIVE FORCES AT WORK

The Opposition to Wind power in Australia

                         

Neil Barrett

 

About the author

Neil Barrett has worked as an economist with the former State Electricity Commission of Victoria and Monash University, as State Coordinator of Friends of the Earth and as owner and CEO of Video Education Australasia. In 1984, VEA released Heating up the Earth which was possibly the world’s first audio visual on climate change. Recently Neil has written about wind power in Germany and Denmark and, in 2013, released a series of 11 videos, The Way the Wind Blows, about the experiences and attitudes of turbine hosts and neighbours at Waubra, the site of one of the largest and most controversial wind farms in Australia.

The author wishes to thank Heather Barrett, Simon Holmes a Court, Cornelia Bainesc, Andrew Bray, Mike Barnard, Jenny Barrett and David Clarke for commenting on early drafts of this paper. The  responsibility for remaining faults lies with the author.

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In September 2013 Australians elected a conservative Coalition[i] government. The governing parties contain many climate change skeptics, including the new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who is famously on record as saying that 'climate change is crap’[ii]. Although he now claims to accept that humans are playing a part in causing climate change, within days of becoming PM he moved to dismantle some key achievements of the previous government:  the carbon price and the Emissions Trading Scheme which was to come into operation in 2015; the Climate Change Authority, which was set up to give independent advice on Australia’s emission reduction targets; and the ground-breaking green bank, the $10B Clean Energy Finance Corporation. There will also be yet another major inquiry into wind power and health and a review of the Renewable Energy Target, both in 2014.

Two days before the election, the Coalition released a policy paper which made its attitude towards wind farms very clear. It included the following:

Some members of the public have serious concerns over the potential impacts of wind farms on the health of people living in their vicinity…The lack of reliable and demonstrably independent evidence on the subject of wind farms both adds to those concerns and allows vested interests on either side of the debate to promulgate questionable information to support their respective cases.[iii]

So these are very challenging times for the many Australians who wish to see strong action on climate change in this country. And we do have good reason to take action: despite having one of the best wind and solar resources in the world, we have the world’s highest per capita emissions of carbon dioxide. 

Before I explain the nature and methods of the opposition to wind farms in Australia, some background will be helpful.

The Halcyon Days to 2010

Our first multi-megawatt wind farm, Ten Mile Lagoon, was built in 1993 in Western Australia.  It only consisted of 9 x 225Kw turbines, but it was a start.  Things then moved slowly for the next seven or so years when only two more wind farms were completed, bringing the total to a little short of 20MW.[iv]                  

Around 2000, increasing worldwide interest in climate change and renewables reached Australia, placing pressure on the then conservative government to legislate in 2001 to establish a  Mandatory Renewable Energy Target  (MRET). This required  energy utilities to purchase Renewable Energy Certificates and to annually surrender a quantity of them in proportion to their total electricity sales. The scheme was expanded five-fold by a Labor government in 2009 when, following pressure from the Greens party, an annual renewables target growing to 45,000 Gwh -or 20% of electricity demand - by 2020, was set. To date this target has had bi-partisan support in the parliament.

As can be seen in Figure 1, from 2001 onwards the wind industry grew rapidly, with major peaks in 2005 and 2009. By the end of 2010, there was great optimism in the industry; finally it seemed that Australia’s bountiful wind resources[v] were to be utilized in a serious way.  This optimism however was premature.

Changes in State Politics

The two major most populous states voted in conservative governments in 2010 (Victoria) and 2011 (NSW). The Coalition in Victoria had made a little-publicized election promise to introduce draconian wind farm planning regulations while in NSW the same parties had merely promised to consider doing so. The new controls in Victoria have brought wind farm development to a near standstill; in NSW the threat of similar regulations has shaken industry confidence.

Victoria, with 25% of the nation’s population and energy demand, has an excellent wind regime and good grid access; yet legislation introduced in 2011 has carved out significant windy parts of the state as ‘no-go zones’ for wind development. In addition, the state has granted the power of veto to any resident within two kilometres of proposed turbines. So, whilst some projects which had been approved by the previous government are proceeding tentatively to the construction phase, new wind farm development has almost ground to a halt. In the three years since the new state government was elected, only eight turbines have been approved, compared with almost 1,000 under the previous government. Wind power now faces more restrictive siting conditions in Victoria than open cut coal mining and coal-fired power generation[vi]. It is somewhat ironic that even the areas containing the state’s seven coal-fired power stations are ‘protected’ from wind  developments.

Sadly though, it gets worse. South Australia, the state with around 50% of the wind power capacity (though only 10% of the population), is facing an election in  2014 and the Coalition parties, if successful, are threatening to implement a carbon copy of Victoria’s anti-wind regulations.

…and in federal politics

With the election of a federal Coalition government in September 2013, the short-to-medium term outlook for wind power is rather bleak. The Coalition has decided to hold another inquiry into health concerns and to introduce a requirement for on-line, real-time noise monitoring at all wind farms. This is despite two federal Senate inquiries and a National Health and Medical Research Council report, all of which  concluded that there is no scientific evidence of significant health issues.

The new government has also committed itself to undertake yet another review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), although the last review - which was only completed in late 2012 -  recommended there be fewer reviews in order to provide some stability for the renewables industry. Vocal conservative forces are now calling for a softening or even elimination of the RET and most industry commentators are pessimistic about the likely outcome of the review[vii].

Why has this once promising industry come to a virtual standstill in the two most populous and energy-hungry states and why is it now threatened with hostile government action in the most successful wind power state of all, South Australia?

Put simply, the wind industry is under severe attack from opposition groups whose main arguments are that wind farms cause adverse health effects amongst a significant section of the population and that they don’t make sense financially. The groups tend to be connected by political and financial interests and their modus operandi ranges from the decent and civilized to the very ugly.  Let’s look at them more closely.

 

Opposition Groupings

1. The Greenhouse Mafia and its friends in high places

Although its future is not as assured as it once seemed to be, coal is still by far Australia’s major energy source.  We are the world’s fourth largest producer and, by proportion exported, we’re the largest coal exporter in the world. It fuels around 75% of our electricity production and is the cause of over 40% of our carbon emissions. It has also been a factor in creating large and powerful electricity utilities and billionaires who have a major influence on both our media and our politics.

Not surprisingly, these powerful interests have become a major force in the campaign against renewable energy.  In fact, there is a group of people in coal-related industries who, together with a few conservative politicians, actually call themselves the Greenhouse Mafia. This group was exposed in a 2007 book by Dr Guy Pearse High and Dry: John Howard, Climate Change and the Selling of Australia’s Future, and a subsequent documentary on our flagship, national current affairs program, 4 Corners [viii]. John Howard was Australia’s Prime Minister from 1999 to 2007 and was well known for resisting action on climate change whenever it was politically feasible to do so.

Pearse cited various examples of Greenhouse Mafia influence on the federal  government's response to climate change. One of the best-documented examples involved a group called the Lower Emissions Technology Advisory Group (LETAG) which consisted of government representatives and the leaders of major fossil fuel companies. The leaked minutes of a critical meeting described how both groups were worried that Australia's mandatory renewable energy target (MRET) was ‘work[ing] too well’ and was `market skewed’ towards wind power. [ix]

More recently,  two billionaires with extensive coal interests have joined with this Mafia in rejecting climate change science and discouraging renewables:  Clive Palmer (estimated wealth $1B-$4B) and the world’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart ($22B).  Palmer contested the recent election, with his Palmer United Party winning a seat in the lower house and four seats in the Senate. Rinehart is a major supporter of the Institute of Public Affairs which actively promotes climate denialism. She has also recently purchased a large stake in our only surviving liberal media conglomerate, Fairfax Media.

In recent years, the demand for coal has fallen as electricity demand has been adversely affected by a rise in renewables generation and improvements in the efficiency of electricity use.  The Chinese are also responding to climate change concerns and cutting their coal imports from Australia. So, almost 10 years after the LETAG incident, the Australian fossil fuel industry has even more reason to fight hard to prevent action on climate change and further intrusion on their territory by renewables. But it can’t do it alone. Its allies in the media and elsewhere are providing strong support.

2. The influence of Media

Whilst most of the top 100 companies in Australia appear to have at least an open mind about climate change - and some of the most enlightened realize that action would be better sooner rather than later –there is no doubt about the position of Australia’s key newspaper and TV owner, News Corporation.  Newscorp, which controls at least 60% of our newspapers, including the only national paper, The Australian, as well as playing a major role in pay television, is a fervent opponent of action on climate change generally and wind power in particular.

The Australian’s environment editor is Graham Lloyd. Though Lloyd frequently writes disparaging articles on wind power, one example of his work will suffice to indicate the problem the wind industry faces. Emblazoned across the front page of The Australian on 29th May 2012 was an article headed Growing health concerns pit Queensland against the wind and containing the following sentence : `A growing body of evidence that wind farm noise could have health effects has prompted [the QLD Health Department] to call for caution when approving wind farm developments’. Investigation by an on-line climate journal revealed that Lloyd was referring to a letter written by a junior member of staff in a remote branch office and that this lowly staff member’s opinions were definitely not shared by his employer[x]. 

Of course, Lloyd is not the only Newscorp journalist at fault. In an article headed  Wind farm scam a huge cover up, James Delingpole  quoted an anonymous sheep farmer as saying: [The wind farm business] is bloody well near a pedophile ring. They're f . . king our families and knowingly doing so[xi].  After the Press Council upheld a complaint against the article, an unrepentant Delingpole wrote: I stand by every word of the piece - especially the bit about pedophiles. I would concede that the analogy may be somewhat offensive to the pedophile community[xii].

Newscorp’s highest selling paper, the Sydney Daily Telegraph started its election coverage in early August this year with a headline Kick This Mob Out. This `mob’ just happened to be the party that had introduced a price on carbon and established a $10B fund for renewables.  All this and more were to go when the `mob’ was kicked out.

The owner of Newscorp, Rupert Murdoch, was born in Australia.  Although a US citizen since 1985 , he makes frequent visits to Australia and maintains close contact with his many interests here. In May 2012, Forbes magazine listed him as the 24th most influential person in the world.

One of Murdoch’s main retreats in Australia, Cavan, is in a high wind area about 50 kilometres north west of the capital, Canberra. But it would be a brave company which proposed a wind farm anywhere near. Early in 2012 Murdoch made his position on wind power clear when he tweeted: “English spring countryside as beautiful as ever if and when sun appears. About to be wrecked by uneconomical, ugly, bird-killing windmills. Mad’[xiii].

Other commercial media in Australia have been very willing to listen to the stories of people complaining about wind power.  TV programs such as A Current Affair have been particularly guilty of pretending that anecdotal evidence is akin to real scientific evidence, of failing to talk to representatives of the vast majority of people around wind farms who are unaffected and of greatly exaggerating the audible sound made by turbines so that viewers easily believe there really is a nightmare taking place[xiv].

As on-line commentator Ketan Joshi has written:

The media much prefers an overwrought narrative of anguish, betrayal and wrongdoing. ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ is a blank cheese for residents opposed to a wind farm, and for editors seeking copy that writes itself[xv]. 

In radio, we have right wing `shock-jocks’ to rival America’s worst.  The most celebrated, Alan Jones, is a former rugby coach who, with an audience of almost 20% of the Sydney market, rejects climate science and regards wind power as a `fraud’.

In the area of digital media, there is an anonymously-authored web site, Stop These Things (STT). Established early in 2013, this site has become a magnet for anti-wind activists. Its style is shamelessly rude and aggressive, redolent of the style of the US’ Calvin Luther Martin.  Martin is a retired professor of history, a master of intemperate language and the husband of Nina Pierpoint, the author of the highly influential book Wind Turbine Syndrome. In a January 2009 paper titled How to Fight the Big Wind Onslaught, Martin advised his readers as follows:

Stop expressing your concerns at meetings. Weenie word. Your biggest rhetorical enemy in this fight is this word `concerns’. Drop it! The media … loves to describe you as concerned… Screw concerned and start getting angry and defiant. And stop asking the windies questions and start informing them of the fact they and their goddam monster turbines and substations are not welcome in town… [xvi]     

STT is clearly following Martin’s advice, as this example indicates:

… the easiest way to hound wind weasels out of your territory is to work on the turbine hosts.  Remind them that their choices have consequences: legal, social and moral.

In the main, human beings aren’t so callous as to ignore – without any sense of guilt – the suffering they cause, especially if they are confronted with it every Saturday at footy; at the local shops and pubs; in Church; and whenever they rub up against their victims. Wind weasels, their parasites and goons are another matter – but they never hang around to witness the harm they cause – they just spend their days ridiculing and vilifying their victims – as we’ve said – these are a special class of people[xvii]. 

 

3. The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and Astro-turfing.

The IPA is Australia’s leading free market think tank. It is funded by tobacco companies, fossil fuel miners, energy utilities and, it seems certain, Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart[xviii] and other wealthy individuals.  It is also supported by our new Prime Minister who, when opposition Leader, gave a keynote address at the organisation’s 70th birthday dinner in April 2013.[xix] Murdoch and Rinehart were also in the audience.

The IPA has admitted that its funding sources influence the positions it takes on issues. In 2001, there was an inquiry into the National Access Regime which determines which companies and government departments have access to major infrastructure and under what conditions.   In answer to a question from a panel member, the IPA’s Head of Deregulation, Dr Alan Moran, said that the IPA ‘may take positions which are somewhat different from those of the funders’ but that ‘obviously that doesn’t happen too often, otherwise they’d stop funding us…’[xx] 

The IPA is also not at all coy about supporting climate skeptics.  In a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, its Executive Director, John Roskam, stated that ‘Of all the serious skeptics in Australia, we have helped and supported just about all of them in their work one way or another’.[xxi]

In the early years of this millennium, it was clear to conservative groups such as the IPA that public concern about environmental issues (especially climate change and renewables) was getting out of control. The IPA came up with a solution in early 2005: it would help organise and fund the establishment of the Australian Environment Foundation. The IPA’s Environment Director, Dr Jennifer Morohasy, became the chairwoman whilst John Roskam’s predecessor, Mike Nahan, was a founding director[xxii].

The AEF is what is known as an astro-turfer, an organisation established from above, as distinct from a genuine grass roots environment group. One of the latter, the longest established environment group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, understandably took umbrage at the virtual copying of its name and sued, albeit unsuccessfully, for trade mark infringement[xxiii].

The AEF has in turn established another astro-turf organization, the Australian Climate Science Coalition[xxiv]. The Coalition’s website is a clearing house for the writings of climate change deniers around the world and frequently pours scorn on the IPCC. The AEF also supports local Landscape Guardian groups by providing access to a range of arguments and information against wind farms and, in one case at least, by helping to organize an angry protest at the opening of a community-owned wind farm. One of its board members is Bob Carter, a former professor of earth sciences who is also Science Policy Adviser to the IPA and a paid consultant of the US Heartland Institute. This powerful institute campaigns against tobacco control, government spending and climate change and obtains funding from tobacco and fossil fuel companies[xxv].

Both the IPA and AEF have easy access to the Australian media.  In the year to March 2012, IPA staffers made over 600 TV and radio appearances and had over 200 opinion pieces published in newspapers[xxvi].

Business lobby groups such as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) are also playing an important role in fostering negativity about renewables. The following is an extract from a report on a meeting of energy heavyweights in Canberra soon after the recent federal election:

The Australian renewables industry is under no illusion about the extent of the forces lined up against it following the election of a highly conservative Coalition government in Canberra. The antipathy to renewables in large sections of the Coalition is deep set, as it is among some of the highly influential and ultra-conservative think tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs, and various industry lobby groups. But even battle-weary supporters of solar and wind energy – and those firmly in the middle of the road – were taken aback by an extraordinary tirade against renewable energy delivered in Sydney on Wednesday by Burchell Wilson, a senior economist at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry[xxvii].

Due at least in part to the activities of these organizations, support for climate change action has fallen from 68% of the population in 2006 to 36% in 2012[xxviii].  Although figures are not available, it is likely that support for renewables has fallen as well.

4.  Political Leaders

Between 2007 and 2013, the Australian Labor Party was in power at the federal level and for several of these years, the party was also in power in the major states. During that period considerable advances were made in climate change policy and wind power made great progress. However the electoral shift to the Coalition in the states in 2010 and 2011 and in the federal sphere in 2013 has radically changed the situation. In the last parliament, 37 out of 75 Liberal members of the federal parliament (including the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and several of his senior Shadow Ministers) rejected the science of climate change[xxix]; far fewer would have supported wind power.

In the new parliament the situation is even more troubling.  The influential on-line journal, Crikey, has conducted a survey of sitting Coalition MPs on the issue of wind energy. It found just one unavowedly pro-wind energy MP in the government’s ranks, the Chief Opposition Whip, Warren Entsch[xxx].  Such a rejection of science and common sense, despite the fact that our premier scientific institution, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), has repeatedly warned of the dangers of climate change, is unprecedented in our history. It should be noted too that the new government has even dispensed with the long tradition of having a Ministry of Science.

An indication of how far anti-wind prejudice has permeated the Coalition parties is the decision to appoint an avowed wind opponent, Maurice Newman, as the Chief Business Adviser to the Prime Minister. For years Newman has been railing against climate change action and wind power:

Australia, too, has become hostage to climate change madness… The scientific delusion, the religion behind the climate crusade, is crumbling. Global temperatures have gone nowhere for 17 years…Even before they threatened my property, I was opposed to wind farms. They fail on all counts. They are grossly inefficient, extremely expensive, socially inequitable, a danger to human health, environmentally harmful, divisive for communities, a blot on the landscape, and don’t even achieve the purpose for which they were designed, namely the reliable generation of electricity and the reduction of CO2 emissions. [xxxi]

 

But it’s not only the Coalition parties, which cause concern. In October 2013 Fairfax Media revealed that the new leader of the Australian Labor Party, Bill Shorten, has a close friend in the IPA. This was none other than Executive Director John Roskam whose activities are much reviled by climate change activists and wind power supporters. So close is their relationship that Shorten was Roskam’s best man at his wedding.  Because of this connection, wind supporters will be watching Labor’s performance on wind power over coming years with even more interest than before[xxxii].

One couldn’t conclude a section on our politicians’ views on wind power without making mention of two senators, the right wing Senator John Madigan (the sole representative of the Democratic Labor Party) and the usually more moderate independent Senator Nick Xenophon. One of Madigan’s main activities in the Senate has been to fiercely oppose wind power and he and his staff involve themselves in local meetings and protest rallies to a surprising extent.  Xenophon has also accepted the arguments of anti-wind farm campaigners.  In 2012, the two combined to produce a bill aimed at having wind farms brought to a halt due to their alleged excessive noise. The bill failed to gain the support of any of the major three parties, but not before achieving a great deal of publicity.  In the new parliament, these two senators will be joined by several senators from conservative minor parties (including the PUP and, to the amazement of many Australians, the Motoring Enthusiasts Party) which are likely to join the wind power opposition.

5. Opposition at the Wind Face

a. The claims and arguments

The opposition expressed by our leaders in business and politics, by media and by the IPA and its offshoots has helped to create an undercurrent of doubt and discontent throughout Australia, particularly in areas where wind farms have been proposed. On top of that a range of complaints surface in the media and at local and national inquiries such as the one held by the Australian Senate in 2011. These complaints were, until 2009, much the same all over the world and related to property values, visual impact, noise, resentment of outsiders and to a minor extent health concerns, as well as deeper underlying reasons such as opposition to green political agendas and the feeling in many rural communities that urban people get a better deal than they do[xxxiii].

However, following the publication of Nina Pierpoint’s book, Wind Turbine Syndrome, in 2009, it appears that - with the indispensable aid of Google, email and social media - health concerns quickly went to the top of the list in Australia and North America and to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom[xxxiv].  No longer was there simply a perceived relationship between excessive noise and stress-related illness but people started to believe that infrasound generated by turbines had direct and serious pathological impacts on the body.

Today it is common to hear of claims about potential adverse health effects being made prior to turbines being built. When they start operating, the same people then claim actual effects.  Simon Chapman has made a study of all 51 Australian wind farms operating in 2012. He concluded that this Nocebo Effect is alive and well as (1) roughly half of all large wind farms have had no complaints, suggesting that exogenous factors to the turbines (like a strong opposition group) may explain the presence or absence of complaints. (2) the total number of complaints within five kilometers of turbines was only 120 out of a population of  almost 33,000, thereby suggesting that individual or social factors may be at work rather than health issues which should affect a greater number of people and (3) although 70% of the wind farms began operating prior to 2009, 82% of the complaints were received after that date, suggesting that the raising of the health issue in that year had a decided impact.

Chapman’s conclusions are supported by work carried out at by Dr Fiona Crichton at the University of Auckland[xxxv]. In a peer-reviewed article published in 2013, she reported that  when subjects who had been told that infrasound was very hazardous to health were exposed to sham infrasound, they still reported adverse symptoms. Those subjects who had been told that expert studies showed that infrasound was not harmful at all, reported no ill effects.

Whilst these studies indicate that the Nocebo Effect may be playing a significant role in causing opposition, further study of each wind farm will be necessary before we can tell how significant it is compared with those factors already mentioned.  

b. The groups: Landscape Guardians and the Waubra Foundation

In recent years, most new wind farm proposals have been confronted by both local and national protest groups. Members of newly formed local groups, often led by wealthy landowners concerned about the views from their properties and the possibility that property values may decline, prepare submissions to local and State planning authorities, usually with the help of parent and sister groups and, of course, the internet where one-sided `research’ has never been easier.  Typically, a local Landscape Guardians group will be set up and obtain advice sometimes from its parent, the Australian Landscape Guardians, but more commonly these days from the ALG’s close relative, the Waubra Foundation. 

Not only was 2009 the year of publication of Pierpoint’s book in the USA and other English-speaking countries;  it was also the year the 128-turbine, Waubra wind farm commenced operation.  Not long after, in February 2010, the Waubra Disease Foundation was established.  A few months later, perhaps on the advice of a PR company, it dropped the word `Disease’ from the name. 

The Foundation’s broad aim is to gather and disseminate information on the wind industry’s impact on public health and to provide advice to individuals and communities. Although it is obliged by its constitution to maintain complete independence from government, industry and advocacy groups for or against wind turbines, in practice it is firmly enmeshed in anti-wind and, in the case of its founder and chairman,  Peter Mitchell, pro-fossil fuel networks. Mitchell was the founder of Moonie Oil Ltd and maintains involvement in fossil fuel investments via the company Lowell Resources which until recently shared a postal address with the Foundation.  Furthermore, most of the Foundation’s board members have been associated with at least one Landscape Guardians group and have attempted to fight off wind farm developments near their rural retreats.

The Foundation is now widely seen as the nation’s leading anti-wind organization and its CEO, Sarah Laurie, an unregistered medical doctor, as the opposition’s leading spokesperson. It is strongly represented at most, if not all, inquiries into wind farms and is frequently invited to have a representative at public meetings wherever a new wind farm is proposed.  Pro-wind groups view it as a principal cause of the anxiety, stress and ill-health it claims is a result of wind farms.

Certainly Laurie is prone to making incredible statements which test the credulity of her listeners.

Some people [living near turbines] are finding that they need to get up to go to the toilet a lot more at night, again correlating to specific wind directions. There’s stories of places, and in one house in particular in one location, where it’s a seaside location and there were lots of people staying, just about everybody was up on one particular night every five or ten minutes needing to go to the toilet[xxxvi].

 

She has also told meetings that people’s lips may tremble 10 kilometres away from turbines (“Various people have described symptoms where they have described either chest or lip vibration, the lip vibrations have been described to me as from a distance of 10 kilometers away.”)[xxxvii] and suggested that at a distance of one kilometer, turbines might actually rock a stationary car.[xxxviii]

Not surprisingly, Laurie’s statements have often been resoundingly criticized by experts in the field, such as Adelaide University’s Professor of Medicine, Gary Wittert[xxxix] and one of the world’s leading acousticians, Geoffrey Leventhall.  Leventhall, an expert witness at the Senate inquiry, claimed that Laurie persistently misrepresents his work and that “she is a person who only believes what she wishes to believe and will either reject new information or bend it to support existing beliefs”.[xl]

 

But severe criticism  hasn’t deterred her. In mid 2011, the Waubra Foundation sent what it called an Explicit Cautionary Notice  to relevant government bodies and private companies associated with wind farm development.  After listing the alleged health problems caused by turbines and claiming that 20 Australian families – a wildly exaggerated figure[xli] sometimes raised to 40 - have had to leave their homes as a result, it concluded with this warning which is now being used by anti wind farm groups in Europe and North America:

 

We remind those in positions of responsibility for the engineering, investment and planning decisions about project and turbine siting, that their primary responsibility is to ensure that developments cause no harm to adjacent residents; and, if there is possibility of any such harm, then the project should be re-engineered or cancelled. To ignore existing evidence by continuing the current practice of siting turbines close to homes is to run the dangerous risk of breaching a fundamental duty of care, thus attracting grave liability[xlii].

 

Late in 2013, a large number of Waubra people finally decided they’d had enough. A petition signed by half the town’s population of 500 was organized for presentation to the Foundation at its Melbourne office[xliii]. Optimists saw this as a sign that ordinary Australians might be starting to fight back against the anti-wind movement.

 

Finally, a brief word re financing. Although there is very big money available at the higher levels of the movement, it is very likely that local groups are funded from small donations from within their own circles. Apart from those in the IPA, the AEF, Stop These Things and Waubra Foundation administration, there appear to be no paid full-time workers involved with wind farm opposition groups. In 2010, as noted above, the AEF organized a major demonstration on behalf of a local group at the opening ceremony of a community wind farm[xliv], but that appears to have been a one-off event.

Conclusions

The opposition movement in Australia has been supported and encouraged by the `greenhouse mafia’, the media, conservative politicians, a major conservative think tank and its offshoots, an aggressive, anonymous website, Stop These Things, and wealthy landowners who have set up Landscape Guardian groups and the Waubra Foundation. Significant sections of the movement are climate change denialists and are opposed to government subsidies for renewables.

For reasons not well understood, the political Right in Australia and North America –in contrast to its peers in Europe - has viewed climate change denial and opposition to wind farms as articles of faith. Perhaps it’s because Europeans were early adopters of climate change science; perhaps it’s due to the Europeans’ greater awareness of the need to develop renewables in the absence of large coal and uranium reserves. Whatever the reason, the difference between the English and non-English speaking world is a stark one. 

Despite the strong wind resources in the populated parts of the country, especially the south east and south west, the Australian anti-wind power movement has had considerable success in encouraging Coalition governments to introduce highly restrictive conditions on wind farm development. Development has slowed to a near standstill in the key State of Victoria and is at risk in the most populous state, NSW. Moreover, further development in the most turbine-intensive state, South Australia, may well be curbed following the next state election.

In the short to medium term the fossil fuel interests and their supporters –both witting and unwitting- are fighting the battle of their corporate lives to preserve the privileged position they’ve held for so long. Largely because of economic and environmental considerations which strongly favor renewables and possibly because of the reactions of local people such as those at Waubra, the anti-wind forces will almost certainly lose in the end, but not before they’ve done a lot of damage to Australia’s attempts to cut emissions and to the wind industry in particular.

Footnotes



[i]  The Coalition comprises the Liberal Party and the National Party. The Liberal Party is not a `liberal’ party in the European or North American meaning of the word. It is essentially conservative on moral and social issues and backed strongly by large and small business organisations. The National Party is the junior partner; all of its parliamentary members are from rural areas.

[ii]  The Australian 12th December 2009

[iii] RenewEconomy, on-line newsletter,  5th September 2013

[iv] Table 1. Growth of Wind Power Capacity in Australia

Year

Capacity added (MW)

Cumulative capacity (MW)

1993

2

2

1994

0

2

1995

0

2

1996

0

2

1997

1

3

1998

5

8

1999

0

8

2000

12

20

2001

41

61

2002

31

92

2003

91

183

2004

0

183

2005

300

483

2006

170

653

2007

207

860

2008

356

1216

2009

662

1877

2010

111

1988

2011

486

2475

2012

101

2575

2013

422

2997

Source: ramblingsdc.net/Australia/WindPower            

[v] http://ramblingsdc.net/Australia/WindPPotential.html

[vi] A word on our regulatory framework for wind farms.  A very small wind farm only needs to obtain approval from the local government council.  However beyond a certain size (in Victoria 30MW) the wind farm must be approved by the state planning authority. Either way, it is now almost certain that any wind farm will be appealed against and end up in a planning court. In Victoria, that court is the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The Tribunal’s members are appointed by the government of the day. Its decisions therefore to some extent reflect government policy. A recent decision of VCAT (now operating under a conservative government) illustrates the problem. Early in 2013, the Waubra Foundation made a detailed submission to the VCAT inquiry into the Cherry Tree Hill project 100k north-west of Melbourne. It was time and money well spent as the Inquiry decided that because of the claims made about health effects, a decision would be postponed until later in 2013 when the National Health and Medical Research Council could be expected to have concluded its latest inquiry into wind farms and health. 

[viii]  4 Corners, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 13th February 2006. 

[ix]  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_Mafia

[x]  Climate Spectator, on-line newsletter, 29th May, 2012

[xi] The Australian 3rd May, 2012

[xii]Where free speech is as dead as a dodo, The Australian, 21st December 2012

[xiii]  http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/apr/21/rupert-murdoch-uk-government-twitter

[xiv] http://waubrafoundation.org.au/resources/channel-9-current-affair/

[xv] Wind farms and the Australian media, Journalisnt.net,   12th December 2012

[xvi]http://www.aweo.org/Martin.html

[xvii]Stop These Things, 17th September 2013,  https://www.google.com.au/#q=stop+these+things

[xviii]The Shadowy World of IPA Finances, http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3849006.html

[xix] http://yathink.com.au/article-display/is-the-ipa-dinner-address-finally-a-glimpse-of-the-true-tony-abbott,63

[xx] http://www.independentaustralia.net/2011/business/the-institute-of-public-smokescreens/Proceedings of National Access Regime Inquiry, 28th May 2001,  P45

[xxi] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Institute_of_Public_Affairs

[xxii] http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Australian_Environment_Foundation

[xxiii] http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2005/06/13/astroturf3/

[xxv] http://heartland.org/robert-m-carter

[xxvii]  http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/the-dark-forces-lined-up-against-renewables-in-australia-20629

[xxviii]http://lowyinstitute.org/publications/climate-views-have-moved     http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-06-27/fewer-australians-back-climate-action-poll/2772402

[xxix]  http://ramblingsdc.net/Australia/Liberal.html#Who_accepts_the_facts

[xxxii] the Rise and Rise of a Reasonable Man,   http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/rise-and-rise-of-a-reasonable-man-20130912-2tno0.html

[xxxiii] Acceptance of Rural Wind Farms in Australia - A Snapshot. CSIRO,  2012

[xxxiv]  In contrast, in the non-English speaking countries, notably Denmark and Germany, wind opponents failed to take up the issue. For example, an article in Der Spiegel, the top selling Germany weekly, ‘Green Headache – Resistance Mounts to Germany’s Ambitious Renewable Energy Plans- discussed several reasons why Germans were opposing wind turbines. Health was not even mentioned.  Still today, German and Danish websites and mainstream media pay little attention to the health issue, despite the fact that Nina Pierpoint’s book was translated into German soon after publication. 

[xxxv]  http://docs.wind-watch.org/Crichton-Can-Expectations-Produce-Symptoms-From-Infrasound.pdf)

[xxxvi] http://tobacco.health.usyd.edu.au/assets/pdfs/publications/SarahLaurieSpeechMortlake2012.pdf

[xxxviii] http://docs.wind-watch.org/Laurie-Collector.pdf

[xxxix] http://reneweconomy.com.au/2012/bad-day-in-court-for-anti-wind-campaigner-sarah-laurie

[xl]Response to Adverse Comment https://www.google.com.au/#q=leventhall+laurie+senate

[xli]  http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/where-are-australias-wind-farm-refugees-94680

[xlii]http://waubrafoundation.org.au/about/explicit-cautionary-notice/ 29th June 2011

[xliii] http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/1889423/waubra-wind-farm-locals-petition-to-save-towns-name/

[xliv] http://hepburnwind.com.au/downloads/20101012%20HW%20Enews.pdf

 


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