We now have a Renewable Energy Target locked in - at 33,000 rather than 41,000GwH - but it seems there'll be no let up to the government's war on wind. Two major hurdles are still in our way:
a) The Clean Energy Finance Corporation looks set to have its mandate nobbled again. While not all wind farm projects would have required the financing of this renewables loans body, in 2013 it did invest in two major projects in Portland, Victoria, and Taralga, NSW - and invested with the expectation it would receive good returns for its loan.
But this is even a step too far for some of the government's own members, with Geelong-based MP, Sarah Henderson, calling for the changes to be reversed. Of course, reversing the government policy of opposing the CEFC would be far better, but it's a start.
b) The deal to cut the target from 41,000 to 33,000 GwH was also made with crossbench Senators on the condition, among other things, that wind energy has new restrictions imposed on it:
1. New Wind Farm Commissioner
A National Wind Farm Commissioner will be appointed to “resolve complaints from concerned community residents about the operations of wind turbine facilities. The Commissioner will be able to refer complaints to relevant state authorities and help ensure that complaints are addressed.”
The Commissioner will also provide information through a website about wind farm planning and environmental approvals, data on wind farm operations, wind speed, power output, sound monitoring, operating times as well as Renewable Energy Certificates received for each farm.
We told the Ballarat Courier while it’s important complaints are investigated and resolved, we’d prefer to see the roles of existing state ombudsmen enhanced rather than a whole new bureaucracy created.
2. New Committee
An “adequately resourced ...independent scientific committee” of at least three people will also be established by September 1 to “provide research and advice to the Minister for the Environment on the impact on the environment and human health of sound (including low frequency and infrasound from wind turbines).”
The committee will be appointed in consultation with the mainly anti-wind Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines and unspecified “key industry and regulatory bodies”.
Its brief is to:
...publish research on:
i. The development of Australian methodologies and frameworks in sound measurement and standards for wind farms, including in the field of infrasound and low frequency sound – to improve planning and compliance decisions by state and territory authorities.
ii. Innovation in cost-effective, continuous sound monitoring of wind
iii. Options for wind farm operators to maximise transparency such as by providing information on wind speed, hours and sound monitoring.
The commitment is alarming, as the latest government-initiated, $2.5 million National Health and Medical Research Council research into the health impacts of wind farms is yet to be initiated.
The NHMRC research will no doubt be detailed, contain control groups and be peer reviewed. This is a long and detailed process.
While previous peer-reviewed studies by the NHMRC have found no evidence that wind farms have any health impact on wind farm hosts and neighbours, a new committee is being established with no substantial credible research capacity behind it as the NHMRC has.
Moreover its brief is to work on infrasound and low frequency compliance when there’s no peer-reviewed evidence that infrasound and low frequency sound are what is causing the discomfort of some wind farm neighbours.
It’s essentially setting standards for a condition that doesn’t exist, according to 25 peer-reviewed studies.
The NHMRC’s clear findings that wind farms do not harm human health are obviously not what the crossbench senators want to hear. Rather than accept the evidence, they’ve simply asked for a new body.
The committee’s establishment is a politically-motivated farce that throws the idea of scientific rigour out the window.
3. “Good faith” commitment
If those measures aren’t enough to give wind energy a caning, the Coalition government has pledged to “respond actively and in good faith to the findings of the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines,” when it releases its full report later this year.
The committee is dominated by fiercely anti-wind Senators, so it’s anyone’s guess how far they could go to stop wind energy in Australia.
It is extraordinary that a government that believes in cutting red tape would want to introduce an entire new level of federal bureaucracy just for wind farms.
Wind farms produce very little noise and the vast majority of the thousands of Australians who live near them do so without problems.
The best way to get to the bottom of wind farm neighbours’ complaints is to rely on the best science and research.
But when this is weighed up against other health and climate priorities, a far bigger health concern for regional Australians is the damage caused by coal mines and coal-fired power stations as well as climate change, for which there is clear evidence of harm to human health.
With all this in mind, we can't help wondering:
Why do we need an "independent scientific committee" to replicate the NHMRC?
Why do we need Australia-specific wind farm noise standards? Isn't a wind farm just a wind farm, no matter where it is?
Why do we need a whole new federal bureaucratic function when there are state-based ombudsmen already?