Australian Wind Alliance

Why wind farms don't make people sick, and other matters

It appears that there's a process in Senate Inquiries where if a Senator is unhappy with your answers in a public hearing they get back in touch and try to wind you up in the hope you'll say something silly. These are our responses to Questions on Notice from Senator John Madigan as part of the Senate Wind Inquiry.

Written questions on notice from Senator John Madigan

Tuesday 7 July 2015 

From the Committee’s Interim report and on the content of these Questions on Notice and media commentary from various members of the Committee, it is clear that the Inquiry has deviated from its stated terms of reference, which cover a range of issues related to wind farms, to focus narrowly on health impacts - a topic which was absent from the terms. 

This confirms our original concern that the Inquiry’s intent was always to downplay reliable and robust evidence from the numerous preceding inquiries and health studies and instead promote ‘evidence’ that presents wind energy in a damaging light. It is our view that the Committee has demonstrated a lack of transparency and accountability to the broad Australian community in this regard.

As a preface to our response to individual questions, AWA’s approach to the issue of wind farms and health is as follows:

Large scale wind turbines have been operating for over 40 years in many parts of the world. There are now over 250,000 turbines operating in the near vicinity of millions of people. Repeated studies of wind turbines and human health, including from our own National Health and Medical Research Council, have consistently failed to find evidence that wind turbines cause physiological health responses in humans, from infrasound, low frequency noise or any other mode of transmission.

A range of planning controls are in place across Australia to ensure that noise from wind farms is held to safe levels for nearby residents.

While the vast majority of people living and working near wind farms in Australia do so with no problems, a small number of people experience health problems that they ascribe to the turbines. Clearly the symptoms these people are experiencing are real but the issue of what causes them remains an open question.

Given the lack of evidence of direct health impacts from wind farms themselves, a greater understanding of other factors that may be contributing to the experience of health impacts should be pursued. Wind farm projects create change and this can cause anxiety in some people accompanied by a sense of loss of their preferred landscape. At the same time the sight and sound of turbines can cause feelings of distaste, annoyance and frustration for some people.

It is clear that anxiety, loss and annoyance can lead to stress, sleep disturbance and other symptoms. These symptoms are not unique to wind farm developments and can be identified in response to many impacts of modern life.

There are a range of factors that may trigger annoyance, anxiety or stress at the sight and sound of wind turbines that are worth considering. The following is not an exhaustive list and nor does it seek to suggest that every person complaining of health problems falls into one of these categories:

  • negative feelings about the wind farm, wind farm developer, or the development process itself;

  • where a neighbour has campaigned against a wind project;

  • where a neighbour is visually impacted by the turbines but receives no benefit from them (financial or via mitigation);

  • concerns about loss of property values;

  • preconceptions that wind turbines cause harm to humans, in contradiction to credible research to the contrary. This information is widely available on the internet and mainstream media suggesting phenomenon is discussed in the literature.

Experience in Germany and Denmark shows that the opposition to wind farms and reported health impacts became negligible when leadership on climate change was a whole of government response and policy settings required wind projects to have a community ownership component and wider benefit sharing beyond hosts to proximal neighbours and communities.

We believe the Committee’s findings would more accurately reflect the situation ‘on the ground’ near wind farm developments if it gave greater consideration to these aspects of the discussion around health impacts.

Questions on Notice

The Australian Wind Alliance exercises our right as a community advocacy group to address the  Senate Inquiry. We note the aggressive tone of many of the questions which does not reflect well on the Senator or the Inquiry. In light of this, we will comment on those questions that appear relevant to the Inquiry.

 

1. What are your qualifications?

2. Do you have qualifications in acoustics or health?

3. Do you have a medical degree?

No, we do not have qualifications in acoustics or health. We do have extensive experience working with diverse populations who live, farm and work on and around wind farms. We draw on national and international experience of wind farm developments over the past 40 years.

4. Are you therefore qualified or legally entitled to publicly diagnose residents living near wind turbines with a nocebo effect – which is a diagnosis of exclusion made by medical practitioners when their patient has been fully investigated?

AWA does not diagnose the health of individual residents, nor have we claimed to be able to. This is not our role.

As lay observers, we defer to the findings of respected medical bodies such as the NHMRC, AMA, and further afield, Health Canada.

5. Do you agree that sleep deprivation could lead to serious mental and physical health problems?

Yes. However sleep deprivation is prevalent in the broader Australian population. The causes of sleep deprivation in the small number of reported cases of those living close to wind farms needs to be investigated and understood without predetermining the cause.

6. Do you agree that chronic stress could also lead to serious health problems?

See answer to question 5 and our preamble.

7. Do you agree that excessive noise at night could cause sleep disturbance, regardless of the noise source?

Yes, though we note that night-time noise levels from turbines are tightly regulated across Australia and that no wind farm has been found to exceed these levels.

8. Do you accept that the NHMRC have clearly stated that they acknowledge that there is evidence of sleep disturbance, annoyance symptoms and reduced quality of life in wind turbine noise affected residents?

No. The term “wind turbine noise affected residents” is not used by the NHMRC, whose Statement: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health read, “There is less consistent, poor quality direct evidence of an association between sleep disturbance and wind farm noise. However, sleep disturbance was not objectively measured in the studies and a range of other factors are possible explanations for the association observed.”

The NHMRC have indicated that symptoms have been reported by a small number of residents near wind farms. There are also many more people who live and work in daily proximity to turbines the world over and report no symptoms. Further research may be able to determine whether these are the result of wind turbine impacts.

Our starting point for understanding the effect of living near wind farms is the experience of our members who either live in direct proximity of wind farms, often with many turbines within 1km of their homes, or who spend their full-time working lives in direct proximity of wind farms.

Should evidence be found that there are residents adversely affected by wind turbine activity, more flexibility may be required in the response of the wind industry (as there is with the coal industry) to include buy-outs and relocation options for those residents.

9. Do you support the NHMRC’s targeted call for research into the adverse health effects of wind turbine noise?

The NHMRC is the relevant body to decide whether further research into wind turbines is to be pursued. They have decided to proceed with this as they have done previously into issues such as the effects of mobile phones on human health and the results have satisfied the general public as to their safe use. It is anticipated that NHMRC investigations into infrasound from wind turbines will identify problems if they do exist and if they do not, that the public can be reassured that wind farms pose no significant threat to human health.

10. Do you support government noise pollution regulations and standards which protect the health and sleep of neighbours to coal mines? What about to gas fired power stations? What about coal fired power stations? What about wind turbines?

State Government planning regulations require a noise monitoring regime as part of wind farm development approvals. This ensures that people are not exposed to unacceptable levels.

We are not in a position to comment on those regulations covering coal mines and coal and gas fired generators.

The more significant question is whether the wind industry is being subjected to more regulation on the basis of dubious health impacts than for example, the coal industry where there is verifiable evidence of respiratory impacts and environmental damage.

11. Are you aware of the groundbreaking research done by the US Department of Energy, NASA led by Dr Neil Kelley in the 1980’s which found that impulsive infrasound and low frequency noise from gas and wind turbines directly caused the annoyance symptoms like sleep disturbance and body vibrations?

Kelley’s research may have been groundbreaking 30 years ago but would now need to be replicated as it is outdated research. Advances in wind technology have been considerable since then along with research into health effects. The lived experience of millions of people worldwide do not support the proposition that wind turbines cause health problems for the majority who live and work in close proximity.

If this research remained relevant, we would have expected it to figure prominently in the NHMRC’s survey, which it did not. 

12. Given that this direct causal relationship was established thirty years ago, does it surprise you at all that the wind industry and its consultant acousticians have together helped ensure that infrasound and low frequency noise are not currently measured inside homes where people are sleeping by any of the wind turbine noise regulations and standards?

Audible noise levels give a rough indication of associated levels of infrasound and low-frequency noise, which forms the basis of noise regulations and standards. Where these latter types of noise from wind farms have been specifically tested, such as by the South Australian EPA, they have been shown to occur at safe levels that are well below levels humans are exposed to in the normal course of their lives in urban and rural environments.

13. Do you support the inclusion of regulations for infrasound and low frequency noise so that vulnerable rural residents such as young children, the elderly, children with autism who are noise sensitive and people with chronic illnesses including mental illness are protected from excessive levels of infrasound and low frequency noise, regardless of the noise source?

The Senator needs to be clear whether he supports genuine scientific verification of the impact of infrasound on human health, such as that being conducted by the NHMRC. If so, he should let the scientific process take its course unhindered by political interference. Until that research is completed there should not be regulations established on the basis of hearsay evidence and pseudo-science.  

14. Would it be true to say you are a passionate about saving the planet from climate change, and thereby have become an activist for the wind industry, because you believe that wind turbines will help save the planet? 

The question is sarcastic and betrays ideological bias.

AWA is a not for profit community organisation which advocates for the interests of regional communities with wind resources that can be harnessed for clean energy. There is international acknowledgement that the energy sector is a key carbon emitter and a shift away from coal to renewable energy is needed to bring down global emissions.

AWA supports the practice of  fair and transparent financial dealings with hosts, neighbours and regional communities by the wind industry. We do not shy away from being critical of wind industry practices and of Government policy when either or both fail local communities.

15. Who pays for your work and activism as an organizer now with the Australian Wind Alliance, and formerly with the Victorian Wind Alliance?

AWA is an incorporated association known as the Australian Wind Alliance Ltd. Our first year of operation was under the banner of Vic Wind, before transitioning to AWA.

AWA has around 500 individual and regional business members and over 10,000 online supporters who understand the role of the Alliance and want to support regional development through well planned and community engaged wind farms.

AWA’s work is funded by individual community memberships, donations from individuals, business and philanthropic sources. Business donors must sign a donor agreement agreeing to AWA’s independence in all matters (see attached document).

AWA is an advocacy group committed to standing up for wind power to reduce emissions and promote regional development in areas where wind is a resource for clean energy projects. We support robust community engagement by developers, expanded benefit sharing practices and a just regulatory environment for projects.

AWA accepts the scientific consensus that the burning of fossil fuels in the energy sector is a significant contributor to global warming. We accept the scientific consensus that the impact of global warming is destabilising the climate system with negative and potentially irreversible impacts on terrestrial and oceanic environments that sustain life.  In the interests of Australia’s future and considering our responsibility to play a part in the global commitment to reduce emissions, it is clear that transitioning away from coal and gas to renewable energy is critical for our global and national future.

AWA makes no apology for advocating for a transition to renewable energy at a time when the political leadership on this issue in Australia is so compromised, as is demonstrated by this Senate Inquiry.  On all measures wind energy is the most efficient large scale source of renewable energy at the current time and should be a key component of our energy generation mix going forward. The attempt by the Inquiry to scuttle such a vital industry for Australia’s future prosperity and safety is a travesty.

16. Is Charlie Prell, one of the prospective wind turbine hosts at Crookwell also employed by the Australian Wind Alliance? 

Charlie Prell is on record as being a prospective landholder under Crookwell 2 Wind Farm and is a long term advocate for farmers wishing to drought proof their farms through hosting renewable energy projects. He works part time for the Australian Wind Alliance and runs his sheep farm in Crookwell.

17. Were you aware that Charlie Prell has been employed by wind turbine hosts at Gullen Range to negotiate on their behalf with the wind developer Goldwind, because of the excessive wind turbine noise pollution they now have to live with as a result of their own wind turbines? Jim Hutson from Gullen Range told me one of the turbine hosts had told him this directly and he is a very reliable source.

This is incorrect. Your information is based on third party reports which are unreliable and misinformed. We proudly count a number of Gullen Range wind turbine hosts as AWA members. Those hosts we are in contact with have no concerns with noise and we are not aware of any wind turbine hosts who do. Neither Mr Prell nor any other staff members of AWA have conducted any negotiations on behalf of Gullen Range wind turbine hosts.

18. Do you accept that you and your organization have a financial conflict of interest?

No. AWA does not have a financial conflict of interest.

AWA is a community based advocacy group for wind communities. The advocacy group for the Wind Industry is it’s peak body - the Clean Energy Council.

See answer to Question 15 

19. Could you please explain how your organisation differs from a cigarette company or an asbestos product salesman who denies the known, established adverse health effects from their products?

This question belittles the standing of the Senate and is not worthy of a response. It is clear that despite calling for more research the Senator has ignored the findings of the NHMRC and instead adopted a pre-determined position on unverified health effects.


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