Wind farms have proved themselves for decades, both here and overseas, as a clean and safe way of generating electricity. Despite this fact, there are sections of the media and the anti-wind farm movement who continue to ventilate claims that there is something about wind turbines - the noise, the look, or, ‘I dunno, the vibe…’ - that makes them unsuitable to have around, let alone to make electricity.
The latest exhibits are some especially distorted articles in the Daily Telegraph and The Australian on a recent, fairly innocuous wind farm noise study from South Australia’s Flinders University.
This kind of discourse is lamentable for people living around wind farms as it creates the impression, without supporting evidence, that there is something dangerous going on. This only contributes to uncertainty and anxiety about wind energy - which given the continual attacks on renewables by Murdoch media, is probably their objective.
An innocuous wind farm noise study
The study itself doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. Namely, there is a particular type of noise created when wind turbine blades pass the tower - called amplitude modulation, or AM. (Exactly the same stuff that makes your AM radio work). You can sometimes hear amplitude modulation as part of the overall turbine noise at a distance away from the turbine. It’s not particularly loud or prominent but it does exist and it’s presence is accounted for in the noise limits turbines must operate within. For example, in New South Wales, under the South Australian 2009 methodology, if there is amplitude modulation present above a certain threshold, a 5dB penalty is applied to the measured noise levels. This means overall noise needs to be lower to take into account the presence of AM, or tonality as it is referred to.
What the study has attempted to do is work out how far away from a turbine amplitude modulation can be heard, how often and at what level. As described by the researchers in the Daily Telegraph piece, this study appears to be a first step towards trying to connect historic wind farm noise complaints with AM.
But one step at a time. One thing this study did not do was make any observation at all about what the effect on residents might be, except to note that AM had been connected with annoyance in other studies.
Nevertheless, the Daily Telegraph’s hyperbolic headline, “Wind farm noise annoys residents up to 3.5 km away” somehow conjured the finding that everyone who detected amplitude modulation must be annoyed. I hope the researchers clarified this in their subsequent radio interviews.
The study did, however, thrown up some unanswered questions:
- The report is very limited in that it only studies a single South Australian wind farm. (There are 90+ wind farms across the country and every one has its own technology, geographic layout, etc.) While it wasn’t identified in the paper, the Daily Telegraph did let the cat out of the bag and told readers it was the Waterloo Wind Farm. This is important as the main part of Waterloo uses ten-year-old V90 3 megawatt Vestas turbines with 44m blades turning at 16 rpm. Modern turbines turn much more slowly, so they will have a much lower frequency of amplitude modulation. Modern blades are also far more aerodynamically advanced than the ones turning around at Waterloo. Therefore it’s unlikely these findings would be applicable in many other contexts.
- In 2018, the National Wind Farm Commissioner did not receive a single complaint about wind farm noise in South Australia. This strongly suggests that the noise features studied in this report are no longer an issue for those residents.
Farmers have the final say on noise
Wind farms are now a well-established part of many rural landscapes. We know, as the Australian Wind Alliance has dozens of members who live far closer to turbines than 3.5 km. In many cases, it’s well within 1 km.
Take, for example, Charlie Prell, a NSW farmer whose view from his front window, is this:
These are turbines in the Crookwell 2 wind farm, some of which are 500 metres from his home: “I constantly hear the turbines as they generate energy, sometimes from inside my house. But I also hear every car, truck and motorbike that travels along the Goulburn-Crookwell road," remarks Charlie.
Clearly, farmers like Charlie receive far higher levels of AM than most of the residents in this study. But when these farmers hear wind turbine noise, even when it includes AM, they probably don’t respond with annoyance. Quite the opposite, in fact. They’ll be reminded that the turbines are making clean electricity and contributing reliable, drought-proof finances to their farm business. It’s not being churlish to note that equitable sharing of financial benefits to residents living in and around wind farms is key to ensuring widespread community acceptance.
AWA is seeking an expert review of the foundations of the research. We hope to be able to provide a more comprehensive response then.
As Australians vote this weekend we are very much at an energy and climate crossroads. The scheme that has driven record levels of investment in wind and solar, the 2020 Renewable Energy Target, has effectively run its course but in 2019, after six years of policy destruction and inaction, we have no coherent federal policy to take its place. This election will be a Climate Election, where voters have the opportunity to break the impasse that has hamstrung action on climate and renewables for the last six years.Read more
In a disappointing move, NSW's Department of Planning and Environment has recommended that the 96 megawatt Crookwell 3 wind farm project not be approved. This project would be built alongside the Crookwell 2 wind farm, which commenced full operation earlier this year.
Wind farms have been a strong source of jobs and investment in the Southern Tablelands over the last decade as well as wider community benefits and this project promises to keep this trend going.
Crookwell 3 has proceeded under three different state planning regimes since its inception in 2010, against the background of a highly uncertain investment landscape. The fact that the Department recommended this project be approved in 2015 just highlights the difficulties industry has faced navigating the challenges of shifting government priorities.
DPE's recommendation now goes to the Independent Planning Commission for consideration. The IPC has the power to accept or reject the Department's recommendation and decide on alterations if it sees fit. We look forward to seeing what the proponent can bring forward to resolve the issues the Department has raised.
For more information, see Reneweconomy
This election, to do what’s best for the climate and for regional Australian communities, there are four critical priorities:
Transforming our electricity system to 100% renewable energy
Best practice community engagement and community investment
Orderly transition from coal-burning power generation
Effective emissions reduction mechanism outside the electricity sector
Let's make this a #ClimateElection!Read more
AWA was pleased to see news of a new battery-boosted wind farm proposed in South West Victoria. If successful, it will be located at an existing pine plantation between Portland and Nelson, close to the South Australian border.
The project's benefit program will be designed in close consultation with the community and could include features such as community enhancement funds, green energy subsidies or potentially co-investment. It reflects a growing level of maturity across the wind energy industry, with other recent projects placing community engagement and benefit sharing as central features in their project design from the outset of consultation.
The $1 billion project will also lead to jobs in the construction and ongoing jobs in the region.Read more
The Australian Wind Alliance recently caught up with the Ballarat based artist, Mairin Briody, to talk about her wind farm inspired paintings. While trying to get her newborn to sleep, Mairin spent time driving around the Mt Mercer and Waubra wind farms and enjoying the calming swish of the blades. It got her thinking...
“I was doing a lot of driving with my newborn trying to get her to sleep and found myself being drawn to wind farms - a good drive for a nap...I’d call them scenes of unbridled optimism...because there’s dozens of them in this field and it just opens up when you get over the final crest.”
“It feels like so often now that we’re just planning for the next election cycle or we’re stagnating with climate policy. I needed optimism....”
"There's people thinking about the future, there's people planning for it...."
Have a look at the video and keep your eye out for more, celebrating the role of wind energy in Victoria. Thanks Mairin for your inspiring art and words.
See more of Mairin Briody's work
Paintings by Mairin Briody shown
The Earth is not a cold, dark place, 02019
The Long Decay, 02018
The Aura and the Echo, 02018
Electric Prisms #1, 02018
Unicorn Heads - Digital Memories
Benjamin Tissot - Betterdays (used with certificate #616655)
Sonia Delaunay, Electric Prisms, 1914
Sonia Delaunay and two friends Paris 1924
Thames Embankment 1879
Filmed at Ballarat and Mount Mercer Wind Farm
With a Labor government now a distinct possibility at the upcoming federal election, Australia may be about to taste what it’s like to have a functioning energy policy again. And that would be good news for wind energy.Read more
Can a historic town remain historic if it hosts a wind farm? And if a town has a historic past does that mean the town is nothing else besides historic? Is history enough to give a town an economic future?
These are some of the questions getting a work out right now in the small towns of Nundle and Hanging Rock, just south of Tamworth.Read more
"The decision to transition our state to renewable energy and address the issue of climate change was made by my predecessor, Mike Rann. What I'll take credit for is not running away when the going got tough.”
Former South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, gave his first public talk on clean energy since leaving office at an event jointly hosted by the Australian Wind Alliance and University of Melbourne’s Energy Transition Hub. Together with his interlocutor on the night, noted environment and clean energy journalist, Adam Morton, Mr Weatherill attracted a packed crowd of around 400 people.Read more
Not many Australians can say they’ve seen first-hand what worsening climate change looks like. When she was overseeing health services on low-lying Saibai Island, one of Australia’s Torres Strait Islands, Christine Giles saw with her own eyes as king tides engulfed houses and lapped around people’s feet.
“It’s insidious, eating everything. There’s just sea all around the houses. It’s very devastating for these communities,” recalled Ms Giles.Read more