what divides communities: wind farms or fear mongering?

Posted on January 25, 2011 by

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The following article from ABC highlights a familiar story. Those opposed to a specific wind energy project will often say that it ‘divides’ the town or community.  In this case – Collector in NSW – the usual grab bag of fears about ‘industrialisation’ of landscape, impacts on property values and health concerns are waved around.

It is useful to unpack each of these. Firstly, if we understand that climate change is real and we need to make a rapid transition to renewables, we will also understand that we will need a dramatic uptake of wind energy as part of our new energy mix. So the question is how to do this so as to minimise the visual and possible personal amenity and health impacts where projects are proposed. We are not suggesting that companies have always been perfect in this regard.

What we require is a strong community movement that demands that companies listen to concerns about siting, rather than what we are seeing develop in places like Collector: a ‘not near me’ NIMBY approach that outright opposes any development rather than engages productively to get good outcomes. In effect, this means that these people are happy to let the problems of climate change continue unchecked, as long as they can flick the switch and access energy and they do not have to be involved in finding solutions to our energy supply dilemma. The Collector area is hardly a pristine ‘wilderness’, it is mostly cleared, fenced, and roaded. Wind farms allow the costs – and considerable benefits – of energy production to be shared more equally, rather than the status quo situation, where some areas produce energy from coal, with often massive environmental cost, while the rest of us benefit from a reliable energy supply. But as always, selfish folks who want no change – in an endlessly changing landscape – step forward and suddenly become deeply concerned about impacts on the landscape.

Secondly is the property value issue. It’s probably safe to say that the jury is still out on this one (there is some older and limited research available here that suggests its not been a major issue thus far). Certainly, as some anti wind groups have pointed out using information from a connection within Elders Rural Services, there will be some potential buyers looking for a ‘retreat’ who will be put off by turbines.

Finally, health. This one is long contested but so far unproven. We support the application of the precautionary principle. But we also look at the long and successful history of commercial wind farming on various continents, and the highly selective nature of much of the ‘evidence’ put forward by anti-wind campaigners on this issue. Fear for personal health – for ourselves or our families – is a deep and very powerful emotion to trigger. That’s why it has been picked up so strongly in most anti wind campaigns. But again on this one we need to look to the independent (as opposed to vested interest) research which consistently says that there is no proven link between wind energy and major health concerns.

Collector wind farm – sight for sore eyes or eyesore?

By Anna Morozow

Plans for a wind farm at Collector, north-east of Canberra, are dividing the tiny New South Wales community.

Multinational company Transfield Services wants to build a wind farm of up to 80 turbines along the hills between Gunning and Collector.

It is still subject to New South Wales Government planning approval.

Residents opposed to the project are ramping up their fight against the project, unveiling a billboard alongside the Federal Highway.

They hope to turn their fight into a political issue leading up to the NSW election.

Tony Hodgson from Friends of Collector says residents are worried about the effects on property prices and their health.

“That’s the visual destruction of the amenity of Collector, and it’s not just Collector either, wherever they put these things in, they’re an eyesore,” he said.

But the company says research by the National Health and Medical Research Council has found there is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects.

One consequence of the project that is certain, is the division it is creating between those who are set to host the turbines on their land, and the rest of the community.

“We’re told signed agreements, secret agreements up to five years ago, that nobody else knew about, to put these turbines on their land,” Mr Hodgson said.

Frank Hannan farms a 1,000 acre property on the outskirts of the town and he says the view from his house is set to turn into an industrial zone.

“It divides the community, it splits it. Relationships of generations are being destroyed,” he said.

Upper Lachlan Shire Mayor John Shaw is urging residents to play the ball and not the man.

“It’s a bit like mate versus mate now, and neighbour versus neighbour, where one neighbour has got the turbines on his property and the other neighbour doesn’t. Well they don’t talk any more,” he said.

“What they need to do is to be fighting the industry itself and the developers.”