Against the Wind – Four Corners report into wind farms.

This report is on tonight (25 July). Please check below for the promotional blurb from the ABC.

some resources on the anti-wind movement:

Please check here for details on anti-wind organisations and a note on how the rather grandly named ‘Landscape guardians’ are simply an anti-wind group which has no other activity in support of the environment.

Sandi Keane has written a report on ‘the ugly landscape of the guardians’ for the Independent Australia website.

A report on a recent meeting (July 2011) organised by a landscape guardians group gives a sense of the type of politics behind this movement.

More details on the Four Corners report here.

Promo from the ABC:

An investigation into allegations that wind turbines are making people sick. Are these installations ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as some have claimed, or are they vehicles for mass hysteria?

For some time now, people forced to live close to wind farms have expressed concern that the noise from the turbines is affecting their health. They say the machines have destroyed their lives, causing headaches, high blood pressure and nausea. Four Corners goes to several wind-farming hot-spots across Australia to meet the people who claim they are simply collateral damage as the nation scrambles to embrace renewable energy.

Stand next to a wind turbine and you quickly realise these are a long way from the old windmills that dotted rural Australia. Standing as high as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with a blade span of 60 metres, wind turbines respond to consistent breezes to generate electricity.

Right now wind delivers just two per cent of Australia’s energy needs. Now, with the Federal Government demanding that Australia produces 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources, wind energy is becoming big business. Already there are nearly 1100 wind turbines producing electricity across Australia. If the government is to reach its renewable energy target, that number will need to rise by up to 3,000 units.

Key parts of the country have been ear-marked for wind farm development. They are regions where weather patterns dictate there will be consistent strong winds. Already South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia have seen major developments take place. New South Wales is the next state where wind energy projects are being planned. For some, these developments will offer big financial rewards. Others close to proposed wind farm sites are concerned about claims that wind farms are making people ill.

Waubra, in regional Victoria, is an established wind farm location, with 128 turbines so far. Four Corners spoke to several locals who claimed their health had been harmed by the technology. One man told reporter Andrew Fowler that the turbines cause headaches that were so bad he had to relocate from his farm and move into town. In his view he’s paying a terrible price:

“We’re refugees in our own country. We’re leaving here because of danger, it’s no set up or anything, we’re being really harmed.”

But is there any scientific basis for these claims? Some experts believe it’s possible that low frequency sounds, generated by the turbines but too low to be audible to the human ear, could have a health impact.

Others say that while people might be getting headaches, it’s unlikely their health is being affected by sound waves:

“If you whip up anxiety, people will generate many of these symptoms. There’s fear of the unknown, there’s activists creating concern among the population.”

And that raises one of the major questions in this debate: are health concerns being exaggerated by activists who simply don’t want wind farms in their backyard?

In part, the answer can only come with more peer-reviewed research. A recent Federal Government committee looking into health concerns relating to wind turbines, found that it didn’t believe there was sufficient scientific research to make clear connections between poor health and the turbines, and that more research was needed. However, Four Corners has now been made aware of new comparative research that looks at health-related data for people living near wind farms and those living away from them. The research is sure to become a key source of information as local communities, councils and governments make decisions about the location of wind farms in the future.

“Against the Wind”, presented by Kerry O’Brien, goes to air on Monday 25th July at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is repeated on 26th July at 11.35pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 at 8.00pm on Saturdays. It is also available on iview and at Video on Demand.

30 thoughts on “Against the Wind – Four Corners report into wind farms.

  1. Cam, I’m a long-time supporter of both FOE and renewable energy. I’m not opposed to wind energy but I have my reservations about its ability to contribute in any major way to the amount of energy that Australia needs into the future, and as to its impact on people and the landscape. I’ll watch this Four Corners program with interest (tomorrow on iView, as I don’t watch tv), because the people I talk to from the country, where the required 3000 extra units need to be installed to achieve ‘our’ target, are not happy. There are health concerns, and these have been on the table for a long time and with a lot of research into them. There are also amenity concerns – much like urban folk have the right to object to over-shadowing and other issues associated with development – so do country folk have the right to question the impact on the landscape and their amenity of wind farms. The irony being that the energy they produce is largely going to urban folk, who don’t have to live next to a wind farm. Ok for us, but not so ok for those farmers whose amenity (and health) is going to be deeply impacted by the dotting of wind farms all over the countryside.

    I do not understand the Greens and FOE’s resistance to discussing the option of biomass energy – currently much of the excess from both plantations and native timber harvesting is going to waste (burnt in fact). Many nations in Europe and also many states in the US are utilising their wood waste as a highly efficient form of energy production: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/commentary/more-picking-winners-as-greens-block-bioenergy/story-e6frgd0x-1226094153315

    it is short-sighted to say biomass energy won’t be discussed until all native timber harvesting in public forests is stopped. In the meantime (could be years) an opportunity to invest in a low carbon emitting energy source is being missed.

    Wind and solar can never be the answer alone, particularly when there are question marks over the impacts of wind farms on those who live near them. I don’t think we can shut our ears to any of the options for low carbon emitting renewables, including wind, but we also have to accept that wind is not the answer if it is going to have such a huge negative effect on so many people. And we have to show some support for those people who feed us, produce the material for our houses, and who are at the front line in many cases of sustainable use of the landscape into the future.

    Sophie

  2. hi Sophie

    thanks for this. Good point re use of biomass/ bioenergy, however we certainly don’t oppose discussion about this energy option until native forest logging stops. We are deeply sceptical about biomass sourced from native forests because of a very real belief that it could further entrench destruction of native forests (woodchipping props up timber harvesting at present, biomass could fill the same role in future).

    However, as the article you mention shows, there are many other options for biomass; including forestry waste from plantations or agricultural reside, sewage, food waste, manure and combustible non-recyclable municipal wastes.

    Wind will not meet all our energy needs. We generally rely on the BZE model, which suggests that wind could meet up to 40% of our energy needs, amongst a range of renewables and other clean energy like geothermal.

    I was just travelling through some of the ‘wind country’ north of Yass. The people who were speaking strongest in support of wind energy were farmers who hoped to ‘drought proof’ their properties through hosting turbines. There is a report here. https://yes2renewables.org/2011/07/14/building-community-support-for-wind-energy-in-nsw/

    Certainly, everyone has the right to question the impact on the landscape and their amenity by wind farms. What I have found is that these legitimate concerns (and often just simple questions that people have) are often being hijacked by anti-wind campaigners who are really nothing more than climate sceptics with a larger ideological agenda. I see a considerable difference between local people with concerns and the climate skeptic anti-wind movement.

    We need a mature debate that allows us to consider the health questions and ways of getting the planning right in terms of visual amenity and other issues. I don’t belive the ideolgical ‘antis’ have much thats useful to contribute to this debate.
    regards, cam

    1. Thanks Cam. I agree with you in substance – the problem is, hysteria is readily hijacked by both sides (if there are only two – of which I am doubtful). Big problem is, because of Greens’ pressure, biomass fuelled energy has now been excluded from the post-carbon tax investment in renewables, and utilising it does not provide carbon credits. That to me signals, quite clearly, that biomass is off the environmentalist table, and that upsets me, and many who have been active in not only sustainable timber production but how best to utilise the waste. Some of our biggest companies are investing in biomass, but the government is refusing to acknowledge the huge contribution biomass has and can make to our renewable energy targets. I find that unfortunate, and short-sighted. I’ll email you a couple of reports on our biomass potential in this country that make for fascinating reading.
      Andrew Lang, who wrote that article I attached, is keen to speak with FOE about biomass, but feels his message has been falling on deaf ears. It is important, at this juncture in our history, that environmentalists and people in ‘the industry’ start talking and listening to each other. The failed Tasmanian agreement (I say failed because no one in the timber industry is happy with the outcome) is just one example of what happens when the ‘our way or the highway’ methodology is applied. ‘Us and them’ persists, and nothing really gets solved or advanced.
      My fear is, the amount of damage that is being done by Labor’s pandering to the Greens and lack of vision will end up with the Rabbit in power and the clock going back another 3000 years, and we don’t have that much time. It is a time, then, to tread lightly and carefully, and think strategically rather than ideologically.

  3. hi Sophie

    Please understand that we are not The Greens, so if you have concerns about what is in/ not in the carbon tax package you should probably take that up with them.

    I met Andrew briefly at the Clean Energy conference back in May. But all we had was a 3 minute conversation, he has not followed up with me or given me any further info, so I would suggest its a little early to say that his message is ‘falling on deaf ears’. He has my contact details and is most welcome to get in touch. We are certainly talking to many, many people in various renewable industries – in fact more at present than probably in the last 10 or 15 years put together!

    We are saying that multiple clean energy sources are the pathway we will need if we are to have a hope of getting to a safe climate future. That seems like a common sense strategy rather than ideology to me (my point about the ‘guardians’ – that is, the organised anti wind movement – is that they are constantly putting ideology ahead of common sense: just check the quotes from any Guardian forum, having attended many of these events, i can assure you it doesn’t take long before they get to climate scepticism). regards, cam

  4. The program tonight was quite interesting. But I thought it gave too much credibility to the Waubra Foundation and didn’t poke closely enough into the Landscape Guardians. Randall Bell admitted in the interview aired that he would use any means available against the wind industry. What was not made clear was which came first: LG or WF? I understand people like Peter Mitchell are also in the Guardians; so the Waubra Foundation was actually set up by this group with an obvious axe to grind. That doesn’t add to its credibility, especially when you dig deeper into the links the Guardians have (done admirably by Sandi Keane in the link provided above)

  5. Dear Cam,
    I know you’re not the Greens (damn, I’ve been shopping at FOE since 1987), and thank god for that! But the ‘us and them’ mentality puts all environmentalists in one basket, and everybody else outside it. This is perpetrated by both ‘sides’, to no ones benefit. The Greens have been very adept in ‘hijacking’ the debate, because they are, and now will always be, a political party. More than ever, as a result, ENGOs and NFPs have a role to play in inserting some shades of grey into the blacks and whites. When money, power and ideology are baked in a cake, it might look good, but it will taste like shit. And the problem is, as ever in this country, a lazy middle class who like having their consciences salved and lifestyles affirmed by ticking a particular box on voting day.

    I loved Barry Jones’ article from the other day. Lost in the miasma of opinion we’re all subjected to on a daily basis, but I’ll keep posting it at appropriate moments whenever I can: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/intelligent-discussion-all-but-extinct-20110720-1hos2.html

    And, like all dinosaurs, climate skeptics will come to eat (or not, as food shortages kick in) their words.

    Sophie

  6. I watched this last night and it was clear to see how upset some people are that have had to leave their homes.
    Why did they not dig up Steve Buckle and Andrew Newbold who planned this windfarm? They could have got Justin Maddern on who let it pass planning, where was he?
    Like ive said many times before if the planning was done right in the first place instead of using unqualified developers who saw a easy dollar and have since gone out of business due to many failures many of these problems would not exist.
    The way those clowns lied to the community was unbelievable, and now one of them wants to be president of the hawthorn footy club! good luck to them, they will need it!
    Proper planning is needed, whatever the reason, whether it be health, property value, visuals or anything else no one wants a turbine close to their home, keep them away from homes by at least a few km’s and you will have little trouble.

  7. I loved the title applied to Sarah Lawrie, I suppose it reads much better than “Quack for hire”.

    Peter, the only people who are guilty of lying are the guardians. Your continual bleating because the evidence doesn’t support your claims makes you look churlish. Grow up and move on.

  8. Interesting (or very scary) to see the footage of the Yass meeting. If the crowd in that hall is so easily influenced, someone should sell magnetic bracelets to cure them from wind turbine syndrome….
    Exploding turbines, mixed with bit of fear and a lecture from an unregistered GP looking over the top of her glasses will convince anyone…
    Some great quotes – they (the hospital) said “you’ve just got too much electricity in your body. You just have to stay away from the wind farm.”
    Also interesting to see the ‘down on his luck’ bloke prevented the farmer next door benefiting from turbines as they might affect the views from his lake. If you don’t want turbines on the hill, buy the hill.
    And the other bloke – NIMBY to BANANA and then he discovers the internet and now wants further research, but only if it supports Dr Un Registered’s position. Just like the others disliked the findings of the Prof Graeme Hood study that they commissioned… come on….
    And the bloke towards the end who was all but kicked off the National Trust…….
    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/06/04/1054700276341.html

  9. Blair, once again you come out with a rubbish response, you are a dead set loony.
    Like Peter said all that is needed is proper planning, what would you do better? shove a wind turbine in your backyard (if you have one?)
    You obviously have had contact with Steve Buckle and Andrew Newbold before, just as i have and they didnt know the first thing about windfarms or the technology used, no wonder they went the way of the dodo.
    Grow up a bit, not everyone in the windindustry is honerable, the bloke from acciona didnt mention that the power they generate at 2am in the morning is never used did he? but we still have to pay for it!

  10. interesting story last night, only fault the reporter didn’t tackle the hard issues. The so called two experts on health one a Chapman guy didn’t talk to any affected people and the other did a desk top study, sad to say but both only did their careers harm.
    I hear the gallaghers son has move from the waubra farm away from the turbines and the house is empty as it can’t accomadation anyone due to noise issues. The report also failed to mention the local shop was in dire straits and the hotel had closed, whilst the school had the lowest numbers in decades due to families leaving the area

  11. Blair, what is this evidence you speak of?
    To be honest you are the only one on this site who gives personal bitter sounding responses, you obviously have a axe to grind about something.
    You would be best served to at least respond in a manner respectful of others that use this site who obviously have the sense to think before they say something.
    Maybe you should visit a few people around the Ballarat region who had dealings with the windpower people and you might get a idea of what was going on?

  12. desk top study- Yeah of 10,000 to 12,000 people in areas where there are turbines. No increase use in sleep or blood pressure medication.
    Better than Pierpont’s (desk to study – no medical examinations were carried out) study of a self selected 30 people. Which was the point of origin for all this rot.

  13. We often see the argument (raised here by Sophie) that there is something wrong with urban energy being sourced from rural areas.
    This ignores the “compact” that necessarily exists between the country and the cities. Rural areas produce food, energy and other resources for the benefit of all. Urban areas produce services and manufacturing for the benefit of all. Sydney will always import its food and energy from regional areas, and Collector will always go to the city for heart surgery and banking.
    No one complains that city folk get their food from rural areas (duh!), or the electricity from coal fired power stations in rural areas, so why is it a problem if they get their energy from the same rural areas?

  14. Professor Chapman has lowered the bar for attacks on people advocating health studies, his performance on 4 corners was nothing sort of shameful.
    The longer this goes on the stronger the anti wind lobby goes people

  15. Terry, is it mandatory that windfarm opponents have comprehension problems?

    If you had bothered to read my earlier comments, you would know I have put forward a number of suggestions/solutions that would satisfy most sane people – guardians excepted.

    It’s a bit rich that you claim people in the wind industry are not honourable when I have yet to meet or speak with a so-called guardian who has ever been upfront and honest. Case in point, your claim that power generated in the early morning is never used.

    Prove it. I’m calling you foolish and ill informed given that you write such trite nonsense without a thought and appear to actually believe it. You should be more discerning on where you obtain your “information”, your source would seem to be as dodgy as all other guardian references.

    I’ve said before I’d be quite happy to have wind turbines in my backyard, I love them, I think they look and sound fabulous – but you would know that if you had bothered reading what I said earlier.

    I can give personal responses because I have had to deal with ignoramuses like yourself at a local level who wrote outright lies to the local media, deliberately misrepresented comments myself and others made and who failed every time to present credible evidence to support their case when challenged. The anti-wind crowd simply are not trustworthy. Anybody who believes them needs their head read. The 4 Corners program showed the stark difference between the irrational ranting of the guardians and their unwitting victims versus the objective experts supported by their evidence.

    Peter, when you stop presenting fictions as fact and supporting the dishonesty of the guardian leadership I’ll be reasonable with you. While you continue to be complicit in the guardian’s lies, deceptions and demonstrable misrepresentations, you, Terry and Martin forego the right to be treated with any respect, let alone seriously.

    All you have to do is provide peer-reviewed evidence to support your claims and you’ll have my rapt attention. Put up or shut up. Meanwhile, stop pretending you actually care about the landscape, we all know your motivation is self-interest.

  16. Sounds like a rotten case of bad apples Blair. The gippsland friends of renewable have some troubled pasts do they!

    1. Yes Martin, the bad apples (read anti-wind cranks) in the council are all but gone, our council is now populated by much more enlightened community representatives. It’s only dinosaurs like Peter Ryan and the state government who are trying to put a spanner in the works.

      Nobody pays any attention to the local Guardian rabble any more, they are a spent force. Periodically they raise a strangled whinge in the local media but their efforts are only good for wrapping up the veggie scraps prior to composting.

  17. Laughable comment from Terry that energy created at 2am in the morning is not used. Every joule of energy exported from a wind farm is used, at all times. If the network can’t use the energy or the wind farm’s bid in the market is too high then the wind farm gets constrained. At all times the total energy demand is exactly equal to the total energy supply, thanks to our energy market.
    It doesn’t matter whether you are Wind, Solar, Gas or Coal: If you generate when demand is low, the market price is low. If you generate when demand is high, the market price is high.
    If you have a problem with energy being created when demand is low, your biggest problem is not Wind, but Coal. Why do you think we have off-peak tariffs?

  18. If its windy at 2am and coal fired power is still going full boar as it does, where does the excess power go Alex?
    Im yet to see a windfarm stop in ideal conditions and yet to see coal slow down, so it stands to reason there must be a over supply, just as there could be a under supply when there is a day of no wind in the middle of summer for example.
    The market does not dictate that all power be used, off peak encourages use at times when there is excess production but does not guarantee it will be used.
    Wind power generated at this time is still paid the same amount with the REC’s they receive, its a major flaw in the system and one that is pushing up electricity costs for no benefit.

  19. Peter, you really should stop lying, it doesn’t do your credibility any good at all. Not all coal fired power stations run at peak capacity 100% of the time but again, you would know that if you had done your homework. Believe it or not some actually do ramp down when demand is lower. Your willingness to believe propaganda is astounding as is your laziness in your failure to check facts.

    As has been pointed out in a number of studies recently, renewables only account for around 10% of increased power costs, the remainder is primarily due to upgrading infrastructure.

    Please check the facts, it’s embarrassing seeing you making a goose of yourself yet again.

  20. Blair you line of attack is quite distressing, it seems going for the throat is your tactic instead of the issue. The overwhelming majority of people know wind turbines only drive everyone’s power costs higher, this is something that I have looked at in a lot of detail. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day over at Clunes and your name came up, the discussion was about how this person from gippsland wrote numerous letters to the editor in support of wind power pty ltd yet knew nothing about the local people or region. She felt compelled to say that your letters only united the readers against the steve buckle and andrew newbold, thus the result you would well be aware of!!

    1. Martin, my letters weren’t intended to sway the punters who have already decided they don’t like wind energy. As for your unnamed friend, well she is entitled to her opinion but the letters I received from people in that area who support wind energy tend to undermine your claims.

      My only crime was to respond to the falsehoods presented by opponents. As I stated earlier, I have met Steve and Andrew and I would stack them up against any windfarm opponents any day when it comes to credibility and honesty.

  21. Pete, it is not the market that dictates that demand = supply. It is physics. Undersupply or oversupply creates voltage issues. All generators, regardless of the technology, will trip off if the voltage goes outside narrow bands. There is, in practical terms, no such thing as excess or undersupply. Generators are dispatched in merit order. Wind farm generally bid into the market at a lower rate than fossil fuel generators, and as such wind farms actually work to slightly reduce the wholesale energy rate.
    Wind farms (and conventional generators) can and do get constrained when the networks they are connected to approach the safe limits, but it is the market dispatch system that finely and efficiently balances supply and demand.

  22. Blair, according to a recent AEMC report (AEMC Future Possible Retail Electricity Price Movements), the current cost impact of the large scale renewable energy target (LRET) is 0.15 cents/kWh on the average electricity bill. This is well less than 1% of the consumption portion of our bills. Retail margin and overheads are 20 times this amount at 3.59c/kWh. Distribution costs are more than twice that again at 8.7c/kWh.
    Pete, is that what you mean by “pushing up electricity costs for no benefit”?

  23. Blair Steve Buckle and Andrew Newbold couldn’t lie straight in bed, their credability was left in tatters after their performance in the hepburn shire. Their contract with landholders was outed and this made them look very silly indeed. Is it true steve buckle now drives a taxi and newbolds works in a pizza shop as has been rumoured??
    Another nasty little piece of work from you way was that broke landholder Marriott, I hear he’s still hanging out for turbines that have never arrived. In fact the people that worked with wind power pty ltd all seemed to be people on their last legs, another was a bloke from stockyard hill who signed up landholders there, he’s now broke and lost the lot!!!

    [note from Cam. Martin: in your last post you said you were upset by name calling on this site. If thats the case you may want to set a good example and avoid it yourself. Writing a critque of someones political positions – for instance, the current debate about Randalls approach to climate science – is acceptable. Blatant attacks on people and their character are not.]

  24. In this case i would have to totally agree with Martin, having tried to “consult” with Buckle and Newbold it was clear to see they were only in it for the money, and looks like they didnt get any of that anyway after stuffing up so many times.

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