Many wind farm opponents cite precautionary principles as a reason to halt the construction of wind farms. For example, Peter Mitchell of the Waubra Foundation wrote in the Ballarat Courier (August 29) that “no new projects should be approved and no project previously approved but as yet unbuilt should proceed” until there have been ” independent health and noise studies to identify safe siting of turbines.”
The precautionary principle is important to protecting health and the environment. But critics like Mitchell miss the point. They accidentally gets close when they ask (as another did who also wrote to the Courier) whether wind supporters would “be willing to live beside the wind energy facilities?”.
Those of us living in the city would have little right of appeal if the government built a new, raised freeway a few hundred metres from our house (as the previous state government planned to do to West Footscray residents).
Coal mines may be built within a few hundred metres of residences, and the Anglesea coal power station is apparently only 800m from a school.
Taking the precautionary principle into account for all our electricity, it should be obvious that we need to urgently move away from our current fossil fuel generators. The risks of climate change, as well as direct health effects leading to respiratory illness and cancer, are well established.
Wind energy is the cheapest, most effective clean energy replacement – and 24 hour solar power is ready to come online too, as it already has with Spain’s Gemasolar plant. A combination of these kinds of technologies could completely replace coal and gas.
Of course, many opponents of wind energy may not believe the science on climate change. That’s their right, but should we let them hold clean energy to ransom? How does a small body of anecdotal evidence about health effects trump clear, global scientific agreement on climate change’s serious risks?
The precautionary principle can’t be invoked selectively. The new Victorian planning laws introduced on August 29 are completely unjustifiable on these grounds. They deserve to be revoked completely, just as the fossil fuel industry deserves to be placed under restriction itself.