Review finds wind energy is clean, safe: Political implications of NHMRC review

nhmrc_logoThe National Health and Medical Research Council has released its long-awaited review into wind farms and health. 

The NHMRC review shows, once again, that wind farms are clean and safe. 

The review finds no conclusive evidence linking wind farms to ill health affects. The Systematic review of the human health effects of wind farms states:

In summary, the systematic review indicated that there was no consistent evidence that noise from wind turbines, whether estimated in models or using distance as a proxy, is associated with self-reported human health effects. (p.17)

The evidence considered does not support the conclusion that wind turbines have direct adverse effects on human health, as the criteria for causation have not been fulfilled. Indirect effects of wind farms on human health through sleep disturbance, reduced sleep quality, quality of life and perhaps annoyance are possible. Bias and confounding could, however, be possible explanations for the reported associations upon which this conclusion is based. (p.18)

The findings are consistent with previous research, so should be no surprise to anyone.

Implications for the Abbott government:

The NHMRC review, the twentieth by a credible health body, was released just weeks after the Abbott government confirmed it would undertake its own study on wind energy and health. 

Yet further investigations at the behest of the Prime Minister will add fuel to fire of the anti-wind farm campaign. Now that the science is in, it’s time to for politicians to show leadership, accept the result and move on. 

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Will Abbott really go through with another wind/health review?

If the Abbott government pursues another study on the back of the 2014 NHMRC review it will be a an overtly political decision. It will confirm that this government puts ideology ahead of good policy. With strong links between the Liberal party and anti-wind farm interests–such as Maurice Newman, the PM’s business advisor–additional research will look like favours for friends. 

If another review goes ahead it would have to appoint experts who are impartial to have any credibility. Yet the Abbott government’s track record doesn’t inspire confidence.

On February 17, the Abbott government announced the details of its Renewable Energy Target review which, by all accounts, is stacked against renewables. It selected a climate change denier, Dick Warburton, to chair the review. Other panellists include Shirley In’t Veld, the former head of Verve Energy, and Brian Fisher, former long-term head of ABARE. According to Renew Economy, Verve Energy, under In’t Veld’s reign, had a “history of snubbing renewable energy.” While Fisher “gained notoriety for his positions on climate policies and is a noted free-market hardliner.”

Will the Abbott government really go through with another wind/health review? If it does, will it be impartial? Time will tell…

Implications for the Napthine government:

Victorian Premier Denis Napthine to has committed $100,000 to fund the Abbott government’s study on wind energy and health. The Premier committed the funds even thought the Victorian Department of Health published its own review which found wind energy to be safe in May, 2013.

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Two-thirds of the wind turbines in Victoria are in Premier Napthine’s electorate.

Allocating such a large sum of money to investigate a clean renewable energy technology cant be justified when communities in the Latrobe Valley are facing real health risks from the Hazelwood coal mine fire.

The Morwell primary school has been evacuated due to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide and particulate matter in the air. Some 25,000 face marks have been distributed to residents of Morewell and Taralgon to filter our coal ash. The Age report that authorities have drawn up plans to evacuate 10,000 Morwell residents.

Yes 2 Renewables urge Premier Napthine to immediately retract the offer of $100,000 and use it to protect those affected by the Hazelwood fire. These funds could be used to provide respite accommodation for families in the Latrobe Valley with young children or elderly family members.

It’s time to protect Victorians from the real health impacts of coal, Premier, not waste taxpayer money investigating absurd claims about technology that is clean and safe.

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See also:

Professor Simon Chapman responds to the NHMRC review at The Conversation.

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