On July 19, I attended the public meeting organised by the Barunah Park Landscape Guardians. Barunah Park is a community west of Geelong, straddling the border of the Golden Plains and Colac Otway shires.
As reported in the Colac Herald, wind developer NewEn is investigating the possibility of a wind farm in the area. A NewEn representative attended the meeting. WestWind Energy representatives also attended the meeting, but stressed they have no projects in the area at this stage (their nearest project is the Mt Mercer wind farm south of Ballarat).
The meeting had been expected to hear from the Waubra Foundation’s Dr Laurie, but she was an apology on the night. In the end, Landscape Guardians Australia President Randall Bell spoke and chaired (despite calls on the evening from long time residents for a local facilitator); other speakers were Reg Brownell, from the Landscape Guardians; a farmer who lives near the Waubra wind farm; and Kathy Russell from the Landscape Guardians and the Waubra Foundation.
It was very disappointing to hear the standard of information provided by these speakers. The content really followed that of the Sunbury Landscape Guardians meeting (reported on here).
Bell introduced the evening to explain that he doesn’t believe in climate change, and wind farms only exist because of the climate change lobby. He gave us the interesting figure that only 1% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is there due to human activities; the first of many bizarre and ridiculous “factoids” we were to hear on the night.
Reg Brownell, who introduced himself as an economist, next assured us that wind power doesn’t reduce carbon emissions. Brownell told us that wind farms have nearly as high carbon emissions as a gas power station, because they require gas power stations on standby to back them up if the wind drops. He also gave some convoluted figures to explain that abatement of a tonne of CO2 with wind farms costs $175-$500. His whole talk basically plugged gas as the way to go if we want to reduce carbon emissions.
We also heard that studies in Italy, Spain and the UK (for which we were given no reference) show that for every job created in renewable energy, 2.7 to 3 jobs are lost “in the real economy” (one attendee questioned this term, asking whether his job was in the real or the imaginary economy).
The speakers from the Waubra Foundation gave long and also quite convoluted descriptions of the many alleged health effects of wind farms; the poor guy who lives (or lived) near the Waubra wind farm seems to have developed just about every medical symptom you could imagine, which we are told is due to the turbines.You wouldn’t understand it if you hadn’t experienced it, he said, and sure enough I found it hard to understand much of what he said.
Kathy Russell plugged an Australian Environment Foundation “fact sheet” on wind power that was available at the meeting. She informed us that anecdotal evidence of health effects is always the start of a serious investigation, a fair point; and then mainly gave us anecdotes. For example, in response to a question about whether speakers might risk inducing anxiety related symptoms through generating fear of possible effects of wind turbines (the “nocebo effect”), she recounted at great length that her children found it difficult to get back to sleep overnight when she took them to stay in an abandoned farm house near a wind farm (Abandoned farmhouses being perhaps not a generally recommended recipe for a good night’s sleep).
She also re-opened the accusations about the cost of wind power, but when I challenged her on this she fudged and claimed that power costs would rise 33% due to renewable energy subsidies (not borne out by the Australian Energy Market Commission’s studies).
After criticizing the work of Sydney University Public Health Professor Simon Chapman because he is a sociologist and not a medical doctor, Kathy Russell was asked to explain her own credentials to speak on health related issues, and stated “I work in a hospital”. Her response to a follow up question was “I’m not a clinician but I work closely with clinicians” and after polite but persistent questioning from one audience member finally stated that her professional qualification is accounting.
A number of locals also spoke out to criticise the organisers of the meeting, including a local councillor on the Golden Plains Shire council. A number of other community and climate campaigners from further afield traveled to the meeting to observe and ask questions of the Landscape Guardians.
The peak of absurdity came when Bell, as chair, told us that turbine fires happen all the time, fire brigades aren’t allowed to approach, and that the blades catch and throw fire hundreds of metres from the turbine and farmers could end up being liable for the damage. Of course there were no references for these bizarre assertions.
We did get a chance to chat with many local residents following the meeting, and there were genuine concerns raised from many, such as that they don’t like the look of wind turbines; that they don’t have enough information; and that they have not been kept in the loop about the proposed projects, with accusations that there have been “secret meetings”.
Given this lack of information, it seems a shame that the first public meeting in this area was dominated by such a biased group with very dubious information and little by way of references to back up their assertions. This kind of “information” meeting risks causing increased division in the community rather than to actually facilitate informed debate.