Monday, January 30, 2012

Wind farms popular, despite noisy opposition

Wind farms might appear controversial in the media, but they enjoy an overwhelming 83% support in affected communities, according to two recent reports.

And the only noise worth worrying about is that from the small minority who are vocally opposing them. Unfortunately, that noise is drowning out other voices in the public arena.

While the anti-wind Waubra Foundation lobbied the NSW government heavily over their review of wind farm planning laws, NSW Health rejected supposed evidence they were presented with, saying “the findings are not scientifically valid, with major methodological flaws stemming from the poor design of the study.”

NSW Health advice to the government was uncovered by a Freedom of Information request by Friends of the Earth (FoE). It appears to contradict NSW Planning minister’s comment to the Sydney Morning Herald that “I take the view that the jury is still out on the health impacts from wind farms. When it comes to people's health, I'll take a precautionary approach every time.

FoE declared the revelation a sign that it is “time to stop listening to front group’s junk science.” 

FoE spokesperson Cam Walker said “The NSW Health documents support our view that far from being a medical research group, the Waubra Foundation’s work is not based on good science.

“This is not surprising — the medical director is not a registered medical practitioner, qualified medical researcher nor epidemiologist. The majority of directors of the foundation are on record as objectors to proposed wind farms in their own back yards.

“And despite their claims that the Foundation maintains complete independence from advocacy groups, it shares a post office box with anti-wind group the Landscape Guardians.”

Despite its strident efforts, the Waubra Foundation and its allies appear to have trouble convincing many other than Liberal/National Coalition MPs of their position. Polling released by wind farm developer Pacific Hydro on January 17th indicates that 83% support wind farms, with only 14% against.

The poll surveyed 1000 people living in areas around existing wind farms in NSW, Victoria and South Australia. It came only days after a study from CSIRO was published, also showing that wind farms enjoyed widespread community support that was not reflected in the public arena to the same extent as the small, vocal opposition.

Lane Crockett, General Manager of Pacific Hydro Australia, said on the polling results, “It is clear from these results that people in regional Australia are drawing their own conclusions on wind energy and they are that they understand the benefits and want to see more of it”.

“The results of this poll should serve as a clear message to politicians and policy developers in all three states that most people like wind power”, Mr Crockett concluded.

Unfortunately, this broad community support is not reflected in state government policy. The NSW government followed Victoria’s example, introducing restrictive regulations on the siting of wind farms, on December 23.

The NSW regulations allow for an appeal process, but still give residents within 2km the right to block wind farms up until the appeal.

South Australia is also set for an election soon. Isobel Redmond, leader of the Liberal Opposition, is also calling for a two-kilometre radius exclusion zone around residences.

Walker said, in a FoE press release on December 23, “As is the case in Victoria, the [NSW] guidelines use a 2km trigger when it comes to residents having the ability to oppose a project.

“The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the government is following the wish list of anti-wind campaigners through adopting an arbitrary set-back model… Set backs should be measured in decibels, not metres.”

The conclusions that wind farms are no health risk are also borne out by a January 24 report from the Climate and Health Alliance, representing over 20 organisations of health professionals.

CAHA convenor Fiona Armstrong explained that “There is no credible peer reviewed scientific evidence that demonstrates a link between wind turbines and direct adverse health impacts in people living in proximity to them. 

“In contrast however, there are well documented and serious threats to human health from burning fossil fuels for electricity generation and transport in the form of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer. It is estimated that the harm to health from emissions from Australian coal-fired power stations is costing the Australia community $A2.6 billion annually.”

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