Friday, February 3, 2012

Tilting at windmills in Buninyong

Reblogged from yes2renewables.org
 

Buninyong wind farms forum

Last night the Democratic Labor Party Senator, John Madigan, convened a forum on wind farms in the town of Buninyong, just outside Ballarat. About 120 people attended.

The meeting was called, ostensibly, to gather responses to the recommendations of last year’s Senate Inquiry into the Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms. Madigan promised to represent the views expressed in parliament, and to push for the recommendations of the Inquiry (see below) to be finally implemented.

As it turned out, no-one present disagreed with the recommendations of the inquiry – not the woman from WestWind who attended, not us, and not any of the many opponents of wind farms who spoke. One man (who said he wasn’t generally opposed to wind farms) questioned the relevance of the forum given that the Senate is expected to respond within three months anyway.

“Evaluate coal and wind equally and in comparison”

One really outstanding comment (of the few who weren’t anti-wind farms) came from a local resident who explained that she grew up in the Latrobe Valley, where she suffered regular bronchitis that only cleared up when she moved to Western Victoria, away from the (well documented) health problems of the coal industry.

Unfortunately, this background story was met by sniggering from a couple of charming individuals toward the back of the room.

Her practical suggestion was that, on top of the seven recommendations of the Senate Inquiry (which she supported), we should add another seven pertaining to the coal industry. She suggested such measures as studies of the effects of coal on human health; consideration of the loss of farmland from coal mines; a policy on the separation of residences from coal mining.

She called for these studies to be made public, and then for an evaluation of the effects of both coal and wind equally and in comparison with each other. She received what seemed to be quite genuine applause for this suggestion.

What could you buy for $400 000 per year?

An engineer who works for windfarm developer WestWind pointed out that their proposed Moorabool wind farm (which has planning approval) will contribute nearly half a million dollars in rates to the local council.

Later, Patrick Griffin, the Mayor of Moorabool shire, responded that “$400 000 in annual rates doesn’t rebuild broken roads”. I am reliably advised that WestWind’s planning for the Moorabool project includes fixing any roads damaged by construction vehicles, in any case. Perhaps Mayor Griffin will give the money back, or donate it to charity, if it is so insignificant?

Grievances and ideological issues

But a large part of the meeting really served as a platform for statements by campaigners and complainants against wind farms, who had come from across the state including Seymour, Portland, Glenthompson, Waubra, Leonard’s Hill, the Latrobe Valley, and Moorabool shire.

Many of the contributors simply told of symptoms of illness that they, their families, and their pets suffer and attribute to nearby wind turbines. These were in line with comments made in previous public meetings, and repeated on some TV reporting such as the report by Four Corners. You can read one sample in the brief Weekly Times report of the meeting.

Many called for an outright moratorium on the building of wind farms, and cited the ideological arguments that wind farms don’t and can’t work, as well as their personal fears or health problems.

I spoke briefly and pointed out that despite all the technical and ideological arguments about why wind farms don’t work (in theory), the real-life evidence from South Australia (using government Energy Market Operator figures) disproves this (as previously outlined on yes2renewables.org).

A woman approached me as I was leaving with a handmade sign which read “too many turbines, too near homes” and asked what I thought of that complaint, explaining her fear regarding her own and her neighbours’ health when the wind farm is built. She was also concerned about the proposed coal mining in their area, in Moorabool shire.

(It is worth mentioning that the Moorabool Environment Group, which is campaigning against Mantle Mining’s coal exploration in the area, is also pro-wind farms and opposed to the state government’s anti-wind farm laws.)

I agreed it would be great to have a discussion about her sign’s suggestion (rather than the more common “no turbines, anywhere, anytime” message). Unfortunately at this point, a large irate man kept inserting himself between us to yell abuse at me so I left.

Truthiness

What is particularly sad about the meeting is not that people expressed their opposition to wind farms, but the “truthiness” and misinformation that is promoted by some anti-wind campaigners.

Following are some outstanding  “factoids” from the night.
  • Coal plant operators don’t reduce generation one bit when wind farm energy comes online, therefore wind is not displacing any CO2 emissions (the speaker was told this, apparently, by a coal power station plant operator).
  • Wind turbine heights given by companies are false because they don’t include the height of the nacelle on top of the tower.
  • Wind turbines continue spinning even when there is no wind, drawing electricity from the grid to power them
  • Wind energy never works (anywhere, anytime) to provide reliable or useful electricity, because one study from the UK implies as much
  • Wind turbines sound like jet engines
  • High voltage lines lose 80% of what is generated to the atmosphere, and this EMF radiation is causing cancer and birth deformities
  • Spain had government debt of $16 billion in 2009, they also have a lot of renewable energy, one must cause the other
  • City lights are beautiful at night, but those on wind turbines are ugly
  • Instead of wind, we should be investing in getting people ready for nuclear power
  • A wind developer is “bribing” residents around its proposed wind farm – the bribery consisting of an offer to take them on a bus trip to the Leonards Hill wind farm to have a look, and perhaps even a free BBQ as well!
  • Wind turbines will be considered similar to asbestos and thalidomide in the future
Just how such inaccurate and/or subjective claims help anyone in this debate is beyond me.

Senate Inquiry Recommendations

  1. The Committee considers that the noise standards adopted by the states and territories for the planning and operation of rural wind farms should include appropriate measures to calculate the impact of low frequency noise and vibrations indoors at impacted dwellings.
  2. The Committee recommends that the responsible authorities should ensure that complaints are dealt with expeditiously and that the complaints processes should involve an independent arbitrator. State and local government agencies responsible for ensuring compliance with planning permissions should be adequately resourced for this activity.
  3. The Committee recommends that further consideration be given to the development of policy on separation criteria between residences and wind farm facilities.
  4. The Committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government initiate as a matter of priority thorough, adequately resourced epidemiological and laboratory studies of the possible effects of wind farms on human health. This research must engage across industry and community, and include an advisory process representing the range of interests and concerns.
  5. The Committee recommends that the NHMRC review of research should continue, with regular publication.
  6. The Committee recommends that the National Acoustics Laboratories conduct a study and assessment of noise impacts of wind farms, including the impacts of infrasound.
  7. The Committee recommends that the draft National Wind Farm Development Guidelines be redrafted to include discussion of any adverse health effects and comments made by NHMRC regarding the revision of its 2010 public statement.


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