The South Australian EPA and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal have separately issued findings yesterday which refute suggestions that wind farms produce noise harmful to surrounding communities. These were in relation to the Waterloo wind farm operating in South Australia and an application to develop a new wind farm in Victoria known as Cherry Tree.
Waterloo wind farm
The Waterloo wind farm has been blamed for a wide array of problems by some wind farm critics, in particular the anti-wind farm lobby group The Waubra Foundation. The foundation claims that Waterloo and, indeed, wind farms more generally produce a form of low frequency sound known as infrasound which they claim is dangerous to human health.
In December 2012, SA EPA officers met with residents from Waterloo to discuss their concerns regarding the wind farm. Concerns included a rumbling noise and a variable pulsing noise that was dependent on wind direction. The residents spoke of various symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbance and exhaustion, flu-like symptoms and tinnitus. According to reportage in The Australian newspaper the wind farm is even responsible for such things as listless dogs that stare at walls, deformed sheep and chickens laying yolkless eggs.
To assess whether the wind farm was responsible for producing noise harmful to residents the SA EPA put in place noise and weather monitoring at locations at distances of 1.3km to 7.6km and a range of directions from the Waterloo Wind Farm over the period of April to June 2013. In addition they asked residents with concerns about the wind farm to keep a diary documenting experience of disturbing noise and symptoms they believe were caused by the wind farm. As part of the study the wind farm was also shut off six times during wind conditions where it would normally produce power.
The SA EPA has concluded from the study that:
The Waterloo Wind Farm meets relevant South Australian and international standards and there is no evidence linking the noise from the wind farm to adverse impacts on residents.
The study found that:
– Noise events that could be attributed to the wind farm were periodically audible at four locations, but at very low levels, which did not dominate the noise environment; however, no attributable events were found at the two remaining houses. Where detectable, the noise levels were compliant with the EPA’s wind farm noise guidelines.
– While the wind farm did increase the level of low frequency sound under some conditions, it was found at levels “significantly below the accepted perception threshold of 85dB(G)”. Instead, background noise resulting from local winds and other noise sources was shown to contribute to increases in low frequency noise that were comparable with, or higher than, contributions from the wind farm.
– A barely perceptible ‘rumbling’ effect was found using resident diary records to focus the analysis. However, in many cases the EPA was unable to determine that described events could be attributed to the turbines; and at times reported events coincided with shutdowns of the plant.
Cherry Tree wind farm
VCAT yesterday granted planning approval for Infigen Energy’s 50MW Cherry Tree wind farm near Victoria's Seymour.
This project had been subject to a dedicated effort by The Waubra Foundation to reject it on the basis that it would cause harm to the health of residents. This included appearances by Sarah Laurie, the head of the foundation, testifying to the tribunal that wind farms produce levels of infrasound that are harmful to surrounding residents’ health.
However, the tribunal found that opponents of approval were “unable to refer the Tribunal to any judgment or decision of an environmental court or tribunal which has found that there is a causal link between emissions from a wind farm and adverse health effects on nearby residents”.
In making its decision, VCAT drew upon findings from the National Health and Medical Research Council, NSW Health and the Victorian Department of Health. VCATl The tribunal noted:
“The views of NSW Health as reported in the Bodangora determination and the Victorian Department of Health publication, expressly state that there is no scientific evidence to link wind turbines with adverse health effects. These are the views of State authorities charged by statute with the protection of public health. These views must be respected.”
It is incredible that The Waubra Foundation and its sister organisation, The Landscape Guardians, have achieved what they have without producing a single statistically valid epidemiological study and when detailed noise measurements find that homes nearby to wind farms don’t experience materially higher levels of infrasound. We have had a parliamentary inquiry, we’ve got a Coalition government promising to subject wind farms to further regulatory noise controls, we’ve had wind farms held up for months in costly planning hearings and we have had setbacks imposed on wind farms which other facilities, including ones which can catastrophically explode like chemical plants, don’t have to comply with.
This is a victory of anecdote and fear over science, and is simply ridiculous.