CLIMATE SPECTATOR: Who's paying to fight AGL wind farms?

An email from the CEO of an anti-wind farm lobby group begs the question: why are taxpayers contributing to court cases against AGL's wind farms?

Climate Spectator

Climate Spectator has been provided with an e-mail sent by Sarah Laurie, CEO of the anti-wind farm lobby group the Waubra Foundation, which indicates the Foundation has been using tax-deductible donations to support a court case against AGL’s Hallett wind farms in South Australia. According to Australian Taxation Office guidance, this appears to directly contradict the Waubra Foundation’s privileged status as a charity for which donations are tax deductible.

In the interests of full disclosure, the e-mail is reprinted in full at the bottom of this article. It opens by thanking recipients for already donating money to support a court case by Bill Quinn.

Quinn is attempting to restrict the operation and development of the Hallett wind farm development for exceeding EPA noise requirements. Climate Spectator understands that Bill Quinn lives around 8 kilometres from the nearest wind turbine.

The e-mail makes the usual claims about there being a cover-up to obscure the evidence of infrasound generated by wind turbines causing health impacts, and asks for further "tax deductible” donations to collect further noise data to aid the legal campaign.

This poses three key questions:

1. Why is the Waubra Foundation funding noise measurements and not epidemiological studies?

If the Waubra Foundation was genuinely interested in identifying whether wind turbines have impacts on health, it doesn’t need to do any noise monitoring. Instead, it would be far better served funding epidemiological studies evaluating the statistical prevalence of illnesses amongst people living close to wind turbines versus similar populations that don’t live near turbines.

Ideally such studies should be undertaken in regions that have had wind turbines in place for a considerable time period, such as Denmark, so that any subtle long-term effects would have had time to become evident. This was the key tool that identified an unambiguous link between tobacco smoke and lung cancer. Also such studies should be done by independent university researchers at arm’s length from the Waubra Foundation, who’s board and staff have clearly already made their minds up.

Yet considering the Waubra Foundation’s supposed focus on health research, its website does not contain a single mention of it commissioning any kind of long-run epidemiological study by university researchers with expertise in the area. Instead the website is filled with links to press stories and two websites overseas that purport to have found a link between wind turbines and health ailments.

2. If the supposed cause of health problems is inaudible infrasound, why is Waubra focused on a court case about audible noise levels?

Secondly the court case against AGL is based on exceeding audible noise levels and has nothing to do with the supposedly insidious, but inaudible infrasound that Sarah Laurie blames for an extraordinary array of illnesses. In light of this it seems that studies focussed on supporting this particular court case will do nothing to further our understanding of whether or not infrasound causes health ailments.

3. Should the Waubra Foundation be able to claim the status of a tax-deductible charity?

Thirdly we come to the issue of tax deductibility of donations to an organisation with tenuous claims on being genuinely focussed on addressing health problems.

The Australian Taxation Office website provides quite specific guidance on organisations’ eligibility  to be a tax-deductible charity. Of particular relevance to the Waubra Foundation is the ATO’s guidance that an organisation is not eligible as a charity if it is primarily for political, lobbying or promotional purposes, unless it has a purpose of generating public debate by lawful means to influence government on charitable subjects.

The ATO website provides a series of examples to help expand on this. Of particular relevance to the Waubra Foundation it provides this guidance:

An entity whose dominant purpose is to change the law or government policies is not charitable. This is the case even if the subject matter of the change may be beneficial to the community or is of great concern to the community.

Example: Not a charity

A residents' action group is formed to lobby against a proposed rubbish dump near a suburb. It is not a charity.

And also:

An entity whose aim is to promote a particular point of view or convince the public of the correctness of such a view is not charitable. This is regardless of whether the aim is to change law or government policy, or uses educational means to achieve its aims.

Examples: Not charities

Example 1: An organisation is set up to convince the public that pornography is a detriment to society. It is not a charity.

This is clearly what the Waubra Foundation is about – lobbying against wind farms that its supporters don’t like for a wide array of reasons other than health concerns. What it is doing with funding the Quinn court case has the specific purpose of hindering the development of a wind farm. It lacks any of the controls and rigour involved in a typical scientific study into environmental health that tries to isolate the effect of individual environmental factors.

It’s time the ATO ended the ridiculous charade that the Waubra Foundation is a health promotion charity.

Also, where is the Institute of Public Affairs when you need them? The IPA has been happy to harangue environmental groups as tax deductible charities, but seem strangely silent on the case of the Waubra Foundation.

The complete email:

From: Dr Sarah Laurie
Sent: Thursday, 22 March 2012 1:17 PM
To: Dr Sarah Laurie
Subject: update re Quinn appeal

Dear All,

Please circulate discreetly.

A BIG THANKYOU to all of you who contributed so generously to the Quinn appeal to enable it to continue.    I am very sorry not to have circulated an update sooner.  It is indeed continuing, thanks to the donations, and the details of what has transpired in the meantime are outlined below...

Peter Quinn, the barrister for the appeal, advised me that when they went back to court in late February, AGL were unable to present to the court at that time, a period of noise data which showed that the wind turbines at Hallett 2 were compliant.  

The plan then was for the court to reconvene on 10th May, and for AGL to continue with its "modification" program to the turbines at Hallett 2 in the meantime. 

Since then, AGL released a press release on 5th March, 2012 claiming that "the tonality problem" has been fixed at Hallett.   However the resident living there has advised that that particular period of time was very quiet with respect to wind, (as is usual for this time of year) and it was not blowing from the characteristically noisy direction.  Other residents in the area have said that the problem has since become worse for them. 

The plan for the Quinn appeal is to collect further noise data from this location and others, when the usual windy weather resumes, which will show that contrary to popular belief amongst wind industry acousticians, that it is turbine noise rather than "wind in the trees" which is the cause of the audible noise at the higher wind speeds, particularly on those frequent occasions when there is ridgetop wind but it is quiet down at the home. 

IN any case, the resident at Mt Bryan (Hallett 2) is still waking up in the characteristic way which has been associated with infrasound and low frequency sound energy waves, penetrating through the house, and now thought to be directly stimulating the brain's fight flight response (sympathetic nervous system) when people are asleep.  He is not the only one affected by the Hallett 2 turbines, despite what AGL have been claiming.  Others have reported that the problem is now worse for them, in a different location.

This sleep disturbance is consistent with the stories residents are telling, around the world, and shown by Rob Rand and Steven Ambrose in their Falmouth study to correlate with measured wind turbine emissions of infrasound and low frequency noise inside the home in Falmouth.  Rob and Steve also noticed the effects of these emissions on themselves, while collecting the acoustic data.   Research projects are currently being planned nationally and internationally which will specifically examine this "direct causation" of the sleep disturbance.

In their recent press release, AGL carefully alluded to problems which have become evident at Glenthompson (Oaklands Hill wind development) near Dunkeld in Victoria.  One family have already had to leave their home, with other families in the region developing the characteristic health problems, some severely so.

AGL conducted internal noise measurements at the abandoned family home and have admitted to finding "tonality with audible noise".  I have reproduced a relevant part of their press release below:

"AGL is committed to working with the local communities in which we operate to allow our neighbours to live at their residences without disturbance from audible [Laurie’s emphasis] tones and to ensure that our wind farms meet all regulatory requirements".

However their careful emphasis in their press release to audible tones and audible noise highlights that they now appear to be aware that there is indeed a problem with inaudible tones and noise, ie infrasound and very low frequency noise, which we have been saying for a long time, and which the Rand and Ambrose report from Falmouth has highlighted so clearly.  The full sound spectrum was apparently measured at this family home, but I am advised those results have not yet been provided to the residents, despite them requesting that information.

AGL representatives have let a number of things slip in the course of consultations with the residents at their various wind developments over the last few weeks which include the following:

1.  They admitted to one resident that whilst they were offering changing the glass on the windows that "it didn't fix the problem".  Indeed it does not, because the pressure flucutations in the low frequencies come down through the roof, and if there is a seismic effect they will also come through the floors.  This is in addition to still coming through the walls and the glass, even if it is "double glazed' or otherwise modified.  There is also, of course, the issue about then not being able to open the windows to get the fresh air, which is so valued by rural residents who do not necessarily want to live with air conditioners to drown out the audible noise of the turbines, also being suggested by some wind developers as a "solution" to the noise problem.  This confirms to us that AGL staff indeed do know that there is a low frequency noise problem, but that they are not going to do anything about it until the rules are changed.  This is in spite of the fact that AGL staff know only too well how sick some of the residents are becoming, one in particular with serious health problems.

2.  They were obviously and immediately uncomfortable when the suggestion of independent noise monitoring was brought up.  Not keen on that idea at all.

3.  When contronted by one particularly knowledgeable witness to one of the conversations (this person had some inside industry knowledge) about the fact that resonant dampers being installed would not fix the problem of the infrasound and low frequency noise and pressure fluctuations generated by the blade passing the tower, the AGL staff's obvious discomfort increased still further.

Since this time, there are now 9 turbines closest to the home of a severely affected resident at Glenthompson which are being turned off at night for "70 days".  This happens to coincide with the time until the court case resumes.  It would be nice to think that the sole aim of AGL is to protect the health of the resident, which they have expressed concern about and are well aware of, but we suspect it also has to do with the possible embarrassment of acoustic data being presented in the Quinn appeal from the Glenthompson wind turbines.

So, this means we are absolutely on the right track with the independent noise monitoring, full sound spectrum, inside and outside homes, at times when the developers are not aware that this is going on.

The plan is to collect as much of this data as we can, from any wind developments.  The data will then be publicly available for use by any concerned local groups around Australia and the world, as we have no intention of allowing a situation where the data is hidden away by the use of "confidentiality agreements", as has happened previously.  It will be owned collectively.

Thanks again for the donations which have been received towards this noise monitoring.  Any further donations which people are able to make to enable more noise monitoring to happen will be gratefully received, especially by those who just do not have the financial resources to be able to afford to pay for it themselves.  Many people currently living with the effects of the turbines have been significantly financially adversely  impacted, so this is one way of everybody helping each other.   Thanks also to those people who have decided to commission their own noise monitoring but are choosing to share those results with us and others, so that ultimately everyone can benefit from this knowledge.

If you would like to do so, please donate to the Waubra foundation (tax deductible) via the form downloadable on www.waubrafoundation.com.au.  If you would like it to go to noise monitoring specifically, rather than the activities of the foundation, please specify Noise Monitoring, and name the location if there is a specific location you would like to help with data collection for.

Together we will ensure there is proper independent full spectrum acoustic data collection, which so far respective governments have shown themselves incapable of ensuring.

kind regards

Sarah 

Dr Sarah Laurie BMBS Flinders

Chief Executive Officer

Waubra Foundation

PO Box 1136 South Melbourne VIC Australia 3205

Ph        0439 865 914

Office  08 8636 2051

Email   sarah@waubrafoundation.com.au