Questions a prominent wind farm critic needs to answer

David Mortimer is one of Australia's highest profile wind farm critics, notable for the fact he hosts a couple of turbines. But in his public pronouncements he skips some curious details.

David Mortimer, who lives near Millicent in South Australia, is one of Australia’s highest profile critics of wind farms. Mortimer derives rental income from two turbines which are part of the Lake Bonney wind farm.

While the local Wattle Range Council that covers his property has never received a formal complaint from any resident about the wind farm, Mortimer has been a vocal critic for over 12 months, claiming that he and his wife are being made ill by their exposure to the turbines.

He has been interviewed on Sydney Radio 2GB by shock jocks Alan Jones in November 2012 and Steve Price (March 2013) and appeared on the national TV news magazine program Today, Tonight and has been covered extensively by the anonymously authored Stop These Things website where he says “somewhere during the night it is going to wake me up and I am going to find myself half way down the passageway, trying to get away from scorpions and snakes and whatever the hell frightens the hell out of me”.

Mortimer is unique in Australia in being the only wind turbine host to have spoken out against wind farms. The Mortimers’ claims are therefore of strategic importance to the anti-wind movement because they are being used to counter the argument that turbine hosts do not complain because the substantial rental money they earn acts as a kind of “preventive” to health complaints.

On June 18, 2013, Mortimer spoke at a poorly attended protest rally in the lawn in front of Parliament House in Canberra, chaired by Alan Jones. Here is part of what he said, with my emphasis in italics:

“Mary Morris was on recently … Now, not terribly long ago, earlier this year, we went for a bit of a tour up around North of Adelaide, etc., and we happened to turn up at Mary’s place, and we stayed the night there. Now we could look all around us, and we couldn’t see a turbine within coo-ee, and so we thought there are no turbines around. Now, we went to sleep about 10 o’clock that night in our little camper, (which is parked down the road) and we had been in bed for about 10 minutes, I suppose, and I rolled over and said to my wife, and I said, “you know, you’re not going to believe this”, and she said, “yeah, I can hear it too.” Well, you know, I didn’t prompt anything. In the back of our head we could feel it, the same pulsing sensation, the same deep rumbling, down inside our head, that disturbs our sleep. You can’t block it out with ear plugs or ear muffs.

We had an absolute terrible night sleep. Now we expected to have a good night’s sleep, as we always do when we go away from home. We can sleep next to a parking bay, as we did on Saturday night. Trucks going past all night. When the trucks are not there, the silence inside our head is absolutely like a vacuum. It is profound. While we’re home, it’s just a constant pulsing turmoil. You don’t get any sleep.

But anyway, we asked Mary next morning “Are there any turbines around?” and she pointed up the Range, she said “seventeen kilometres up that way.” Seventeen kilometres, and we could still pick it up.”

Earlier in the year, Mortimer and his wife had travelled to King Island in Tasmania where Mortimer spoke to a meeting of residents about a proposed development. The King Island Courier ran an account of his speech, where he described his neighbours as “all being alcoholics” adding “if my neighbour's house was on fire and I wasn't threatened, I’d let them burn”. In his Parliament House lawn speech Mortimer referred to his visit:

“Now we went down to King Island, in Tasmania, to tell those poor silly fools down there, that they’re not going to have an island left to live on, if they get these some 200-600 turbines on their place. We got taken to a little bed and breakfast that night, somewhere after midnight. We had no idea of our surroundings, and we had no idea what the island was like. We got in to bed about, heading on towards midnight I suppose, and we once again had a terrible night sleep, with this same pulsing, rumbling sensation inside our head, the same sense of anxiety in our chest.

We went for a drive the next morning, and on our way into Currie, the little town there, about 4km away from where we were staying, was five ruddy great big wind turbines. Part of their local wind, their local power plant. Now those were about 1 megawatt units. The next night the wind was blowing straight across those turbines and we had an absolute s**t of a night sleep. Now once again, we’d expected to have a damn good night sleep. We were sleeping next to the coast, the ocean was calm, so there was no noise coming from there.”

The owner of the guest house in which the Mortimers stayed has said: “We built the house in 2004 and lived there for a year before renting it out as a tourist accommodation since then. No one else, apart from David Mortimer has complained about any problems at the Ettrick house."

On October 7 this year, Mortimer posted a reply on an ABC Blog, where he returned to the same issues. He wrote:

“...neither my wife nor I have sleep problems when we are significantly removed from turbines but do so when we are home or in the vicinity of turbines such as we have been 17km from Waterloo SA, 4km from King Island and 12km from Macarthur Vic. With the exception of Macarthur, we had no idea until next day that there were turbines in our vicinity.” (my emphasis)

David Mortimer’s public statements invite important questions.

1. He drove with his wife some 475km from his house near Millicent to near the town of Waterloo where he “happened to turn up at Mary Morris’ place”. Mortimer and Mary Morris are known to each other as active opponents of the wind farms near where they live. By claiming to have asked Mary Morris the next morning “Are there any turbines around?” and writing that he “had no idea until next day that there were turbines in our vicinity” he is suggesting that he was unaware that she lived in the vicinity of the Waterloo wind farm, when in fact she has often written and spoken about its effect on her family and others in the district. Is this “well, I never!” account one that a reasonable person should accept?

2. Mortimer was invited to King Island to address a meeting of residents about the proposed new wind farm on that island. He suggests that in all his preparation for that visit, and in the time that spent in the company of those who brought him there before he slept at the guest house, that he was completely unaware that the tiny community of King Island already had a wind farm in place which had been operating for 15 years. It just never came up?

Please explain, Mr Mortimer?

Simon Chapman AO is Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

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