Government to seek independent review of the health impact of wind farms …

January 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

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Federal Politics

National
Environment
Political News

Date

January 27, 2014

  • 13 reading now
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Peter Hannam

Environment Editor, The Sydney Morning Herald

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A turbulent issue: anti-windfarm advocates are pressing for review.

A turbulent issue: anti-windfarm advocates are pressing for review. Photo: Leanne Pickett

The federal government will press ahead with “an independent program” to study the supposed impact on health of wind farms as it emerged a report on the issue has been handed to government but withheld from public release.

Activists, some linked to climate change sceptic groups, say people living near wind farms suffer sleep disturbance and other health effects from low-frequency noise and infrasound, with illnesses dubbed ”wind turbine syndrome”, ”vibro-acoustic disease” and ”visceral vibratory vestibular disturbance”.

Various international and Australian studies have cast doubt on the sicknesses and the National Health and Medical Research Council began its review of evidence about the effects of wind farms for the government in September 2012. Its findings have been sent to the ministers of health, industry and environment and will be released publicly “in coming months”, a council spokeswoman said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said this month that research should be refreshed “from time to time” to consider whether there were “new facts that impact on old judgments”.

“It is some years since the NHMRC last looked at this issue. Why not do it again?” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Abbott declined to clarify whether the Prime Minister knew of the council’s latest study when calling for the council to reopen the issue.

Competing concerns

A “rapid review” of the evidence by the council in 2010 found “renewable energy generation is associated with few adverse health effects compared with the well-documented health burdens of polluting forms of electricity generation”. About three-quarters of eastern Australia’s power comes from coal.

Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at Sydney University, said Mr Abbott appeared to have been swayed by a tiny group of anti-windfarm campaigners, such as the Waubra Foundation, in calling for another study even before the survey of scientific literature is released.

“We all need to be concerned about whether he’s being influenced by little more than a cult,” Professor Chapman said, adding that research to date has failed to link wind farms under current noise guidelines with ill-health.

Sarah Laurie, chief executive of the Waubra Foundation, supports the extra study. “Research and data if done properly is what enables proper regulation,” Ms Laurie said.

The NHMRC study should not only look at noise impacts from wind farms but also similar effects from coal seam gas and open-cut coal mining operations, she added.

The wind industry is concerned the prospect of a new study is the latest sign governments are turning against renewable energy. Mr Abbott, other coalition figures and his senior business advisor Maurice Newman have lately blamed the Renewable Energy Target for pushing up power prices.

The goal, now set at generating 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, will be reviewed this year. Industry sources say the environment and industry ministries are resisting efforts to have the Productivity Commission – expected to take a hardline against the RET – conduct the review.

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