Noise Regulation of wind farms
Governments apply noise standards to wind farms to ensure that noise
levels do not exceed certain thresholds. These standards apply firstly during
the planning process and secondly with regard to compliance measures on
completion of the turbines and operation of the wind farm.
The World Health Organization's guidelines for community noise say that
in order to avoid sleep disturbance, noise inside bedrooms should be limited to
30dB(A). The guidelines assume that with the window partly open, there will be
a noise reduction of 15dB(A) between the outside of the building and inside the
bedroom. The World Health Organization therefore recommends a maximum external
sound level of 45dB(A) at night, but says that 40dB(A) should be the maximum for
all new developments whenever feasible.
Although noise standards for wind farms vary across the world, current
standards in Australia are particularly strict. In November 2010, Sonus
The standards and guidelines used for the assessment of
environmental noise from wind farms in Australia and New Zealand are amongst
the most stringent and contemporary in the World.
New and more stringent provisions
The introduction of new planning provisions has meant that the standards
in New Zealand and some Australian jurisdictions have become markedly tighter
in the last two years. The New Zealand standards are considered first because
they inform some Australian standards.
The New Zealand government operated a standard 6808:1998 Acoustics –
The assessment and measurement of sound from wind turbine generators. It revised
its wind farm standards in 2010. This updated New Zealand Standard 6808:2010, Acoustics
– Wind Farm Noise, like its predecessor, recommends that at noise sensitive
the level of sound from a wind farm should not exceed the
background sound level by more than 5 dB, or a level of 40 dB LA90(10min), whichever is the greater.
However, the New Zealand Standard 6808:2010 contains stricter new
provisions including the ability for an authority to apply lower noise limits
in designated areas, known as 'the high amenity limit'.
In Australia, noise standards (including noise emanating from wind
farms) are set by the states or local government authorities as part of their
planning guidelines. Standards between jurisdictions are similar but not
uniform, and the current standards for Victoria, New South Wales (NSW), South
Australia, and Western Australia are given below.
The Victorian government applies New Zealand Standard 6808:2010 in its
policy and planning guidelines for wind farms, modified by certain additional
The compliance and complaint mechanisms of the Victorian government are covered
in later sections.
The Victorian government has also introduced new restrictions on the
location of wind farms. On 29 August 2011, the Victorian government amended the
Victoria Planning Provisions and all planning schemes in Victoria with regard
to wind energy facilities. Amendment VC82 prohibits a wind energy facility in
the following circumstances and locations:
Turbines within two kilometres of an existing dwelling except
where the planning permit application includes evidence of written consent from
the owner of the dwelling to the location of the turbine.
Areas of high conservation and landscape values including
National and State Parks described in a schedule to the National Parks Act 1975
and Ramsar wetlands as defined under section 17 of the Environment Protection
and Biodiversity Act 1999.
Locations that feature a high degree of amenity,
environmental value, or significant tourist destinations including the Yarra
Valley and Dandenong Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, Bellarine Peninsula, Macedon
and McHarg Ranges, Bass Coast and the Great Ocean Road region.
Locations identified for future urban growth including land
in the Urban Growth Zone and designated regional population corridors specified
in the Regional Victoria Settlement Framework Plan in the State Planning Policy
Under amendment VC78, the Victorian government amended the planning
provisions to make Councils the responsible authority for all wind farm
planning permit applications.
However, the Pyrenees Shire Council in Victoria stated that based on legal
opinions sought by various councils, the State government was the responsible
planning authority for both determining the permit for a wind farm, and
monitoring and enforcing compliance.
In NSW, responsibility for the assessment of a proposed wind farm
depends on the scale (capital investment value) and location (local, regional,
state significant) of a proposed wind farm. Small local wind farms are
typically assessed and determined by Councils. Larger more significant
proposals may still be Council assessed, but determined by a Joint Regional
Planning Panel. Significant development proposals are state assessed and
determined by the statutory Planning Assessment Commission.
Typical set back distances between wind farms and residential properties
in NSW currently vary between 0.8 – 2.0 km, with the average being 1.2 km.
The Draft NSW Guidelines propose increasing the minimum setback to 2km, unless
the wind farm proponent receives specific written consent from all landowners
within a 2km zone.
The proposed new noise standards for NSW 'are stringent by both
Australian and world standards being approximately 10dB(A) lower than most
The Sonus Wind Farms Technical Paper notes that 10dB(A) is a significantly
lower amount given that reducing a noise source by even 5dB(A) requires either
the distance between the source and the receiver to be approximately doubled,
or a reduction of up to two thirds in the total number of turbines.
The NSW Draft guidelines state that for a new wind farm development, noise
levels at nearby residences 'should not exceed 35dB(A) or the background noise
(L90) by more than 5dB(A),
whichever is the greater'. Furthermore, the 'noise criteria must be established
on the basis of separate daytime (7am to 10pm) and night-time (10pm to 7am)
The NSW government proposes to amend existing state mechanisms in order
to give effect to the new provisions:
It is proposed to strengthen the regulation of noise from
wind farms under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 with the
Environment Protection Authority (EPA) having a regulatory role in relation to
wind farms that are State Significant Development as well as existing transitional
The NSW guidelines note that low frequency noise 'is typically not a
significant feature of modern wind turbine noise'. However, the guidelines
include provisions for a 5dB(A) penalty 'if excessive levels of low frequency
noise above the human threshold of hearing are occurring'.
The new regulations in both Victoria and NSW may have had an impact on
the development of wind farms in both those states. According to Clare Corke
and Tina Latif, no new wind farm applications have occurred in Victoria or NSW
since the introduction of the Victorian amendments and the NSW Guidelines.
The South Australian government updated its wind farm noise guidelines
in 2009. The guidelines provide that noise from new wind farm developments
should not exceed 35dB(A) at 'relevant receivers' in rural-residential
localities and 40dB(A) in other zones, or the background noise by more than
5dB(A), whichever is greater.
This meant that the base level noise limit was increased by 5dB(A) in
non-rural-residential localities over the 2003 guidelines. The change was
to ensure consistency with the assessment limits applied by
the South Australian Environment Protection (Noise) Policy 2007 to other noise
sources in a general farming or rural locality.
On 12 October 2012, the Statewide Wind Farms Development Plan Amendment
(DPA) came into effect. It included changes to discourage wind farms in
particular areas of scenic and amenity value, and the introduction of a 1km
setback between turbines and dwellings and a 2km setback between turbines and
The Western Australian government has not developed its own specific
wind farm guidelines, but in 2004 the government endorsed the South Australian Environment
Protection Authority — Wind Farms Environmental Noise Guidelines.
The committee is not aware of any further update to the Western Australian
planning documents, which would indicate that the maximum noise level in
Western Australia remains at 35dB(A) for all localities.
The adequacy of current noise regulations for wind farms
The committee received evidence from individuals and organisations arguing
that existing mechanisms either do not effectively regulate for noise, and/or
that the compliance and complaint mechanisms are ineffective. The Waubra Foundation
submitted that 'noise pollution from industrial wind turbines' is 'unregulated'.
The committee's understanding of existing regulatory systems, and evidence
received regarding ongoing scrutiny of some facilities, refutes this suggestion
A second claim by the Foundation is that wind farm operators are able
'to break the law with impunity'.
Similar concerns were expressed in some individual submissions from people
living in the proximity of wind farms. The following section looks at the issue
of compliance with standards and complaint mechanisms.
One of the concerns arising in many submissions was the issue of low
frequency noise and infrasound. In order to determine whether current
regulations are adequate to regulate noise, mid-to-high frequency as well as
low frequency sound and infrasound must be considered. A key element is the
need to determine the extent to which low frequency sound and infrasound from
wind farms is a problem, and whether the current regulations that focus on the
A-weighting are adequate to deal with the low frequency sound. As discussed in previous
chapters, the available evidence does not support the proposition that
inaudible levels of low frequency noise and infrasound from wind turbines are
problematic for health.
Given that it is audible levels of sound from wind farms that must be
addressed in regulatory standards, it appears firstly that the A-weighting used
to measure sound from wind turbines is fit for purpose, and secondly, that
current regulations that specify sound levels as low as 35-40dB(A) at relevant
receivers in Victoria, NSW, South Australia and Western Australia are
sufficient to protect citizens and communities from undue noise exposure.
Noise compliance mechanisms
Prior to the operation of a wind farm, noise assessment is an integral
aspect of the development planning for a wind farm. Energy Australia points out
that a wind farm would not receive planning approval unless the responsible
authorities were satisfied that the relevant noise standards would be met.
After completion of a wind farm, the states have similar requirements
for assessing noise compliance. The Victorian standards require acoustic
compliance reports to be prepared by an independent acoustic engineer, with the
initial report after completion of the first turbine and at six-monthly
intervals thereafter until full operation. A final compliance report is due 12
months following full operation of the facility, and those reports should be
The NSW standards require the operator to prepare and submit a noise compliance
report within 12 months of the operation of the facility, and that report
should be publicly available. In addition, 'noise monitoring must be undertaken
during "worst case" periods'.
State governments also commission noise audits of wind farms. In 2012,
the NSW government hired, by tender, an independent noise specialist to conduct
a noise audit of all operating wind farms in the state. The selection process
ensured the independence of the auditors from the wind farm operators:
Importantly, the successful tenderer has not previously
carried out monitoring or assessment work on the three wind farms that are the
subject of these audits as it is essential that auditors do not review their
Nor has the company ever done any work for either of the wind
farm operators involved in the audit – Infigen Energy and Origin Energy – on
any other facilities.
There is community concern that the noise compliance audits are not
representative of the actual noise experienced by wind farm neighbours. The
Waubra Foundation alleged that wind farm noise audits misrepresent the typical
noise emitted by wind farms:
The operation of the turbines during such an “audit” period, does
not represent the reality and extent of noise and vibration pollution which the
residents live with when such an audit is not occurring.
Community concern about the audit process has been recognised by the NSW
government. The government notes that these concerns will be discussed 'at
length' with the successful tenderer and that the audit will be representative
and will include worst case conditions:
Appropriate strategies will be adopted to ensure noise
measurements are taken under normal wind farm and turbine operating conditions.
In order to ensure the most stringent analysis of compliance
with consent conditions, the measurements will also be scheduled to take place
at the times and under the conditions that typically produce worst case noise
impacts from wind farms.
The South Australian guidelines also recognise that there are community
concerns around the representativeness of a compliance audit. The guidelines
therefore recommend 'that compliance checking be repeated at different periods
of the year where valid concerns exist'. The guidelines also point out that
failure to collect representative data may result in one or more turbines being
Furthermore, the South Australian guidelines note that the 'EPA will restrict
operation of the wind farm' during periods of excessive noise from the wind
The committee was made aware of a number of investigations that
indicated that wind farms were in compliance with their planning permits. These
included Hepburn Wind's facility at Leonards Hill, which in October 2012
reported that it had:
received formal notification that, after thorough
investigation and assessment, the Hepburn Shire Council is satisfied that the
wind farm is compliant with the relevant noise standards.
At the request of the shire, the Victorian Environment
Protection Authority (EPA) provided an independent assessment and have advised
that they too are satisfied with the acoustic reporting.
In responding to a complaint about Capital Wind Farm (CWF), the NSW
government Department of Planning and Infrastructure undertook noise monitoring
at CWF and 'also reviewed the [CWF] operator’s noise monitoring report'. However,
the department did not find any instance of non-compliance as a result of this
Infigen Energy, which operates facilities in New South Wales, South
Australia, and Western Australia, made the following observations:
For our NSW wind farms, the register of complaints has been
reviewed by the NSW Department of Planning and their Independent Environment
Auditor on at least an annual basis. The NSW Department of Planning most
recently examined the complaints registers during July and August 2012.
...In NSW, our wind farms also had to demonstrate compliance
with the applicable noise regulations and consent conditions. Even after this,
the NSW Government decided to undertake an additional noise audit this year,
utilising an acoustic consultant of their own choosing, to repeat the
compliance testing. It is worth nothing the consultant chosen by the NSW
Government has appeared twice in the NSW Land & Environment Court on behalf
of wind farm opponents, so it would be difficult to argue that the consultant
was “pro-wind energy”.
One of the issues raised in connection with compliance assessment was
the ability of members of the public to access wind farm noise data. These
matters are covered in a later section on transparency and access to data.
The committee has seen evidence of adequate compliance mechanisms and
audit processes in place, and acknowledges the work of state governments in
strengthening aspects of these processes over the last three years.
One component of current planning regimes is the requirement that wind
farm operators include a complaint mechanism to enable citizens to lodge a
complaint about a wind farm, and mechanisms by which an authority can ensure
that complaints are dealt with and compliance is met. This mechanism is
intended to provide affected parties with a formal avenue to resolve disputes.
For example, guidelines in Victoria require a wind farm operator to
prepare a complaint register prior to the commencement of operation. The plan
- how contact details will be communicated to the public;
- a toll free telephone number and email contact for complaints and
- details of the appropriate council contact telephone number and
email address (where available); and
- a table outlining complaint information for each complaint
- the complainant's name;
- any applicable property reference number if connected to a
background testing location;
- the complainant's address;
- a receipt number for each complaint which is to be communicated
to the complainant;
- the time, prevailing conditions and description of the
complainant's concerns including the potential incidence of special audible
- the processes of investigation to resolve the complaint.
In addition, the operator must provide a complaints report to the
responsible authority each year. This report must include 'a reference map of
complaint locations', and must also outline the 'complaints, investigation and
Various requirements apply for the evaluation of noise complaints
including the measurement of sound levels at the same locations where the
background sound levels were initially determined. In Victoria, if a breach in
noise compliance is detected, an independent assessment report must be prepared
including a remediation plan. If the complaint remains unresolved, the
responsible authority may request an independent peer review at the cost of the
permit holder and on/off shut down testing. The responsible authority may also
require independent assessment following noise complaints if the authority
believes the complaints warrant investigation.
In South Australia, the EPA can require the developer to repeat the
compliance checking procedure if it receives any complaint that may be valid
about an unreasonable interference on those premises from noise impacts.
The NSW guidelines require the operator to establish a community
consultative committee and to provide that committee with a record of all
community concerns and complaints. The committee is empowered to conduct
'regular inspections of the wind farm in conjunction with its meetings, or at
other times convenient to it'. The guidelines also include provisions for a dispute
The NSW government notes that it has responded to a complaint about CWF.
The Department undertook noise monitoring at capital wind farm and 'also
reviewed the Capital wind farm operator’s noise monitoring report'. However, the
department did not find any instance of non-compliance as a result of this
Pacific Hydro states that it 'takes all complaints from community
members seriously' and that it has 'a thorough complaints process which
investigates concerns thoroughly'. However, the company notes that 'some
complaints are challenging to resolve'. Pacific Hydro has received complaints
that it regards as unreasonable to resolve including:
increased mosquitos in the area and another where it is
alleged an earth tremor was caused by the wind farm. We have also had a
complaint about significant noise and health impacts from one of our wind farms
while it was shut down for maintenance for an extended period.
Hepburn Wind is a community-owned wind farm in Central Victoria. Hepburn
Wind state that 'within our local community we enjoy overwhelmingly strong
support', but they do acknowledge that there are a few objections, some of
which pre-date the project construction. Hepburn Wind state that while
negotiating the resolution of complaints can be difficult, they are committed
to dealing with concerns:
There are approximately 65 homes within 2.5 km of our wind
farm. We currently have outstanding noise complaints at three of these homes.
There is no relationship between distance to the wind farm and these complaints.
In each case we are patiently awaiting the co-operation of the complainants.
The committee has also been made aware that certain complainants have
either refused to engage in discussions with wind farm operators to try and
resolve complaints. Dr Andja Mitric-Andjic stated in a submission that both her
family and clients in her practice are suffering from a cluster of symptoms
that she has attributed to the Hepburn wind farm, and in particular infrasound
from the turbines.
In response, Hepburn Wind point out that over the last two years, they:
have requested a face-to-face meeting with Dr Mitric-Andjic via
email, telephone or letter on 10 occasions ...
All of these requests have been either rejected or ignored.
Despite writing multiple letters to our local newspapers and making a
submission to the current Inquiry, we have yet to meet Dr Mitric-Andjic ...
We carefully monitor the scientific literature on wind
turbine noise, including infrasound, and we are happy to discuss this matter
with Dr. Mitric-Andjic, but have been denied the opportunity to do so.
We find it difficult to understand, given the seriousness of
Dr. Mitric-Andjic's claims, why she has been unable to find time to sit down
with us at any time over the past 15 months to discuss her claims. We cannot
reconcile her apparent concern with her continued refusal to work towards
The committee has also been informed that there is more to the
complaints about wind farms than the matter of noise levels alone. According to
Hepburn Wind, securing the resolution of complaints is hampered by anti-wind
lobbying in the community with the result that some objectors have decided to
opt out of the protections offered under the noise compliance protocols:
The anti-wind lobby has enjoyed a degree of success in
undermining community confidence in the noise compliance processes. As a
result, a number of objectors to our project chose not to participate in the
noise compliance protocols imposed by our planning permit. In effect, these
objectors opted out of the protections granted to them by the planning process.
Transparency and access to noise
The issue of access to data was raised by several witnesses. Emeritus Professor
Colin Hansen stated that 'it is extremely difficult to get data' from a wind
Both Mr Les Huson and Mr Steven Cooper stated that it was crucial to know the
wind speed at the hub height in order to determine compliance with noise
standards, but that data was not available from either the wind farm operators
or the relevant authority. Mr Cooper said that he was told the information was
Mr Huson received similar advice and noted that he could not agree with certain
clauses in the confidentiality agreement proposed by the wind farm operator.
The Waubra Foundation noted that in their experience, the summary acoustic
reports provided to residents by wind farm operators either lacks raw data, or
has crucial pieces of data missing.
Similar views were also expressed by Mr Huson.
The committee heard of a difference in opinion between the Pyrenees
Shire Council and the Victorian Department of Planning and Community
Development over the publication of noise data and reports. Mr Hall stated that
the Council had:
been advised that the Department of Planning and Community
Development have refused to provide information to landowners who have
requested copies of noise data and reports on their properties. I would have
thought individual assessments of some properties may need to be kept
confidential, but I think the general report that is provided on the wind farm
development as a whole should be disclosed once it has been signed off. I would
personally like to see that information made available before it has been
signed off, so that the public can review it.
Wind farm operators and industry organisations were questioned at length
about what data they were required to supply to state regulators as part of the
compliance process and why this data could not be made publicly available.
In their submissions and responses at the committee's public hearing,
many wind industry companies and organisations stated that the provisions in
the bill that would require operators to collect, collate and publish wind
speed and direction at the wind farm, weather conditions at the wind farm, and power
output of individual turbines at the wind farm would be onerous and
unnecessary. For example, Vestas noted that the power output of individual
turbines is commercially sensitive, but that the generation output of wind
farms is already publicly available from the Australian Energy Market
Operator's website. Similarly weather and wind speed data is already available
from the Bureau of Meteorology.
Mr Jamie McGilp stated that under the current standards, Acciona was
required to have independent compliance testing undertaken. Mr McGilp also noted
that Acciona supplied data on wind speed, noise levels and weather conditions
to the regulator, in their case, the Victorian Department of Planning and
All of that information, including wind speed, noise levels,
weather conditions et cetera, is provided to the regulator such as DPCD in
Pacific Hydro explained why the public availability of wind speed data
is commercially sensitive information for a wind farm proponent, and proposed a
mechanism whereby the data could be made available to an independent statutory
By way of background, as far as we are aware all transmission
connected and semidispatchable wind farms in Australia provide real time wind
speed and energy generation data to the Australian Energy Market Operator
(AEMO) ... It should also be noted that AEMO provides highly detailed energy
generation data for Australian wind farms and this is available from their
Importantly, all wind speed data is provided to AEMO under
the strictest confidentiality. This is due to the commercially sensitive nature
of this data.
In addition to this data being the intellectual property of
the wind farm owner that has been acquired at some expense, wind speed data is
the critical element in establishing the commercial viability of wind energy
projects. It is important to note that relatively minor variations in wind
speed translate into meaningful differences in sent out energy costs, contract pricing
and investor returns.
Wind speed data is the one element of the projects financial
model that cannot be accessed by other parties. Other aspects such as turbine
pricing, finance, transmission access and connection costs for example can be
found through publicly available sources.
To make this data available would allow competitors and
contract counterparties to gain invaluable intelligence on a project’s
commercial status and allow them to create an accurate “shadow” financial model
for the project, placing the wind farm proponent at a distinct commercial
For a wind farm proponent to make this data publically
available would be akin to Apple placing the detailed design and cost structure
of its next generation I-Phone on the internet 6 months before public launch.
While we would not be prepared to make wind speed data
publicly available, for the reasons outlined above, we would be prepared to
consider a process whereby wind speed data is provided to an independent statutory
body. As with our arrangements with AEMO, this data would only be provided under
strict confidentiality and its use would need to be restricted by well-defined
The Public Health Association of Australia and Professor Simon Chapman
both believed that the general principle of transparency in the regulatory data
and process was a good idea.
The committee notes that current state regulations pertaining to the
development of wind farms are stringent by world standards in terms of the
permissible noise levels and setback requirements. The committee notes that
potential adverse health effects appear confined to the audible sound range,
and considers that current state regulations adequately address noise levels in
the audible range.
The committee notes that current standards in Victoria, NSW, and South
Australia limit the noise attributable to wind farms to between 35-40dB(A) or 5
dB(A) above the background noise, whichever is greater. These standards are
also endorsed by the Western Australian government. The standard of 5dB(A)
above background noise already in place in these states is significantly lower
than the 10dB(A) above background noise proposed in the bill.
Planning decisions, as always, must weigh up the overall benefits of
developments against local effects that those developments may have. This is
true for rural developments such as land clearing or irrigation projects, urban
developments such as shopping centres and residential development, and
infrastructure in all areas, such as roads, hospitals or power stations. The
stringent tests being applied to wind farm developments overall indicate local
effects are now being taken very seriously.
There should be community confidence in the regulatory process and in
particular in the capacity for successful examination of complaints and the
implementation by regulators of enforcement action in the event of
non-compliance. This requires balancing the need for transparency in compliance
data, with the protection of privacy and of commercial in confidence
information of business operators. The committee does not believe any purpose
is served through the release of raw data to residents, as residents are not
the agents responsible for regulation and enforcement. Regulators should have
access to the data, and should act on complaints about non-compliance,
particularly where those complaints are backed by professionally-obtained
acoustic data. The committee believes that there is merit in the compromise,
put by Pacific Hydro late in the inquiry, to make industry data available to an
independent body to test compliance claims.
The committee recommends that, where there is ongoing debate over noise
compliance issues for particular wind farms, that governments consider making
data for those operations available to an independent authority for review of
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