The Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines was established in December
2014. To date, it has received 464 submissions from a wide range of
stakeholders. It has conducted public hearings in Portland in south-west
Victoria on 30 March, in Cairns on 18 May, in Canberra on 19 May, in Melbourne
on 9 June and in Adelaide on 10 June 2015. Further public hearings are planned
in Canberra on 19 June and 23 June and in Sydney on 29 June 2015.
This represents a considerable volume of evidence relating directly to
the committee's terms of reference. The committee has received written and
verbal evidence from State Governments, local councils, various federal
government agencies, wind farm operators and manufacturers, country fire
authorities, acousticians, medical experts and representatives from various
associations and institutes. In addition, many private citizens have had the
opportunity to voice their concerns with the planning, consultation, approval,
development and operation of wind farms in Australia.
Access to all public submissions and public hearing transcripts can be
found on the committee's website.
The committee's headline recommendations
This report presents seven headline recommendations. The committee
believes that these recommendations are important and urgent given that
legislation on the renewable energy target is due to be debated in the Senate
shortly. The final report in August this year will provide supporting evidence
and supporting recommendations. It will also address other terms of reference,
including the merit of subsidies for wind farm operators and the effect of wind
power on household power prices.
The committee recommends the Commonwealth Government create an Independent
Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound responsible for providing
research and advice to the Minister for the Environment on the impact on human
health of audible noise (including low frequency) and infrasound from wind
turbines. The IESC should be established under the Renewable Energy
(Electricity) Act 2000.
The committee recommends that the National Environment Protection
Council establish a National Environment Protection (Wind Turbine Infrasound
and Low Frequency Noise) Measure (NEPM). This NEPM must be developed
through the findings of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial
Sound. The Commonwealth Government should insist that the ongoing
accreditation of wind turbine facilities under the Renewable Energy
(Electricity) Act 2000 in a State or Territory is dependent on the NEPM
becoming valid law in that State or Territory.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government introduce National
Wind Farm Guidelines which each Australian State and Territory Government
should reflect in their relevant planning and environmental statutes. The
committee proposes these guidelines be finalized within 12 months and that the
Commonwealth Government periodically assess the Guidelines with a view to
codifying at least some of them.
The committee recommends that eligibility to receive Renewable Energy
Certificates should be made subject to general compliance with the National
Wind Farm Guidelines and specific compliance with the NEPM. This should
apply immediately to new developments, while existing and approved wind farms
should be given a period of no more than five years in which to comply.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government establish a National
Wind Farm Ombudsman to handle complaints from concerned community residents
about the operations of wind turbine facilities accredited to receive renewable
energy certificates. The Ombudsman will be a one-stop-shop to refer complaints
to relevant state authorities and help ensure that complaints are
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government impose a levy on wind turbine operators accredited to receive renewable energy certificates to fund the costs of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound—including the funding of additional research—and the costs of a National Wind Farm Ombudsman.
The committee recommends that the data collected by wind turbine
operators relating to wind speed, basic operation statistics including
operating hours and noise monitoring should be made freely and publicly
available on a regular basis. The proposed Independent Expert Scientific
Committee should consult with scientific researchers and the wind industry
to establish what data can be reasonably made freely and publicly available
from all wind turbine operations accredited to receive renewable energy
Wind farms and human health
Why are there so many people who live in close proximity to wind
turbines complaining of similar physiological and psychological symptoms? As
with previous Senate inquiries, this committee has gathered evidence from many
submitters attributing symptoms of dizziness, nausea, migraines, high blood
pressure, tinnitus, chronic sleep deprivation and depression to the operation
of nearby wind turbines. The committee invites the public to read and consider
the evidence of people who have experienced these symptoms and who attribute
their anxiety and ill health to the operation of turbines.
These health affects should not be trivialised or ignored. The committee
was particularly distressed by renewable energy advocates, wind farm developers
and operators, public officials and academics who publicly derided and
sometimes lampooned local residents who were genuinely attempting to make known
the adverse health effects they were suffering.
The committee is aware of people complaining of these impacts who have
since left their family home. Some now live a nomadic and uncertain existence.
In one case, the now deserted home had been in the family for five
generations—since the 1840s. These are not decisions taken lightly. Having left
the turbine vicinity, several witnesses noted that the symptoms had faded if
Some submitters attribute these illnesses to a 'nocebo effect'—a result
of expectations of harm rather than exposure to turbine activity. This claim
has been made by Professor Simon Chapman, a sociologist by training and a
professor of Public Health at Sydney University. He has labelled wind turbine
syndrome 'a communicated disease', claiming that it 'spreads by...being talked
about and is therefore a strong candidate for being defined as a psychogenic condition'.
However, most people recognise that noise including low frequency noise
could cause these impacts and emphasise that noise standards, properly
enforced, are crucial to ensuring public safety.
This view acknowledges that the noise from wind turbines creates annoyances
which can manifest in sleep disruption. The clear remedy is to set noise
standards (such as the New Zealand Standard) and enforce these standards. This
is essentially the public position of the relevant authorities in Australia.
The need to investigate infrasound and low frequency noise from turbines
and its effect on human health
The committee highlights the need for more research into the impact of
low frequency noise and infrasound (0–20 hertz) from wind turbines on human
A 2014 pilot study conducted by acoustician Mr Steven Cooper found a
correlation between infrasound emitting from turbines at Cape Bridgewater in
Victoria and 'sensations' felt, and diarised, by six residents of three nearby
homes. By identifying a unique infrasound 'wind turbine signature', recording
it as present in the homes, and linking it to 'sensations' felt by the
residents, Mr Cooper's research has received international attention.
It is clear that the extent and nature of wind turbines' impact on human
health is a contested issue. The nocebo effect, the existing standards for
measuring audible noise
and the NHMRC's 2011 literature review
have all been criticised by submitters and witnesses to this inquiry. The
criticisms relate both to flaws in methodology and to inaccurate and incomplete
Fundamentally, the lack of detailed, reliable data does not allow for a
proper scientific conclusion to be drawn. The committee is struck by the
considerable gaps in understanding about the impact of wind turbines on human
health. These gaps have widely acknowledged key issues, both explicitly and
the NHMRC found in February 2014 that 'there is currently no
consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans'.
While maintaining this stance, in February 2015, the NHMRC recognised that the
body of direct evidence on wind farms and human health is 'small and of poor
quality'. It concluded that 'high quality research into possible health
effects of windfarms, particularly within 1,500 metres, is warranted';
In June 2015, the German Medical Assembly forwarded a motion to
the board of the German Medical Association for further research into the
possible side effects of wind turbines. The committee has received advice from
the German Medical Association that this motion proposes that the German
Government provide the necessary funding to research potential adverse effects
to health. The motion also argues that wind turbines should not be erected in
the vicinity of residential areas until this research has yielded results. The
Board of the German Medical Association has advised the committee that it will
revisit the motion in July 2015;
the position of several well-informed submitters that more
research is needed, including;
criticism of the composition of the NHMRC Reference Group, and in
particular the lack of acoustical expertise. One witness, who was a formal
observer of the Reference Group process, noted that only one member of the
panel was an acoustician, adding: 'No-one else on the panel had any idea of
acoustics. They could not tell when they were being misled or information was
criticism of the 2010 and 2015 NHMRC reviews which ignored
studies in situ of people reporting serious adverse effects and the
nature of the exposures to which they are subject. A submitter noted: 'The
NHMRC did examine some of these types of study but it was done as a secondary
activity rather than the main focus and allowed it to base its conclusions
predominantly on research settings that inevitably have weak power to detect
the importance of research that has a rigorous methodology, a
level of independence and the outcomes of which are peer reviewed;
the claim of one eminent acoustician that wind farm entities have
stifled some genuine research into the possible effects of wind farms. A
prominent international organisation well equipped to evaluate infrasound data
and analysis declined his invitation to examine his own research into wind farm
a submitter's proposal for a thorough noise audit of all existing
wind farms, using the methodology of Mr Steven Cooper, and incorporating the
objective measurement of health effects (sleep quality, blood pressure, heart
rate, stress hormones, etc) on neighbours, out to 10 kilometres from
Independent scientific research is needed into acoustic matters—such as
whether each wind turbine has unique 'signature' and the effect of that
signature on neighbouring turbines—and into health matters.
An Independent Expert Scientific Committee (IESC) on Industrial Sound
The committee believes that there is an urgent need to establish an Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound (see recommendation 1). The IESC should work in a similar way to the IESC on Coal Seam Gas and Large Mining Development.
It should have both a broad research and advisory role.
In terms of research, the IESC on Industrial Sound should be directed
conduct independent, collaborative, multi-disciplinary research
into the adverse impacts and risks to individual and community health and
wellbeing associated with wind turbine projects and any other industrial
develop a national acoustic standard on infrasound and low
frequency noise from wind turbines; and
identify priorities for research projects to improve scientific
understanding of the impacts of wind turbines on the health and quality of life
of affected individuals and communities.
In terms of providing scientific advice based on this research, the IESC
will have responsibility to:
provide scientific and technical advice to the relevant state of
territory environment minister to assess whether a proposed wind farm project
poses risks to individual and community health; and
provide advice to the environment minister on whether an existing
wind farm project poses health risks to nearby residents.
The federal Minister for the Environment should be required to take the
IESC's advice into account prior to any decision to grant accreditation for a
new wind turbine facility. In this way, the federal government has an immediate
mechanism to provide greater assurance that adverse impacts on health, sleep
and quality of life are minimised from future wind farm developments.
Transparency of, and access to,
The committee heard that some researchers have had difficulty obtaining
basic wind speed and other data from wind turbine operators to help conduct
research into the impact of wind turbines on health.
In evidence to the committee, some confirmed that such data is recorded by wind
turbine operators as a matter of course.
This data could be used to help conduct independent research into the
level of infrasound and low frequency noise being caused by wind turbine
operators. In an environment where the state of the evidence of the impact of
wind turbines is insufficient, any way of encouraging greater research should
be seriously considered.
The committee believes that greater transparency of the data collected
by wind turbine operators will assist further research on wind turbine impacts
and help build greater community trust in wind turbine operations. The
committee recommends that any non-commercial data (such as wind speed, basic
turbine operation statistics including operating hours and noise monitoring)
should be made freely and publicly available as a matter of course
(recommendation 7). These transparency conditions should be consistent for all
wind turbine operations. The proposed IESC should seek to establish what data
should be made available and the format it should be presented in.
Membership of the IESC on Industrial
The committee is acutely aware of the importance of ensuring that the
research projects and outcomes of an IESC on Industrial Sound have integrity.
In the committee's view, it is the way that past literature reviews have been
framed and conducted that has led to a polarised debate and a general lack of
engagement by many stakeholders. The NHMRC's 2011 literature review was focused
on selective research. In the Cape Bridgewater study, Pacific Hydro
commissioned only one study and set a very narrow research framework with a
It is the committee's hope and expectation that an IESC will draw on the
expertise of professionals with a range of views.
The members should be drawn from both the acoustical and medical communities
and the research proposal—complete with a detailed methodology—must be formally
submitted to the COAG Council of Environment Ministers (also known as the
National Environment Protection Council (NEPC)) for approval.
A levy to fund the IESC on Industrial
The committee is aware that maintaining the research, assessment and
compliance work of an IESC on Industrial Sound will cost money. The committee
proposes that a levy be applied on wind turbine operators accredited to receive
renewable energy certificates to cover the cost of the research (see
A National Environment Protection Measure on Infrasound
It is important that the work of the IESC on Industrial Sound is
reflected not only in Ministerial decisions on proposed and existing wind
farms, but also in the States' and Territories' statutes. A good mechanism to
achieve this is through the NEPC.
A primary function of the NEPC is to make National Environment
Protection Measures (Protection Measures) in the form of standards, goals,
guidelines or protocols. Once a Protection Measure is established, it applies
as a valid law of each jurisdiction.
This includes Protection Measures for:
...the protection of amenity in relation to noise (but only if
differences in environmental requirements relating to noise would have an
adverse effect on national markets for goods and services).
As noted above, the IESC should be responsible for researching and
developing a national acoustic standard on infrasound and low frequency noise
from wind turbines. Once developed, the committee recommends that the NEPC should
implement this standard as a Protection Measure, which becomes an enforceable
standard in the relevant state and territory environment acts (recommendation
2). The NEPC will have an ongoing role to assess and report on the
implementation and effectiveness of the Protection Measure in each
National Wind Farm Guidelines
At the same time as establishing the Protection Measure, the NEPC would
finalise National Guidelines to establish standards for other issues including
visual, landscape, fauna and community impacts, shadow flicker, aircraft safety
and wind turbine noise (with the inclusion of infrasound and low frequency
noise, which will be enforced through a Protection Measure).
Draft National Wind Farm Guidelines (National Guidelines) were first
proposed nearly a decade ago and reached draft form in 2010. These guidelines
were not mandatory, but were intended to encourage improvements in state and
territory processes for evaluating wind farm proposals by clearly outlining the
key principles and issues for consideration during the assessment stage.
The draft National Guidelines were later abandoned by the former
Australian Government in 2012. It is not a coincidence that progress to develop
nationally consistent state and territory level wind farm development
guidelines has faltered at the same time.
By the sheer weight of submissions to this inquiry alone, some from the
regulatory decision-makers themselves, it is clear that the planning frameworks
have failed to address community concerns, or to create nationally consistent
wind farm development and monitoring standards to give certainty to the
renewable energy generation market.
The committee argues that there is an ongoing role for the Australian
Government to play in the development of a consistent, transparent and
sustainable regulatory framework for the development, monitoring and compliance
of wind farms. In the first instance, National Wind Farm Guidelines must be
implemented (recommendation 3). These must set minimum standards (which all
jurisdictions must observe) on the following issues:
ongoing wind farm operator compliance with planning conditions
and requirements for holding records;
requirements that wind farm operators publicly disclose certain
buffer distances between turbines and residences;
specific requirements for community and stakeholder consultation
at each stage of planning, development and operation;
visual and landscape impacts;
the impact on birds and bats;
indigenous heritage issues;
aircraft safety; and
the property rights of neighbours.
In the context of neighbours' property rights, the committee notes the
concerns of Grain Producers SA that the location of the wind turbines on
adjacent farming lands will have a significant impact on the neighbouring farm
businesses to carry out the practice of profitably growing crops. It also noted
that farmers adjacent to wind turbines will experience 'significant financial
loss due to a decrease in the value of their farmland due to changes in the way
they are able to go about farming'.
The committee believes that the Australian Government should carefully
consider the case for codifying certain guidelines to ensure that the States
and Territories are compliant.
Stricter monitoring and compliance of wind farms
This inquiry has received considerable evidence that wind farm operators
have often not been compliant with approval conditions and noise standards. The
committee is dissatisfied with the current monitoring and compliance processes
which it considers to be a patchwork and which have caused considerable
community angst and frustration.
The problem of poor monitoring and compliance of wind farms partly
reflects the lack of dedicated resources. Clearly, local councils lack resources
and expertise to monitor compliance with approval conditions and noise
standards. The committee has also received evidence from submitters that
despite the repeated calls from residents to investigate alleged wind farm
breaches, the council concerned has failed to even investigate.
Local councils have themselves acknowledged they lack the technical
knowledge, expertise, workforce or financial resources to properly deal with
development applications for wind farms and the on-going compliance and
monitoring of same.
Furthermore, where legal challenges are mounted by either residents or wind
turbine proponents, the astronomical costs incurred ultimately fall on their
ratepayers. The financial burdens are particularly acute for smaller shire
State Governments have commissioned an acoustician to perform wind farm
noise audits, with the State EPA and the relevant council involved as formal
observers. The noise audits have been conducted in accordance with the standard
covering environmental auditing. However, this work had been irregular and the
findings have often been met with community cynicism.
The committee is interested in the progress of discussions between the
Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), its council members and the Victorian
Government to consider shifting the wind farm compliance and monitoring burden
to the State EPA. The MAV has told the committee that ideally, the State EPA
would operate a licensing regime for wind farms with compliance occurring on a
The annual compliance certificate must be the subject of an independent audit.
The proposal of State-based licensing system conducted by the EPA's to accredit
acousticians has merit. It would certainly take the pressure off councils. A
fee-for-service model—in addition to the fee for the proposed IESC on Industrial
Sound—would ensure that State EPAs have adequate resources. It would also
provide regulatory certainty for the wind farm industry.
The committee notes that similar to the method used to ensure compliance
with the Building Code of Australia, wind farm developers could be required to
receive certificates of compliance with National Wind Farm Development
Standards from an independent inspector at key points of development: site
selection; project feasibility; planning and approvals; construction;
commissioning and operations and decommissioning.
In its final report, the committee will consider in more detail the idea
of a fee-for-service licensing regime run by State EPAs. The final report will
also consider the case for strengthening the CER's role and powers to approve
or suspend accreditation in the event that a wind farm operator fails to comply
with the requisite terms and conditions.
A National Wind Farm Ombudsman
This inquiry has gathered considerable evidence from citizens and
community groups with real and genuine concerns about the way they have been
treated by wind farm companies, local councils and State planning officials.
While the committee has and will consider these complaints in making its
recommendations, it has no power to properly investigate them or respond
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government establish a
National Wind Farm Ombudsman in Australia with responsibility for recording and
categorising complaints about the operation of wind farms (see recommendation 5).
An independent commonwealth authority would have the capacity to work across
multiple jurisdictions, and investigate breaches of any relevant piece of
legislation or framework. This would create a one-stop shop to refer complaints
to relevant state authorities and help ensure that such complaints are
satisfactorily dealt with.
The register of complaints to an Ombudsman should inform the work of the proposed IESC on Industrial Sound and the Commonwealth Government in future considerations to codify certain National Wind Farm Guidelines. A register will also greatly assist monitoring and compliance efforts, particularly if these tasks are coordinated through the State EPAs.
The committee proposes that the levy to fund the IESC also contribute to
funding the work of the wind farm Ombudsman (recommendation 6).
This report records the committee's concern with the issue of infrasound
and low frequency noise emitted from wind turbines and the possible impact on
human health. Independent, multi-disciplinary and high quality research into
this field is an urgent priority.
The committee believes the recommendations in this report are crucial to
putting in place regulatory structures and guidance that will set clear,
consistent and robust parameters for future wind farm developments. These
recommendations are intended for implementation federally, but they will direct
and guide State and Territory Governments in their planning approval processes
and in monitoring processes.
Further, the proposed recommendations are not dissimilar to regulations
that apply in other energy producing sectors. It is the committee's view that
industries that go out of their way to proactively comply with such regulations
tend to have better community relations and hence a greater ability to proceed
with investments with community acceptance. The committee encourages the wind
industry to adopt such an approach to help ease community concerns and improve
the investment climate for renewable energy projects.
Senator John Madigan
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