Committee view and recommendations
on the issues raised in chapters 2–5
This chapter presents the committee's recommendations arising from the
evidence of the previous four chapters. Clearly, there is significant overlap
between issues of research into the impact of wind turbines on human health
(chapter 2), the processes for planning wind farm developments and engaging
with communities on these plans (chapter 3), and systems for monitoring and
ensuring compliance (chapters 4 and 5). There is need for a national
framework that incorporates and connects these issues.
This chapter presents the committee's vision of what this framework
should look like. There are ten recommendations. The focus of these
recommendations is to establish a robust regulatory framework which:
establishes a central point of expert scientific advice
(recommendations 1, 2);
provides a basis for funding this advice and for putting this
advice into effect (recommendation 9 and recommendation 6 of the committee's
tightens the requirements for wind power companies to operate and
receive renewable energy certificates (recommendations 3, 5 and 6);
promotes cooperation between regulatory agencies and levels of
government (recommendations 2, 3, 5, 6 and 11); and
holds regulatory agencies to account for the work they perform
(recommendation 10); and
The recommendations in this chapter should be read in conjunction with
the recommendations made in the committee's interim report. The recommendations
made here are intended to give effect to the headline recommendations of the
The Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound
A key recommendation of the committee's interim report was the need for
an independent scientific body to conduct multi-disciplinary, primary research
into the possible impact of audible noise, infrasound and vibration from wind turbines
on human health. The committee proposed establishing an Independent Expert
Scientific Committee (IESC) on Industrial Sound. Importantly, the federal
government has supported this recommendation, committing to establish an IESC
on Industrial Sound by 1 September 2015.
The committee recommends that an Independent Expert Scientific
Committee on Industrial Sound (IESC) be established by law, through
provisions similar to those which provide for the IESC on Coal Seam Gas and
Large Coal Mining Development.
The provisions establishing the IESC on Industrial Sound should state
that the Scientific Committee must conduct 'independent, 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
projects which emit sound and vibration energy'.
The responsibilities of the IESC on
The committee emphasises the need for the IESC on Industrial Sound to
have clearly defined responsibilities. The following three tasks are
fundamental to the IESC's role:
develop national acoustic standards on audible noise, infrasound and
vibration from wind turbines;
respond to requests from State Environment Protection Authorities
(EPAs), State Environment Ministers, the federal Minister for Health and the
Clean Energy Regulator whether a proposed wind farm project poses risks to
individual and community health; and
establish research priorities and provide oversight of projects.
These responsibilities will enable the IESC to coordinate the process
between Commonwealth and State authorities to identify the risks that new and existing
wind turbines may pose to human health. It will ensure that the IESC sets and
maintains appropriate acoustic standards and research methodologies to deliver
sound advice for stakeholders.
The committee recommends that the federal government assign the Independent
Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound with the following
develop and recommend to government a single national acoustic
standard on audible noise from wind turbines that is cognisant of the existing
standards, Australian conditions and the signature of new turbine technologies;
develop and recommend to government a national acoustic standard
on infrasound, low frequency sound and vibration from industrial projects;
respond to specific requests from State Environment Protection
Authorities for scientific and technical advice to assess whether a proposed or
existing wind farm project poses risks to individual and community health;
provide scientific and technical advice to the relevant State Health,
Environment and Planning Minister to assess whether a proposed or existing industrial
project poses risks to individual and community health;
provide advice to the Clean Energy Regulator on whether a
proposed or existing industrial project poses health risks to nearby residents;
provide advice to the federal health minister on whether a
proposed or existing industrial project poses health risks to nearby residents;
publish information relating to the committee's research
provide to the federal Minister for Health research priorities
and research projects to improve scientific understanding of the impacts of
wind turbines on the health and quality of life of affected individuals and
provide guidance, advice and oversight for research projects
commissioned by agencies such as the National Health and Medical Research
Council and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
relating to sound emissions from industrial projects.
The committee foresees several lines of useful research inquiry for the
IESC. Notably, there is an urgent need for research that determines:
the dose response relationships for sleep disturbance and
physiological stress in people who have been already sensitised to sound energy
from chronic exposure;
the maximum tolerable levels of infrasound, low frequency noise and
vibration inside homes required to protect health and protect the ability of
residents to sleep in their homes; and
the required setback distances turbines from homes (see
recommendation 7, third dot point).
The need for IESC advice before
accrediting wind power operators
The committee proposed legislative amendments to ensure that the Clean
Energy Regulator and the federal Minister for Health must seek the advice of the
IESC on Industrial Sound before a wind farm operator is accredited to receive
certificates. The committee recommends that provisions to this effect be
inserted into Division 3 of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000.
The committee recommends that the following provision be inserted into a
new section 14 of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000:
If the Regulator receives an
application from a wind power station that is properly made under section 13,
the Regulator must:
seek the advice of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee
on Industrial Sound whether the proposed project poses risks to individual
and community health over the lifetime of the project; and
confer with the federal Minister for Health and the Commonwealth
Chief Medical Officer to ascertain the level of risk that the proposed project
poses to individual and community health.
If the Independent Expert
Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound finds that the wind power station
does pose risks to human health, the Regulator must not accredit the power
station until such time as the federal Minister for Health is satisfied that
these risks have been mitigated.
The committee's interim report recommended that the National Environment
Protection Council should establish a National Environment Protection (Wind
Turbine Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise) Measure (NEPM). The NEPM must be
developed through the findings of the IESC on Industrial Sound. The interim
report recommended that 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.
To put effect to this recommendation, the committee makes a further
recommendation to insert a provision into the Renewable Energy (Electricity)
Act 2000 (REE Act) to make compliance with the proposed NEPM a condition of
eligibility for RECs.
The committee recommends that a provision be inserted into Renewable
Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 stipulating that wind energy generators
operating in states that do not require compliance with the National
Environment Protection (Wind Turbine Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise)
Measure (NEPM) are ineligible to receive Renewable Energy Certificates.
The need for the IESC's work to be
reflected in health policy advice and research
The committee believes that the IESCs work—setting national acoustic standards
for audible noise, infrasound and vibration, and its advice and research into
existing and proposed industrial projects—should be carefully considered by
federal and state health Ministers and officials and the National Health and
Medical Research Council. It is important that there is a formal mechanism
through which the work of the IESC can be incorporated into the policy advice
provided to federal and state health Ministers.
The Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth) is responsible for
developing national advice on environmental health matters to the Australian
Health Ministers' Advisory Council.
enHealth is based on 'significant collaboration and consultation with Federal
and state and territory agencies, departments and organisations that deal with
environmental health matters'.
Its membership includes representatives from Commonwealth, State and Territory
health departments, the New Zealand Ministry of Health and the National Health
and Medical Research Council. enHealth regularly engages with the federal
Department of Environment as well as local government associations and
non-government organisations such as Environmental Health Australia. It meets
face-to-face twice a year, generally at the beginning and end of the calendar year.
It also holds regular videoconference and teleconference meetings.
The committee believes that a body with enHealth's remit and
coordination is well-placed to coordinate the advice of the IESC. It is a
useful forum to inform and involve key decision-makers of the IESC's work,
including federal and state health Ministers and officials, the NHMRC, the
federal Environment Department and local government associations.
The committee envisages that the IESC on Industrial Sound should
formally instruct enHealth to coordinate the flow of information to the
relevant State authorities—Health, Planning and the EPA. It must relay and
discuss its advice and research priorities relating to industrial projects and
human health. The IESC should not only keep enHealth informed of its work in
setting acoustic standards and assessing industrial project proposals, but
should engage enHealth in conducting and seeking funding for research
The committee recommends that the Independent Expert Scientific
Committee on Industrial Sound (IESC) establish a formal channel to
communicate its advice and research priorities and findings to the
Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth). The IESC should explain to
enHealth members on a regular basis and on request:
the national acoustic standards for audible noise and infrasound
and how these standards are set and enforced to monitor industrial projects;
the methodology of its research and findings relating to how
infrasound and vibration can impact on human sensory systems and health; and
research priorities and possible strands of research that the
National Health and Medical Research Council (a member of enHealth) could fund
National Wind Farm Guidelines
The interim report recommended that the Commonwealth Government
establish National Wind Farm Guidelines. Again, the committee is pleased that
the federal government has agreed to seek agreement from the States and
Territories to implement National Wind Farm Guidelines as recommended by the
The National Guidelines will outline best practice standards relating to
planning processes and operation of wind energy facilities. They do not seek to
interfere with State planning and development frameworks and processes.
However, the committee did recommend in its interim report 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 committee notes the wind farm auction rating system used by the ACT
Government to give 20 per cent weighting to the community engagement strategies
of a proposal, as outlined in chapter 3.
This committee believes that such a system to reward best practice operators
could work in tandem with systems that sanction wind farm operators that breach
The committee believes the proposed licencing system would work well if
the conditions for holding and retaining the licence were linked to compliance
with National Guidelines' standards on sound, buffer zones and community
engagement (among other matters).
The committee recommends that the proposed Independent Expert
Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound develop National Windfarm
Guidelines addressing the following matters:
a national acoustic standard on audible sound (see recommendation
a national acoustic standard on infrasound and low frequency sound
(see recommendation 2);
a national standard on minimum buffer zones;
a template for State Environment Protection Authorities to adopt
a fee-for-service licencing system (see recommendation 9, below);
a Guidance Note proposing that State Environment Protection Authorities
be responsible for monitoring and compliance of wind turbines and suggesting an
appropriate process to conduct these tasks;
a Guidance Note on best practice community engagement and
stakeholder consultation with the granting and holding of a licence conditional
on meeting this best practice;
a Guidance Note that local councils should retain development
approval decision-making under the relevant state planning and development code
for local impact issues such as roads;
national standards for visual and landscape impacts;
aircraft safety and lighting;
birds and bats;
electromagnetic interference and blade glint; and
the risk of fire.
As per recommendation 4 of the committee's interim report, eligibility
to receive Renewable Energy Certificates should be made subject to general
compliance with the National Wind Farm Guidelines and specific compliance to
the National Environment Protection Measure.
Enhancing the powers of the Clean Energy Regulator
The committee believes there is a need for legislative change federally
to strengthen the powers of the Clean Energy Regulator. The federal government
must establish a stricter framework within the Renewable Energy
(Electricity) Act 2000 (REE Act) and the Renewable Energy (Electricity)
Regulations 2000. It is not acceptable that wind farm operators can
continue to receive the financial benefits of the RET scheme while failing to
meet planning approval conditions. Compliance with the proposed National Wind
Farm Guidelines is only part of the solution.
Section 8 of the REE Act lists various grounds for suspending a power
station's registration. Subsection 30D lists factors that may warrant the
suspension of a power station. The committee recommends that the Australian Government
amend the REE Act and/or the REE Regulations to:
enable partial suspension, and point in time suspension, of
renewable energy certificates for wind farm operators that are found to have:
- breached the conditions of their planning approval;
had their operating licence suspended or cancelled;
establish 'show cause' powers for breaches of statutory
link the issuing of renewable energy certificates with confirmed
greenhouse gas reduction.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government amend the Renewable
Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act
Regulations 2000 to enable partial suspension and point in time suspension
of renewable energy certificates for wind farm operators that are found to
breached the conditions of their planning approval;
had their operating licence suspended or cancelled;
establish powers to be used when breaches of statutory
obligations occur that require energy generators to 'show cause' ; and
link the issuing of renewable energy certificates with certified
net greenhouse gas reduction in the electricity sector.
The committee recommends that the Clean Energy Regulator cannot accredit
a power station until it is wholly constructed, fully commissioned and all post
construction approval requirements have been met.
Shifting responsibility to State Environment Protection Authorities
The committee strongly supports efforts to shift responsibility for
monitoring and compliance to State Governments. The State EPAs should perform
this role and they should seek the advice of the IESC to do so.
The current state of affairs in Victoria highlights the need for this
shift. It is anomalous that the Victorian State Government is the decision-maker
on compliance matters but does not conduct any monitoring or compliance
activities. Local councils rightly complain that the Victorian Government does
not have the operational expertise to properly judge whether their decision is
The committee draws attention to the New South Wales experience. In June
2013, responsibility for regulating wind turbines was shifted from local
councils to the State EPA. The State Government explain the rationale for this
decision as follows:
As the regulatory work for the ARA [appropriate regulatory
authority] of large-scale wind farms is likely to increase, the Government
decided to transfer the ARA responsibility under the POEO Act [Protection of
the Environment Operations Act 1997] from local councils to the EPA. As the
State's dedicated environmental regulator, the EPA is better placed to deal
with complex noise issues, has the necessary expertise and has a robust
regulatory framework for regulating large-scale wind farms.
The committee considers that both the decision-making capacity and the
operational capacity for monitoring and compliance should rest at a State
level. Should the State EPA find an operator non-compliant, it is important
that the authority has the financial resources to be able to take legal action
against the operator. It would be of concern if local councils were expected to
take multinational companies to court.
The committee has no qualms with arrangements whereby State EPAs
sub-contract monitoring responsibilities to the local Councils. In certain
cases, this may be a prudent use of State resources, particularly in the
short-term when there will be operational expertise within local councils. It
is important, however, that State EPAs develop operational competence in
compliance and monitoring. Further, if they do engage in sub-contracting with
local councils, it must be clear that the State Government is accountable to
the public through the Parliament.
The committee reaffirms the importance of recommendation 7 in its
interim report in which it stated 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'.
In evidence to the committee, Dr Les Huson, acoustician noted that:
I cannot see why that information should not be made
available. It is my view that withholding that information is detrimental to an
Publication of this data would allow third parties to
examine correlations between reported illness and the operation of the
turbines. Whilst correlation does not always equate with causation, the
availability of the data would allow the scientific community to conduct
independent compliance assessments.
The committee recommends that all State Governments consider shifting
responsibility for monitoring wind turbines in their jurisdiction from local
councils to the State Environment Protection Authority.
A fee-for-service licencing system
Chapter 4 of this report discussed the Municipal Association of
Victoria's (MAV) suggestion of a fee-for-service licencing system. The
committee believes that while this is ultimately an operational matter for
State and Territory Governments, the idea has real merit.
As this report has discussed in some detail, the wind sector in
Australia is suffering from a crisis in community confidence. There is deep
scepticism within many local communities about the way in which wind operators
are monitored and the complicit role of State Governments in fudging results
that find compliance. Local councils are recognised not to have the resources
or the expertise to do the job asked of them.
A properly administered licencing system, paid for by wind farm
operators, would go a long way to resolving this mistrust and cynicism. As MAV
has indicated, a licencing system would also offer regulatory certainty for the
wind farm industry, equity between different types of electricity generators
and remove the noise compliance and monitoring impost on councils.
A licence would be awarded to an operator when upon meeting planning
approval conditions, sound standards and community engagement and consultation
standards. If an operator is found not to be compliant with these standards,
State EPAs should have the capacity to suspend or cancel a licence.
The New South Wales licencing
The committee believes that the wind farm licencing system established
in New South Wales as part of the June 2013 amendments to the State Protection
of the Environment Operations Act 1997 is a good template for other
jurisdictions to consider. In New South Wales, large-scale wind farms have been
brought within the State EPA's existing environmental licencing framework. As
the State Government explained:
Bringing large-scale wind farms into the EPA's established
environment protection licensing regime is the best approach for EPA regulation
of the sector. The licensing regime is well established, strong, flexible and
fit-for-purpose. Licensing provides an appropriate check-and-balance to ensure
that the growing wind farm sector meets appropriate environmental performance
Environment protection licences are a more flexible and
effective tool for regulating environmental issues compared to development
consents. However, the consent authority (usually the Department of Planning
and Infrastructure (DP&I)) is also able to respond if it is necessary and
The State EPA's approach to regulating these wind farms is consistent
with its approach to regulating all other industries. The conditions of a wind
operator's environment protection licence must be 'substantially consistent'
with the development consent, as required under Part 4 of the Environmental
Planning and Assessment Act 1979. Further:
Following planning approval, the EPA cannot refuse to issue
an environment protection licence if it is necessary for carrying out the
approved SSD [State significant development] and the licence must be
substantially consistent with the development consent. Importantly for wind
farms, this means that noise limits prescribed in the development consent will
be transferred directly into the environment protection licence.
Regular licence renewal 'provides another opportunity for the EPA to address
any environmental performance issues that may have arisen since the licence was
issued, in consultation with the licensee and other stakeholders'.
However, licences must be reviewed annually, not every five years as is
currently the case in New South Wales. It is important that the conditions of
the licence are flexible so as to incorporate the scientific findings—and
appropriate regulatory response—of the IESC.
The NSW licencing system is supported through administrative fees
payable by wind farm operators based on their annual generating capacity.
The committee recommends that State Governments consider adopting a
fee-for-service licencing system payable by wind farm operators to State
Environment Protection Authorities, along the lines of the system currently in
place in New South Wales.
Oversight of the IESC and State Environment Protection Authorities
The committee recommends in this report a tiered regulatory system. At a
national level, the IESC will be empowered, among other things, to develop
national sound standards from wind turbines and National Windfarm Guidelines. State
Governments will have responsibility for monitoring and enforcing these standards
It is important that State Governments put in place a framework that
requires wind farm operators to act in accordance with the proposed National
Wind Farm Guidelines. If there is non-compliance with permits, there must be
immediate, mandatory and appropriate consequences which could include immediate
suspension of Large-scale Renewable Energy Target accreditation and injunctions
to stop operating the power stations until non-compliance is rectified.
The committee is concerned that State governments have a poor track
record in wind turbine compliance matters. In the past, State Governments have
allowed power stations to operate irrespective of the power station's status of
compliance with the terms of conditionally issued consent. Box 4.2 in chapter 4
notes the case of the Victorian State Government's failure to enforce
compliance at the Waubra wind farm.
The committee recognises that if significant responsibilities for
advising and regulating on the operations of wind turbines are assigned to the
IESC and the State EPAs, it is important to have systems in place that hold
these bodies accountable.
By statute, it is intended that the IESC on Industrial Sound will be
answerable to the federal Minister for the Environment and the federal Minister
for Health. The Ministers and the members of the IESC will also be answerable
to the Parliament.
In addition, the committee recommends that the federal Department of the
Environment prepare a quarterly report—to be tabled in the federal
parliament—which records the wind farm monitoring and compliance activities of
the State EPAs. This process should be coordinated through the IESC on
Industrial Sound with secretarial assistance from the Department of the
The committee recommends that the federal Department of the Environment
prepare a quarterly report collating the wind farm monitoring and compliance
activities of the State Environment Protection Authorities. The report should
be tabled in the federal Parliament by the Minister for the Environment. The
Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound should coordinate
the receipt of State data and prepare the quarterly report. The Department of
the Environment should provide appropriate secretarial assistance.
The National Health and Medical Research Council
This report has noted various shortcomings in the way that the NHMRC has
conducted its desktop research on the issues of wind turbines and human health.
Chapter 2 noted that the Council's 'systematic review' had particular
flaws, not the least of which was its selective consideration of primary
The NHMRC's advice is clearly important in how regulatory settings have
developed at local, State and national level in Australia. Most notably, the
Council's position that infrasound emitted from wind turbines is at levels too
low to harm human health has meant that the issue of infrasound has not been
considered by regulators. Companies, turbine manufacturers, peak medical
associations, local councils and state governments all refer to the NHMRC's
advice. As the NHMRC has done the 'research', they argue, there is no need to
worry about anything more than complying with the existing standards. The NHMRC
sets the bar both in terms of compliance and in terms of duty of care.
The situation needs to change. The establishment of the IESC on
Industrial Sound will be an important first step. As mentioned earlier, the
NHMRC, through its membership of enHealth, will be kept continually informed of
the IESC's work on wind turbines and human health. The committee believes that
the NHMRC could undertake to fund and commission research that the IESC
believes is necessary. The NHMRC should also continue to monitor research
findings outside of the work of the IESC.
The committee recommends that the National Health and Medical Research
Council (NHMRC) continue to monitor and publicise Australian and international
research relating to wind turbines and health. The NHMRC should also fund and
commission primary research that the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on
Industrial Sound identifies as necessary.
The need for political cooperation and corporate endorsement
The recommendations in this chapter offer a roadmap for what should be
done to improve the regulatory framework for wind turbines in Australia and
which bodies should be responsible for making this system work. The committee reiterates,
however, that these reforms require political will. It is, of course, pleased
that the federal government has endorsed the recommendations made in its
interim report. The recommendations in this chapter will strengthen and give
effect to this framework.
The committee is mindful that recommendations 8 and 9 of this report are
directed to State Governments. These two recommendations are critically
important because they give effect to broader initiatives such as the proposed
National Wind Farm Guidelines with the IESC's national acoustic standards and
buffer zones. Without an efficient and effective State-based system of
planning, monitoring and compliance, the federal framework of national
guidelines supported by the work of the IESC and the CER will have little
There is a question of what should happen if the States fail to
cooperate and implement a monitoring and compliance system that meets the
national guidelines. One solution is for the federal government to assume responsibility
of monitoring and enforcement. This could be done either by empowering the
IESC, or by legislating to establish a second statutory body for this purpose.
The government could use the Corporations Power under Section 51(xx) of the
Constitution. This head of power has been interpreted broadly such as to
empower the federal government to make laws regulating and controlling the
activities of corporations formed within the limits of the Commonwealth.
The committee recommends that under circumstances where the regulatory
framework provided for pursuant to recommendations 8 and 9 cannot be enforced
due to a lack of cooperation by one or more states, a national regulatory body
be established under commonwealth legislation for the purpose of monitoring and
enforcing wind farm operations.
However, the committee believes that there will be sufficient political goodwill
across the three tiers of government to embrace and implement these reforms.
This will be forged through cooperation and information-sharing between the
three tiers. Recommendations 2, 3, 5 and 6 (above) are intended to formally
promote this cooperation. Local and State governments should be encouraged to
share their experiences and their resources in issues of planning and
monitoring wind farm developments. The federal and State governments should
seize the opportunity to put in place a national framework for developments
that are already occurring at State level.
It is also important that wind farm operators themselves support the
agenda set out in this chapter. The regulatory framework that has been proposed
by the committee will greatly enhance the reputation and standing of the wind
sector in the community. It will show that wind companies are prepared to be
transparent in their dealings and responsive to genuine community concerns.
Wind companies will benefit by not only spending less time handling hostile
actions from community groups, but from broader financial rewards that an
enhanced corporate reputation will offer.
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