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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3439

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (19:09): I take the opportunity to speak to this motion on wind turbine planning policies because I believe it is an important matter, as the member for Pearce has quite rightly pointed out. It is important because it affects the lives of so many of the people living in communities in and around where the wind farms have been established, not just in Australia but right around the world. The member for Pearce quite rightly points out that this is not a new industry. The history goes back to 1941 in the US, where the first wind turbine of substantial capacity was established. Since that time, particularly over the last 30-odd years, wind turbines have been established around the world, starting with a rollout of the wind turbine program in Denmark in 1978 and then spreading right across Europe, the USA and Australia.

In my own home state we have seen a substantial increase in the number of wind turbines that have been constructed. In 2004 wind turbines generated some 34 megawatts of power. Today they generate 1,205 megawatts, which represents about 20 per cent of South Australia's total demand for energy. In fact I understand that 51 per cent of the nation's stored capacity has come from South Australia. I can assure members of the House that I am reasonably familiar with this issue due to what has happened in my own home state.

This matter is currently managed by state governments, which are responsible for the approval process related to the construction of these turbines. I have some understanding of this area, because prior to coming into this place I spent some time in local government, not only dealing with planning matters from that perspective but also spending some time on the state government's Development Assessment Commission, where I was personally involved in one of the wind turbine applications. For all the criticism of that process, certainly in my home state it was fairly thorough, from my recollection. An environmental impact assessment was carried out by the proponents. The application process itself was far from rushed: there was a substantial opportunity for both supporters and opponents of the application to state their views and to raise objections. I accept that that would have been the process for all the other applications that we dealt with in South Australia over the years. From reading recent reports about other applications I know that there is an ability for the community to comment on them. Having said that, I accept that there is also some criticism of the processes and that ultimately not every party to an application will be happy.

Wind power generators have an impact not only on the environment and the general landscape of an area but also on the health of the people and the bird life living in surrounding communities. A number of reports have alluded to the impact these facilities have on both the people and the birds living near them. What is uncertain, however, is just how those impacts manifest themselves. While I have read reports which suggest there is a real impact on the lives of people in communities within reasonable proximity of wind turbines, I have also read reports which suggest there has been no reliable evidence to confirm that. So I accept that more research has to be carried out.

I am pleased to see that the National Health and Medical Research Council is proposing to put out some further statements on this matter after carrying out scrutiny of some of the research papers that have been produced to date. I understand that those research findings will be available by the end of the year. I think that is important. I also note that the Senate Community Affairs References Committee, which reported in June 2011, has referred to the National Health and Medical Research Council findings, so clearly the work of that council is important in helping us better understand what is at stake here and what needs to be done if we are to overcome the concerns of those who have quite rightly raised health concerns with respect to the wind generators.

This issue has to be considered in context, and by that I mean that whilst there are unquestionably health and environmental issues associated with the construction of wind turbines, so, too, are there such issues with other forms of power. Wind turbines are being established to try to provide us with power—and I will come back to that a bit later in my speech. Currently, the alternative to wind generators is coal or gas. If you look at the health impacts of coal generated power as opposed to wind generated power you have to question whether coal is in fact a better option. In fact, my understanding is—and this comes from some work that was carried out in the USA—that coal fired power plants and coal production generally in the US directly or indirectly contribute to about 50,000 deaths per year. That is a staggering number of people who die from the alternative to these wind generators. Those deaths arise from things such as lung and kidney disease and cardiopulmonary diseases and the like. Again, they may be very hard to absolutely pinpoint and quantify, but those seem to be some of the best estimates made by people who have done some work in that area.

Here in Australia concerns have also been raised with respect to water contamination as a result of coalmining and higher water consumption. We have not even touched on the deaths of miners in the past, arising directly from coalmining activities. As I see it, if we are going to raise concerns about wind generated power it certainly has to be put in context when you compare it with what else is happening.

I do accept that in recent times concerns have been raised throughout the world—in Britain, Canada, Germany, Spain and elsewhere—about the number of wind turbines that have been established there not so much in respect of the numbers but more so with respect to the fact that they have been subsidised by the taxpayers of those countries. I understand that those governments are withdrawing subsidies for the construction of those generators. Ultimately, those subsidies come out of taxpayers' funds and are paid for by the citizens of those cities.

Finally, why have we seen an explosion in the number of wind turbines in this country and across the world? This is a significant issue. We know that we have to stop putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Countries around the world are looking for cleaner and greener energy systems and wind has been considered to be one of those cleaner and greener energy systems.

Only last week I attended a luncheon where some of Australia's leading climate scientists came to speak to members of parliament about their concerns of carbon emissions and the continuing rise of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. The member for Pearce might have been at the luncheon. They said that, at the current rate of those emissions, we are very likely to see an increase in temperature of four degrees by 2100. Again, you have to then consider: what will be the impact on mankind of that kind of change in temperature as opposed to some of the impacts that we might be confronted with by looking at some of these cleaner and greener energy systems, including the costs of them?

I suggest to the House that the impact of an increase of four degrees in the temperature by 2100 would be devastating. We will see an increase in the intensity of floods, cyclones, droughts, fires and the like, of the type we are now seeing in Australia. These impacts will not only cost lives but will also cause billions of dollars of damage along the way. It is those kinds of events we are trying to prevent by looking for cleaner and greener energy systems. I accept there are concerns about wind turbines; I accept that we need to have a closer look at them. I accept that the subsidies in respect of them also need to be more closely monitored. But I put it to the House that they ought not be simply discounted because of the concerns that have been raised to date and that they ought to be considered as part of the mix of the energy supply that this country will be reliant upon in years to come. I commend the motion to the House for consideration.