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Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR (Senator Siewert) —Good afternoon everybody. Today the Community Affairs References Committee continues its public hearings for its inquiry into the social and economic impacts of rural wind farms. The committee will be holding a community forum, as I think many of you will know, at the end of today’s public hearing.

The media are here with the permission of senators. If any witnesses feel like they do not want to give evidence in front of the media, please indicate that, because we do have the right to ask the media to leave if you do not want to give evidence in front of the media. If any witnesses want to give evidence in camera, which means there are no people in the audience, please also let me know.

I would now like to welcome Mr Carl and Mrs Samantha Stepnell and Mr Noel Dean. I understand that each of you will have been given information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witness in evidence, is that correct?

Mr Stepnell —Yes, that paper is here.

CHAIR —Do you appear representing yourselves?

Mr Dean —I represent myself and my family.

CHAIR —I just need to make sure that is clear for the Hansard. We have your submissions, which are numbered 129,130 and 647 respectively. I would like to invite you each to make an opening statement. If you do not feel you want to, that is fine. Then we will ask you some questions.

Mr Stepnell —I will start off. I will just read through what I have written down.

I wanted to start off by describing the situation we were in from day one when we were approached by a representative from Windpower Australia Pty Ltd. We were just working in our shearing shed on the Sunraysia Highway, and he came in and offered us a situation where we could have four wind turbines on our farm on this particular site. It was not even an option for us; we just flatly turned it down. My wife and I work our farm with my parents. There are usually discussions on those sorts of things but in this situation there was no discussion at all, we just flatly denied wanting to share our farm with a wind energy company.

Once everything was set up we did not get too involved in all the protesting and disputes; we probably stayed right out of it thinking they could not be that bad. We knew they were going to be visually bad, but we did not think about any of this thing in the future. Once the foundations were laid at Waubra and the roads were in, the Lexton wind farm was proposed—which is probably going a little bit off track at first. We had a visit from a representative from Windpower again, telling us all about the Lexton wind farm and how they were going to put an aboveground power line straight through our farm to link up Lexton to Waubra; as I say, straight through our farm. We flatly denied that we wanted that to happen.

Coincidentally, three weeks later I had another visit from a representative from Acciona Energy offering us a further four to make a total of eight wind turbines. After the foundations were laid and they were on the verge of putting these up, all of a sudden they had done some further testing and they wanted four, which is really insulting as they wanted to go through our farm with an aboveground power line and they thought they could probably con us with an extra four turbines. So that is just a bit of a sideline story that I will never forget. In total, we have declined eight turbines, for which we have absolutely no regret.

The aboveground power lines are a big concern. The existing ones that they have put up for the Waubra wind farm are bad enough, and now we are confronted with the new Lexton wind farm. The power lines are not going through our farm but will weave their way by a road which is practically through our farm. There are going to be at least six lines on this aboveground power line, but it probably does not matter whether it is one or two: one is enough. They are going through native grasses on the sides of the roads which cannot be grazed by stock, mown, slashed, burned or anything—but a power line is going through. Then they will go through another area of our farm which is wall-to-wall native trees; all those trees will be cut down, and there is the magic word ‘offsets’, so they can do what they want. It is very disturbing—sorry about this.

Mr Dean —I might just speak. Thank you for inviting me, and giving me this opportunity. I will go through a statement I have printed out.

The deterioration of my personal and my family’s physical and emotional health is somewhat disturbing. My wife quite often cries because she does not really know where her home is any more. Acciona has shown ignorance and arrogance for not accepting the conclusions and recommendations of the Dean report, of which you all would be aware. There has been no reference to it in the way of a peer reviewed response. No-one has any courage or knowledge to mediate between me and Acciona. They are a pack of Bs; you cannot trust them, so you sort of left out on a limb.

The main concerns we have about the wind farm are that false, unsubstantiated information is being conveyed to the public and to the Senate hearing about estimated wind or noise emissions instead of using measurements. They just guess everything; there is not one measurement done. If they wanted to measure the noise in our house, they would measure it with a meter like this. You can measure this within minutes to know what is there. They say it cannot be done. It damn well can be done and they do not do it. We live in the house. The levels in the house should be measured where we sleep; if it is not done that way, it is irrelevant.

There are lies and deception in Origin’s document. The submission by Origin stating that the sound from wind farms is at very low levels, less than at a beach and also less than the central business district, is a load of bull crap. I went down and measured that yesterday.

CHAIR —Sorry, Mr Dean.

Senator MOORE —Sorry, Mr Dean. I know you are really, really upset but there are provisions in the Senate process about language.

Mr Dean —Sorry. I went down and checked that yesterday. These are the measurements I did with that meter between two turbines. It is quite clear. I will pass that information along—

CHAIR —Mr Dean, would you like to table that document? That means it becomes part of our evidence.

Mr Dean —Yes. These are noise measurements at the beach and noise measurements between two towers which are about 300 metres away. The A-weighting noise is on top, that is the noise at the beach, and between the towers is on the bottom. That means all the low-frequency noise at the beach is below hearing level. Noise is measured in decibels—that is pressure—so we are talking about pressure not the information of whether the sound might be high or low. We are talking about decibels; that is pressure that goes in our inner ear. That means all the pressure going in our inner ear between the turbines at Waubra is all low-frequency noise and what goes in our inner ear on the beach is all high-frequency noise. So there is a big difference between those pressures going in our ears. It is all high-frequency noise at the beach and it is all infrasound, below 20 hertz, at Waubra between the turbines. That is low-frequency infrasound that our bodies cannot bear.

CHAIR —Mr Dean, could you tell us the name of the instrument that you used so that we have got it on the record?

Mr Dean —This is a SVAN 959.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Mr Dean —It is not available in Australia; you have got to import it. The industry do not use it because they reckon there is no noise there, but there is.

The claim that levels recorded at residences with more than 300 metres separation from working turbines are significantly lower, again, is also false. That is false, because anyone in the industry would know that infrasound stays the same pressure pretty much for kilometres; it will only drop a couple of decibels a kilometre. To say that infrasound is less at a bit further than 300 metres is not correct. Acciona claims that low-frequency noise reported at my home by international experts is no different to the inside of other homes in country areas. This has not been substantiated; one can only presume that the report does not exist, that they have lied. They have lied to deliberately defame me.

CHAIR —Sorry, Mr Dean, we are just talking about where the camera can go so we are not interrupting your flow. We do apologise. There are rules in the Senate about where the media can go, and we are required to maintain those rules.

Mr Dean —What I was saying is that Acciona deliberately lied in letters to the editor and on ABC in September 2009 about an international report done in our house. It was never completed; this is a misrepresentation to mislead the public. They are a multibillion dollar company, they have defamed me and I had no means of response. They lied and a lot of people have suffered because of their lies. These guys in my opinion are criminals.

CHAIR —Mr Dean, I apologise for continuing to interrupt you. I must let you know that when you make what we technically call an adverse comment, we go back to the person or the company that the adverse comment is about and they will get to respond. Just be aware that we will in fact be able to test this out with the company and get some response.

Mr Dean —They have not given us any information to substantiate their claim that it has been done, so one can only presume that it has not been done. I have been asking for 22 months for this report that was done in our house. I am entitled to it and I have never received it. There is no information to say it exists. It has not been presented to the Senate, and it has not been presented to me, so that is why I am—

CHAIR —The point I was making is that we will follow that up and ask for it.

Mr Dean —The 35 decibel contour map is part of New Zealand’s standard. It was not done at Waubra. When I asked for the information, they did not give it to me, and the people at Acciona said they had never seen one before. This contour map revealed that all of our properties at Waubra—Waubra township, including the school—were at risk of being subject to emissions above the permit conditions. That is the map which an engineer would take into consideration. In the planning permit conditions for Waubra wind farm, a panel said there must be provisions for five decibels for special audible characteristics or for low-frequency noise that harms people. The prediction method to estimate the noise or predict the noise a kilometre away from the turbines is plus or minus three decibels out, so it could be three decibels higher than what the prediction is. By the time you take three decibels for prediction, five decibels for special audible characteristics, which in the Dean report have been identified at the Waubra wind farm, we should be at a 32 decibel contour line not 40 decibel. If we were at the 32 decibel contour, the wind turbines would have to be some distance away or pulled down.

CHAIR —While you are looking at that, Mr Dean, again are you tabling those documents for us so that we can keep them on record?

Mr Dean —Yes, I laminated them so you could all view it, because I wanted to make sure that everything I said was supported by evidence.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Mr Dean —The Dean report includes evidence of high sound-pressure levels in the infrasound range, the low-frequency range, in a pulsing pattern that has been identified in sonograms as having the potential to cause adverse health effects. This report has not been challenged by any peer reviewed independent research or evidence or critiqued by qualified professionals. In conclusion, these turbines are instruments of war, being placed too close to each other and too close to residents. At Waubra, the noise pollution that comes from these towers is torture to a lot of people.

The lack of basic engineering principles has created a mess. The acoustic people involved, Christopher Delaire, Graham White and the Sonus people, have not signed off as acoustic engineers in the submissions of their work, so one can only assume they are not. This is a disgrace. Our dads served in the Second World War to keep our families out of harm’s way and now we are refugees in our own country.

Last week David Clarke, Acciona’s community officer, met with a small group of residents who live up to 3.5 kilometres away from turbines and have had ongoing noise complaints for 18 months. He told them that wind farms are noisy; but it is a fat lot of good admitting that wind farms are noisy after they are built. The sound pressure coming from the wind farm is far too great for a lot of us to handle. Please reduce the sound pressure in the four- to 20-hertz range to that audible range to decrease the risk of infrasound entering the inner ear to a safe level and adopt the recommendations of the Dean report. It is a life or death situation for a lot of people in the community as there have been at least two people who have suffered heart attacks, many have moved out and a lot of us have had many visits to doctors and hospitals and been advised to move. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Dean. Mr Stepnell, do you wish to continue?

Mr Stepnell —Yes. The day the wind turbines started operating near our house was just very disappointing and very stressful. Today is a good day out there. They were not spinning at all this morning, they might have got going a bit this afternoon, but there are occasional days like today. I guess when they are not spinning they are not producing anything so they are useless on good days. When we have a good day or a good couple of days, we are usually very disappointed the following day when we wake up and away they go again. They seem to be twice as bad then because you get a bit of a break from them. I have never heard anything like it.

We knew they were going to be visually disgraceful, but I had no idea they were going to be so noisy and affect our health. It took at least six months before they started to affect my health. It started with the headaches and the tingling in the head and then eventually the sleep problems—waking up at two to three in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. It was just every night, maybe until five or six nights of absolute fatigue set in and then you would sleep. It took that long to do it and then away you go again. Then eventually I had heart palpitations, which were a massive concern. We met quite a few times with Acciona, trying to talk to them. They offered us to make a ‘wish list’ of what we wanted and that was to turn them off, and obviously that was not part of the plan; and they did not. I had quite a few phone calls with Brett Wickham from Acciona and in the end he told us, Sam and I, to go to the doctor and see a doctor about our problems. We went to the doctor; he understood what we were going through but obviously it is circumstantial. He offered to put my wife on antidepressants; she was that bad, she sort of hit rock bottom. There no way we are going to be turning to medication so we can live in our own house 900 metres from wind turbines, so there was no other option but to move. We bought a house in Ballarat, which we had to just initially buy ourselves. It was a huge financial cost to us to move away from our farm. We both work now on the farm so we have to travel to our farm almost every day, which is a massive inconvenience.

Another related concern is asset value on our farm as the wind turbines are 900 metres from our house on our farm, but they are obviously only a couple of hundred metres from our property boundary. In that area where they are close, the asset value would be destroyed; it would be just worthless. I cannot imagine anyone wanting to buy it. I cannot imagine me wanting to sell it to anyone. You would not want to put anyone through what we have been through. Also of concern is the constant flashing lights at night; you just cannot get away from them at night either.

They have got every corner covered with us: it is the health effects; the noise you can hear; the noise that you cannot hear that I, without any scientific back-up, think is the noise that affects your health; the visual disgracefulness of them; the flashing lights at night that is just so disappointing. On a beautiful night you go out and it is just wall-to-wall red flashing lights and it is quite amazing to have that in the country. It just seems to be a 24-hour thing; you cannot get away from it.

I probably want to finish up in saying that our whole family, my parents included, have been involved in planting thousands of trees on our farm and fencing off creeks and bush. We have been members of the Lexton Landcare group for about 20 years. We used to have six brolgas quite close to our house. We have not seen them for over 12 months now; they used to breed every year down the road from our house and they have gone. We used to hear bats at our house and now we do not hear any bats at night. The bats were very obvious at night and we have not heard a single bat since these things started turning. We are all for the environment and all for renewable energy but there has just got to be some sort of compromise with these things.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mrs Stepnell, did you want to say anything?

Mrs Stepnell —I would like to say that before Acciona wind turbines began operating in Waubra I had a wonderful life with my family on the farm. Our farm is our business. My husband and I both work on the farm. I have never suffered from any health problems or illness that has caused me to feel so unwell. Our farm is our workplace and life. Since the turbines started operating in our area I have found working on our farm extremely uncomfortable. I find it very difficult to go out to work. I have to because it is our business and that is what we do, that is how we make our living but I find it extremely difficult. The hardest decision we have ever made was to walk away from our family home and take our youngest son, Josh, out of Waubra Primary School and to leave his friends. When he started his school in Ballarat, he cried for weeks. It was very, very hard. One day he was that sad and he just wanted to go back to Waubra and be with his friends. He said to me, ‘Mum, why did they build the turbines so close to our house?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ We had to move away because they were obviously built too close to residents.

We do not make up health problems. I am not one of these people who make up that I have got health issues. The pressure on my ears and my head, the nausea and the whole thing including the sleepless nights has completely destroyed what we had on our farm. It has turned our whole life upside down. Our farm is our world and we just have to drive away and then drive back into the same problem. It is a huge concern. There has obviously got to be better planning. I do not want to happen to other families what has happened to us, what we have been through and are still going through. I do not know the whole technical side of things. All I know is how it has affected me and my health. There obviously needs to be more studies done on the health problems that they cause for some people. They might not cause these problems for other people but they well and truly cause health problems for me. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you. I will ask Senator Fielding to ask some questions.

Senator FIELDING —I appreciate the courage you have shown to share a bit today. I know it must be very difficult for you and the turmoil that I have just heard is quite sad to hear. I am hoping you will not take the questions as being insensitive, but I think it is important while we are here to hear first-hand. I will come to you next, Mr Dean, about some of the technical aspects that you have uncovered in your particular report. There are people that would say that there are no adverse health effects from living close by to wind turbines. What do you say about that, Carl and Samantha?

Mr Stepnell —It seems to be fairly upsetting when you do hear that from people. I have not heard it from anyone that has got them. I do not know if we really talk about that sort of thing a lot. A lot of them are our neighbours. We still have to work in the area and we are still part of the community. You do not talk about them to the people who have got them. It is upsetting when you do get told that from people from companies like Acciona or from certain politicians or so-called experts that do not live near them.

It is different to go out there for an hour or two or even a couple of days compared to when you are exposed to them 24 hours a day practically, seven days a week, apart from going away occasionally. When you live with something and when you are sleeping there every night you know what the whole environment is and what the birds and the normal noises are. To get told things by people in charge of companies like Acciona, like Brett Thomas saying they are no different than the noise of a wind going through a tree, is just ridiculous. It is absolutely ridiculous. They are not near them; they do not live near them. It is different to take a bus around and look at them. Some people are not affected by them visually but some people are. We like the look of the land as well. It is not all about taking out of the land, we like to put back in with the trees and all that sort of thing and the bird life and the nature, but to live near them is totally different than going for a four-hour tour.

Senator FIELDING —When you have moved away from the area, do you find there is a difference? Could you share a bit about what happens?

Mrs Stepnell —The first night we slept in the house in Ballarat—mind you, we live near a highway now—I could sleep at night. I cannot work that one out. We have gone from having no road noise, nothing, to being not far from the highway and I can sleep at night. I wake up feeling like I have been to sleep. I wake up feeling that I have had a good night’s sleep and am ready for the day ahead, but I never felt like that at Waubra. I was just drained. I woke up feeling like I had not been to sleep. The people that I have seen, the experts who have said there are no health effects, have never experienced living near them. Until you actually experience it yourself for even 12 months I do not think you can turn around and say there are no health effects.

Senator FIELDING —Mr Dean, could you maybe help us as a committee try and understand the measurement of noise, dB(A) versus C and some of the others technical terms in terms of noise pressure, about the noise you cannot hear per se? Could you walk us through that in a fairly succinct way, if you can, because I know it is quite a difficult topic?

Mr Dean —I will try and relate sound pressure to water. Regarding sound pressures, A-weighting is what you can normally hear and C-weighting is low frequency sound, but not infrasound. Low frequency down to 20 hertz is regarded as low frequency sound. There is a broad spectrum right through the environment. No matter where you go there is infrasound, low frequency sound and high frequency sound, but they are in different proportions. As I was saying, down at the sea it is upside down to the wind for wind turbines; at the sea A-weighting is above all the low frequency infrasound but at Waubra the A-weighting is below it so the dominant force of pressure is in the infrasound. The infrasound is going in our ears causing balance problems. Inside our inner ear are the organs of balance.

The biggest problem I have after being out there is as if you have got a swollen head, your brain has swollen up, so as soon as you get on your feet you get a pain in the head and you have to sit down again. That is because it is affecting the inner ear. It is going in your ear. The only way you can stop infrasound getting in your ear is to lower the amount of frequencies at infrasound and increase the high frequency sound. The low frequency infrasound goes pretty well in a straight line, whereas high frequency goes like that. It is the difference between getting hit with a big squirt of water in one go, or a fog nozzle. The infrasound hits pretty hard, you do not get the frequency, it only goes up there once a second instead of about a thousand times or five hundred times a second.

The biggest problem for people to understand is that the infrasound at one hertz creates a wave and a lot of other sounds piggy-back on it. The noise that resonates inside our house is actually at a frequency of one hertz but it is like a caterpillar up and down with 400 and 500 hertz on it. That goes in and out of your hearing threshold so it annoys the heck out of you but you cannot hear anything. You feel uncomfortable and you have got to get the heck out of there. It is worse inside than outside. When you get outside and the wind is pretty strong, the vibration in the wind nearly tears your ears out. I have not lived out there for 18 months or more so I do not sleep there of a night, but when it is calm, the graphs indicate that during the night the wind may well drop at the house. When it is fairly calm the A-weighting noise is probably only about 20 decibels but when you get infrasound noise, the predominant one is four hertz. Everything has a frequency and the frequency of the blades out there is four hertz. The vibration flies off the end of the blades because the turbines are going due to the wind up on the hill and the van den Berg effect and stability. So the turbines are going but there is no noise. Because infrasound travels so far, we have had people waking up at three o’clock in the morning, 3.5 kilometres away; they are copping all that infrasound coming towards them because it is going in and it is the dominant force of pressure.

Senator FIELDING —Is that pressure from the infrasound that you may not be able to physically or mentally know that you are hearing—

Mr Dean —You will probably feel the vibrations. You will get really bad effects three or four times a year. When we got badly affected, even though we lived in Ballarat it took about 10 weeks for our bodies to stop vibrating and five months for our bodies to gain proper temperature again. That might only happen three or four times a year. It happened in May. When you get some rain coming in, it gets fairly calm, the night is fairly eerie and you can hear the sound of the turbines. They go whoosh as the blade goes down because of the different speeds of air going past. There is a diagram here. When we went inside we did not hear anything but by heck we woke up with a thumping headache; it was as if your head was going to burst. That is because the A-weighting is low where you live and the pressure of infrasound is high from where the turbines are and it runs through down to where you are.

Senator FIELDING —Is the meter that you have got something that measures those pressures?

Mr Dean —Yes, it is a sound pressure meter.

Senator FIELDING —You are saying that the companies at the moment do not use those measurements at all?

Mr Dean —No. In our house they took data; their equipment took measurements at five-minute intervals and it went down to 6.3 hertz. We got the data but the measurements that came out of it would not have had a microphone to pick up everything below 20 hertz. I went down to the beach yesterday with this meter. Because I am taking 100 samples a second, which is probably so many thousand times more than what they do, I can get a picture of the sound with this meter within a couple of minutes. For the companies to say it cannot be measured is just baloney; it can be measured. We have put this in the house of our neighbours, Zena and Donald Thomas. Over a 10-day period you can see the separation of that four hertz and you can see that the four hertz frequency has more power than all other frequencies put together. One frequency has more power, it is a dominating feature. If you looked at the Z-weighting filter, that is all the noise it is over and above, you would see that the four hertz is the dominant one that is causing a lot of the trouble.

Senator FIELDING —Why do the companies not use that measurement?

Mr Dean —None of them use it.

Senator FIELDING —But why?

Mr Dean —Because they do not want to find infrasound or low frequency noise. It does them out of business.

CHAIR —We will follow that up with the companies. Excuse me I am being a bit strict with time but we are going to run out because we have a lot of people to hear from.

Senator ADAMS —Thank you all for your evidence and also for your submissions because I think we have all learnt a lot about the health problems you have experienced. I am a nurse, so I do fully understand. I am interested in a letter that Dr Scott Taylor has submitted. I know it is a wee bit personal but could you tell me what ongoing treatment he has suggested for you?

Mrs Stepnell —He suggested that we move. I put that in my submission. There were no answers. There is no scientific evidence. It is not like a broken arm or leg; you cannot see what is happening to you. He wanted to put me onto antidepressant tablets because I got that bad but I was not depressed, I am not that type of person, but obviously living there with no sleep, the health effects it was causing me were causing that. I have not got a depression illness; he just said that there is no way out.

Senator ADAMS —With the moving you have not had to take any medication?

Mrs Stepnell —No, I was not on any medication. He suggested if we were to stay there to try and do that.

Senator ADAMS —Mr Stepnell, how have you gone?

Mr Stepnell —It occurs instantly when I am away from them. When we bought the house in Ballarat, we could not get in there fast enough. Concerning my chest, I started thinking the worst—that I was not going to wake up one day. I have never had any heart problems, but these heart palpitations were just ridiculous. We suffered similar things such as the sleepless nights but even though she is out a lot, Sam was probably exposed to them a lot more as she was at home more. I would go out on the farm a bit more and move away from them a bit more. He said that Sam should be on antidepressants. That is when she hit rock bottom and we thought, ‘We’re not going to take medication.’

Senator ADAMS —She has obviously managed well?

Mr Stepnell —Yes.

Senator ADAMS —Mr Dean, how about you and your family?

Mr Dean —My family was fairly affected because we had to move straight away; we could not stay another night because my head felt as if it was going to burst. When I went to the doctor the doctor did not know anything about it. I had to wait about two months to get an appointment to see a specialist. He did not seem to think there was much wrong, but he told me to get acupuncture. All the muscles were tightened up in the back of my head. After about 10 or 12 visits for acupuncture, the guy said that it would only work if I did not go back to the farm. I tried to stay away from the farm as much as I could but I had to make a dollar somehow so we went back. Every time I went back if the turbines were going it would probably take me 10 days to get over it.

It is probably a fortnight since I have been out at the farm, I do not go out there. We have got a property up north, thank goodness, and we just go up there. We will not even travel through Waubra because we get affected just travelling through Waubra, we go through Maryborough .When we initially went to Ballarat it took something like 10 weeks for our bodies to stop vibrating. You would wake up in the morning and next thing your body would be vibrating. It took about 10 weeks for that to go away. Janine and I both had problems with temperature in the lower parts of our bodies and that took about five months to go away. You would wake up even in summer time with your legs feeling cold and wet. I have been married to Janine for 35 years and this is the first time she has had to put on long-legged pyjamas to keep warm, regardless of the time of year. Your feet would go wet and cold and stuff like that.

A later thing that happened, and of which we were not aware, was that if turbines are placed in a row they have more effect on vortex shedding. I was on the side of the road talking to a neighbour and I started to feel ill. That was over 12 months ago and since then I have had a pain in the head when I stand up and I have to sit down to get rid of it. That could take a week or ten days or so to go away without going near the place. A lot of trouble is now happening with the stiffness in my neck. I am not sure what is happening to my body but a lot of the muscles down the backs of my legs are stiffening up. I have to get up during the night and rub the pain out to get back to sleep. It takes a fair while away from the farm for that to go away. It is taking longer and longer for it to go away.

Senator ADAMS —With your property, did Acciona approach you before the development began?

Mr Dean —No. They were supposed to have talked to people from all properties of over 40 hectares. We had a number of properties with that and they never ever came near us. The only person I had come near us was someone in a little red BMW that turned up on our place. I told him to go to the neighbour. He asked whether I wanted turbines or not. I told him that I have only got low country and it would not suit me on the hill. I would not say whether I was for them or not. He asked if I had any objections to turbines. I told him I did not as long as they are not noisy. He said, ‘They don’t make any noise’; it could not have been further from the truth. That is the only visual contact I had with them until they were putting the underground main in when they asked my son Rod whether they could put the mains through his property. He pretty much told them where to go.

We were talking to one of their engineers—Philip Munari I think was his name—and he told us that it takes nearly two kilometres for the noise to come down from these turbines. They will only measure at about a kilometre or they ignore you. All our properties should have been in the noise management plan as should all the residences in Waubra. That 35 decibel contour was supposed to be done—it is part of New Zealand standard. It was not done so that has had a big impact on what has happened to us.

We went down to talk to Acciona and spoke to James Nancarrow and other people afterwards but initially we went to the EPA and said, ‘You’ve got to go to see the head bloke at Acciona.’ I went there and they would not let me talk to anyone, only junior staff. When we were coming home, I said to Rod, ‘We’re going to have to shift out of there.’ So he put his block on the market. He just went up to the agent and put his block on the market. We have property up north but because all our property around there was a nucleus to our set up, we had nowhere to work. We had nowhere to live other than in Janine’s father’s place. We had to go and hire a building and buy a building to do our maintenance in. We had nowhere to go and they would not even talk to us. We complained to them and they said, ‘Oh well, we’ll put a meter in your house’, but they would not give us the results. The data showed extensive pulsing—of probably about one every 60 measurements, which is equivalent to probably five big bolts every second over 100 decibels—and they would not even discuss it with us. They would not say that the results were okay.

We wrote a letter to them after they asked us 19 questions and we said we wanted to know whether it was safe to work and live. They have not even replied yet so we did not know where it was safe to work and live. I commissioned this report. The decibel contour line shows there is nowhere safe to live or work. We are just nicking out as soon as we can. Since then I sold the back half of my property. That sale was negotiated pretty well the same time as the first block. When we thought we were the only ones affected we made that sale because we wanted to limit our exposure to the place where we worked. Our house is probably the one worst affected because it is in the middle of a lot of the turbines—it is about 1.5 to two kilometres away—so we were in line to cop it good and proper. We get a lot of vortex shedding from turbines a fair way away.

We have got nothing. We cannot do anything. Like Carl, we wonder who we would want to sell our house to. You would not want anyone else to go through the pain and suffering. It is hell on earth out there; it is torture. So what can we do? We have got a property down the road, even if we did sell the property, we have got prime real estate of 500 acres down the road and we still cannot work it. You cannot work in your tractor three or four kilometres away because it resonates in your cabin and you get sick. It is better if you have got a noisy tractor, as I was saying before, because it balances up the pressure that goes in your ears. We have used ear pressure plugs that goes in the aeroplanes which makes it a bit easier about three or four kilometres away it but once you get close within a couple of kilometres it does not make any difference because there is too big a pressure difference.

Senator MOORE —We are running out of time, so we cannot ask all the questions we would like. I have two questions for all of you. One is to do with the value of your properties and both of you have mentioned that in your submissions and your statements. Has there been any independent valuation done of the area to look at the impact of these issues on the valuation of properties? I would imagine you probably would know that, because you have both been in that situation. The second question is in terms of the process. These things have been there for two years now and there are only a certain number of complaints. Why do you think it is that some people are more vulnerable to the impacts that you have all talked about—the really immediate impacts that you have suffered? Why is it that everybody in the area is not having similar effects? Do you know what percentage of people are complaining? We have got the stats from the company and it certainly does not reflect the whole of the community.

Mr Stepnell —I think it is like a group of people in this room getting on a fishing boat and some people get sick from it and some people do not.

Senator MOORE —You think there could be a vulnerability with some people?

Mr Stepnell —That is what I think. I think everybody is different.

Senator MOORE —What about the valuation?

Mr Stepnell —No, we have not done any valuations.

Senator MOORE —No one locally has said about the impact on your property, that it was worth X and now it is worth Y?

Mr Stepnell —No-one in the real estate industry has said that to me. All I did was attach a letter from Elders Real Estate. He said that it has a massive effect on real estate. There are always different situations. There could be pockets of land for sure around there that suit some people. There are a whole lot of different circumstances. I would be fairly confident that we would struggle to sell where our house is, that is for sure.

Senator MOORE —Mrs Stepnell, do you want to add anything to that?

Mrs Stepnell —Regarding the health side of it, everyone is different. The people who have got turbines have been told that they cannot speak out, that they are not allowed to speak out. So there could be—

Senator MOORE —Something in a contract?

Mrs Stepnell —Yes, I have not seen a contract so I do not know that side of it. This is a small country town so people do talk along the grapevine but they are suffering in silence, I reckon. I feel sorry for a lot of them that have got them, because they cannot speak out. We can obviously say what is happening to us, but personally I think there would be a lot of people who have got them who are really suffering. Land values? Who would want to live there?

Senator MOORE —Mr Dean, on those two questions about value and complaints?

Mr Dean —Our land sale was negotiated before it was known to be a problem even to us. We thought that it only affected our house. The properties that we sold were when it would have been hardly going a month, and when I talked to the neighbours they did not have any problems when I had problems. The property that got sold recently was bought by a cashed-up turbine owner, so that equates to the value of the place. Someone with a heap of turbines can buy the neighbour and they can just buy at reasonable value. If you have a property for which there is no-one cashed up from turbines, you would have to wait a while to sell.

Regarding complaints, they do not write the complaints down or register them. There are a lot of complaints not registered. They only started registering and putting numbers on complaints pretty much 12 months after it was going. A lot of people get sick of ringing them up, getting abused and chastised and being told they are a hypochondriac and all this sort of stuff. I have made so many complaints that I only make complaints when we get affected now because the lawyer said that if they have got complaints they have got to answer them. A lot of people ring up and make a complaint and it is a bad experience.

I rang up in June last year to make a complaint and they said: ‘We are not registering your complaint. We want your contact details.’ I told them I want to make a complaint. I just hung up. They chastise you and argue with you and then they would not register my complaint. I complained to the shire, to Joe Helper I think at the department of planning, and they wrote a letter straightaway and informed me that Brett Wickham was going to come and talk to us. He said that he will come up and sort the problem out, whatever it takes. He came up and we he had a meeting. He said that it was only a statement that I was making but I had all the information. He said, ‘I don’t want to see that today, we will talk about that later,’ and nothing ever happened from that meeting. It was only a cover-up for not registering complaints.

If you make a complaint, it is supposed to be attended to within a 10-day period to work out what the problem is, and the resolution is supposed to be worked out. We made a complaint 22 months ago and since then I have spoken to one person, Brett Wickham, but that was just to make a statement and he was not interested in our concerns. In fact it was at that meeting that we told him that the 50 turbines are supposed to be low noise mode and he did not even know about it. The bloke at the complex up there did not know either. I told him that the two turbines closest to us are supposed to be in low noise mode but how do we know they are? He did not even know which ones they were. They do not even know what is going on.

Acciona design and write their own noise management plan and the environment management plan and it just does not work because they are in control of everything. We have no-one to mediate. We have to make our complaint to Acciona. They sort out the complaints, they say, ‘It is no complaint, nick off.’ That is what is happening. We have no-one to go to. The shire planning department has no-one experienced to know what we are talking about. The guys who are doing the measurement of noise have not been educated to know what is going on, let alone there being anyone else to see what needs to be done to know whether it is right or wrong. People have not been educated. Christophe Delaire, who was doing ours out at Moorabool, was asked what qualifications or what education he has had since he has been there. He has not done any. He was an engineer over in France but has not done any schooling since. We are up against that type of thing. These people have not been properly educated to know what is going on. They have been educated by the wind industry to do what the wind industry wants and that is all they have to do.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Dean.

Senator BOYCE —I have two questions following up on what you were saying, Mr Dean. The council, the EPA and the state department of planning have done no independent investigation whatsoever of your complaints, is that what you are saying?

Mr Dean —Our complaint has not been investigated. They might be doing something—

Senator BOYCE —Have you complained to all those organisations?

Mr Dean —Yes, we have written to them and all they said was that compliance was for compliance with planning permit conditions and not to conditions of permit. They do not know the difference. They complied with the conditions to get the permit and they say everything complies but compliance is by prediction. Their predictions are miles out and we have to put up with their predictions. They could be up to 10 decibels out.

I saw information from the New South Wales health department which said that 10 decibels could be 10 times more pressure we are suffering, and no-one gives a damn. It could be 10 times more. The 10 decibels compliance is New Zealand standard and yet the neighbours who have turbines have to put up with an extra five decibels because Christophe Delaire said it is all right, because they said it is all right overseas. So if you take five decibels—special audible—and load an extra five decibels, all the people who have signed contracts, signed contracts on the predictions of Marshall Day. They could be suffering 10 times more pressure than what they signed to. My brother has two turbines. He is going to have to sell his place and get out of there. He signed a contract thinking the predictions were accurate but there could be 10 times more pressure there than what was predicted.

Senator BOYCE —Mr Stepnell, you mentioned initially that you did not know much about wind turbines or wind farms but that you did not even need to have a family meeting to know you did not want them on the property. Could you explain why that was?

Mr Stepnell —Because I knew that we did not want to share a farm with a wind farm operator. We just did not want to share our farm. Obviously we knew what wind turbines looked like and we certainly could not picture them on our farm, regardless of how much they were going to pay us.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for your evidence. I know it took a lot to come here and explain to us in front of a whole lot of people, so thank you very much. It is very much appreciated.

Mr Dean —Thank you.

CHAIR —We have gone over time and I have done that deliberately because I did not feel that we could cut you off. So thank you very much.

[2.27 pm]