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Community Affairs References Committee
Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR —Welcome. I understand information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been given to all of you. We have your submissions Nos 650, 652, 591, 653, 655 and 467. I invite each of your organisations to make a fairly short opening statement. We have lots of questions and there are many issues we want to raise. I want to keep this moving fairly well. I would also prefer—if senators are okay with this—to follow specific issues. For example, if we start with a particular issue, I will make sure that everyone on the panel is happy with having dealt with that issue and then we will move on to the next issue. Otherwise, we would be jumping around a bit and would not make satisfactory progress. When you make your opening statement, if you could give us an indication of the size and the scope of your operation, specifically in Australia, that would be really helpful and save us asking that question later. Who would like to start?

Mr Crockett —Thank you. Pacific Hydro appreciates the opportunity to present to the committee. Pacific Hydro is an Australian company, being 100 per cent owned by industry super funds which manage the investment of five million Australians. Our six operating wind farms, with a total generating capacity of 250 megawatts, meet the annual power needs for 136,000 homes and avoid up to 670,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Our oldest wind farm at Codrington has been operating for over 10 years now.

In our experience, wind farms play a highly valuable and valued role in the regional economies in which they are located. It is also our experience that once a wind farm is built it becomes part of the landscape, with not just acceptance but significant community support. Pacific Hydro recognises that wind farms may have impacts on some nearby residents and that there needs to be robust planning processes, coupled with clear and honest community consultation. Introducing any large-scale infrastructure into an area will have impacts, and these impacts should be understood and limited.

At Pacific Hydro we do our very best to establish positive relationships with communities around our wind farms. We know that we will be there for the long term and will typically work with the community for two to four years before lodging a planning application. We aim to work closely with everyone and, where there are concerns, we do our best to accommodate or mitigate them.

During construction, we have thorough processes to minimise disruption to nearby residents and we continue to consult during this period. It is during construction that we start to explore opportunities for the company to partner on community projects. This process includes grants for community festivals, health and wellbeing programs, culture, the arts, Indigenous programs and socially sustainable opportunities. Our staff volunteer their time to assist local clubs and often help with specialist skills. In addition to our team working closely with the community, we have a documented and formal complaints process. This includes our personnel sitting with residents to make sure that we fully understand their concerns. In some cases, it is actually helping to document those concerns.

We recognise that some people do not like wind farms, and it is our experience that in many cases this dislike can colour their perception and attitude towards wind turbines. By way of example, I would draw senators’ attention to submission 81 from Mr Geoffrey Tonks, who owns a B&B which is approximately 1.5 kilometres from the Codrington wind farm. We believe the following sums up what, for many people, is an issue of perception. I quote:

We had one case of a person being distressed due to the noise which he believed was coming from the wind farm all night. When he told me this at breakfast I went outside with him and he ‘pointed out’ the noise to me, it was actually the sound of the ocean beyond the wind farm. For this individual the noise changed from offensive to desirable in the blink of an eye.

In relation to possible health impacts of wind farms, while we recognise some people who are clearly distressed, Pacific Hydro relies on advice from reputable health bodies both in Australia and overseas. The consistent finding is there is no credible or peer reviewed evidence that wind farms can cause direct health problems. But we do take the claims of possible health effects very seriously. To better inform communities and ourselves, we have gone out and measured infrasound emissions from two of our wind farms as well as from other natural sources. The measurements show that the measured levels of infrasound are higher at the beach, they are higher in the city and they are higher near a gas-fired power station than from our wind farms.

Earlier I touched on the relationship that Pacific Hydro has with communities around its wind farms. What we note is a significant change in attitude towards wind farms since claims have been made about health problems. I refer to the statements made by the medical director of the Waubra Foundation, Dr Laurie, that if you live five or up to 10 kilometres from a wind farm you will likely become ill and you should wear a heart monitor. Dr Laurie recently advised the community of Portland that there is a link between early morning high blood pressure, heart attacks and the turbines at wind farms. Since these claims were made, Pacific Hydro has received several calls from worried residents nearby our wind farm asking if they are likely to become ill. We note that in recent community consultations a number of residents showed considerable anxiety about a wind farm being built in their area. The anxiety was so acute that it was difficult to have a rational discussion about the proposed wind farm. In our opinion, Dr Laurie’s actions are irresponsible and create unnecessary fear and anxiety in communities.

In the interests of full transparency, Pacific Hydro suggests that the Senate should initiate an inquiry into the full impacts of all forms of energy generation. There is well-established, long-term evidence in peer reviewed, published scientific literature of the significant detrimental health effects associated with the mining, transportation and combustion of fossil fuels for electricity generation. We believe a more comprehensive inquiry would provide policymakers and the public with a complete picture of energy generation impacts and would facilitate a more balanced discussion than what is currently occurring.

In reality, wind power is good news for health. It is a safer industry, as the risk of death or injury is much lower than for those working in coal mining and fossil fuel extraction. Wind power reduces air pollution, thereby reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as respiratory diseases. Wind power has the ability to reduce health risks. Pacific Hydro expects that this is one of the reasons why wind power was preferred over new coal and new gas fired power stations in a recent independent poll in Victoria.

In conclusion, we submit that wind generation is safe, efficient and clean, contributes to lower wholesale energy prices and is by far the lowest cost, most deployable form of renewable energy that can make a significant contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia.

Mr Thomson —Acciona Energy is one of the largest renewable energy companies in the world. With respect to wind power, we have installed over 7,700 megawatts of wind energy capacity—around five per cent of the total capacity worldwide—in 271 wind farms in more than 14 countries. Acciona Energy has been operating in Australia since 2002, has invested over $650 million and has employed more than 500 people locally. Our business is the development, construction and operation of renewable energy generation facilities. Our Waubra wind farm is the largest wind power project operating in Australia today.

Our projects bring real benefits to communities and regions, as you will have seen yesterday on your visit to Waubra. The wind farm is the largest single ratepayer in the Shire of Pyrenees and will contribute in the order of $3.5 million over the life of the project. Acciona contributes $64,000 each year to the Waubra Community Benefit Fund, or $1.6 million over the life of the project. The fund is administered by the community, for the community, and focuses on a wide range of social and environmental initiatives that are relevant to the community.

We support community festivals like the Waubra wind farm festival, which is organised by the community each year, local environmental and education programs and sporting teams. We also invest significant time and energy in hosting tours of groups wishing to learn about the wind farm and renewables more broadly. We also play our part as a local member of the community. On two separate occasions, for example, we have dispatched our own firefighting teams to put out fires on local properties. As we have heard earlier today, there are substantial regional, economic and business related benefits that flow—payments to landholders, for example, along with local businesses.

As a result of a wind farm project, the local region, as well as the state in general, experiences economic benefits in terms of additional output and direct and indirect employment. Rural wind farms also enable the diversification of the region’s economic base. Acciona’s Waubra wind farm sourced approximately 80 per cent of the jobs from the region during the construction, operations and maintenance phases of the project. There are around 30 permanent positions in operations and maintenance roles and there were 200 jobs during the 18-month construction period.

On a national scale, the wind industry provides 2,184 full-time equivalent jobs, which is expected to increase to over 19,000 by 2020. We expect our share of this employment total to be significant. We have an ongoing pipeline of projects to be delivered, worth in the order of $1.5 billion over the next three to four years, and we expect to employ more than 500 workers during construction of these projects and 60 during operations.

With respect to noise, to some, noise at a particular level might be annoying, but this is a subjective reaction. Noise standards and guidelines applied in Australia are amongst the most stringent in the world. By way of example, the World Health Organisation recommends a limit of 30 decibels inside a bedroom to prevent potential sleep disturbance effects. Thirty decibels equates, more or less, to 45 dB outside a house. By comparison, the typical baseline limits of Australian wind farm standards and guidelines are 40 dB. They are significantly more stringent than the World Health Organisation recommends.

With respect to adverse health effects, it is our opinion that wind farms are a safe form of technology to work and live around. We have built more than 270 wind farms over two decades and have our people working and living in amongst operational turbines in 14 countries. You would have seen yesterday some of the houses where our people live with their families. The only locations in which we have encountered allegations of health impacts have been in the US and Canada, following the self-published report by Nina Pierpont, and now in Australia. In every other country we operate, this is not an issue. It is worth noting that wind turbines have been in use for more than 20 years around the world.

We operate in a highly regulated environment in which the pathway to successfully developing a wind farm project is long and slow. In addition to this, as a nation we have committed to the goal of transforming our energy sector to include a significant proportion of renewables—20 per cent by 2020. That has bipartisan nationwide support. This is certainly an ambitious objective, but it is one that can be delivered. We would hope that the findings of the Fielding inquiry do not threaten this objective or add to the cost of green electricity to Australians.

CHAIR —I should just say, for accuracy’s sake, that this is a Senate inquiry. The Senate determines what each of its committees investigates. Who is next?

Mr Upson —I work for Infigen Energy. We are Australia’s largest owner of wind farms, with wind farms in the United States, Germany and Australia. We are headquartered in Sydney and are a publicly listed company on the ASX. I would like to start my statement by reading the first paragraph of the editorial in the Age today, which I think is quite appropriate:

Geography has always isolated Australia. Rarely, though, is the effect so obvious as it is in the debate on climate change. Globally, the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions is widely accepted. Visitors to Australia are surprised to find that this is in dispute.

I would say the other area where Australia is isolated is where we are in the world with wind energy. I think it is very important to set the stage with what is happening overseas. In our submission, in the first chart there is a graph showing the worldwide growth of wind energy starting in 1996 at merely 6,000 megawatts. It doubles every three years, rising over 25 per cent year-on-year growth for 15 years. I would challenge the senators to come up with any other industry that has anywhere near that consistent growth rate: 25 per cent for 15 years. This is despite the global backlash that we heard about from Sarah Laurie early today. This global backlash has been, I have to say, fairly unsuccessful and that is partly because it really consists of four, five, maybe six doctors spread throughout a couple of countries.

Another chart in our submission is the pie chart of new investment in electricity generation worldwide. In Europe the investment in wind energy in 2009 was 39 per cent of investment in new electricity plant. Gas was only 25 per cent, and all of the other technologies were below that. In America, gas-fired generation just pipped wind energy at the post. If you add them together, more money was spent in that year, 2009, on investment in electricity plant generation powered by wind than any other technology. We are not an alternative technology. Perhaps in Australia it could be considered that, but it is No. 1. More money is spent building wind farms than any other form of electricity generation.

There are over 100,000 wind turbines in the world. If even one per cent of what Nina Pierpont and Sarah Laurie are alleging were true, we would be facing an epidemic of so-called wind turbine syndrome of truly biblical proportions. Sarah Laurie said that people are affected 10 kilometres from a turbine. Let us be generous and say that three people are affected per turbine. You are talking about a quarter of a million people being affected by wind energy today and somehow or other governments, health organisations and science organisations have not noticed this. A quarter of a million people—it is just ludicrous.

The US has tens of thousands of turbines operating for any number of years or decades and they have 700,000 doctors there. You have listened to one—I will be generous—of three or four doctors in the entire country where I was born who subscribe to the theory that infrasound from wind turbines is to blame for a wide variety of symptoms. Why has not the committee heard from any of the 699,996 US doctors who do not share Nina Pierpont’s view? Hearing from a doctor who represents 0.0006 per cent of the medical profession in the United States does not provide the committee a very representative view of medical doctors in the United States.

If Australia were at the leading edge of the industry and installing the first large turbines in the world, then further study besides the ones already taken, like the excellent study that Sonus engineering did which measured infrasound in turbines, might be needed. It might be a reasonable request. But we are less than one per cent of the market, growing at 25 per cent a year, year-on-year for the last 15 years. If Australia were connected to Spain, instead of being halfway around the world, I would venture to say we would not be having this inquiry. Such inquiries do not exist in Europe. There are no ex-doctors being flown around the country to tell people they are going to get sick. Wind turbines are so prevalent and the objections so few that such health concern arguments would be dismissed out of hand. In the committee’s deliberations, I would respectfully suggest that you keep in mind the successful, fast growing and industry-leading position that the wind energy industry has worldwide and continues to have. Thank you very much.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Geiger.

Mr Geiger —I would like to start just by letting you know that WestWind Energy is a small Australian company that is dedicated to the development, construction and operation of wind farms. We really welcome the opportunity to submit to this inquiry today. Today we have nine staff employed in our office in Gisborne, north of Melbourne. WestWind Energy was invited by Invest Victoria and Invest Australia in 2004 to establish a business initially in Australia. Due to the invitation and a very supportive state government in Victoria, in particular, we were attracted to setup shop in Victoria.

The previous Victorian government’s planning policy was very supportive for renewable energy. That attracted us to come here in the first place. The Victorian renewable energy target scheme, which is now superseded by the bipartisan Commonwealth mandatory renewable energy target, and the excellent wind resource and extensive grid infrastructure, convinced us to come to Victoria to start developing wind farms here.

To date, WestWind has secured the approval of 235 multi-megawatt wind turbine locations in three projects in the Ballarat region of Victoria: the Mount Mercer, the Lal Lal and the Moorabool projects. WestWind Energy, to date, has no operating wind farms in Australia. However, the WestWind group of companies, which is headquartered in Germany, currently owns and/or operates and manages over 140 wind turbines within Germany and is also developing projects in Turkey, Poland and Romania. We are investigating the feasibility of further wind projects in other markets with similarly favourable conditions. I hand over to my colleague now.

Mr Burn —The fact is that wind energy is the safest and cleanest of all forms of electricity generation with regard to its manufacture and ongoing operation. Wind turbines and wind farms do not pose a public health and safety risk. We refer to advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Victorian Department of Health, the Victorian Chief Health Officer and WorkSafe Victoria. Infrasound is not an issue for wind turbines and wind farms. The standards and guidelines used for the assessment of environmental noise from wind farms in Australia and New Zealand are amongst the most stringent and contemporary in the world.

Wind energy will result in a dramatic increase in regional investment and employment in Australia. WestWind’s projects alone in the Ballarat region of Victoria will result in over $1.3 billion in capital investment. The flow-on effects from such an investment will be significant. Once construction starts on WestWind’s approved projects, farm businesses on over 11,000 hectares of land in the Ballarat region will have an additional non-rainfall dependent farm income of over $1.7 million per year for the next 25 years at a minimum. This additional farm income will be achieved by hosting wind farms which will occupy well under one per cent of the total farm area. Once operational, WestWind’s projects will generate over $900,000 in municipal rates each year for the next 25 years at a minimum and most of those rates, in our case, will be directed to the Moorabool Shire Council.

We expect WestWind Energy’s projects will result in approximately 60 full-time ongoing jobs and a further 200 construction jobs over four years. These figures, we believe, are quite conservative. Based on a number of studies referred to in our submission, we do not accept the fact or the suggestion that wind farms will cause a long-term reduction in property values, and in any event we do not believe that property values are a relevant consideration when assessing land use change, particularly wind farms.

WestWind Energy is employing people, engaging consultants and contractors and spending millions of dollars of private investment in developing projects across Australia. Investment will increase significantly once construction begins on our projects. Wind energy is the safest and the cleanest of all forms of electricity generation. The natural energy in the wind turns rotor blades, which in turn spin an electrical generator. There is no water used to generate steam and provide cooling, and there is no heat source from the burning of fossil fuels or from nuclear fission. There is no hole in the ground that is too big to ever be filled.

In the assessment of wind energy projects, identified significant landscapes, aircraft safety, communications, effects on local flora and fauna and audible noise and shadow flicker in the immediate vicinity of wind farm proposals are the only relevant considerations. In our view, all of these issues are adequately addressed through wind farm design and appropriate assessments, and are well and truly addressed by the current guidelines.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Russell.

Mr Russell —Thank you for the opportunity to appear. I am the national project development manager for Origin and, as such, I am responsible for developing wind farms in Australia for Origin. I will focus these introductory remarks on the social aspects of wind farms, though I am happy to take questions on any other aspects of our submission that you have. Origin is an Australian integrated energy company. We have interests in gas exploration and production, electricity generation and retail. To meet our customers’ demand for green power and also the renewable energy target, we initially purchased renewable energy certificates—the RECs—from the market, but the demand for renewable energy is such that we decided a few years ago that we needed to develop our own wind farms. So far, we have built one at Cullerin Range wind farm in New South Wales, which was commissioned in 2009. Beyond that, we have nearly 3,000 megawatts of wind energy projects at various stages of development in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

Origin is used to working with communities around rural and regional Australia, not just in wind farms but in developing energy assets such as gas fields, gas processing plants and power stations. We are committed to becoming part of the communities in which we operate and to engage honestly and transparently to ensure that we make a positive contribution to those communities. We have a network of community relations advisers attached to our projects and assets, and we also set aside funds for community investment groups. We believe the story of wind farms in regional communities is overwhelmingly positive and that there is no justification for additional regulations or restrictions. The processes that are in place give ample scope for developers to engage with the community and to allow decision makers and government to make informed judgments.

Government risks choking wind farm from development just when Australia needs a strong pipeline of projects to meet the 2020 renewable energy targets. The consequences of squeezing that pipeline of projects would include higher costs to consumers of electricity. In respect of infrasound, which we have heard about, I want to make it clear that we take any risks to public health very seriously. We therefore look closely at the available literature and particularly the advice from relevant public health bodies, such as the aggregation of expert research that we saw from the NHMRC. The thrust of that advice is that there is no physiological basis for concern. We are not a medical organisation so we are guided by that advice.

We believe this issue is best addressed, firstly, by those reputable public health bodies reaching out to individuals in the communities who may have concerns. They are the ones with the scientific expertise and the independence to do so. Secondly, developers need to undertake high-quality stakeholder engagement to ensure community issues are identified and addressed. That is what Origin does and it is the industry’s position. We look forward to creating positive economic and social impacts through the development of wind farms in Australia. Thank you.

CHAIR —We will go to Mr Eyes.

Mr Eyes —Thank you for giving me the ability to present at the inquiry. Wind Pacific is an Australian company. It supplies megawatt sized wind turbines from Ming Yang Wind Power. That company is one of the largest privately owned wind turbine manufacturers in China and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2010. In China, in 2010, there was an investment of over $45 billion in wind farms. Wind farms are the lowest cost, safest way to produce low-carbon energy. In terms of development of wind farm projects, probably the way that we have seen that happen is by balancing the environmental, social and economic factors. This has been able to produce a number of the wind farm projects that we are seeing, particularly here in Victoria and around Australia.

On achieving the 2020 target, wind farms will return around $25 million to $30 million per year to regional and rural communities. That is an amount of $600 million in today’s dollars, when that target is achieved. In addition to what is happening with the development of wind farms, there is the voluntary purchase of energy through green power. There are over 800,000 users in Australia—that is, people paying for renewable energy, predominantly wind power, in a voluntary scheme. That is a measure of the support for renewables. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you. I am going to throw to Senator Fielding. We will pursue the line of inquiry that we start with, finish that one and then move on to the next one.

Senator FIELDING —Obviously, I have read your submissions and heard what you have just said. With regard to the adverse health impacts that this committee heard about yesterday—and we have had plenty of people present to this committee—you are saying it is not from the wind turbines; it is from something else. Is that what you are saying—that quite clearly there are adverse health impacts but you would claim they are not coming from the wind turbines? Is that what you are saying?

Mr Thomson —Perhaps I could speak to that. I cannot speak on behalf of the group, but I would make the point that at Acciona, at least, we do not believe that there is a direct causal link. We have that position. As a number of my colleagues have said here, we base that on reputable medical advice. That is the best we can do. That is not to say that we do not think there are legitimate health issues that people are experiencing in communities.

At Waubra, for example, as you would know, there are people that seem to be having medical issues. We accept that, but we do not believe that it is caused in itself by the turbines. If you go back to Sarah Laurie’s evidence earlier on, she raises a lot of things—disturbed sleep, stress, depression, anxiety. I must confess I suffer from many of those things. I wake up at two o’clock in the morning regularly with elevated heart levels and high blood pressure. These are things that are commonplace. Suicide rates amongst rural Australian men are the highest in the land. I think you have to try and distil some of this information and make sense of it in that way.

CHAIR —Has anyone else got anything?

Mr Crockett —I would add to that by saying that we also went the extra step of trying to understand whether infrasound existed at levels that could cause a problem. I think I mentioned it earlier. We did not do a study, as such. We simply went out and had an independent acoustic expert measure it. Nothing has been manipulated or calculated at all. It is just simple measurements done the same way in different locations. If you take the extension of that, if it is the case that infrasound is making people ill, then people who live by the beach will become ill and people who live in the city will become ill. It is very difficult for us to reconcile that there is any physiological effect from the turbines.

Mr Russell —At the risk of repeating the same sort of thing, as a major company, Origin would be very concerned if there are health issues. Obviously, we have looked at the sorts of claims that Dr Laurie has made. Within our own review, and looking at the available information, there has been no support for that being as a result of the wind turbines.

CHAIR —Has anybody else got any questions?

Senator FIELDING —Could I just finish the follow-up for that? Mr Crockett, could you provide the committee with that testing that you did, or the research that you did, please?

Mr Crockett —It was attached to our submission.

Senator FIELDING —There was not any further detail to that, was there?

Mr Crockett —No.

Senator FIELDING —Thank you.

Senator MOORE —Is it QDOS?

Mr Crockett —No. It is the Sonus report. The QDOS is an independent survey.

CHAIR —Senator Boyce, you had a question on health?

Senator BOYCE —I just have a follow-up question. Mr Crockett, I gather Codrington is one of the oldest wind farms in Australia of significant size.

Mr Crockett —That is correct.

Senator BOYCE —What follow-up have you done at all in the community around any issues related to the existence of the wind farm?

Mr Crockett —The wind farm has been there for 10 years, well before I joined Pacific Hydro. We run a sustainable communities fund there, so we interact with the community on a regular basis. We have never had a complaint near the Codrington wind farm.

Senator BOYCE —Of any sort?

Mr Crockett —No. So we have never had to deal with anything.

Senator BOYCE —Is there a formal complaints process that is overseen by a regulator?

Mr Crockett —No. We have a formal complaints process at Pacific Hydro. We have a person in our business who is responsible for managing any complaints that we get. As I said, there have been no complaints in the whole 10 years that Codrington has been operating.

Senator BOYCE —Not even related to a noisy truck or anything?

Mr Crockett —I honestly cannot tell you about construction because that was 10 years ago and I—

Senator BOYCE —I would be amazed if there has not been one complaint at all about any aspect of the operation of Pacific Hydro in 10 years.

Mr Crockett —I can come back to you on whether there have been any complaints from the construction of the Codrington wind farm, but I am not aware of any complaints in relation to the operation of the wind farm, which has been over 10 years. We have a nearby resident who runs a bus tourist business that takes people through the wind farm. He often comes to us and says, ‘Look, it’s really interesting just listening to the questions and what people think about wind farms. But they always tend to go with a slightly different view, because they don’t see what they’ve necessarily heard.’ It is our experience that there has never been a problem—until Dr Laurie went and made some public statements in Portland. Now we are starting to field a few questions from people who are concerned. It does seem odd to me that 10 years go by and then suddenly people are asking questions. They are not asking questions because of the wind farm; they are asking questions because of what they have been told.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you.

Mr Upson —Perhaps I could follow on in answering your question. I would like to draw the committee’s attention to submission No. 815, submitted by Frank Brennan, the Chief Executive Officer of Wattle Range Council. Wattle Range Council has four wind farms operating there. Three of them are ours and one is from another company. I will read a couple of excerpts:

The impact on property values has not been significant, however there has been flow-on increases to farm incomes due to the lease/rental arrangements between landowners and the windfarm operator.

The windfarms constructed in our Council region have provided significant employment opportunities during the construction phase ...

More importantly:

Council has received no complaints or advice of concerns about excessive noise and vibrations being emitted from the wind arms operating in the Council region ...


Council has received no complaints or advice of any adverse health effects suffered by people living in close proximity to the windfarms operating in the Council region.

We are talking about over 100 turbines, almost 140 turbines, operating there. Very interestingly, we completed Lake Bonney stage 1, Lake Bonney stage 2—99 turbines up and running for years. We proposed a third stage, another 13 turbines. Do you know how many objections the council received? Zero; not one objection to another stage of the wind farm. Interestingly enough, we are in the planning process for another wind farm nearby, called the Woakwine project. Sarah Laurie came to town a couple of months ago and told everybody who would listen that they are going to get sick from being near wind turbines. Now the Woakwine project has got 10 objections, solely based on health concerns. To me, there is only one inescapable conclusion from that—that is, there is a much higher correlation between wind turbine health concerns and Sarah Laurie visiting than there is between wind turbine health concerns and over 130 turbines operating near neighbouring residences. Thank you.

CHAIR —Senator Adams has questions on health related issues.

Senator ADAMS —Mr Burn, you were talking about the fact that there were no health related issues, and your evidence was based on the NHMRC publication. Could you tell me who the authors were of that?

Mr Burn —I cannot. Just to clarify, I was mentioning that wind energy is the safest and cleanest form of electricity generation. In terms of the health effects, I am not a medical professional. That is the next best report that we have got from the advisory group, who, I understand, advises the federal government. I am not familiar with the authors of that document.

Senator ADAMS —That is the evidence that has been put before us in a number of submissions. Because you brought it up, and we have a panel here, can anyone tell me who the authors of the NHMRC publication are?

Mr Thomson —I do not know the names of the specific authors. We just take the fact that the report is produced by the NHMRC. But I would note that their review is based on papers and reports by a number of other organisations and individuals, the World Health Organisation included. There are reports from groups that were engaged by the wind industry but are represented by at least, in the case of the American wind industry’s report, six independent experts, including Geoff Leventhall. The Canadian government has contributed to the report.

Going to Senator Fielding’s question from earlier this morning as to whether the NHMRC report was peer reviewed, it is not in itself primary research and, therefore, is not required to undergo peer review. Peer review is applied to primary research when it is generated.

Senator ADAMS —It is an assessment of literature that is available, of course. I think most of the members of the panel are fully aware of that. It just worries me that other people have put forward research and are opposed to wind. I am trying to stay in the middle of this. I am a nurse and I am looking at everything in the best possible way, as neutral, but this particular publication does concern me a lot. It has been quite severely critiqued and has not stood up. The NHMRC were not prepared to come before the committee. They have now changed their mind, which is good, so we will be able to follow it up. It is just that a number of the submitters, especially from your organisations, have been quoting that. I thought that Mr Burn might have some more information that I did not know about.

Mr Burn —Others are quoted there as well, in terms of WorkSafe Victoria and the Victorian Chief Health Officer.

Senator ADAMS —We are trying to get those reports.

Mr Thomson —Senator, can we clarify one thing? For example, if you look at the work that Sarah Laurie is doing, that is not medical research. She has collated anecdotal evidence.

Senator ADAMS —Yes, she has.

Mr Thomson —It is not based on clinical diagnosis. It is not based on doctor-patient relationships. It is not medical research, and neither is the work that has been done by Nina Pierpont.

Senator ADAMS —Were you at Ballarat yesterday?

Mr Thomson —No, but a number of my colleagues were.

Senator ADAMS —The people who gave evidence there were not medical people. They were just people who were suffering from what they considered were problems from living too close to the turbines. It is much the same. This is the sort of evidence that we, as senators, have to go through and look at. Just in the way that Mr Burn said that, I thought, ‘Right, now I’ve got someone who really knows a little bit more than the evidence we have had.’ That was the reason. As far as research goes, obviously this issue is not going to go away. We have got a wind farm just starting up in Western Australia. I want to ask Pacific Hydro about some proposed ones they have there. These are the issues that are going on. How do we fix it? Would your companies be prepared to put forward dollars into research—if we cannot get any research dollars out of the government—to go to a completely independent researcher just to try to put this thing to bed, as to whether it does affect or does not?

Mr Crockett —Going a little bit back to where you were before, I suggest that, to some extent, in terms of asking us about the health impacts, we have to rely on reputable bodies like the NHMRC. I am not sure that knowing the names of the authors is really here nor there. This afternoon—at five o’clock, I think—you have some senior health professionals who should be able to advise you. I think Pacific Hydro would say that, if there are reputable health bodies saying that there needs to be further research, then of course we would be happy to help in any way.

Mr Upson —I would call the committee’s attention—and Lane probably did not want to blow his own horn—to the fact that this report, and I know you have probably had over 1,000 submissions, is one report you should read. Sarah Laurie said that we need to have the research done and the wind energy community should front up and pay for some independent studies. That is exactly what has happened.

CHAIR —Can you name the report? Hansard does not do visuals!

Mr UpsonInfrasound measurements from wind farms and other sources from Sonus Pty Ltd in Adelaide.

CHAIR —Thank you. I just need it for the Hansard.

Mr Upson —Sonus is a very well qualified acoustical engineering firm. Sarah Laurie has asked for the studies to be done. They have been done. This report shows two things: (1) the infrasound recorded 300 metres from a turbine. No-one is putting turbines 300 metres from a neighbouring house. So this is much, much closer than any neighbouring house would ever be—as Lane said, less than the infrasound levels in the Adelaide CBD and at the beach and, more importantly, way, way below the World Health Organisation limit of 85 dBG. It has shown that infrasound, which seems to be what Sarah Laurie and Nina Pierpont are about, is the actual thing that is causing the problems. That is (1) way below natural occurring levels and (2) way below the World Health Organisation’s limits. The work has been done. I notice Sarah Laurie did not try and rebut this report. I wonder why?

Senator MOORE —To be fair, Mr Russell, we did not draw it to her attention. That is something we will do now. To be fair, in terms of the evidence, we did not ask Dr Laurie that question. We will follow up on that.

Mr Upson —I would say she is probably aware of it.

Senator FIELDING —We did not ask her.

Senator MOORE —We will follow it up.

CHAIR —Senator Moore, you wanted to follow up that particular question.

Senator MOORE —I am just following up from Senator Adams’s question. In terms of the evidence that we received yesterday, you are all aware—most of you had people in the room—that there are extraordinarily negative contrasts being made between wind energy as an industry and things such as asbestos and tobacco. In my opinion, it is important for the industry, in all the stuff you put on record about what you are doing for the Australian community and the economy, to actually have some process to respond to that. Our job is to try to balance the information we have. I asked a previous submitter much the same question as Senator Adams asked about having independent research and the difficulty of doing that—now that people have gone into camps in terms of agreeing what is independent—and the importance of having long-term research. It is my view that a snapshot does not do any good for either scope, in terms of getting a result. I asked whether anyone has any idea of what genuinely constitutes ‘independent’, how you would actually do that and whether the industry as a group, as opposed to individual proponents, as we have, has any idea about how you could have something that would be able to be on record to the community saying that Australia is actually taking a leadership role in this area. A previous submitter did give a response to that before lunch. Do any of your group have a response to that?

Mr Thomson —It might be worth your exploring what is happening in Ontario, Canada, at the moment. I understand there is a three-year research project underway. It is funded by the government of Ontario. It is being run by Queen’s University and it is based at a large wind farm that has been constructed. To my mind, that would seem to be a useful starting point, where you have a government led initiative. It is completely independent in that, as I understand it, there is no direct industry involvement other than by the owners of the wind farm that they are basing the study on, and there is a reputable university behind the work.

Senator BOYCE —You are all members of the Clean Energy Council.

Mr Geiger —WestWind is not a member of the Clean Energy Council.

Senator BOYCE —WestWind. Thank you.

Senator MOORE —Help me out, Mr Thomson. Did you refer to that research in your submission?

Mr Thomson —No, we did not. I can contact colleagues in Canada and see if we can get some information for you.

Senator MOORE —That would be very useful. Does any other provider have any comment about an independent process of looking at an issue which, whether or not you like it and whether or not I like it, is now in community debate and, through the internet, available to everybody? We will follow that up, Mr Thomson. Does anyone else want to look at whether there is such a thing as an available independent source to have such a study?

Mr Geiger —We will endeavour to do that through our German network. Given the number of turbines there, there is a high likelihood that research in that area may have been done. We will follow that up.

Senator MOORE —Let us know. Thank you, Mr Geiger.

CHAIR —Or is being undertaken. I think Senator Moore was asking about research that you are aware of that is being undertaken.

Senator BOYCE —The way it is being done to ensure independence.

Mr Geiger —We are not aware of it, but we will look into it. If we find something, we will provide that.

CHAIR —Mr Crockett, you looked like you wanted to say something.

Mr Crockett —You have a public health expert on, I think, at five o’clock this afternoon. I assume you will ask them if there is a way of doing this.

Senator MOORE —Thank you, Mr Crockett. The same question will be asked of them, yes.

CHAIR —I propose that we move on, because we will run out of time. We have a lot of issues. I wanted to clarify something with Acciona. I think it was the Waubra issue that came up yesterday where people were saying that, when you were doing monitoring, you were not doing it at night, when it is quieter. Could you quickly address that issue?

Mr Wickham —That is incorrect. The monitors are put in place. We go through a very stringent process of complying with the standards. The pre-construction monitoring was done. At 23 locations, we placed the monitors for a period of time to get a representative sample of data at different wind speeds and so forth. And then, post construction, the monitors were put in place in the exact location as they were pre construction. The monitoring, again, is done 24 hours a day, in two-week blocks, to obtain enough data. Periods of rain and periods of malfunction could cause the data not to be recorded.

Senator BOYCE —That is noise level data?

Mr Wickham —Yes.

CHAIR —Is that done in people’s houses at night?

Mr Wickham —No. It is done in the same locations as it was prior to construction.

CHAIR —So the point there then is: when people are complaining around noise, do you go into the houses and monitor at night?

Mr Wickham —No. We monitor in exactly the same locations at night—24 hours a day—as they were located pre construction.

CHAIR —We will move on to complaints then, because this is shifting into the issues around complaints. You will be aware that it came up a lot yesterday. What do you do when someone complains about noise at night?

Mr Wickham —We go and locate a monitor outside their property so that we can then use—

Senator BOYCE —When you say ‘outside their property’—

Mr Wickham —Adjacent to their house, in the same location as it would be for a representative house, because, as you are obviously aware, we did not record background data at every house. We recorded it at 23 locations pre construction. The best way to measure apples with the best possible apples—it is not exact—is to actually measure in an adjacent location at the property where the complaint has occurred, outside the property, and then use a representative property, which is the same distance from the turbines, or has similar conditions, and compare those situations.

CHAIR —So when somebody complains you do not actually go into their specific house to monitor the noise levels?

Mr Wickham —No.

Senator MOORE —Why not?

Mr Wickham —Because the best way to compare is against the pre-construction noise levels, and where we have that is at locations outside the houses. Every house is different—different insulation, different properties, double brick, weatherboard.

Senator ADAMS —Every person is different too.

Mr Wickham —That is correct.

Senator MOORE —This may apply to other companies as well, but I want to ask Mr Wickham: if a person is actually making a claim that in their bedroom they are so discomforted and made unwell that they have to leave their house—and that claim has been made, as you well know—what is the scientific reason not to actually monitor what is happening in their bedroom? You are talking about the contrast in going from a model spot but—

Mr Wickham —If we are able to achieve the standards that we must outside the house, there will not be any issue inside. That is simply the fact.

Senator MOORE —But from a perception point of view, if it were my bedroom or my kitchen—but the issue is sleeping at night and it comes up consistently—I would feel more confident if the measurements were taken where I was making the complaint than if it was outside. That is just a personal perception. Is there any reason that you would not do that? Does it screw up the measurements in some way?

Mr Crockett —Could I possibly help out there?

Senator MOORE —Certainly, Mr Crockett; help me out.

Mr Crockett —The noise standards require that you record more than 10 metres away from a house. As soon as you go inside the house, you are effectively breaking the noise standards, so you are not able to use the data. When they record the noise, the noise specialists go through and sift out the rubbish—if it has rained right on the microphone and those sorts of things. If you put a microphone inside the house, suddenly you are in a zone where they do not know what to do—because someone has come and turned the radio on. How do you deal with that? It is a very prescribed process. If you move away from that process then immediately you are in an area where you cannot defend what you are doing.

CHAIR —It came up a lot yesterday—and you will be aware because many of you were there or you had representatives there—that ‘people haven’t come and monitored where I sleep in my house’. Has anybody ever explained to the community the issue that you just raised around the noise standards? Do you see why I am asking it?

Mr Crockett —Yes, sure.

CHAIR —No-one understood that yesterday, as far as I am aware.

Mr Crockett —I cannot speak for other companies but, if we get a noise complaint, we will go and talk to the person and explain all of that in absolute detail at their house. If they are not happy or they do not believe us, even if it is not an area that has had pre-construction monitoring, we might still monitor and then tell them about the results that we have got. But there is no point in putting the microphone inside the house.

Mr Wickham —Certainly, in our case, prior to us entering into the post-construction monitoring, we had that information on our website. We generated newsletters. We went and spoke to everyone who was going to be involved in the program. As Lane has indicated for Pac Hydro, before we go and monitor at someone’s house, if they raise an issue we will go and sit down and talk to them about it and why we do not monitor inside, why we monitor outside, and the fact that it is in compliance with the standards.

CHAIR —Has anybody else got any other questions about complaints?

Senator BOYCE —It is common in a number of industries that complaints have to be reported to EPA or some other regulatory body. What would your view be if that were the case with complaints for wind farms?

Mr Wickham —I can talk about that. Currently, in accordance with our planning permit, we have to record all our complaints and so forth. The state government has a right to review those at any time they like.

Senator BOYCE —That relies on the state government having the resources and a reason to do that. I am talking about switching that around so that you are obliged to report, say, quarterly all complaints. What would your view be?

Mr Wickham —We are completely transparent about the issues we are dealing with, so I do not think we would have a problem with that at all.

Mr Crockett —I have the feeling that in some jurisdictions we already have to. That is not burdensome at all.

Mr Wickham —Certainly, depending on whether it is a local council approved wind farm or the state government, the rules can be slightly different as to what we have to comply with.

Senator MOORE —Mr Wickham, I spoke with you briefly yesterday about some of the evidence we had on record. I am not going to take the whole committee through it. Can I just remind you on notice that there was quite a detailed complaint in the evidence from one of the people in Waubra, including a chronological list, that no-one got back to them when they alleged they were being bullied. Can we get a response from the company about looking at that list for the public record? The complaint is now on the public record and it would be useful to see the company’s response to what happened.

Mr Wickham —I have certainly asked our community relations team to generate some data on that out of our consultation database.

CHAIR —And you will provide that on notice?

Mr Wickham —Yes.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator FIELDING —Just on that issue, there was a concern that you started giving reference numbers to complaints at a certain stage, but before a certain stage you were not giving out reference numbers. I would not mind some background to that as well. That was the key to it.

Mr Wickham —Certainly, there was some discussion about our post-construction compliance program, so the noise monitoring that was conducted as part of the planning permit. We completed that program in October last year and submitted our report to the government. Once we had submitted that report to the government we then provided all people who had made complaints about noise with their individual noise data and the reports that had come back for their locations. We wanted to complete the process for the Victorian government. We only had very limited numbers who had complained at that stage. But now, every time we go and conduct noise monitoring at someone’s location, at someone’s house, the data is then sent to MDA or MDA source the raw data. They conduct the analysis and an independent report from MDA is provided to the person who has raised the issue about noise.

Senator MOORE —I have one subsequent thing on complaints. This is for all the witnesses. I do not know exactly which wind farm we heard evidence from yesterday that it relates to, but a number of people expressed the view that they were bullied when they made complaints. I do not expect any provider to say, ‘Yes, that happened,’ but if someone makes a complaint and then they claim that they were bullied, does your complaint mechanism now have a subset as to how you continue to operate in that way? The bullying issue was raised by a number of people in the room yesterday. They did not feel when they made a complaint through the process, be it by phone or letter, that they got a response back from the provider. It was not just one; it was across the board. Can we get a copy from each of you of your models of complaint-settling mechanisms? That would be useful. Thank you very much.

Mr Burn —On that point, not having any operating wind turbines as such, it will be our proposed—

Senator MOORE —Absolutely.

Mr Burn —There is also an Australian standard on complaints management which we base ours on.

Senator BOYCE —We are aware of that.

Senator MOORE —We would like to see, under your headings, what your company has committed to publicly as to how complaints are handled. Thank you.

CHAIR —Has everyone finished with complaints? I was thinking of going to the issue of confidentiality. It was raised this morning, and you will be aware it was raised at the hearing. I think people touched on it yesterday, but particularly last Friday it was raised at a hearing in Canberra. I asked industry, because it has come up in a lot of the submissions, about the issue of confidentiality agreements that people with turbines sign with various companies and what is and is not in there. There are claims of gag orders. Claims are made that people cannot talk about health impacts et cetera. Could we hear from each of you around what sort of confidentiality agreements people are required to sign?

Senator BOYCE —Could we do that for both people with turbines and people affected by turbines?

CHAIR —Particularly, do you have non-disparagement clauses and what do you understand those to mean?

Mr Eyes —So any agreements would be a confidentiality of commercial arrangements. I am not aware of any gag orders. I do not know what a gag order is.

CHAIR —Let us call it a non-disparity comments clause.

Mr Eyes —No, there is nothing like that.

Mr Thomson —We have two scenarios in which we will negotiate an agreement with individuals. One is with our project landholders. The nature of the contract that we establish with project landholders is no different to the type of contract you would see in any other walk of business. It is standard fare. It contains confidentiality clauses, or a clause which goes to the heart of the agreement. Really, it is an agreement that both sides take on. We are just as much bound by the confidentiality of the agreement as the landholder, and it is really around the nature of the commercial terms of the agreement. We have, in one or two instances, had agreements that have been put in place with the owners of houses that have sold the properties to us. That agreement has had a confidentiality clause in it, but it does not prevent that individual from speaking about issues of health or any other matter on their experience with the wind farm.

CHAIR —Do you have a clause about non-disparity comments in there?

Mr Thomson —We have a clause which asks the individual not to provide public commentary on their experience with Acciona. We would be happy to provide, out of session, that clause so that you can have a look at it.

CHAIR —That would be appreciated. Thank you.

Senator MOORE —You would like to keep that confidential?

Mr Thomson —Yes, we require that to be confidential.

Senator MOORE —Absolutely. I just wanted to pick that up.

Mr Thomson —I reiterate that it does not go to issues of health or their experience of the wind farm. The person in question has spoken publicly about their experience of the wind farm and health, and we have not tried to stop that.

CHAIR —That would be appreciated. Thank you.

Senator BOYCE —Presumably, we are talking about the Godfreys there.

Mr Thomson —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —I understood they had spoken because they had been subpoenaed by a court; is that correct?

Mr Thomson —Yes, but they did not have to turn up. We had the opportunity to argue the case with them. We did not. We saw no point. We have not asked them to be confidential about their experience with the wind farm. Trisha Godfrey spoke publicly. We are not concerned by that.

Mr Crockett —All our contracts are commercial-in-confidence. When we enter into a contract with a party who is a landholder, or somebody who is nearby, we pay for them to get a lawyer of their choice to act on their behalf. We do not choose who that person is. We always try and give them the comfort that they are entering into a fair contract.

Mr Russell —We have, obviously, lease agreements with our landholders and a small number of other contracts with neighbouring landholders where there might be an issue or an impact we need to deal with. Those would have our normal confidentiality clause in them, which is confidentiality of the terms of the agreement.

CHAIR —That is around the commercial negotiation.

Mr Russell —The commercial confidentiality of the agreement itself. The pricing or whatever might be in there. That is what we normally do, in the same way that we make sure that all the people who enter into these agreements get legal advice, which we pay for.

Mr Upson —Only some of our landowner agreements have a commercial confidentiality clause. Some of them do not even have that. We certainly do not have any clauses—a non-disparaging clause or anything about health concerns.

CHAIR —Why do some of them do and some of them do not?

Mr Upson —It is just the choice of the project manager as to whether it is seen as being necessary.

Mr Geiger —We are pretty much the same as the others. The terms around the commercial arrangements are commercial-in-confidence, but that probably goes more to the protection of the landholder than to us. Obviously the landholders that we talk to nearly always ask us, ‘What are you paying others?’  We generally give that figure, but we do not disclose it specifically. That is really to protect them. Nobody here in the room would like others to know what is in their salary package and other things; it is just normal commercial practice. Other than that, we encourage all landholders that we work with to get the contracts that we present to them reviewed independently by the legal adviser of their choice. We pay for their legal advice and make that assistance available. Quite clearly, our landholders are not subject to any gag orders with regard to health or any other impacts. We simply do not have that in our contracts.

Senator ADAMS —I have an issue I would like you to help me with: contracts are drawn up; it is confidential as to the siting of the turbines and the landholder, or the host person, has to sign a confidentiality agreement not to tell the neighbours where the turbines are going to be sited. This has caused a terrific lot of angst. Is that something that you do normally?

Mr Wickham —No.

Mr Geiger —We have no such clauses.

Mr Burn —No clauses like that.

Mr Crockett —I do not quite understand that, because normally, if anyone asks us where the location of the turbines are going to be, we would just tell them anyway. I would not understand why you would even have such a clause.

Senator ADAMS —This is a proposed wind farm in WA. The lack of community consultation is probably the thing that has really upset people. They have been offered the opportunity to host a turbine or a number of turbines on their properties and the final crunch was, ‘You sign this agreement, but you can’t tell so and so who have adjoining properties where these turbines are going.’ That has really backfired. I just wondered whether that is a process that goes on or whether it is just peculiar to this particular company.

Mr Thomson —I do not know of any examples like that. I would reflect on the general experience in developing wind farms. It is, as I said in my opening statement, a long and slow process. There is a period at the beginning where it is very difficult to define what the wind farm is going to look like. When we plan the siting of a wind farm and the locations of turbines we have to go through quite a complicated process, which is not just about the wind resource and understanding where the best wind resource is; it also has to assess constraints around flora and fauna. It might be issues related to birds or the natural environment generally. There are issues that go to cultural heritage. So we have to understand what constraints exist on a site in that respect. We have to do comprehensive noise modelling to understand whether the siting of turbines is likely to allow us to comply with whatever the state guidelines may be, if it is the New Zealand standard here or the South Australian standard. That process will normally take most of us somewhere in the vicinity of 18 months to two years to really bed down. During that initial phase, it can be a complicated process in trying to talk with communities about what the wind farm is going to look like. Going back to the initial question, we do not know of any examples that you refer to.

Senator BOYCE —I just want to continue on the confidentiality side. We had evidence this morning which will become public, or it has been agreed to be public, from a solicitor who has seen three contracts—one signed, two not signed—which he said precluded people from making any adverse comment whatsoever about the wind farm and had non-disparagement clauses that were so broadly worded as to make the people with the wind turbines, the people who had signed the contracts, concerned that they could not speak about health effects. Can I have comments from you on that statement?

Mr Thomson —We have already responded to that question, so I guess I would just repeat what I said before: we would be happy to share with you the confidentiality clause for the Godfrey contract in confidence, so you can have a look for yourself and you can—

Senator BOYCE —This is not necessarily related to the Godfrey contract.

Mr Thomson —Our practice at Acciona is not to put in place so-called ‘gag’ clauses.

Senator BOYCE —Can I just ask that question in a different way? There is comment, I think, in the Pacific Hydro report on the fact that the New Zealand standard that provides protection against sleep disturbance, noise levels and health and amenity is used by a lot of planning panels. Do any of you have contracts that would prevent people from raising issues with planning panels around sleep disturbance, noise levels and health and amenity? Can we have some words?

CHAIR —Shaking heads does not get recorded.

Mr Thomson —No.

Mr Upson —At Infigen Energy, no, we do not.

Mr Burn —We do not have anything like that—except that there is, I guess, standard land use planning practice that assumes that landholders who are hosting turbines and receiving a financial income from those turbines are subject to a higher standard, being the European standard. Other than that, which is standard planning practice and across all planning panels of Victoria—

Senator BOYCE —The noise standard you are talking about?

Mr Burn —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —But nothing would prevent people who had signed these contracts from taking complaints to planning panels—is that correct?

Mr Geiger —Complaints are probably not directed to planning panels because complaints arise when it is operational.

Senator BOYCE —Concerns.

CHAIR —There are two different issues. There are complaints that would not necessarily go to planning panels. That is where you are actually discussing the planning decision.

Mr Geiger —Our experience is that those landholders who do have concerns do not sign contracts with us. Why would they? If they are concerned and they do not want to have wind turbines on their property, why would they sign a contract with us?

Senator MOORE —We had evidence yesterday from a couple of people—I do not know whether they had turbines or not—who said their views had changed, that originally they really welcomed the process, because they were trying to support alternative energy, but then once the program had started they felt that they had been affected in different ways. The people on record did not identify whether they were hosts or not, but they put on record yesterday concerns that they had originally welcomed the process and then their views had changed once it had started. It could well be that someone originally felt really good about it and then later felt that they had been poorly impacted. That could well be an issue.

Mr Russell —We have agreements with a number of landholders who may have been impacted by a wind farm. We have signed up agreements whereby we have compensated them for that and they have accepted that as compensation for the level of impact that they have seen. Certainly, those do appear. We do have those contracts—a small number of them, I might add.

CHAIR —I want to move on because we are going to run out of time.

Senator FIELDING —Changing the topic to shadow flicker from the blades rotating. I take it from each of your perspectives that no-one should have blade flicker on their house or their backyard. There would be nothing worse than cooking a barbecue and the shade coming over, rotating through. I assume that that does not happen, that no backyard or house has shade flicker in any of your installations. Would be that correct?

Mr Geiger —I should add to that, if we follow the New Zealand standard on noise, then the setbacks due to complying with the noise standards are generally greater than the setbacks required to avoid shadow flicker. So that is an issue that we do not expect to occur in Australia. With our German operations, the noise limits are much less stringent. We go as close as 300 metres to the closest house with some of our installations there. At that distance shadow flicker would be an issue. However, in those installations, we have sensors attached to the turbines that measure the conditions that would cause shadow flicker, like the direction where the sun is, where the shadow is heading, whether it is sunny or cloudy. In those circumstances the turbines actually shut off, so shadow flicker does not occur there. Again, it is not an issue we expect in Australia, because the setbacks due to complying with noise are such that shadow flicker is a non-event.

Senator FIELDING —Is that the same for everybody? I think we heard yesterday from some saying that there was some shadow flicker, certainly in their backyard.

Senator BOYCE —One witness.

Senator FIELDING —I am not talking about a kilometre backyard either.

Mr Wickham —There are instances. Certainly, when we design wind farms we take all the modelling into account. You will infrequently have a situation—and I know we have had one at Waubra—where we have had a house impacted by shadow flicker. Currently we are working through ways of either providing screening or offset planting to be able to protect the house so it is not impacted by shadow flicker. It is a very rare event. We are certainly looking, through the normal complaints process, to have a resolution to that issue.

Senator FIELDING —Just with that one case, would it not be resolved to the agreement of both of you? They may not want trees. What I am saying is that you have imposed on them and you have made a mistake. Should they not agree to what should be done, rather than you just saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do’?

Mr Wickham —No. I am just saying that an opportunity for a solution is to put up screening and so forth.

Senator FIELDING —If they did not like that you would stop—

Mr Wickham —I am not saying that we have completed that process of working through that resolution and that complaint. It could be screen plantings or it could be putting up a pergola or something to stop the impact of the shadow flicker. In that circumstance, I believe the shadow flicker is very minimal hours per year. We just need to work through that process in accordance with the other complaints that we have for other issues.

Senator FIELDING —What happens if they do not want trees or a pergola sitting there and they want it left open? Would you shut just that one turbine down?

Mr Wickham —It is not for me here today to come up with a solution. We will look at all the options.

Mr Burn —Could I also add that shadow flicker is not something that is completely prohibited by the current planning guidelines in Victoria. There is a must-not-exceed limit of 30 hours per year for shadow flicker. That is under the current planning and policy guidelines for wind energy facilities.

CHAIR —Thank you. Mr Thomson, did you want to say something?

Mr Thomson —I was going to say exactly that. The planning guidelines require no more than 30 hours per year. That is normally what we work to. We try to have either no shadow flicker or less than 30 hours per year.

Mr Russell —That would be evaluated during the development approval process and assessed by the panel as part of the requirements of the performance of the wind farm. Developers of a wind farm have no incentive to go beyond that and not to get the modelling correct, because we have to live with the wind farm subsequently, as well as the community, obviously.

CHAIR —Let us go to planning.

Senator ADAMS —Pacific Hydro, I was interested in the fact that you said in your opening statement that you allowed two to four years with your planning and with your community consultation. I am from Western Australia, so I am looking at these proposals and thinking, ‘I don’t know where they are.’ Forgive my ignorance, but Crowlands WA—whereabouts is that?

Mr Crockett —Crowlands is in Victoria and it has planning approval.

Senator ADAMS —It has ‘WA’ beside it on our book. That is why I was—

Mr Crockett —I am sorry.

Senator ADAMS —That is all right.

Mr Crockett —That is an error.

Senator ADAMS —What about Nilgen?

Mr Crockett —Nilgen has planning approval.

Senator ADAMS —Is that in WA?

Mr Crockett —That is in Western Australia, yes.

Senator ADAMS —Whereabouts?

Mr Crockett —I am having a mental blank about the nearest coastal town.

Senator ADAMS —Is it down south?

Mr Crockett —No, it is about halfway to Geraldton.

CHAIR —Is there one going north?

Mr Crockett —Yes.

Senator ADAMS —And Yaloak South?

Mr Crockett —It is also in Victoria.

Senator ADAMS —Something has gone wrong here! I was thinking I was a bit ignorant. Anyway, what I would like you to explain to me is this: the two to four years planning that you are doing before you lodge an application is quite interesting. What is the process, when you first move into an area that you are thinking might be all right, as far as all the scientific evidence goes, to establish a wind farm?

Mr Crockett —I will give it a shot. It usually starts with a local farmer or someone from the area giving us a call and saying: ‘This is a really windy area. Do you guys want to have a look at this?’ It starts from there. We do an initial screen just to see whether it has the right sort of parameters to be a good project. If that is the case, people on the ground go in and talk to the council, meet some of the people around the area and determine whether it has the right sort of outlook, not just from a resource point of view but socially and environmentally. They look for a bit of a screen of what is good and what is not so good about potentially having a project there.

Then at that point, if it passes that very coarse screening, you will enter into a discussion with potential landholders to negotiate a land option—because no land, no project. It is as simple as that. Normally, once that is done, with one of the landholders you will have an agreement to put a measuring mast up. Even though there is data that says there is wind in the area—and we would look at a coarse sort of wind map—you have to do local monitoring. You will usually monitor at least a year before the data is useful or useful in a way that, for example, a bank would lend on it. That is the minimum. What you tend to do is monitor it for a while. You have a relatively quiet period then when you are not really doing too much in the area.

After that, once you have got a fair bit of data in and you are starting to think that the project is commercially viable in the long term, you start to look at what this project could look like. You will start to consider some studies, your flora and fauna, your cultural heritage—all of those sorts of things. That is when you start to mosey into the community, as it were. You will get in touch with council and local experts and you will talk to people around the community. At this point it is not formal; it is very informal. That goes on for quite some period of time while you figure out how it is going to look and whether there are any surprises going to pop up.

Quite some way down the track—you will have gone through all those studies—you go into the formal process where you start to do the community consultation. You are setting up information centres around the area. You are writing to everybody. You are telling them all about it. You are putting it on the radio, ‘We’re coming to tell you we are considering a wind farm here.’ Then people come in and you put all the maps up and they say: ‘So and so lives there. You haven’t got a house marked there. There’s a house there. So and so was a shepherd. There’s an old story that he died and he’s buried over there.’ You get all the stories and everything comes in and people ask questions about the wind farm and what is going on.

I have to say, in the past—for example, when we did Crowlands about three years ago now—when we did the consultation it was all very much about the issues that relate to wind farms: ‘Will I get shadow flicker? What will the noise be? I hear birds will get killed. What happens there?’ They just asked all the questions about the impacts of the wind farm. What we find now—and the most recent one that we did was Yaloak—is that it is all about, ‘This is going to make me sick.’ In some ways it has diverted away from what we believe to be the real impacts of the wind farm—the things that will affect people, like their TV coverage; some farmers are worried about their GPS systems for their tractors when they are driving through and doing the cropping and whatnot; there is a whole myriad of things—and now it has just become about one issue. When we try to consult, it is really hard to do it about all those issues because everybody is just worried about health. That is where I think it has become very difficult now to consult on a rational, sensible basis with people about the real impacts of wind farms. I am sorry; I digressed a little bit there.

That formal process finishes and then out of that there is usually a lot of discussion that goes on. There will be some people who say, ‘I’m sitting on my veranda and I’m going to see it but I don’t want to see it.’ We say: ‘Okay, fine. Let’s talk to you about some visual screening, or whatever. Oh, you don’t like visual screening. What else can we do?’ All of those conversations just go on and on until you lodge the application. Did that answer the question?

Senator ADAMS —Yes.

CHAIR —I have a planning question and then we want to move on to property values. I am conscious we are running out of time. If we can move fairly quickly, that would be appreciated. On the planning issue, you have all seen, I think, the board that was presented yesterday to us at the inquiry in Ballarat. It had south-west Victoria, with lots of wind farms, marked on the map. The point that the community made to us is that the overall planning approach does not seem to be coordinated. The first they hear about it, they said to us, is when a letter lands on their doorstep that there is another wind farm. There were a couple of people who then said, ‘Well, I’ve got one on this side of me and one on this side of me.’ In terms of enabling the community to find out before something drops on their doorstep—I appreciate the points you just made, Mr Crockett, about the process that has developed into planning—have any of you given any thought to how you could do a more effective planning process in a particular region so that people have more confidence about where wind farms, or anything for that matter, may be developed? I am sure the issue has been raised with you that to the community it seems to be a fairly ad hoc process. That certainly has been raised yesterday and in submissions.

Mr Burn —In terms of how we deal with it in our own projects, we are constantly refining our consultation processes to make them better and also to deal with misinformation and so on. At that really high strategic level, I think it was in 2003 that Sustainability Victoria produced a wind atlas for Victoria. Part of the role was to look at that as a very high-level strategic planning tool to identify areas of high wind speed, grid infrastructure and so forth. I guess it was largely used by companies such as ours to investigate areas, rather than, say, various shires looking at using that and saying, ‘This area is very windy, but this area is of particular landscape significance,’ and then filter down some planning policy from that. I do not think that filtering down of planning policy has not occurred, no.

Mr Russell —There are two parts to it, though. One is that there is a structure set up which clearly looks for the market to come up with the best projects to meet the requirements on time and at the lowest cost to the community. That is the structure that is put in place. That is what we get in terms of wind farms. The second one is that, in the approval process, what happens is the evaluation is in terms of what projects are approved. If you are getting an approval for a project, it will take into account other projects that have come before you. If it is a marginal project, if there are going to be too many, the last one will not succeed.

CHAIR —I can see that from a commercial reality that happens, but from a community perspective I think what they are looking for—certainly what I picked up yesterday—is a bit more certainty about where they can expect development to happen.

Mr Russell —I understand that. It is pretty difficult in terms of the structure that we are actually operating under here, which is a market structure for delivery.

CHAIR —I appreciate the commercial realities and the market realities.

Mr Geiger —If I may add something to this: our company is used to a completely different structure. The councils declare in Germany certain areas where they want wind development to occur. Essentially, the shire becomes a planning overlay in certain areas: this is the wind farm development zone. The councils do not do that deliberately. They get told by government. Government says: ‘This is our target. You set aside X per cent of your shire area for wind farming purposes.’ And they do. As an industry, we can work under both frameworks, but it is not up to us to say, ‘You, government, should do this or you, government, should do that.’ It is government that sets policies and principles, so I ask you to direct that question to government and not to us, please.

CHAIR —Industry would probably come down on us like a ton of bricks if we just directed you as well. My supplementary to that one is: is there a community planning process that happens when local government says, ‘This is the zone’? Is there a community planning progress that undertakes that, or a community discussion process?

Mr Geiger —At a much lower level than in Australia. We go through a lot more community consultation in the process that we develop wind farms as it is now than happens under the German system.

CHAIR —Okay.

Mr Geiger —There is community involvement. People make submissions and there is planning, advertising and the like, but there is not the same level of scrutiny that we go through in Australia.

CHAIR —I might put a question on notice for a bit of detail, because I do not want to continue running on the line. I think we might have been a bit at odds about where the level of community consultation comes in. I might follow that with a question on notice. Senator Moore, you wanted to go to property values. I think this will have to be the last round of issues.

Senator MOORE —We heard considerable evidence yesterday about concerns with property valuation. We have seen the response that the New South Wales government has done a survey that indicated there was no impact. A number of people are prepared to put evidence before us, and will do so, about their own personal experiences that show that, since wind farm development has been put on, properties have lost value. I am just wondering, from your perspective, about land valuation. Mr Burn, I think you said in your opening statement that you did not think property valuation was—and I have a secondary question before you answer that—something which should be taken into account by the industry, or something along those lines. I may be verballing you, but I thought you said something of that nature.

The second point, which is of particular interest in Queensland, on other forms of alternative energy, is the use of arable land. If you have wind farm development, does the planning process impact on the host people being able to continue to operate whatever farming activity they have? We saw yesterday in Waubra that the grazing aspect seemed to be completely at ease. The grazers looked very happy. But in terms of other forms of farming activity, is that something you take into account when you are doing it? They are the two questions. Have I verballed you, Mr Burn?

Mr Burn —I did not want to sound like I was coming across as flippant in that. Certainly, it is an issue for the industry. It is an issue for our communities, because obviously it is their key investment that they will make in their life. I want to be quite clear about that. I guess where I was going with that is the equity of wind farming as a land use and other land uses in a planning context. It is a pretty established planning principle that land values are not considered in that assessment process. That is where I was going, basically on the basis that land value is something which can go up as well as down and there are various drivers that can impact on land value—land use and otherwise.

In terms of the arable land question, we touched on that a little bit in our submission. Certainly, the infrastructure on our farmers’ farms makes up less than one per cent. Most of the time we are reusing or rationalising access tracks. They will be required to be upgraded as part of the project. To the extent that we can operate a wind farm and so forth, there is also the placement of turbines to a limited extent, in terms of a cropping paddock and going five metres. We have those commonsense types of discussions with landholders as well.

I guess if you were to look at the argument of a reduction in arable land because of wind farms, you are only considering the one parameter in terms of a farm business—that is, the land itself. In terms of an operating farm business, the income from a wind turbine or two would be a pretty good crop. In terms of that as a business, I would suggest that, individually and regionally, farm businesses would do significantly better.

Mr Crockett —In terms of property values, our experience of 10 years of operation with our oldest wind farm is that maybe you would not put your property on the market during the middle of construction. But once the wind farm is settled into operation, we do not see that problem at all. We have the Challicum Hills wind farm out near Ararat. We do not see any property value problems there. That is what we are told by real estate agents. In fact, even recently in Cape Bridgewater, down near Portland, prices are rising rapidly. Both capes, Cape Bridgewater and Cape Nelson, have turbines on them.

CHAIR —I am sorry, Mr Crockett; how many?

Mr Crockett —There are 58 megawatts, so there are 26 turbines at Cape Bridgewater and 22 on Cape Nelson. The way I see it is that more than 80 per cent of people in Australia, as you poll, view wind farms positively—or did, maybe. But it is still pretty high. My understanding is that, even at Cape Bridgewater, sometimes wind farm views are seen as a benefit, not a problem. Just to finish on the cropping, we have a range of landholders who do all sorts of different things with their land. From grazing to cropping, no-one has ever come up and said, ‘I’m having problems with my cropping because of your turbines.’

Mr Wickham —I was just going to discuss our experience of land use at Waubra. We have worked with the landowners in that case to make sure that impacts on their properties are minimised. We have worked to actually overlay our access tracks, where there are existing tracks, and upgrade those. All the sheep farming that occurs up there basically goes on unhindered. We have worked with the farmers who grow potatoes in the area. They do deep ripping and so forth to ensure that the cables and so on are at a depth which is not going to be impacted by any deep ripping. We have also made sure that the turbines are not located where they are going to be impacted by the centre pivot irrigation that goes on up there. The senators would have seen yesterday that a large number of properties have centre pivot irrigation. We have the experience of Waubra and our experience in New South Wales. We have a wind farm at Gunning, which is a fine merino wool sheep property, and it is completely unimpacted by the wind farm. We also have the Cathedral Rocks experience where the farmer there has continued to operate the farm completely unhindered by the wind farm’s operation.

Mr Upson —Getting back to the issue of neighbouring properties, I would like to call the committee’s attention to the Gullen Range wind farm and the Land and Environment Court decision where Commissioner Tim Moore responded to the Landscape Guardians group’s argument that neighbours should be compensated for the blight and perceived loss of property values by stating:

Such a proposition faces a number of insurmountable hurdles.

The first is that the wind farm, as earlier noted, is a permissible use on all of the parcels of land upon which it is proposed to be located … If the concepts of blight and compensation, as pressed by the Guardians, were to be [adopted and] applied to this private project (a proposition which I reject) then any otherwise compliant private project which had some impact in lowering the amenity of another property … would be exposed to such a claim.

Creating such a right to compensation (for creating such a right it would be) would not merely strike at the basis of the conventional framework of landuse planning but would also be contrary to the relevant objective of the [Planning] Act … for the promotion and co-ordination of the orderly and economic use and development of land.

In other words, if every proposed infrastructure development—a rail line, a hospital, a power line, a shopping centre, a freeway—were subject to every neighbour being able to put their hand out for compensation according to their perceived amenity impact, clearly the planning system would descend into chaos and few, if any, development projects would ever proceed. We believe that wind farm projects are just another infrastructure project and we should be treated with the same rules and regulations that other infrastructure projects go by.

Mr Thomson —Senator—

CHAIR —Please make it very short.

Mr Thomson —perhaps I could just add to that by challenging this notion that it is carnage out there, as Sarah Laurie is suggesting, and community uproar. If we just quickly distil some of the results of the submissions, the inquiry received 838 submissions—I am doing this in the context of the Waubra project, which is ours—from people and organisations in Australia. The remainder came from overseas. Overall, 62 per cent of the submissions were in support of the industry, 29 per cent showed concern about the industry and eight per cent gave no position. Sixty-nine submissions—eight per cent—made specific reference to the owner; 52 of these related to the Waubra wind farm and 47 of the 52 expressed concern about the wind farm. Of this number, only 23 came from people who live in the area and the remainder came from people who live in other parts of the state or in other states altogether. Furthermore, the 23 submissions from local residents that expressed concern about the wind farm are from 12 individual households; in other words, each family has sent in multiple submissions. Each of these households and their issues are well known to us.

Lastly, to put this into context, the Waubra population—so those people living within approximately five kilometres of the wind farm—is around 700 people. On Sunday, this weekend, the second Waubra wind farm festival will be held. At the first Waubra wind farm festival, which the community named and organised, 800 people turned up to celebrate that tiny community and its new identity. I suggest, if you have the time, it might be worth heading out to Waubra for the weekend for the festival.

CHAIR —Thank you. We are running out of time. In fact, after getting back on time, I have managed to take us off time again. We might as well go until half past now and take any final questions from the senators.

Senator FIELDING —Yes, I have one. I think someone had taken on notice the detailed complaints process. Could each company provide their detailed complaints process, if they could. Also, is there any difference if it is a noise complaint? In other words, could you please make those two statements? You can say, ‘No, there’s no difference,’ but I am interested in knowing the details.

CHAIR —Can you document all your various complaints processes, and that will cover that? I know that Senator Boyce has a question.

Senator BOYCE —Yes. There is just one that I neglected to ask earlier. The majority of you have mentioned that you fund potential lessors to get legal advice. Who do you pay? Do you pay the solicitor that they choose or do you give the money to the landowner?

Mr Russell —In our case, we pay the solicitor.

Mr Thomson —We pay the solicitor as well.

Mr Upson —We pay the solicitor, but we offer the landowners the option of having us not pay them, if they object to that.

Mr Crockett —We also pay an invoice. If the landowners paid a solicitor’s invoice, we would pay them.

CHAIR —Senator Moore, I know that you want to put a question on notice.

Senator MOORE —Yes. I have a follow-up to Senator Boyce’s question that I want to put on notice: are you aware of any legal firms that are beginning to specialise in this area, in that you are beginning to get the same solicitors? That question can go on notice. The second one on notice is: people talk about the length of their projects—planning for how long the projects are going to be. What happens to dead wind farms? We have had a number of people say that they continue to be a blight, even when their period is over. Is there a process for dismantling and whatever? I put that on notice as well. Also on notice is this: you would be aware that at yesterday’s meeting Mr Mitchell provided the committee with a book which categorically proves that wind farms and wind farming are dead and are a failed energy. We will be able to provide the name of that book—

Senator BOYCE —We thought that perhaps you needed to be told!

Senator MOORE —Regarding that particular book which he put on notice yesterday, I just wonder whether there is an industry response. It is just so you are aware of this. It is something that he gave to our committee yesterday that we had not seen before.

Mr Upson —I think my opening submission made pretty clear the facts of the wind energy issue overseas.

CHAIR —You did. If anybody wants to add any other comments on notice—

Senator MOORE —They are the ones on notice.

Mr Thomson —Last year, $US250 billion was invested into renewables, the bulk of which went to wind. So, going to Jonathon’s comments from earlier on, it is not a dead industry.

CHAIR —If anybody wants to add anything else, please feel free to put it on notice. Thank you very much. Your time here is appreciated. You all have got homework. If you could respond within the next couple of weeks, that would be appreciated. We have a fairly tight time line in which to report. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 3.30 pm to 3.49 pm