Australia’s first offshore wind farm bill was a long time coming, but here are 4 reasons it’s not up to scratch yet


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Madeline Taylor, Macquarie University and Tina Soliman Hunter, Macquarie UniversityAfter years of waiting, the federal government finally introduced Australia’s first offshore electricity legislation in parliament yesterday. The bill will establish a regulatory framework for the offshore wind industry, paving the way for more than ten proposed projects.

Australia’s wind resources are among the world’s best, comparable to the North Sea between Britain and Europe where offshore energy is an established industry. In fact, research from July found if all the proposed offshore wind farms were built, their combined energy capacity would be greater than all of Australia’s coal-fired power plants.

But Australia’s lack of legal framework has meant we’re yet to commission our first offshore wind farm.

The new legislation took years of stakeholder anticipation leading to public consultation in 2020, but upon first reading one is left a little wanting. We find four reasons the bill isn’t up to scratch yet, from its inadequate safety provisions to vague wording around Native Title rights and interests.

A huge opportunity

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) identifies offshore wind as key in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, calling for the world’s offshore wind capacity to increase ten-fold, to 45 gigawatts per year by 2050.

In line with IRENA’s position, many of Australia’s trading partners have ambitious targets for offshore wind, including the UK, US, European Union, Korea and Japan. For example, the UK’s target is to reach a total of 40 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030.

This new bill is Australia’s attempt to join its partners. It will give offshore electricity projects the framework for construction, operation, maintenance, and more.

One project, for example, is the Star of the South, which plans to build an offshore wind farm off the coast of Gippsland in Victoria. This project has the potential to supply 20% of the state’s energy needs. Like Australia’s other 12 proposed offshore wind projects, it has been waiting on an appropriate regulatory framework to go ahead.




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Offshore wind is essential to help Australia cut its greenhouse gas emissions and create a sustainable and affordable electricity market. Indeed, the explanatory memorandum that accompanies the bill notes that if passed, the legislation will establish certainty that investors crave, potentially leading to billions of dollars worth of investment.

Wind energy infrastructure projects will also create thousands of jobs. Recent estimates suggest the offshore wind industry could create as much as 8,000 jobs each year from 2030. The Star of the South alone expects to create 2,000 direct jobs in Victoria over its lifetime, including 200 ongoing local jobs.

But the bill doesn’t go far enough

This bill represents a first attempt to establish a world-class regulatory regime. But does it?

Well, first of all it didn’t get off to a good start. In 2020, the government committed to having the legislation settings and framework in place by mid 2021. This target was not delivered.

And upon closer examination of the bill, we find critical omissions compared to best practice in North Sea jurisdictions.

A ship outside turbines at sunset
Offshore wind is essential to help Australia cut its greenhouse gas emissions.
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1. Weak protections for the environment

To protect the environment, projects need to create a management plan that complies with requirements under the federal environment law. But this won’t ensure marine life is unharmed by enormous, noisy turbines.

According to a major, independent review earlier this year, Australia’s environment law is outdated and flawed.




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It only addresses select environmental issues. The law is far too broad to deal with the unique requirements of offshore wind turbines, which Australian waters have never experienced before.

For example, under the bill’s broad management plan requirements, many environmental issues such as underwater noise and impacts on fish spawning would likely not be addressed.

Compare this to jurisdictions in the North Sea. In the UK, offshore wind projects require a thorough strategic environmental assessment, detailing all possible environmental impacts.

2. Native Title holders lose out

Offshore energy project developers are prohibited from interfering with Native Title rights and interests. But the bill allows interference if it’s “necessary” for the for the “reasonable exercise” of project rights and obligations.

This raises a critical question — what is considered “necessary” and “reasonable”?

This vague wording could see projects go ahead when it conflicts with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and their Native Title rights.




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3. Inadequate safety provisions

Offshore wind energy development holds inherent risks, such as transporting and constructing wind turbine components in hazardous environments, which are often subject to extreme weather. Without a solid safety framework, construction may lead to injuries or deaths, similar to those that have occurred in the North Sea.

Under the new legislation, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) would be appointed as the offshore wind regulator. NOPSEMA would oversee safety using the generic Work, Health and Safety Act 2011.

But the bill says parts of the Work, Health and Safety Act will need to be modified so they’re “fit for purpose”. It would require extra provisions, exclusions and workarounds, making the assurance of structures difficult.

Compare this to offshore petroleum operations, which get a bespoke safety framework , one NOPSEMA is already familiar with. Why isn’t one put in place for offshore wind farms?

Construction of an offshore turbine
Offshore wind construction workers may have to deal with extreme weather, putting them at risk.
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4. It may leave the community behind

In Denmark, offshore wind turbines are located less than 16 kilometres from the coastline. They’re obliged to offer at least 20% of ownership shares to local citizens.

But under Australia’s proposed bill, there are no explicit community benefit schemes. This is an important omission, because creating laws to increase community participation and engagement could reduce any risk of “not in my backyard” (Nimbyism) attitudes. It would also ensure hosting communities are actively involved early and frequently throughout the lifecycle of offshore wind projects.

In crafting best practice regulation coupled with community benefit schemes, the opportunities are limitless. A first step could be to create further public submission opportunities for communities to comment on the bill.

Offshore wind is our golden ticket to a reliable, affordable, and clean energy future. Investing in the offshore wind industry is a no-brainer for Australia, but it needs to be done right.




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The Conversation


Madeline Taylor, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University and Tina Soliman Hunter, Professor of Energy and Natural Resources Law, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wind turbines off the coast could help Australia become an energy superpower, research finds


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Sven Teske, University of Technology Sydney; Chris Briggs, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Hemer, CSIRO; Philip Marsh, University of Tasmania, and Rusty Langdon, University of Technology SydneyOffshore wind farms are an increasingly common sight overseas. But Australia has neglected the technology, despite the ample wind gusts buffeting much of our coastline.

New research released today confirms Australia’s offshore wind resources offer vast potential both for electricity generation and new jobs. In fact, wind conditions off southern Australia rival those in the North Sea, between Britain and Europe, where the offshore wind industry is well established.

More than ten offshore wind farms are currently proposed for Australia. If built, their combined capacity would be greater than all coal-fired power plants in the nation.

Offshore wind projects can provide a win-win-win for Australia: creating jobs for displaced fossil fuel workers, replacing energy supplies lost when coal plants close, and helping Australia become a renewable energy superpower.

offshore wind turbine from above
Australia’s potential for offshore wind rivals the North Sea’s.
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The time is now

Globally, offshore wind is booming. The United Kingdom plans to quadruple offshore wind capacity to 40 gigawatts (GW) by 2030 – enough to power every home in the nation. Other jurisdictions also have ambitious 2030 offshore wind targets including the European Union (60GW), the United States (30GW), South Korea (12GW) and Japan (10GW).

Australia’s coastal waters are relatively deep, which limits the scope to fix offshore wind turbines to the bottom of the ocean. This, combined with Australia’s ample onshore wind and solar energy resources, means offshore wind has been overlooked in Australia’s energy system planning.

But recent changes are producing new opportunities for Australia. The development of larger turbines has created economies of scale which reduce technology costs. And floating turbine foundations, which can operate in very deep waters, open access to more windy offshore locations.

More than ten offshore wind projects are proposed in Australia. Star of the South, to be built off Gippsland in Victoria, is the most advanced. Others include those off Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

floating wind turbine
Floating wind turbines can operate in deep waters.
SAITEC

Our findings

Our study sought to examine the potential of offshore wind energy for Australia.

First, we examined locations considered feasible for offshore wind projects, namely those that were:

  • less than 100km from shore
  • within 100km of substations and transmission lines (excluding environmentally restricted areas)
  • in water depths less than 1,000 metres.

Wind resources at those locations totalled 2,233GW of capacity and would generate far more than current and projected electricity demand across Australia.

Second, we looked at so-called “capacity factor” – the ratio between the energy an offshore wind turbine would generate with the winds available at a location, relative to the turbine’s potential maximum output.

The best sites were south of Tasmania, with a capacity factor of 80%. The next-best sites were in Bass Strait and off Western Australia and North Queensland (55%), followed by South Australia and New South Wales (45%). By comparison, the capacity factor of onshore wind turbines is generally 35–45%.

Average annual wind speeds in Bass Strait, around Tasmania and along the mainland’s southwest coast equal those in the North Sea, where offshore wind is an established industry. Wind conditions in southern Australia are also more favourable than in the East China and Yellow seas, which are growth regions for commercial wind farms.

Map showing average wind speed
Average wind speed (metres per second) from 2010-2019 in the study area at 100 metres.
Authors provided

Next, we compared offshore wind resources on an hourly basis against the output of onshore solar and wind farms at 12 locations around Australia.

At most sites, offshore wind continued to operate at high capacity during periods when onshore wind and solar generation output was low. For example, meteorological data shows offshore wind at the Star of the South location is particularly strong on hot days when energy demand is high.

Australia’s fleet of coal-fired power plants is ageing, and the exact date each facility will retire is uncertain. This creates risks of disruption to energy supplies, however offshore wind power could help mitigate this. A single offshore wind project can be up to five times the size of an onshore wind project.

Some of the best sites for offshore winds are located near the Latrobe Valley in Victoria and the Hunter Valley in NSW. Those regions boast strong electricity grid infrastructure built around coal plants, and offshore wind projects could plug into this via undersea cables.

And building wind energy offshore can also avoid the planning conflicts and community opposition which sometimes affect onshore renewables developments.

Global average wind speed
Global average wind speed (metres per second at 100m level.
Authors provided



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Winds of change

Our research found offshore wind could help Australia become a renewable energy “superpower”. As Australia seeks to reduce its greenhouse has emissions, sectors such as transport will need increased supplies of renewable energy. Clean energy will also be needed to produce hydrogen for export and to manufacture “green” steel and aluminium.

Offshore wind can also support a “just transition” – in other words, ensure fossil fuel workers and their communities are not left behind in the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Our research found offshore wind could produce around 8,000 jobs under the scenario used in our study – almost as many as those employed in Australia’s offshore oil and gas sector.

Many skills used in the oil and gas industry, such as those in construction, safety and mechanics, overlap with those needed in offshore wind energy. Coal workers could also be re-employed in offshore wind manufacturing, port assembly and engineering.

Realising these opportunities from offshore wind will take time and proactive policy and planning. Our report includes ten recommendations, including:

  • establishing a regulatory regime in Commonwealth waters
  • integrating offshore wind into energy planning and innovation funding
  • further research on the cost-benefits of the sector to ensure Australia meets its commitments to a well managed sustainable ocean economy.

If we get this right, offshore wind can play a crucial role in Australia’s energy transition.




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Super-charged: how Australia’s biggest renewables project will change the energy game


The Conversation


Sven Teske, Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Chris Briggs, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Hemer, Principal Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO; Philip Marsh, Post doctoral researcher, University of Tasmania, and Rusty Langdon, Research Consultant, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Forest Wind and Australia’s renewables revolution: how big clean energy projects risk leaving local communities behind



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Tom Morton, University of Technology Sydney; James Goodman, University of Technology Sydney; Katja Müller, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, and Riikka Heikkinen, University of Technology Sydney

On top of announcing three Renewable Energy Zones this week the Queensland Parliament paved the way for an exclusive deal to build one of the biggest onshore wind farms in the Southern Hemisphere.

With up to 226 wind turbines in state-owned pine plantations, the 1,200 megawatt Forest Wind project could power one in four Queensland homes and help the state meet its target of 50% renewable-generated electricity by 2030.

The turbines will be a minimum of three kilometres from the nearest town. Because they’re sited in an exotic pine plantation, impacts on native flora, fauna, and habitats will be minimised. At first sight, Forest Wind looks like a model project. But look a little closer, and Forest Wind embodies many of the contradictions at the heart of Australia’s renewable energy revolution.

The current pace of Australia’s energy transition is breathtaking. But big projects like Forest Wind need to take local communities with them, and build a social licence for the energy transition from the ground up.

A community ‘kept in the dark’

As our research in the German state of Brandenburg shows, building towers 160 metres high – that’s higher than the Sydney Harbour Bridge – anywhere near settlements tends to lead to community opposition and lengthy delays.

Affected communities are much more likely to accept a massive wind farm on their doorstep if they feel they’ve been listened to by project developers, and can see clear benefits.

The three-kilometre “exclusion zone” for Forest Wind is twice the 1,500 metre minimum distance from settlements required under Queensland law. And project developers argue its location amid dense pine trees will provide “a natural buffer between Forest Wind and local residences”.

Wind turbines with red tips
Wind turbines near Rosenthal Brandenburg. Our research in Germany found building wind farms near towns causes opposition and delays.
Lothar Michael Peter, Author provided

But local residents told a parliamentary committee in June they’d been kept in the dark about the project, claiming “it was kept secret from 2016 until the public announcement in December 2019”. They also expressed concern about its visual impact and proximity to bird migration corridors.

The developers and the state government seem to have followed the well-known and widely criticised “DAD” approach: Decide, Announce, Defend.

“DAD” may be common in current planning processes, but the people of the nearby Wide Bay community may feel that, so far, there’s not enough in it for them.

The Conversation contacted Forest Wind Holdings for a response to this article. A spokesperson said the project will provide the local community a long and ongoing opportunity to continually provide input.

Forest Wind is pleased to have received feedback from hundreds of people so far including at information days, online forums, letters and over the phone. […] Since the project’s announcement, COVID-19 has certainly impacted community consultation activities, as local halls have been closed and a planned wind farm tour has had to be cancelled.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing, Forest Wind is establishing a Community Reference Group […] Forest Wind intends to work closely through the Community Reference Group to continue to understand the needs and interests of the local community and work in a collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach to address community concerns and develop initiatives that leverage the Project and deliver community benefits.

Few community benefits

The Forest Wind website lists no concrete community benefits, no benefit sharing programs, concrete training or education initiatives, and hardly any community engagement besides standard consultation meetings and newsletters.

Elsewhere it’s becoming common for government-led renewable energy auctions to stipulate socio-economic objectives other than just capacity or price. In Victoria, one preference was to use labour and components from the state. In the ACT, one outcome was wider benefit sharing in the form of community co-investment.




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The Queensland government has fast-tracked Forest Wind through its Exclusive Transactions Framework, which gives preferential treatment to large-scale infrastructure projects. In other words, it’s picked a winner.

Forest Wind Holdings did not have to go through a competitive tender or auction process. Given the sheer size of the project, the state government had plenty of scope to negotiate better-than-average benefits for Wide Bay and the state.

Then there’s a further issue: jobs. According to the project website, 50% of the jobs in the construction phase (around 200) and 90% during operations (about 50) can be filled by people in the Wide Bay region.

A Forest Wind spokesperson said there are “vast benefits” for the local people in Wide Bay, including job opportunities in the concrete and construction sector.

These are all real jobs, for which on-the-job training and on-the-job management and mentoring can benefit workers to skill-up in working on Forest Wind, on future wind farms, and increase the opportunity to apply skills and qualifications in other areas of the economy.

Forest Wind was originated by local Queenslanders and the development team are based in this local area of Queensland. Already there are real local jobs, with more local jobs to come as the project develops – this is a positive.

But local communities need to see more lasting job creation from big renewable projects, not just “the circus coming to town”.

Consulting with native title holders

One clearly innovative aspect of Forest Wind is the requirement for an Indigenous Land Use Agreement, which provides negotiation rights for titleholders and compensation. Under legislation passed this week, the developer must negotiate a land use agreement where native title exists, and “the project cannot proceed without the free and informed consent of these individuals and communities”.

Part of Forest Wind is located on native title lands held by the Butchulla People, whose native title is well-established. Another part is on the land of the Kabi Kabi people, whose native title claim is pending. Forest Wind states it is consulting with native title holders and looks forward to partnerships with them.




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In contrast, last year the Queensland government extinguished native title over land in the Galilee Basin to make way for the Adani coal mine.

And the Adani mine is now only expected to offer only 100 to 800 ongoing jobs.

So let’s be clear: we should applaud Queensland’s decision to throw its weight behind the energy transition.

A recent report estimates that, with the right stimulus measures now, by 2030 there could be 13,000 Queenslanders working long-term in the renewable sector, and tens of thousands more short term jobs in construction.

Some 75% of those jobs would be in regional Queensland. The challenge is to ensure enough of them go to regions like Wide Bay.

And at a national level, Australia should look to Germany as a model.

Community energy projects

Renewables now employ 304,000 people in Germany. That compares with about 60,000 in the coal industry.

Germany built its energy transition over 30 years. The German experience shows how fostering citizen involvement and ownership will strengthen long-term social acceptance for renewable energy.

This means encouraging community energy, energy cooperatives, community owned retailers or community-based Virtual Power Plants. Community energy projects are estimated to have higher employment impacts and can better prioritise local contractors than corporate-led projects.

A greater focus on energy democracy would build a stronger foundation for the energy transition Australia has to have.




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The Conversation


Tom Morton, Associate Professor, Journalism, Stream Leader, Climate Justice Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney; James Goodman, Professor in Political Sociology, University of Technology Sydney; Katja Müller, Postdoctoral Researcher in Anthropology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, and Riikka Heikkinen, PhD Candidate, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Who tilts at windmills? Explaining hostility to renewables


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Studying the catastrophe that has been Australian climate and energy policy these past 30 years is a thoroughly depressing business. When you read great work by Guy Pearse, Clive Hamilton, Maria Taylor and Phillip Chubb, among others, you find yourself asking “why”?

Why were we so stupid, so unrelentingly shortsighted? Why did the revelation in 2004 that John Howard had called a meeting of big business to help him slow the growth of renewables elicit no more than a shrug? Why did policy-makers attack renewable energy so unrelentingly?

About now, readers will be rolling their eyes and saying either “follow the money, stupid!” or “they are blinded by their marketophilia”. Fair enough, and they have a point.

My recently published paper, titled “Wind beneath their contempt: why Australian policymakers oppose solar and wind energy”
outlines the hostility to renewables from people like former treasurer Joe Hockey, who found the wind turbines around Canberra’s Lake George “utterly offensive”, and former prime minister Tony Abbott, who funded studies into the “potential health impacts” of wind farms.

It also deals with the policy-go-round that led to a drop in investment in renewables.

In a search for explanations for this, my paper looks at what we academics call “material factors”, such as party donations, post-career jobs, blame avoidance, diminished government capacity to act, and active disinformation by incumbents.

I then turn to ideological factors such as neoliberalism, the “growth at all costs” mindset, and of course climate denial.

Where it gets fun – and possibly controversial – is when I turn to psychological explanations such as what the sociologist Karl Mannheim called “the problem of generations”. This is best explained by a Douglas Adams quote:

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Over the past 50 years, white heterosexual middle-class males with engineering backgrounds have felt this pattern particularly keenly, as their world has shifted and changed around them. To quote my own research paper:

This loss of the promise of control over nature occurred – by coincidence – at the same time that the British empire disintegrated, and the US empire met its match in the jungles of Vietnam, and while feminism, civil rights and gay rights all sprang up. What scholars of the Anthropocene have come to call the “Great Acceleration” from the 1950s, was followed by the great (and still incomplete) democratisation of the 1960s and 1970s.

The rising popularity of solar panels represents a similar pattern of democratisation, and associated loss of control for those with a vested interest in conventional power generation, which would presumably be particularly threatening to those attracted to status, power and hierarchy.

Consider the cringe

Here are a couple more ideas and explanations that didn’t make the cut when I wrote the research paper. First up is the “biological cringe” – analogous to the “cultural cringe”, the self-loathing Australian assumption that all things British were better.

In Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies, the historian Tom Griffiths notes that:

Acclimatization societies systematically imported species that were regarded as useful, aesthetic or respectably wild to fill the perceived gaps in primitive Australian nature. This “biological cringe” was remarkably persistent and even informed twentieth-century preservation movements, when people came to feel that the remnants of the relic fauna, flora and peoples, genetically unable to fend for themselves, should be “saved”.

Second, and related, is the contempt and hatred that settler colonialists can feel towards wilderness, which in turn morphs into the ideology that there should be no limits on expansion and growth.

This means that people who speak of limits are inevitably attacked. One good example is Thomas Griffith Taylor (1880-1963), an Australian scientist who fell foul of the boosters who believed the country could and should support up to 500 million people.

Having seen his textbook banned in Western Australia for using the words “arid” and “desert”, Taylor set sail for the United States. At his farewell banquet at University of Sydney, he reinterpreted its motto Sidere mens eadem mutate (“The same spirit under a different sky”), as “Though the heavens fall I am of the same mind as my great-great-grandfather!”

I am anticipating that at least four groups will object to my speculations:
(vulgar) Marxists, for whom everything is about profits; positivists and Popperians, who will mutter about a lack of disprovability; deniers of climate science, who often don’t like being described as such; and finally, those who argue that renewables cannot possibly provide the energy return on investment required to run a modern industrial economy (who may or may not be right – we are about to find out).

The ConversationReader, of whatever category, what do you think?

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

World’s largest wind farm study finds sleep disturbances aren’t related to turbine noise


Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

During the Abbott government, the often recalcitrant Senate cross bench was thrown a big, juicy bone plainly intended to sweeten their disposition toward government bills which needed their support to pass. The anti- wind farm Senators were outraged with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) 2015 report on wind farms which found no strong evidence of health effects from turbine exposure. There have been 25 reviews with similar findings published since 2003. The government may have promised these Senators the gift of the office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner which by February 2015 had received just 42 complaints about 12 wind farms, seven of which have not even been built.

In August 2015, the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines published its report. The Committee was chaired by Senator John Madigan, an open opponent of wind farms, and consisted of eight members. Six of these had form in savagely criticising wind farms. The content of their final report was therefore utterly predictable, with Labor’s Senator Anne Urquhart’s minority dissenting report shining like a beacon of respect for evidence.

There was no greater display of the naked demonising agenda of the Madigan-aligned group’s anti wind farm show trial than the total absence in their report of any mention of the world’s largest and most important study of the question of whether living near wind farms was harmful to health.

Health Canada’s Wind Turbine Noise and Health study published its preliminary findings on October 30, 2014. Senator Urquhart’s minority report noted that many submissions to the inquiry recognised the great contribution of the Health Canada “Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study” to the body of knowledge on the potential impacts of wind farms on human health. But the 181-page report made no mention of the study.

The study data were collected between May and September 2013 from adults aged 18 to 79 (606 males, 632 females), randomly selected from each household. They lived between 0.25 and 11.22km from wind turbines in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Prince Edward Island.

In March, the Health Canada study group published its full findings in a series of open-access papers in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, the world’s most cited acoustical research journal, and in Sleep, a leading journal in sleep research. Here is a summary of some of its chief findings.

Do wind turbines increase the prevalence of health problems and sleep disturbance?

The researchers assessed self-reported sleep quality over the past 30 days using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index and a wrist monitor to record the total sleep time, and the rate of awakening bouts and how long these last, for a total of 3,772 nights.

Averaged over a year, the measured sound of the turbines reached a maximum of 46 dB(A) with an average of 35.6. Forty six decibels is around the sound of a dishwasher operating in a kitchen.

Since January 2012, I have collected and catalogued a remarkable 247 different symptoms and diseases wind farm opponents claim are caused or exacerbated by wind turbines in humans and animals.

But the Health Canada study found that:

Self-reported health effects (e.g., migraines, tinnitus, dizziness, etc.), sleep disturbance, sleep disorders, quality of life, and perceived stress were not related to wind turbine noise levels.

Both self-reported and objectively measured sleep outcomes consistently revealed no apparent pattern or statistically significant relationship to wind turbine noise levels.

But, unsurprisingly, sleep was affected by whether residents had other health conditions (including sleep disorders), their caffeine consumption, and whether they were personally annoyed by blinking lights on the wind turbines.

Sleeping problems affect around 29% of all communities, regardless of whether they are near wind farms or not.

Do wind turbines cause measurable stress?

The researchers used a recognised scale to measure self-reported stress (the perceived stress scale – PSS) as well as recording hair cortisol concentrations, resting blood pressure, and heart rate.

However, the majority (77%–89%) of the variance in the perceived stress scale (PSS) scores was unaccounted for by differences in these objective measures. And wind turbine noise exposure had no apparent influence on any of them.

Again, the study concluded that the findings did not support an association between exposure to wind turbines and elevated self-reported or objectively defined measures of stress.

Do wind turbines annoy people?

Expressions such as being “hot and bothered” are well understood. When people are annoyed by something in their life, this can lead to the onset of symptoms. Being annoyed is not health problem in itself, but chronic annoyance can have health consequences.

The Health Canada study reported:

Visual and auditory perception of wind turbines as reported by respondents increased significantly with increasing wind turbine noise levels as did high annoyance toward several wind turbine features, including the following: noise, blinking lights, shadow flicker, visual impacts, and vibrations … Beyond annoyance, results do not support an association between exposure to wind turbine noise up to 46 dBA and the evaluated health-related endpoints.

The prevalence of residents reporting that they were very or extremely annoyed by wind turbine noise increased from 2.1% to 13.7% when sound pressure levels were below 30 dB compared to when the noise was between 40–46 dB.

So in summary, those who found the turbines annoying, tended to be those who lived nearer to them.

What factors predict who gets annoyed?

Even for the most annoying features, more than 86% of residents were not very or extremely annoyed by them.

There is much variation among our families, friends working environments in the way people react to noise. A 2014 review of symptoms related to modern technology (including wind turbines) found those who were more anxious, worried, concerned, or annoyed by a source that they believed to be a health risk more commonly reported symptoms than those without such beliefs.

In this Health Canada study, while proximity to the turbines was statistically significantly associated with annoyance, the relationship was weak. It was better explained by factors such as holding negative views about the visual impact of the turbines (not liking the look of them), being able to the see aircraft warning blinking lights, the perception of vibrations when the turbines were turning and high concern about physical safety. These are all perceptual variables that bothered some but not most.

Less than 10% of the participants derived personal benefit from the turbines (such as income from hosting the turbines). Deriving personal benefit had a statistically significant, although modest relationship to not being annoyed. The authors concluded:

these findings would support initiatives that facilitate direct or indirect personal benefit among participants living within a community in close proximity to wind power projects.

This suggests that strategies such as community sharing of rental incomes, offers of free electricity or home improvement and amenity payments may reduce annoyance.

If a Labor government is elected in July, the future of the ill-conceived Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is likely to be vulnerable, as it may well be with the expected departure of several wind farm-obsessed cross bench senators in the double dissolution, should the Coalition be returned.

State governments are increasingly removing wind farm planning barriers and the availability now of the Health Canada health report should drive another large stake through the forces determined to slow the growth of wind energy in Australia.

The Conversation

Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Australian’s campaign against wind farms continues but the research doesn't stack up


Simon Chapman, University of Sydney

The Australian newspaper’s campaign against wind farms continued this morning with a page one story from the paper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd.

Lloyd writes about purportedly “groundbreaking” German research which, he infers, may provide a plausible basis for claims about wind turbines having direct effects on health.

Lloyd writes:

The results showed that humans could hear sounds of eight hertz, a whole octave lower than had been previously assumed, and that excitation of the primary auditory cortex could be detected down to this frequency.

A description of the project is here. The research never mentions wind turbines, only low-frequency noise, which is produced by many sources found in both nature and from a wide variety of mechanical sources.

The press release pitch, with its mentions of wind turbines, smells like a hook to a topical issue calculated to amplify attention to their work. (Note, this link to the press release was down at the time of publication.)

But these new findings are hardly “groundbreaking”. Earlier work found evidence of very similar auditory cortex stimulation from noise at 12Hz, slightly higher than the 8hz in this study.

In the study that excited Lloyd and the Australian’s sub-editors (the headline reads “Brains excited by wind turbines study”), auditory cortex stimulation at 8Hz (at pressure levels around the threshold of hearing) is meaningless in the context of wind turbine-generated infrasound, which is well below the threshold of perception.

Moreover, even fake stimuli can precipitate measurable activity in the brain. We know that both placebos (factors that increase expectations of positive outcomes) and nocebos (those which increase expectations of negative outcomes) can increase changes in cerebral metabolic rate when viewed via positron emission tomography (PET) scanning.

Expectations do not just affect people’s subjective experience of a stimulus (such as exposure to infrasound) but can actually produce measurable changes in brain activity which may or may not be markers of anything of clinical significance.

Fascinating work from Hungary and Germany on “electrosensitive” people (for example, those claiming to be made ill from exposure to mobile phones, wifi or other “stray” electricity) has shown that when such individuals are exposed to sham (fake) radiation from their feared source while thinking it is real, they experience symptoms. Correlates of these symptoms can be measured in the brain.

The Hungarian study exposed both people with “Idiophathic Environmental Intolerance (IEI) attributed to electromagnetic fields” and control subjects not reporting this condition to sham radiation. Those claiming IEI to electromagnetic frequency radiation both expected and experienced more symptoms.

In the German study, subjectively electrosensitive patients and gender-matched healthy controls were also exposed to sham mobile phone radiation and heat as a control condition. The subjects were not aware that the radiation was fake. Both before and during these exposures:

increased activations in anterior cingulate and insular cortex as well as fusiform gyrus were seen in the electrosensitive group compared to controls, while heat stimulation led to similar activations in both groups.

As the Hungarian researchers noted, electrosensitivity:

seems to be formed through a vicious circle of psychosocial factors, such as enhanced perception of risk and expectations, self-monitoring, somatisation and somatosensory amplification, causalization and misattribution.

In short, as the old saying goes, you can worry yourself sick. And those who spread fear arguably are an important part of this process.

Today’s Australian article complements Lloyd’s uncritical accounts of two recent studies about wind turbine noise. He wrote that:

Scientists in Japan measured brain function and reported last year that it showed the brains of Japanese wind turbine workers could not achieve a relaxed state.

As prominent wind industry science and research commentator Ketan Joshi has written:

[the study] doesn’t control for expectations, and it’s very likely that the subjects could perceive the sound = 20Hz at 92 dB(G), [at] the volume at which the synthesized noise was played, would annoy anyone.

Joshi compares such levels to the noise that would be experienced right inside a wind turbine nacelle, not hundreds of meters or several kilometers away, and notes that wind farm workers would never work inside nacelles when the turbines were turning.

Quoting an Iranian study, Lloyd continues:

In a similar vein, a study of 45 people … by Tehran University … said “despite all the good benefits of wind turbines, it can be stated that this technology has health risks for all those exposed to its sound.”

The study he referred to was of poor quality and Joshi has also mercilessly eviscerated its many problems, none of which Lloyd even hinted at.

Lloyd left messages for me to comment on the German research for his story. As his report notes, I did not respond. I have zero interest in obligingly playing into the Australian’s one-sided coverage. The paper has reported on a succession of trivial to terrible “studies” and published opinion pieces which are exalted by the tiny cells of anti-wind farm activists happy to embrace any fragment that furthers their cause.

No reporter from News has ever reported on any of my five recent studies on wind here, here, here, here, or here.

The University of Auckland’s Fiona Crichton who is arguably doing the world’s most advanced research on nocebo effects and wind farms has similarly never been reported.

The News agenda on wind energy is a travesty of good journalism.

The Conversation

Simon Chapman is Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

More research is good, but not if wind experts are told what to find


Will J Grant, Australian National University

It is said that the solution to the ills of democracy is more democracy, and the same goes for science too. Generally speaking, it’s never a problem to bring more science to bear on an issue.

In those terms, the interim report released last week by the Senate’s Select Committee on Wind Turbines appears entirely reasonable. Drawing on an earlier finding by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that “the body of direct evidence” on the possible impacts of wind farms on human health is “small and of poor quality”, the Senate committee concluded that “independent, multi-disciplinary and high quality research into this field is an urgent priority”. And that’s not, on the face of it, a bad thing.

After all, what scientist worth their salt would reject the idea of doing more and better research on a possible problem? When the Senate Committee asks “why are there so many people who live in close proximity to wind turbines complaining of similar physiological and psychological symptoms?”, who would deny that it’s important and legitimate to try and find out the answer?

But here’s the thing. Research on this topic doesn’t exist in a political or economic vacuum. It is well established that renewable energy broadly, and wind turbines in particular, are matters of significant political debate.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week asserted that his intention when renegotiating the Renewable Energy Target was to “reduce the number of these things (wind turbines) that we are going to get in the future”, while his government is also considering appointing a “wind commissioner” to address complaints about the industry.

Meanwhile, key members of the Senate Committee – including John Madigan, David Leyonhjelm, Bob Day, Chris Back, and Matthew Canavan – have used their positions to speak stridently against wind energy. Against this backdrop, is it really possible to pause the world to undertake entirely neutral research?

Telling researchers how to research

There are allegations that suggest the Senate Committee is less interested in truly independent, high-quality research than its members might claim, and is instead recommending to the NHMRC the researchers whose work they would like to see included in future assessments.

Those allegations would seem to be supported by the following exchange from the committee’s hearings on Friday, between Senator Back and the NHMRC’s executive director for evidence, advice and governance, Samantha Robertson:

Back: Are you familiar with [Simon] Carlile and the work he does in neurophysiology?

Robertson: Not personally, no.

Back: Ok, [he is] at the University of Sydney, so perhaps I could urge that you do.

That is not what I would call independent, and nor do I think it is likely to lead to high-quality science. This is nothing to do with the quality of Carlile’s research, but rather the principle of scientific advice to government. It is the NHMRC’s job to select the most relevant science and present it to government, not the other way around.

But more importantly, when we’ve had inquiry after inquiry into this topic – with no rigorous scientific process finding any evidence of a human health impact – at what stage do we accept that calling for yet more research is likely to yield only diminishing returns, and that harassing the research community to keep going until it produces a different answer isn’t a great way to do science?

Uncertainty is the game

The Senate committee has called for the Commonwealth to create an “independent expert scientific committee on industrial sound”, responsible for providing research and advice to the environment minister on the impact on human health of audible noise (including low-frequency) and infrasound from wind turbines, and that this scientific committee develop measures for infrasound and noise that can feed into the governance of the wind turbine industry.

It has also recommended the Commonwealth impose a levy on wind turbine operators to fund the costs, both of the new scientific committee and of the proposed new wind commissioner.

Last year, when the Abbott government began renegotiating the Renewable Energy Target we learned a significant lesson in energy economics. Without any new policy announcement, and before the target had actually been reduced, investment in renewable energy in Australia fell off a cliff. Uncertainty, not hard financial facts, was enough to kill investment.

The continued call for research raised by the Senate committee fits well within this pattern. You don’t need to remove a policy to kill investment. You only need to make things uncertain.

The Conversation

Will J Grant is Researcher / Lecturer, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at Australian National University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Nice: Google makes its 15th clean power investment . . .15th!!


Gigaom

Google has now made over a dozen commitments to back wind and solar farms. On Tuesday Google announced its 15th investment in clean power, with a plan to put $75 million into a wind farm in North Texas, just outside of the city of Amarillo, near the border with New Mexico.

The wind farm, called the Panhandle 2, is 182 MW — or enough wind capacity to power 56,000 U.S. homes — and is being developed by the Pattern Energy Group. It’s supposed to be up and running by the end of the year.

The deal is Google’s second investment in a wind farm in Texas. The first was a 240 MW project also just outside of Amarillo called Happy Hereford, which will be live in late 2014.

Wind power is one of the only forms of clean power that is competitive with natural gas and coal when built…

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