The Coalition will impose new noise monitoring rules on windfarms that the multibillion dollar industry says will inflict crippling costs, provide no useful information and represent another victory for an anti-noise campaign by concerned citizens backed in part by the climate sceptic lobby.
The yet-to-be-released resources policy is set to require all windfarms to provide “real-time” noise monitoring, with the findings immediately publicly available, so nearby residents concerned about the alleged health impact of windfarms can compare the results with strict state government noise controls. The Coalition resources spokesman, Ian Macfarlane, will also try to introduce the measures before the election with a private members bill.
People living close to windfarms have reported symptoms including headaches, sleeplessness and nausea. Several residents experiencing the symptoms have given evidence at inquiries, but a recent study by Prof Simon Chapman of Sydney University found incidence of the sickness was far more prevalent in communities where anti-windfarm lobbyists had been active and suggested it might be a psychological phenomenon caused by the belief that turbines make people sick. "As anti-windfarm interest groups began to stress health problems in their advocacy, and to target new windfarm developments, complaints grew," said Chapman.
The wind power industry claims the new requirement would impose “very significant costs” and the information would not differentiate windfarm noise from background noise such as traffic – unlike existing monitoring which compares average noise over a period with average noise before the windfarm began operation.
Combined with new tougher state regulations in Victoria and possibly also New South Wales and Queensland – also as a result of the windfarm noise campaign – the wind power industry says it could stymie billions of dollars in new investment.
But, as the anti-windfarm lobby prepares for a “national rally” in Canberra on Tuesday, Macfarlane says the policy is the only way to calm anti-windfarm sentiment.
The Coalition is under intense pressure from the anti-windfarm lobby and also from many of its own MPs to take much tougher action, either banning new windfarms entirely or abolishing the renewable energy target that provides the industry with an effective federal subsidy. It is promising a review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET).
The rally in Canberra on 18 June, which will be compered by radio broadcaster Alan Jones — he also hosted the rallies against the carbon tax — has the specific aim of pushing an incoming Coalition government towards a windfarm ban and scaling back of the RET.
Chapman’s study found that 63% of Australia's 49 windfarms had never been the subject of any health complaint from nearby residents. It found 68% of the 120 complaints that had been made came from residents living near windfarms heavily targeted by the anti-windfarm lobby, and that ''the advent of anti-windfarm groups beginning to foment concerns about health (from around 2009) was also strongly correlated with actual complaints being made”.
The anti-windfarm campaign has already succeeded in a tightening of the state government regulations for which the new federal monitoring would provide data. In 2011 the Victorian government brought in new restrictions, which have effectively stopped new developments. NSW is considering similar restrictions, as is Queensland.