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Revisit noise standards – academics

Noise standards paving the way for billion-dollar wind-farm developments across the country are biased and should be ripped up, academics say.

Critics have panned the latest New Zealand standard on wind-farm noise as a “fait accompli”, written by a Standards New Zealand committee, dominated by industry members, that claimed to have reached consensus.

They say the code, partly funded by the New Zealand Wind Energy Association, fails to address claimed health effects from noise and vibration from wind turbines and does nothing to avert likely clashes between communities and the industry.

“The standard is industry-funded and I’m afraid it comes down to who pays the piper calls the tune,” one academic said.

However, committee chairman Stephen Chiles , a Meridian Energy consultant, said there was no evidence of a link between wind turbines and health, and the “emotional side” of the debate was “not particularly relevant to the committee”.

On Monday, the High Court gave Meridian hope that its planned Project Hayes wind farm in Central Otago, the largest in the southern hemisphere, may still go ahead by allowing its appeal against an Environment Court ruling throwing out its consents.

Massey University acoustics professor and committee member Philip Dickinson said the standard, and those elsewhere in the world, appeared to be based on “scientific nonsense”.

“One can only come to the conclusion that the concept is mainly a business promotion and public relations exercise which has been devised to appear to be taking into consideration the health and welfare of local residents but is designed to get the most out of the investment for the cheapest outlay, without causing the community to take serious legal action against the developer and territorial authority,” he said.

Dickinson voted against the new standard. In previously confidential voting papers released under the Official Information Act, he slammed it as “totally unacceptable” and said it contained “arrogant and misinformed” and “totally false” information.

“I believe the standard was a fait accompli. No attempt was made to obtain a compromise between the opposing views, as would be a prime consideration for any standards committee,” he said.

AUT University public health senior lecturer Daniel Shepherd wants Standards New Zealand to start again and develop two wind-farm noise codes – one for turbine noise and the other for the potential health effects from the noise.

Health expertise had clearly been under-represented on the committee in favour of acoustics and industry members and consultants, he said.

Chiles said the group had been concerned about health effects and included a Ministry of Health representative.

“It’s an evidence-based process, not a political process. The emotional side of it is not particularly relevant to the committee,” he said.