More than one hundred people attended a Senate inquiry hearing into the social and economic impacts of wind farms on rural communities. The Senate committee heard submissions from more than 25 passionate residents who were concerned about the effects turbines have on health, property value and wildlife, among other things.
The hearing started with former Waubra residents who say they’ve moved to Ballarat because wind turbines have made them ill.
An emotional Carl and Samantha Stepnell both broke down as they told the Senate committee that symptoms such as headaches, ear pressure, nausea and sleep deprivation started when Waubra Wind Farm began operating.
“We don’t make up health problems,” Samantha says.
“The hardest decision we’ve ever made was to walk away from our family home.”
She says the turbines have been built too close to houses.
“I don’t know the whole technical side of things, all I know is how it’s affected me and my health. There obviously needs to be more studies done.”
Carl says the turbines that surround their farm have decreased the value of their property.
“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy it. I can’t imagine me wanting to sell it to anyone.
“Without any scientific backup, I think the noise that affects your health is the noise that you can’t hear.”
Vocal community member Noel Dean explained that the study he had funded – titled ‘the Dean report’ – revealed that infrasound produced by turbines was causing sickness.
“The dominant force of pressure is in the infrasound, so that infrasound is going in our ears.”
The Pyrenees Shire spoke about issues with wind farm policy, planning guidelines and noise compliance issues.
Landscape Guardian groups voiced concerns about division within communities, the effects on brolga and wedge tailed eagle populations, the appearance of turbines and increased fire risk.
Wind farms proponents were outnumbered at the only hearing to be held in a regional town.
Of about 25 residents who addressed the community forum in the evening, only four spoke in support of wind energy.
Member for Ballarat East Geoff Howard says it was shame that there were no presentations from residents who live near turbines and haven’t been affected.
“I think that it’s fair to say that at events such as this people who want to say something positive about wind would feel threatened and people generally get on with their lives unless they have a significant issue that they want to push.”
Many residents attacked the planning guidelines of the former Labor government and called for a moratorium on wind farm constructions until there was an independent study into their potential health impacts.
The Brumby Government refused to fund an independent investigation while it was in power. But Mr Howard says he would support the Baillieu Government heading a study.
“I think any study that helps to clarify those health issues would be very helpful. There’s certainly some information out there but nothing definitive and so information would help.
“It’s up to the government to fund those studies, or it certainly was my view and the government’s view that we sought all the information that was available to us from the many countries from around the world that have wind farms in place already and there was nothing conclusive to advise that health concerns were something that we needed to fear.”
The Senate inquiry continues in Melbourne today.
Ballarat Renewable Energy and Zero Emissions (BREAZE) community campaigner Andrew Bray is presenting a submission about the wind energy industry’s economic benefits on the local economy.
He says today’s hearing will be an opportunity for voices in support of wind farms to be heard.
“Wind farms open up the possibility of much more employment in Ballarat and also the generation of new industries around education – education for turbine maintenance, parts supply and servicing plant hire.
“It’s crucial that the stories of people who live near wind farms are considered… we also need to be listening to the many submissions that were made to the inquiry about what we know scientifically about health and noise that wind turbines generate, and for the most part those reports and recommendations say that wind turbines don’t cause health problems.”
Senate inquiry chair, West Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says a wide variety of witnesses have been heard so far.
She says it’s too early to say whether or not the committee would recommend that the Federal Government fund an independent investigation into the potential health impacts of wind farms.
“We will certainly be discussing it obviously as part of the report because it’s been raised so many times and we wouldn’t be doing justice to the inquiry if we don’t actually discuss it in the report. But I’m not going to foreshadow any recommendations, because it’s up to the Senate committee to do that.”
About 850 submissions have been made to the Senate inquiry.
The inquiry’s final hearing will be held in Perth on Thursday.
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