JESSICA van VONDEREN: The State Government will be asked to approve another wind farm for Queensland, and there are proposals for several more from the green energy sector. It comes as the Senate concludes public hearings in Victoria, South Australia and the ACT, over the impact of the large electricity producing turbines in rural and regional areas. Senators were confronted by emotional locals who claim the turbines have caused health problems and by energy companies who say there are no proven risks. And as Kathy Mcleish reports the debate has now moved to a small community on the Great Dividing Range.
(FOOTAGE OF DEMONSTRATIONS)
KATHY MCLEISH: The Coopers Gap Wind Farm proposal has raised more than a ripple in the tiny community around the town of Bell. The usually tranquil area has been thrust into this dispute because of its location on a windy crest of the Great Diving Range between Dalby and Kingaroy.
SCOTT THOMAS, AGL: We think this is the best renewable project in Queensland. This is a very substantial wind farm development for AGL, for Australia and for Queensland. It would be an $800M TO $900M investment for AGL.
KATHY MCLEISH: Local grazier and horse trainer Bryan Lyons has made a substantial long term investment here too. He hopes his two sons might one day take up the reins of the family business.
BRYAN LYONS, LOCAL FARMER: We’ve been very lucky with the kids, they’ve had no injuries on the horses but it’s all about doing it smart and not having strange things that are going to frighten horses.
KATHY MCLEISH: Bryan Lyons believes that’s wind turbines near his fence line will do just that.
(BRYAN LYONS SHOWS KATHY McLEISH BOUNDAY FENCE)
BRYAN LYONS: This is our boundary fence now; there’ll be a turbine here just about there where the boys are with the cattle.
KATHY MCLEISH: AGL is in the area to discuss its proposal, which could mean this community would have to accommodate up to 115 turbines, 160 metres tall. That’s higher than the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If the proposal goes ahead, Bryan Lyons could have around five turbines close to his property. He wants them setback as far away as possible.
BRYAN LYONS: The horses are animals of prey they will take flight if there is something that frightens them something 150 metres tall with a rotor moving at 200 kilometres an hour, they’ve got to travel a long way to get away from that and if that happens to be around these ridge tops where these turbines are going to be close to the edge of a steep area that’s what I’m concerned about that these kids they’re going to be placed at unacceptable risk.
KATHY MCLEISH: After researching the issues that wind farms have caused in other states, neighbours here say there are many more issued to be considered. They’ve heard reports about noise, fires, decreased property values and possible adverse health effects. Last month in Parliament, Local Member Dorothy Pratt tabled affidavits from people living around an AGL project in South Australia, all detailing adverse impacts. AGL says it is determined to reassure and work with the community near Bell.
SCOTT THOMAS: We certainly like to understand their concerns. What we have here today is that there is a lot of information around the health impacts of wind farms or lack of health impacts that there are no studies now that indicate that there are health impacts from wind farms and we do have lots of independent resources there to verify that. So we do listen because it’s about understanding what their concerns are and then we need to work with them to step that through.
JACQUI CASTLE, LOCAL FARMER: We have seen them in small groups before and asked the same question and come back with different answers and the community has asked if they would just speak to us together, those people with their questions will ask and then we will all hear the answer. So everyone hears the same answer. They’re not getting it second hand from someone else and it’s all above board.
CHERYL DALTON, LOCAL COUNCILLOR, SOUTH BURNETT REGIONAL COUNCIL: This is an emotional roller coaster for them and having some certainty will certainly help both AGL and the community to know where they’re going for the future.
KATHY MCLEISH: AGL doesn’t want to front up to a town hall style meeting.
SCOTT THOMAS: The process today is about community consultation. And what we’ve found in the past, the best way to have effective community consultation is through one on one discussions. We get to hear without any public pressure from people what their actual concerns are and we find it’s more effective to address those in a one on one basis. So today we won’t be looking to have a community or an open forum town hall discussion.
KATHY McLEISH: Even though frustrations overflowed.
LAND HOLDER: You are that ignorant and I don’t know arrogant, that you can’t even address a group, what’s the problem?
AGL REPRESENTATIVE: We find that it’s far more effective to speak with.
LAND HOLDER: Effective for who?
AGL REPRESENTATIVE: Okay this is not a media event. We’d ask you to leave now; you’ve had your chance.
KATHY McLEISH: Eventually, the company and the community agreed on a 45 minute meeting with a moderator and no media. Wind farms are causing heartache in other parts of the country too and Senators are hearing the concerns first hand.
(FOOTAGE OF WAUBRA FARMERS AT MEETING)
CARL STEPNELL, WAUBRA FARMER: It’s very disturbing. Sorry about this.
SAMANTHA STEPNELL, WAUBRA FARMER: The hardest decision we’ve ever made was to walk away from our family home and take our youngest son Josh out of Waubra Primary School and to leave his friends.
KATHY MCLEISH: But, the wind farm companies have told the Senate committee hearing there is no scientific evidence that their turbines create health problems.
LANE CROCKETT, PACIFIC HYDRO: In relation to possible health impact of wind farms, while we recognise there are 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.
KATHY MCLEISH: The National Health and Medical Research Council, which guides Federal Government says there’s no robust scientific evidence to support adverse health effects from wind turbines. But, it does recommend a precautionary approach be taken and it says research outcomes should continue to be monitored. The Clean Energy Council, which represents 400 companies with clean energy interests, says wind turbines are one of the safest ways to generate electricity.
BRYAN LYONS: We’re asking for further research, we’re asking for the precautionary principle to be followed and if this needs to take time take the time to get this done, this is going to go up for 25 years plus. If it’s going to take another six to twelve months to do some research surely that would be in line with the precautionary principle. We don’t want mistakes made on this scale.