A group of farming families south east of Kojonup is calling for a moratorium on industrial wind farms until findings of a Senate inquiry into the health effects are released in June.
The moratorium effectively would delay any approval decisions due to be made by the Kojonup and Broomehill-Tambellup shire councils next month on the proposed Moonies Hill Energy (MHE) wind farm to be built at Flat Rocks near Kojonup.
Opponents of the Flat Rocks wind farm have been joined by Williams and McAlinden landholders, where new wind farms have been proposed, in voicing their fears about wind turbine syndrome, the name given to the adverse health effects believed to be caused by both audible and low frequency soundwaves.
The problem is the inaudible noise or infrasound that syndrome sufferers link with nausea, sleep deprivation, anxiety, hypertension and other conditions that, at worse, have caused people to abandon their homes.
Syndrome sufferers say it is similar to sea sickness where some people are effected and others are not.
To date ill health caused by wind turbines has not been scientifically recorded but, with wind farms only proliferating since 2003, the lack of evidence is more to do with the lack of study in that area.
Kojonup farmer Roger Bilney, whose property borders the Moonies Hill wind farm, was at a Moonie Hill Energy community information day at Kojonup and Broomehill last week and was disappointed he was unable to gain an assurance from the developers to comply with any new recommendations that may arise from a Senate inquiry and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) review currently under way.
The Moonies Hill venture was publicly announced in November and nearby residents have been looking to the more significant wind farm developments of Victoria and South Australia where health issues have been highlighted by recent publicity and inquiry submissions.
The Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu last year campaigned in support of people who were struggling with living near them and immediately mandated a two-kilometre buffer zone between turbines and the nearest house.
WA has no such guidelines and it has been shown factors such as topography, wind direction and speed and time of the day determines the noise level.
If Waterloo in SA – one of 14 wind farms in that State – is any gauge then WA’s wind turbines have the potential to become an emotive issue pitting neighbours and community against one another.
Like others, Mr Bilney is worried by having turbines so close to his boundary but says he is luckier than another of his neighbours who will see 60 turbines from his house.
“The consistent exposure to audible and inaudible sound from the turbine blades is thought to be what is causing people to become unwell and this is not isolated to Australia,” Mr Bilney said.
“It is a worldwide problem but in WA turbines are getting bigger and are being clustered in bigger numbers.”
He said there was a rush into wind energy that was being driven by government legislation that was pushing for a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 aided by attractive incentives, ultimately paid for by electricity consumers.
“It is causing the loss of social justice in rural communities. I am not against wind farms or the need for renewable energy but I do want a moratorium on the placement of these industrial facilities close to people’s homes and property lines until we have done the research to understand how far is far enough for people to live safely,” Mr Bilney said.
Jim and Pam McGregor will not be directly effected by the wind farm at Flat Rocks, as they farm many kilometres away, but they still feel strongly enough about the potential health affects to support the call for more information before approval is given.
They say they are not against wind farms but have concerns about the health effects on people living in close proximity to the turbines and the setback from a turbine to a non-turbine home or property boundary.
“We believe the setback should be from the boundary to enable property owners to do as they wish on their property,” they said.
It is a question currently being investigated by the Senate inquiry due to report in June.
Family First MP Steve Fielding, who successfully moved for the inquiry into wind turbine effects, said for too long the concerns of those who are sick have been dismissed.
“Given the mounting physical evidence from those living near wind farms, I think it’s only fair for the Parliament to have a look at what is happening,” Senator Fielding said.
The committee has so far received more than 1000 submissions.
Mr Bilney believes the rush into wind energy where turbines are causing ill health by being sited too close to homes has been allowed to happen because of weak planning guidelines and a document put out by the NHMRC called “Wind Turbines and Health – a Rapid Review of the Evidence”.
This literature review document stating there was no evidence of ill health in medical journals has been used by wind energy companies as proof of there being no health issues associated with turbine noise.
In reply to an inquiry question regarding the literature used to formulate the Rapid Review, NHMRC chief executive officer Professor Warwick Anderson AM, stated:
“We have kept it under pretty continuous review since the original public statement. As I said in my opening statement, we are very aware that the high-quality scientific literature in this area is very thin. That is why we were at pains to point out that we believe that a precautionary approach should be taken to this, because, as you would understand, the absence of evidence does not mean that there might not be evidence in the future.
“We regard this as a work in progress. We certainly do not believe that this question has been settled. That is why we are keeping it under constant review.”
The South Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association wants a local study to be urgently done, particularly because in Australia, wind farms are larger in scale and the turbines tend to be bigger.
Its state president Andrew Lavender said a proper process would be for a medical study to be organised independent of both the interest groups and the wind farm providers.
He was looking to the CSIRO or to the NHMRC to commission a study and believed that everyone would benefit from certainty.
“There isn’t really any medical study out there in the Australian context,” he said.
“The other thing is, if there is such a thing as wind turbine syndrome, are some people susceptible and not others?
“That may well be the case, just like some people are susceptible to car sickness and motion sickness and some aren’t.”
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