KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: According to the Federal Government, this technology will be a key to Australia’s alternative energy future.
JULIA GILLARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We’re a nation perfectly position to seize this clean energy future.
KERRY O’BRIEN: But a grass roots campaign against wind turbines could undermine the Government’s plans.
DONALD THOMAS, FARMER: I’ve lived and worked on the farm here for over fifty years. I thought the wind turbines coming to the area would be a really good thing.
SCREEN TEXT (over turbine blades): AGAINST THE WIND
DONALD THOMAS: But I was wrong.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Another arm of climate change policy to strike turbulence.
Welcome to Four Corners.
Right now the Gillard Government is in awful trouble over its latest attempt to develop a credible policy for tackling climate change.
The proposed carbon tax, for instance, is about as popular as a pacifist at a weapons expo.
The Government is now relying more than ever on its other climate change commitment, to produce 20 per cent of Australia’s entire electricity supply from renewable energy sources by 2020.
The maths is simple; that is less than nine years away.
Wind power will be a vital component in reaching that target.
Giant wind turbines are already making their presence felt in a number of regions across the southern half of Australia. But it is estimated that they may have to triple in number this decade to play their part in reaching that renewable target.
That seems entirely doable, except for one fly in the ointment; the increasingly voluble protest from people concerned about claims of adverse health effects from prolonged exposure to low frequency noise.
Protestors say the anecdotal evidence is growing, but preliminary findings from one substantial study conducted in two states, which we’ll reveal tonight, suggest otherwise.
And another, more familiar agenda seems to be caught up in the mix – the push from sceptics to discredit the prevailing scientific orthodoxy on climate change itself.
This report from Andrew Fowler.
(A range of wind turbines silhouetted against the sunset)
ANDREW FOWLER, REPORTER: High on the hills in Western Victoria they stand ominous, staring down at the township below.
The wind turbines are mainly still now after furiously spinning all day, pumping power into the national grid.
MARK DREYFUS, CABINET SECRETARY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY: It’s now the fastest growing renewable energy source in Australia. There’s some 50 wind farms that have been accredited.
ANDREW FOWLER: They’re the main weapons in the Federal Government’s attempt to produce 20 per cent of Australia’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.
So far they contribute just 2 per cent of Australia’s power needs. But to reach the 20 per cent renewable target there’ll probably need to be another 3,200.
DR MARK DIESENDORF: If we look at the next 10 years, we could envisage that wind replaces several coal fired power stations.
ANDREW FOWLER: Few would argue they aren’t clean and green. All they need is a windy location and they can do their job. Many stand as high as the Sydney Harbor Bridge.
They’re part of a patchwork of nearly 1100 turbines straddling the mountains and ridges from Perth to the Eastern States.
ANDREW THOMSON, ACCIONA ENERGY: The important point is that last year, for example, we generated just under 600 gigawatt hours of zero emissions electricity – zero emissions electricity. And that was enough in a local context to power a city like Ballarat and surrounding towns.
ANDREW FOWLER: Towns like Waubra, north west of Ballarat in Victoria, are ideal, with its exposed hills and a regular strong breeze.
Waubra is home to 128 wind turbines, scattered across the pastures that mostly produce mutton and lamb.
(Excerpt from ACCIONA Corporate Video of the Waubra community festival, uplifting music)
For many in Waubra, the more the merrier.
Every year the town holds a wind festival to celebrate the arrival of the turbines.
ACCIONA SPOKESPERSON: We’re here, solving problems, solving challenges, being successful together as true partners for the long term.
(End of excerpt)
ANDREW FOWLER: The wind farm operator is Acciona, a Spanish corporate giant with hundreds of wind farms across Europe. Today it’s spreading the word in Waubra.
(School kids run to the base of a turbine)
ACCIONA EMPLOYEE: We’re making the kids into the shape and size of a blade, so this will give them some idea of how big the blades are.
TEACHER 1: Sixty metres! So that’s… When you see it like this you realise how big it is don’t you.
TEACHER 2: Everyone look up, look up at the blades.
On the count of three, blow as hard as you can and we’ll see it go round.
Ready? One, two, three!
TEACHER 2: No, harder! Blow! Harder!
CHILD 1: It’s going round.
CHILD 2: It’s actually working!
ANDREW FOWLER: Yet there’s no illusion about one of the wind farms greatest attractions: the huge amount of money that the turbines have brought to the region and the town.
CHILD 3: It’s turning!
CHILD 4: It’s going round! Woo!
ANDREW FOWLER: Yet there’s no illusion about one of the wind farm’s greatest attractions – the huge amount of money that the turbines have brought to the region and the town.
For every turbine the region receives a direct $500 payment into a community fund. David Clark is the former local mayor.
Tell me David the beneficiaries of the community fund, whereabouts- who gets the money here?
DAVID CLARK, PYRENESS SHIRE COUNCIL: Yes, I suppose the biggest money we’ve put is into this $1.4 million development for the community. So the community fund has put $100,000 into that over five years.
Then the other big beneficiaries are the school, obviously, across the road, the CFA up the other end of town, the little cemetery – they don’t get a lot of money to maintain the cemetery so we’ve bought them a new mower, which they use on the recreation reserve, which is pretty good.
But we’ve got a really good little local horticultural society, and then the Landcare groups in the area – there’s three Landcare groups in the area of the wind farm so they do quite a lot of work with it and they do a free tree scheme as well for the community as part of that.
ANDREW FOWLER: But there’s more money than that in the wind industry and many farmers have grown rich on the proceeds, pulling in up to $10,000 a year rent from the company which runs the wind farm.
DAVID CLARK: This is only a small town. The landholder payments are nearly a million dollars in itself, so that puts a significant amount of money in farmer pockets around here. And then the wind farm employs 30 people, so there’s probably another $2 million in wages that certainly go into the regional economy.
So it’s a very significant boost for a community like this. You don’t get a leap like that out of agriculture.
(Tractor rolls slowly over a fallow field)
ANDREW FOWLER: It’s unlikely wealth for the likes of potato farmer Lawrence Gallagher. His high country captures even the slightest breeze. In the tough world of farming it’s the equivalent of standing on a hill of gold.
Gallagher snared the most turbines in Waubra.
LAWRENCE GALLAGHER: On this property here there’s seven wind towers and then we’ve got more wind towers back over the hill there where my father lives.
ANDREW FOWLER: In all the Gallaghers have 19 of the 128 wind towers in the region– and they rake in $135,000 in rent every year.
LAWRENCE GALLAGHER: well I believe it helps drought proof our property. We’ve had ten dry years before a very a wet year and it’s helped- it’s helped us to get by, like to pay our bills and that. And I know other farmers, it’s helped them out as well.
ANDREW FOWLER: Yet not everyone in Waubra is celebrating the arrival of the wind farms. It’s caused a major rift in the tiny community of 500 people.
What was life like before the turbines came?
NOEL DEAN: Well, it was peaceful, you could enjoy life. You did you don’t enjoy life out there. You just want to get the hell out of there. You cannot enjoy life. The only time you can enjoy life is when the turbines are not going. It’s peaceful, you feel relaxed.
ANDREW FOWLER: Noel Dean used to run a successful property just a few kilometres from the town centre. It had been the family home for nearly 40 years.
Now the farm is derelict, the house empty.
How hard is it for you to leave all this behind?
NOEL DEAN: The family we- it’s the only place we had since we got married, we reared our three children here and it was home. But we can’t really call it home now.
ANDREW FOWLER: Dean says the choice was simple, remain and suffer bad health, or leave and lose the productive capacity of the farm. For him there was no choice.
NOEL DEAN: We’re refugees in our own country. We’re leaving here because of danger. It’s not just- no set up or anything, we’re being really harmed.
ANDREW FOWLER: Dean didn’t oppose the turbines but chose not to have any on his property.
The first trouble started within days of his neighbours turbines, which are less than two kilometres from his property, being switched on.
What particularly disturbed him and his wife was the sound of the blades as they rotated in the wind.
ANDREW FOWLER: So these are the turbines that originally caused you trouble?
NOEL DEAN: These were the ones that initially caused us the headaches, but these ones over here was the worst ones.
They seemed to, um the big whoosh sound coming through and dreadful headaches from those ones, and we never come back to live in the house since then.
ANDREW FOWLER: Dean describes the land his farm is on as being like an amphitheatre – a bowl shaped valley between two hills. It’s a wonderful setting but he says it funnels the noise from the turbines down towards the house.
NOEL DEAN: The first time that I got affected was just after they started up. I woke with headaches of a morning. I had to have Panadol. It hadn’t happened before.
It happened two mornings in a row and then because we had a property up north, I went up there for the night. I woke up without headaches and then when I come back I did get headaches again.
ANDREW FOWLER: Perplexed by what the problem might be, Noel Dean went to his doctor who sent him to a specialist..
NOEL DEAN: He said it looked like it was an electromagnetic spasm in me skull. All the muscles in me skull just pulled tight like a tight glove. And so I, it was just like it was pulling.
It’s hard to explain, it’s not pressure like that, it’s just as if something, as if the muscles just pulled tight over your skull.
ANDREW FOWLER: On another occasion, he says he went to the outpatients department at the local hospital complaining about muscle spasms.
NOEL DEAN: I was getting a lot of pulsings in muscles and I went to the outpatients at the hospital and they said “You’ve just got too much electricity in your body. You’ve just got to stay away from the wind farm”.
ANDREW FOWLER: The Deans decided to leave the property and move to a house in Ballarat, 35 kilometres away.
Noel Dean says it was only when they moved out of Waubra and left the wind farms behind that the headaches disappeared. His neighbojurs Lawrence and Kerryn Gallagher have some sympathy.
LAWRENCE GALLAGHER, WAUBRA FARMER: Well, our farming neighbours that we know a lot better, they’re genuine people and we’ve lived beside them all our lives and we take them at their word and believe what they say. It’s just, we haven’t been affected by the noise issues and all the people as far as we know with wind towers haven’t been affected, and we live in noisier areas.
KERRYN GALLAGHER, WAUBRA FARMER: I find it really sad if, you know, these people are getting sick. If- you know, you’ve got to take their word for it and I mean they genuinely believe that they are sick.
And you know I find it really sad to think that it’s come to this, you know, it is affecting them – where I just know that it’s just not affecting us at all.
ANDREW FOWLER: But others in Waubra are having problems, blighting what should be a wonderful time to be a farmer.
Carl Stepnell runs sheep on his property.
CARL STEPNELL: WAUBRA FARMER: We’ve had such good seasons in the last couple of years. Usually this time of year we’d be bloody flat out feeding them.
ANDREW FOWLER: So the mills are still today up there.
CARL STEPNELL: Yeah, yeah… yeah.
ANDREW FOWLER: How many of them are there? There’s five within 1200 metres of the house there. The closest one is 900 metres.
ANDREW FOWLER: Now they’ve moved out because of the sound of the turbines.
What’s the noise like?
CARL STEPNELL: Oh… it varies a lot. Sometimes it’s a constant roa, then it’s a swooshing and it just… they’re different all the time. Yeah.
ANDREW FOWLER: It might look like a rural idyll but when the turbines are turning for Carl and Samantha, it’s anything but.
Though they regularly return to manage the 4,200 acre property, they never stay overnight.
CARL STEPNELL: Samantha got affected first.
It took me about six months before I started feeling a bit indifferent and started getting sort of tingling in the head and headaches. And then it just, you could feel it eventually getting worse and worse.
You’d just try to fight it off. You just think it’s not real, ’cause it’s affecting your day, every day and night.
And then eventually, you start waking up at night – two, three in the morning wake up every night, and you just couldn’t get back to sleep. You’re just wide awake
ANDREW FOWLER: How did you feel sick? What was it like?
SAMANTHA STEPNELL, WAUBRA FARMER: Like being in a cabin of a plane. That’s the only way I can explain it, is just the ear pressure and headaches – and the nausea.
Just didn’t – the pressure in my ears didn’t go away. It just got worse.
The longer I was around the turbines the worse I was feeling.
ANDREW FOWLER: Samantha says the pain had a big impact on her health. She became lethargic and in the end sought medical help.
CARL STEPNELL: The doctor wanted to put her on anti-depressants. That’s what he wanted to prescribe her with and we just come to the conclusion, there’s a way out.
We’re not. We can’t feel trapped into feeling this way so we moved off the farm into Ballarat and bought another house, yeah.
ANDREW FOWLER: The decision to move out and travel back to Waubra several times a week has put a big strain on the family – especially their youngest son, who they had to remove from the local school.
SAMANTHA STEPNELL: Oh well he didn’t want to leave his friends. He didn’t want to leave his home. We didn’t want to leave.
We had no choice but to leave. We, we honestly didn’t. There was no way out except for us to move away from our home. You don’t, you don’t move away from home when there’s no problem.
CARL STEPNELL: No. No and he did it really tough for weeks.
SAMANTHA STEPNELL: He, for two weeks he cried every day. It was… it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to see him go through (crying). It was just…
He didn’t want to leave his school. He still doesn’t. He still thinks that he’ll be back here one day. We come back out to the farm but not to live.
ANDREW FOWLER: The proposition that wind turbines make people sick has been rejected by mainstream science, although some studies have found the sound of the turbines causes annoyance and sleep deprivation.
PROFESSOR SIMON CHAPMAN, PUBLIC HEALTH, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: There’s no doubt that there are some people who live close to turbines who don’t have them on their property who say that they’re being annoyed and kept awake, and even being made ill by them.
But interestingly there are also people who have them on their property, who live just as close or closer, who curiously don’t say that it makes them ill or that it annoys them.
So if you’ve got fifteen of these things on your property you wake up every morning knowing that you’ve got $150,000 in the bank.
The question is whether that variable may mediate feelings of annoyance or feelings of being ill.
ANDREW FOWLER: Eight years earlier when the turbine companies came through town offering tens of thousands of dollars to site their wind farms on local properties there was little opposition.
But in the years to come, when the turbines began operating, they would create a strange notoriety for the town.
Waubra was developing a reputation, not for the lamb it produced from its rolling green pastures, but for Waubra Disease – claims that the wind farms were producing sounds at a frequency too low to hear, but damaging to the health of those who lived nearby.
Noel Dean became convinced his symptoms were caused by soundwaves from the massive wind turbines.
He bought his own audio equipment and approached Graeme Hood, at the nearby University of Ballarat, to investigate. Hood is an electrical engineer with a physics degree.
(Loud crackling noise)
GRAEME HOOD, ASSOCIATE RESEARCHER, UNIVERSITY OF BALLARAT: And so this is, we understand, is the noise directly from the turbine.
This graph up here clearly shows that the bulk of the noise comes from a range of frequencies that aren’t very well heard. You know, it’s a fairly high level of noise and yet you won’t perceive that as being loud.
ANDREW FOWLER: His recordings revealed a high level of sound at low frequencies which are difficult for the human ear to detect.
GRAEME HOOD: Well, The brain thinks it’s quiet but the ears may be telling you something else, or the body may be telling you something else. It’s much louder
ANDREW FOWLER: But what he didn’t find was high levels of so-called infrasound, sounds at a frequency so low they can’t be heard at all.
A Danish study published last year came to similar conclusions.
It was infrasound that Noel Dean believed was damaging his health.
GRAEME HOOD: We were looking for something in the order of 110 to 120 decibels.
ANDREW FOWLER: So the levels that you found, was that the level that would do damage to people?
GRAEME HOOD: No, I don’t think so, no.
ANDREW FOWLER: Like Noel Dean, his neighbours the Stepnells, remain unconvinced by Graeme Hood’s findings.
They’re sure that there’s something more to turbine noise and it’s making them sick.
DR SARAH LAURIE: You just tell your story. That’s what people need to hear.
ANDREW FOWLER: Much of what they’ve learnt came from Dr Sar Laurie.
DR SARAH LAURIE: Have you found that the symptoms have got better?
SAMANTHA STEPNELL: Yes, especially of a night. I think sleep’s number one and you can, you know, to know that you can drive away and get a good night’s sleep.
ANDREW FOWLER: Dr Laurie’s been in regular contact with the Stepnells and others in Waubra, reinforcing her belief that wind turbines can make people sick.
DR SARAH LAURIE: The reason I became aware was because we’d had a neighbour tell us that there were wind turbines proposed for the hills near my home, and there was mixed views amongst the neighbours. Some were very concerned, others were less so.
I certainly was in the group not concerned about the turbines. I was unaware that there were any health implications at all.
ANDREW FOWLER: Originally Dr Laurie, an unregistered doctor from South Australia, was in favour of wind farms.
(Photos of Dr Laurie’s children at a pro wind farm demonstration)
She took her two young children on a demonstration supporting them.
She says she only became aware of health issues when she learnt of work by a British GP, Dr Amanda Harry. Dr Harry claims to have discovered problems among some residents living near a wind farm in south west England.
DR SARAH LAURIE: She found that people developed a range of symptoms, which varied between individuals in a household, but they only came on when the turbines were operating. And these people didn’t have the symptoms either when they were away from the turbines or when the turbines were not operating.
And they ranged from chronic severe sleep deprivation, headaches, nausea, tinnitus or ringing in the ears.
ANDREW FOWLER: There was someone else keenly interested in work being done overseas investigating possible links between illness and wind farms.
Not far from Waubra stands the stately home of Mawallok. It’s been in the hands of Peter Mitchell’s family for decades.
PETER MITCHELL, WAUBRA FOUNDATION: The garden was designed by Guilfoyle and Guilfoyle was renowned for his sort of landscapes.
ANDREW FOWLER: Its gardens are listed as some of the world’s most beautiful but there were plans to build wind farms on the hill tops beyond the lake.
PETER MITCHELL: Well you can see that ridge up here between ourselves and the mountains, and it’s not very far away, that ridge. That was to be covered with turbines so that they would stand well above any of those trees.
So the minute you’d start walking down the garden, they’d be in your face.
ANDREW FOWLER: What was worse for Mitchell, they would also be placed close to the border of the property. He didn’t want his family to have to leave. He decided to fight.
PETER MITCHELL: Farmers love their houses. They love being on their property. They don’t want to be anywhere else.
But they leave and what happens? When they leave the symptoms disappear. They come back to work the property, the symptoms reappear.
Now it isn’t very hard to join the dots there
ANDREW FOWLER: Mitchell was better prepared than most to fight the turbines. He’s a company director with a history of charity work. He was president of the National Stroke Foundation and a board member of the World WildLife Fund.
Mitchell put his considerable skills together to stop the turbines. Last year he founded a body called the Waubra Foundation designed to against wind farms on health grounds.
PETER MITCHELL: We are trying to bring to people’s attention – developers, bureaucrats, government ministers, that wind turbines are dangerous to residents’ health.
And that’s what I’m on about.
ANDREW FOWLER: And the anti-wind campaign is starting to gather momentum. In Collector, three hours south west of Sydney, locals became worried about plans to build almost a thousand turbines in the district.
TONY HODGSON, FERRIER HODGSON: What’s going to happen if one of those turbines over there chucks off a piece the size of a Commodore and hits on to the Hume Highway, hits the grid, hits the train line?
ANDREW FOWLER: Tony Hodgson, co-founder of insolvency accountants Ferrier Hodgson has a country property near a proposed site. Originally, a self confessed NIMBY, he didn’t want one in his backyard.
ANDREW FOWLER: So was there any moment when you decided that you were against the turbines? Was it a NIMBY for you in the first place?
TONY HODGSON: In the first place, absolutely because you know, visually, I think they’re a horrible looking thing. There’s no degree of beauty about them.
But then I thought I had an obligation to enlighten myself as to what was behind them and how they worked. And the more I started looking into it, the more concerned I became on health, public safety, you know visual amenity.
ANDREW FOWLER: With up to 80 turbines proposed close to his property, Hodgson began researching the issue. He discovered the anti wind farm lobby was a tight network.
TONY HODGSON: I started by getting on the internet and I found a crowd in Ontario in Canada, and read all they had and corresponded with them and then they put me in touch with Sarah Laurie – Doctor Laurie in South Australia – so I started talking to her.
Then I got in touch with Peter Mitchell.
ANDREW FOWLER: What is your view of the medical science presented by Doctor Laurie?
TONY HODGSON: Well… I’m swayed by it quite dramatically otherwise I wouldn’t be you know involved with her in the Waubra Foundation. But I want to see, as Sarah says, I want to see the research done.
The- you know, I want to see the peer review research done here in Australia allied with the research that’s been done round the world to establish the position.
I actually think that the position she’s put forward will be established with the research but till it’s done, nobody’s going to accept anything that she says.
(Noisy community meeting)
ANDREW FOWLER: Hodgson teamed up with other locals to fight the wind farms.
They joined forces with an anti wind turbine group, the Landscape Guardians. Just down the road from his property, they organised a public meeting in Yass – part of a national campaign.
Star billing at the meeting went to Dr Sarah Laurie, the medical director of the Waubra Foundation.
(Film strip showing wind turbine being blown up and falling)
ANDREW FOWLER: Highly provocative images showed turnbines in flames, an unusual event but one that alarmed the audience.
To ram home the message, they were also warned about the potential of bushfires.
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE 1: If a car is faulty, it gets withdrawn from the market. If a drug goes on the market and it is found to be causing health problems, it gets pulled off the market.
So what will it take for wind farms to be pulled off the market? What sort of evidence will it take?
MAN IN AUDIENCE 1: These wind turbines have set farmer against farmer, friend against friend.
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE 2: Everyone has got to think, there is a thousand of them. Nobody has ever done it to this scale and plonked people in the middle of them.
ANDREW FOWLER: The meeting taps into fears that no one is listening to their complaints.
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE 3: We feel like democracy has left us high and dry.
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE 1: What would it take, as far as evidence and research goes, for have those turbines shut down, everywhere, just shut them down.
DR SARAH LAURIE (to meeting): This is not new…
ANDREW FOWLER: Dr Laurie warns, among many things, that wind turbines are linked to high blood pressure and even heart attacks. Her rather startling assertion plays to the mood of the meeting.
DR SARAH LAURIE: I actually believe that we know enough now to say “We need to adopt a precautionary approach”.
I’m finding that people 10 kilometres away from existing turbines, 3 mega watts, on cleared hills in South Australia and smaller turbines here are causing symptoms that are directly related to turbine operations over that distance of 10 kilometres.
ANDREW FOWLER: At the end of the meeting the feeling in the room was overwhelming.
MAN: I wouldn’t mind asking for a show of hands of all those people that would actually support a commission of inquiry into the wind turbine industry.
(Everyone raises their hand)
(All hands fall)
WOMAN AT MEETING: I think it’s similar to the asbestosis or tobacco industry situation where if we don’t act now we’re going to find too late that people have been very severely affected.
ANDREW FOWLER: As the meeting winds up, many are clearly distressed by what they’ve been told about the potential dangers of wind farms.
(To woman) Is health an issue for you?
WOMAN AT MEETING: Absolutely. I have got two young children and it is an issue, not only for myself, and my husband, for my four and six year old children that I am bring up.
ANDREW FOWLER: As well as public meetings around the country, the anti wind lobby has funded what its critics call a scare campaign.
(Excerpt from Anti wind turbine lobby ad)
(Two young girls sit on a log in the country, wind turbine blades slice menacingly through text on a blue sky)
SCREEN TEXT: High blood pressure.
GIRL 1: It’s our future, our health and our wildlife at risk.
(Blades slice through text)
SCREEN TEXT: Headaches… Sleep deprivation
GIRL 2: It feels to me like our community is splitting apart becuase of these wind turbines.
(Blades slice through text)
SCREEN TEXT: Ear pain… motion sickness.
Is this fair?
PROFFESSOR GARY WITTERT, HEAD OF THE DISCIPLINE OF THE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY OF ADELAIDE: If you whip up anxiety, people will generate many of these symptoms. There’s fear of the unknown, there’s activists creating concern among the population.
We all get headaches from time to time. Now if someone comes along and tells you that your headaches are because there are wind turbines, ” now I know why I’ve got headaches”.
CARL STEPNELL, WAUBRA FARMER: This is real. This isn’t just in our heads. This was a real problem and it just was horrible. You could see- I could see Sam getting worse and worse.
ANDREW FOWLER: Many leading medicos and public health experts seriously question any links between sickness and wind farms, and the research cited to support the case.
PROFESSOR SIMON CHAPMAN, PUBLIC HEALTH, SYDNEY UNIVERSITY: People who cite or refer to that research are the same people who publish it so it’s, if you like, a kind of a self-citation phenomenon. It’s a disease which is certainly not recognised by mainstream medicine, and the people who are pushing it appear to be a fairly small circle of people.
PROFESSOR GARRY WITTERT: I think I would have to be very concerned with the quality of evidence that is masquerading as medicine and health and public health that is nothing more than activism, notwithstanding the fact that some people are distressed.
ANDREW FOWLER: What’s your response to the assertion that many of the people that are ill have a problem that is psychosomatic, it’s self-induced?
DR SARAH LAURIE: Okay. Look I know that argument’s there. However, the interviews that I’ve had with affected residents and had with their treating doctors suggest that there is in fact a very serious clinical problem, or problems, going on.
ANDREW THOMSON, ACCIONA: Look I think the way Sarah Laurie has applied herself to this is deeply disturbing. I mean, it’s deeply disturbing to us and the rest of the industry.
She’s a medical qualified person and she’s travelling the country far and wide making all sorts of allegations about the sorts of health impacts that people should expect from wind farms, which includes nowadays things like diabetes, heart attacks.
I mean, she’s making claims that wind farms will cause these sorts of things in people and she’s travelling around the country meeting with community groups spreading this message and and in our view it’s highly irresponsible. And in itself, it’s causing mass hysteria.
ANDREW FOWLER: Despite the criticism, Dr Laurie says she has seen enough anecdotal evidence to support her claims after talking to those affected.
DR SARAH LAURIE: Some of the information that came out of those conversations really worried me in terms of not just the range of health problems that people were having, but also the severity of them.
And a couple of things that were highlighted in those conversations were these episodes of acute hypertensive crisis, where people developed symptoms – often, you know suddenly…
ANDREW FOWLER: That’s blood pressure?
DR SARAH LAURIE: Yes, blood pressure. So, remarkably elevated blood pressure -dangerously so. And the symptoms that one particular individual described – severe onset of sudden headache, accompanied by nausea, a sensation of his heart wanting to leap out of his chest, and just feeling as if he was going to- about to die
ANDREW FOWLER: Professor Gary Wittert rejects the links to illness and questions Dr Laurie’s reliance on anecdotal evidence.
Professor Wittert, the head of Discipline of Medicine at the University of Adelaide, has given expert evidence for ACCIONA in a recent court case.
But he has also completed one of the first independent studies that found there’s no connection between wind farms and sickness.
PROFESSOR GARY WITTERT: We looked at two wind farm areas in Victoria. We looked at Waubra and Yambuk. And we looked at Snowtown and Hallett Hill in South Australia.
ANDREW FOWLER: How many people did you look at?
PROFESSOR GARY WITTERT: The total number of people would be 10 to 12,000, I guess, maybe a bit less.
So what we did was we drew a 10 kilometre zone around the wind farm. This is the 10 kilometres that Dr Laurie tells us is the danger zone, so we thought that was reasonable to choose.
ANDREW FOWLER: Using data from the the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Professor Wittert compared the number of medical prescriptions issued to people living in areas with and without turbines.
PROFESSOR GARY WITTERT: I can tell you from a preliminary look – and we will send this to peer review as soon as it’s fully analysed – there is no hint of any effect on a population basis for an increased use of sleeping pills or blood pressure or cardiovascular medications whatsoever.
RANDALL BELL, PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE GUARDIANS (on phone): Charlie, it’s Randall here. How are you?
ANDREW FOWLER: Though health is the latest issue to be used against wind farms, the history of opposition goes back years.
RANDALL BELL (on phone): Have you organised anything about meeting with the Minister yet?
ANDREW FOWLER: Victorian solicitor Randall Bell led the anti wind farm campaign when he was chairman of the Australian National Trust.
It had some wins, preventing wind farms from being sited in areas of natural beauty.
But it was when he left the National Trust in 2003 and set up the Landscape Guardians which drew its inspiration from an English group, the Country Guardians, who are vehemently opposed to wind farms, that the fight became ideological.
ANDREW FOWLER: The Federal Government has a target of 20 percent renewable by 2020. Are the Landscape Guardians doing their best to see that this is not provided by wind power?
RANDALL BELL: Well, it’s the Government’s target. It’s their choice, it’s their decision. All we will say is that wind will never deliver on it, not in a 100 million years. The only thing that would deliver on it would be gas.
And they ought to wake up to that.
They know. They know very well that wind is not going to deliver.
ANDREW FOWLER: Four Corners has been told that two members of the conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs have been influential in a committee advising the Landscape Guardians.
Are you surprised that the Institute of Public Affairs is actively involved in giving advice to the people that are opposed to wind farms?
MARK DREYFUS: Uh… I could say that nothing the Institute of Public Affairs does surprises me. They’ve played a very active role in supporting what I would treat as climate change scepticism or denial of the science of climate change.
ANDREW FOWLER: But there’s people you have here…
RANDALL BELL: Yeah.
ANDREW FOWLER: ..do have links and have worked for the IPA.
RANDALL BELL: A lot of them have two arms and two legs as well.
ANDREW FOWLER: Unlike some prominent members of the IPA, Randall Bell says the Landscape Guardians don’t have a position on global warming.
RANDALL BELL: I have said countless times that it is one of the great debates that we need to have of our time.
ANDREW FOWLER: So you’re a sceptic?
RANDALL BELL: I’m becoming, sadly, more sceptical about it because… that seems to be the conclusion. Instead of…
ANDREW FOWLER: For Randall Bell and the Landscape Guardians, the battle against wind farms is no longer purely a scientific argument.
RANDALL BELL: It’s always political. It always was. I never got it until very late in life that it was always going to be about votes.
ANDREW FOWLER: So it’s a battle. It’s a political battle.
RANDALL BELL: Yes.
ANDREW FOWLER: And you use any weapon you can to win that ?
RANDALL BELL: Yes.
ANDREW FOWLER: To win that fight?
RANDALL BELL: Yeah.
(Senate enquiry, many people with protest signs behind the seats)
SENATOR RACHEL SIEWERT, CHAIR OF SENATE COMMITTEE: Now I understand that each of you would have been given information about parliamentary privilege and the protection of witness and evidence…
ANDREW FOWLER: The anti wind lobby has played its politics well, managing to get a Senate inquiry into the health impacts of wind farms.
Last month Carl Stepnell gave emotional evidence before the inquiry.
CARL STEPNELL: ..but a power line is going through. Then they’ll turn up through another area of our farm which is wall to wall native trees. All those trees will be cut down and there’s a magic word of offsets so they can do what they want.
Um… (voice cracks) it’s very disturbing.
Sorry about this.
SAMANTHA STEPNELL (pats her husband): It’s okay.
ANDREW FOWLER: The inquiry recommended that further scientific studies be carried out.
SENATOR RACHEL SIEWERT: We have found that there have been adverse health effects found in some people near wind farms.
However – and this is a very important however – we have not found that that is necessarily associated with noise or vibration. That is particularly important.
ANDREW FOWLER: While Australia may still be having the debate, overseas in Europe, Scandinavia and North America they’ve already made up their minds.
ANDREW THOMSON, ACCIONA: I think, for people that are unsure about the benefits they should look to other parts of the world where the industry has been developed successfully.
In this country, I think we’re at in the very early stages of change and for some people that’s easy to deal with, and for others it’s it’s difficult.
DR MARK DIESENDORF, INSTITUTE OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS, UNSW: Yes, well I think Denmark has been a fantastic success story. It is the country with the greatest proportion of electricity coming from wind.
Last year 21 per cent of Danish electricity came from the wind. This year, with a new wind farm built off shore, it will probably be 25 per cent of Danish electricity from the wind
PROFESSOR GARY WITTERT: You take countries like Scandinavia, Scotland, Germany where there is a fairly reasonable density of wind farms, there is no evidence of a whole scale effect of adverse consequences for human health.
(Speeded up shot of turbines spinning)
ANDREW FOWLER: If Australia is to reach its target of 20 per cent renewable energy by 2020, wind farms have to be part of the equation.
A challenge will be overcoming growing fear in the community that they pose a health problem.
And for its part, the anti wind farm lobby will have to produce sound scientific evidence if their claims are to be taken seriously.
KERRY O’BRIEN: In the meantime, those concerns represent another political headache for Julia Gillard to manage.
Next week on Four Corners, as the 10th anniversary of September 11 edges closer, we present a story on the notorious Guantanamo Bay US military prison, and how it impacted on the lives of three people – all intimately involved with the prison and all casualties of George Bush’s war on terror.
Until then, goodnight.
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
Please note: This transcript is produced by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcript.