For the prime minister, wind farms are the stars of Australia’s clean energy future, but health problems from the turbine noise are forcing some neighbouring residents off the land.
At the opening of the Gunning Wind Farm in southern NSW last week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard championed the environmental benefits, job creation and economic benefits that would flow from getting on the wind power bandwagon.
Currently, wind farms power two per cent of Australia’s energy needs, and the government wants to increase it to 20 per cent by 2020 – or 3200 new wind turbines.
At Gunning, Ms Gillard brushed off concerns about health risks and said she had not received any advice about their dangers.
“I’ve stood underneath these wind turbines and they’re remarkably quiet,” she told reporters.
But some residents in a small Victorian farming community are claiming the noise from nearby turbines has made them sick and subsequently forced them off the land.
Noel Dean and his family left their farm in Waubra, about 30km north of Ballarat, after experiencing constant headaches when turbines went up two kilometres away from their home.
“We’re refugees in our own country, we’re leaving here because of danger,” he told ABC TV’s Four Corners program on Monday.
He said his home sits in an amphitheatre – a bowl-shaped valley between two hills – which funnels the noise from the turbines towards his house.
His doctor diagnosed him with electromagnetic spasms in his skull.
Another Waubra resident, Carl Stepnell, had turbines 900m away from his home and experienced similar problems.
“I started getting a sort of tingling in the head and headaches and then it just, you could feel it eventually getting worse and worse,” he said.
“(It’s) like being in a cabin of a plane … it’s just the ear pressure and headaches and the nausea just in, the pressure in my ear – it didn’t go away.”
He moved his family to Ballarat to escape.
Electrical engineer Graeme Hood from the University of Ballarat used audio equipment to check sound levels near the turbines.
He said although the turbines don’t sound very loud, they’re actually producing sound at a frequency too low to hear.
“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,” he said.
Anti-wind farm campaigner Dr Sarah Laurie said people within a 10km radius of turbines could be at risk of health problems such as elevated blood pressure and headaches.
But University of Adelaide professor Gary Wittert, who has conducted one of the first independent studies into wind farm health issues, denies there’s any link.
He used data from the the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to compare medical prescriptions of people living in areas with and without turbines.
His study involved 12,000 people living within a 10km radius around wind farms in South Australia and Victoria.
“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,” he said.
Last month, a Senate inquiry into the health affects of wind farms called for more scientific investigations.
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