Last week I received an email from a woman I had never met that almost brought me to tears.
It was a cry for help from someone crushed. She told a story of her family’s recent years of bewilderment, frustration, anger and despair.
Samantha Stepnell used to live with her husband and young son on their farm at Waubra, in western Victoria, 900m from the Waubra wind farm.
The family abandoned their home due to chronic sleep disorders experienced since the wind farm started operating.
Over an extended period of time, these sleep disorders degenerated into a range of deleterious health issues.
They have not sold their home; they have abandoned it.
They are not the only ones.
More than 20 homes have been abandoned in western Victoria because of Wind Turbine Syndrome.
Other families do not even have this option and are trapped by circumstances imposed upon them.
This pattern has manifested throughout the world in recent years since wind turbines have grown from the original 50m structures to 150m giants.
A study published last December by Danish researchers Moller and Pedersen linked bigger, modern turbines with increased noise impact.
These bigger turbines have been the preferred choice in Victorian wind farms.
No one claims everyone will get ill because of wind turbines.
Dr Daniel Shepherd and others have concluded from separate studies that 10-15 per cent of the population are more susceptible to noise than the general population.
From their experiences in Europe, multi-national wind energy companies operating in Australia have known since 2004 that health issues have been associated with wind farms – while asserting there are no peer-reviewed studies linking the two.
This was echoed last July by the National Health and Medical Research Council, which stated, “There is no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects”.
It added: “While there is currently no evidence linking these phenomena with adverse health effects, the evidence is limited.”
Nine peer-reviewed studies have been published or approved for publication in science journals since July – and they link wind turbines with adverse health effects.
The recent Senate inquiry expressed clearly in its recommendations that the Federal Government study the health effects of wind turbines.
Since then the Victorian Government has amended planning legislation for new wind farms to require a 2km setback from residences, a 5km setback from 21 nominated regional towns and no-go zones in several regions of the state.
While this recognition of the problem is welcome, it does not address the turbines approved under old guidelines in the lead-up to the last state election.
When constructed, these new approvals will triple the number of turbines to affect 43 different communities in Victoria, with many of these turbines less than 2km from homes.
With the benefit of recent acoustical studies and medical papers, it has become increasingly clear there is a link between wind turbine operation and health effects, the only question is to what degree and what action to take.
The state has a duty of care to those who live in the communities earmarked for wind farms.
It is distressing that we can get public policy so wrong so much of the time and then take so long to fix it.
Max Rheese is executive director of the Australian Environment Foundation
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