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Missed opportunity to provide real information

NSW Farmers recently released their much requested Wind Farm Guide. How unfortunate a great opportunity was missed to produce a document of real information and value, one which truly reflected the reality of the wind industry.

The authenticity of the information provided must be questioned. Why would NSW Farmers employ GHD to author this document; GHD has direct employment links to the Wind Industry (Acciona) and the Clean Energy Council. Acciona, a Spanish company, operates three wind farms in Australia and have four more approved. The Clean Energy Council is the rebadged Wind Energy Association of Australia, a wind industry mouthpiece.

Serious Wind Farm Guide limitations include glossing over the restriction of fire fighting capabilities. Jim Hamilton (Wind turbines fan fire risk, The Land, 17/01/2013) describes the problems very well and points out how several communities in NSW, which are potentially about to host wind farms, would have been more endangered. The mention by the Wind Farm Guide that “Wind turbines may also reduce aerial access for bushfire management, although this risk is often offset by improved ground access” is a pallid representation of the ravaging fires facing farmers this summer.

More realistically, the authoritative Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia’s Wind Farm Policy states: “Wind farms can have far-reaching footprints that can remove significant amounts of land from treatment [fighting bushfires] for a considerable distance from the wind farm boundary.”

The Wind Farm Guide talks about the increased jobs within the local community. There are obviously more jobs during construction, but these are often specialised jobs with “fly ins” from outside. During the more significant and longer operation phase jobs plummet. The Environmental Assessment for the proposed Flyers Creek Wind Farm notes there will be three full-time jobs post construction, with no local guarantee. Further, the guide states: “The technical design life of a wind turbine is currently 20 to 30 years.” A recent study out of the UK now reduces this figure to 12, maybe 15, years.

The Wind Farm Guide notes that there are “Environmental benefits from CO2 emission reduction” when three recent analyses (including an authoritative Dutch study by Le Pair, 2012) of the total life time cycle of a wind turbine conclude that there is very little CO2 reduction, if at all.

The section on health and noise defies current knowledge, with no effort to indicate the increasing evidence of adverse health effects to a potential wind turbine host or neighbour. The absence of caution and links to sites such as www.waubrafoundation.com.au and other sites that could have been included at the end of the document questions impartiality and thoroughness.

Decommissioning is an aspect often forgotten by the wind industry and potential hosts. It requires confidence that the wind developer will be around in 20-25 years. Check the developer’s share price and then be alarmed. Exercise caution with any wind company who resists paying a decommissioning bond upfront with the appropriate regulatory authority (as mining companies do).

There are two statements in the NSW Farmers Wind Farm Guide that are noteworthy: “Think carefully before signing an agreement which includes a confidentiality clause”; and, it is “highly recommended that you get independent legal and financial guidance from qualified personal [sic] with experience in wind farm developments”. That, my friends, says it all.

Dr Colleen Watts, Carcoar