A south-west anti-wind farm group has rejected claims it is responsible for creating a “cultural” phenomenon of wind turbine sickness whipped up by fear and publicity.
A report released last week from the University of New South Wales found that health complaints from wind farms had become prevalent after 2009 – despite wind farms operating in Australia since 1993.
The report’s author, public health professor Simon Chapman, said health concerns by groups such as the Penshurst-based Southern Grampians Landscape Guardians (SGLG) had led to a psychological effect on those living alongside the turbines.
Using media coverage and submissions made to Parliament over the past decades, Professor Chapman said anti-wind groups had previously fought turbines on the grounds of visual amenity, before fronting a campaign on health effects in 2009.
Speaking to The Standard yesterday, the academic said just 120 health complaints had been made around the nation’s 49 wind farms, despite more than 30,000 people living within five kilometres of them.
“The first wind farm was built in Australia in 1993 – there were 13 built in the next decade and there were very few health complaints,” Professor Chapman said, adding that not one complaint had come from Western Australia where the first was built.
“In the early days there when they were objected to, the landscape guardians said they were an eyesore.”
The prevalence of health issues in Australia and Canada but not in Europe where turbines are widespread has led to some calling turbine sickness “the disease that only speaks English”.
The academic denied any claims of bias saying he had no financial arrangements with any wind farm company.
Southern Grampians Landscape Guardians member Keith Staff made no attempts to hide his anger over the report’s claims. “This is not a figment of our imagination,” Mr Staff said, adding the group was not behind a co-ordinated effort to publicise health concerns.
“There are 20 people across the south-west, including Waubra who have evacuated their homes … people who have built it up over a lifetime don’t just leave on a whim.
“We are very objective and I reject anyone who infers that we are scaremongering.”
Mr Staff said turbines in Europe were either smaller or had been built away from residential populations.
SGLG has vowed to fight the $2 billion Penshurst wind farm, which could see as many as 220 turbines go up less than three kilometres from the township.
“We intend to get it stopped,” Mr Staff said.
The report’s findings will likely draw an angry response from anti-wind campaigners in other south-west towns such as Macarthur, Mortlake and Dundonnell.
A number of residents in Macarthur have maintained they are bearing the effects of infrasound – subsonic noise they claim is causing headaches and insomnia.
Several politicians, including Wannon MP Dan Tehan and Victorian upper house MP Simon Ramsay, have expressed belief that turbines could be linked to health problems.
But the latest report is the second in six months to pour doubt on health claims. A report by the South Australian EPA last year found levels of infrasound were higher in city offices than they were alongside wind farms.
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