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Debate over turbine health impact gains speed

Nearly a thousand wind turbines could be built in the south-west over the coming years as debate still rages over whether or not they cause suffering for communities living alongside them.

The south-west has become a battleground for debate on the issue with both sides expending considerable energy trying to influence public opinion.

This week environmentalists and investors have stepped up their fight against opponents with claims that only 35 people in the south-west have ever complained about the turbines, despite 1140 people living nearby.

Plans for more than 830 turbines have been lodged with Moyne Shire while more are planned in Glenelg, Southern Grampians and Corangamite shires.

VicWind, an alliance made up of renewable energy groups and manufacturers, has used data from the University of Sydney to pinpoint reported health problems to 35 people in the south-west – a figure they say correlates with the emergence of anti-wind activists.

The data comes from a report by public health professor Simon Chapman suggesting wind sickness is the psychological result of anti-wind farm groups, including the Southern Grampians Landscape Guardians who are based in Penshurst.

VicWind state co-ordinator Andrew Bray said the report found health cases were more prevalent where the groups were active.

“Of the 1140 people living near wind farms in the south-west an overwhelming majority, around 97 per cent, do so comfortably,” Mr Bray said.

“The Codrington and Yambuk wind farms have been fully accepted by their communities and have operated for over decade-and-a-half without any complaints.”

But the reports have infuriated the opponents who have mobilised online to refute the claims.

In recent months residents living around Cape Bridgewater and Macarthur have told The Standard they suffer from dizziness and headaches.

Maria Linke told The Standard she had no illusions about her health problems and said she was insulted that the Sydney academic had classed her insomnia as psychological.

The Hawkesdale farmer, who has lived on her property for 20 years, said she often felt pressure in her head similar to the sensation of being inside a plane taking off and was unable to sleep at night.

“I find it quite insulting … my ears buzz and there’s pressure like you’re flying,” she said.

The nearest turbine at the Macarthur wind farm is five kilometres from her home but she says the direction of the wind brings the noise of the blades straight to her doorstep.

She said turbines in Codrington had drawn fewer complaints because they were a smaller design.

“Size does matter,” Ms Linke said, adding that she wanted independent testing carried out.

A private members bill backed by Wannon MP Dan Tehan proposes to do exactly that, but only if it manages to clear parliamentary hurdles and gets through the lower house later this year.

Mr Tehan told The Standard he had been prompted to second the bill after meeting with locals in Macarthur in January.

“I’m not a doctor but I’ve seen enough to know that we need a study done,” Mr Tehan said.

The politician and the property owner aren’t alone in their calls.

Wind industry heavyweight Pacific Hydro, which operates the Yambuk, Codrington and Cape Bridgewater wind farms, has backed the idea of an independent study to settle facts.