The group representing pilots who provide aerial support during bushfires wants an investigation into the effect of wind turbines on fire-fighting.
The Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia has written to the Federal Government with concerns about the turbines.
Chief executive Phil Hurst says the main concern is whether they create a turbulence risk.
“We know that wake turbulence is an issue and when you look at the safety regulations administered by CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority), there are wake turbulence separation regulations,” he said.
“What we don’t know is whether that translates directly to wind turbines.”
The association has written to the Federal Department of Infrastructure asking them to undertake more research.
“We’re not doing it because we think we know the answer; we’re doing it because we don’t know the answer,” Mr Hurst said.
“We do know that there was a recent report to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau from a pilot at low level who experienced severe turbulence and thought that it might have been linked to a wind turbine farm not far away – but again, we’re taking a very open view of this.”
Mr Hurst says the association is currently unable to provide comprehensive advice to pilots about turbines.
“There are a lot of issues for a pilot to deal with and one of the things that we like to do is try to manage workload,” he said.
“It would be really good if we had a little more confidence about the potential impact of wind farms on the fire ground situation.”
Anti-wind farm campaigners feel exposed
Humphrey Price-Jones is an anti-wind farm campaigner whose property in the Upper Lachlan Shire in the NSW Southern Tablelands borders a wind farm that is currently under construction.
“We feel very exposed,” he said.
“Significant tracks of this shire are vulnerable and it is of great concern to many landholders living in the vicinity of towers and proposed towers.”
Malcolm Barlow, a councillor in the Upper Lachlan Shire, says pilots are loath to fly anywhere near wind turbines, especially in smoky conditions.
“By and large, pilots won’t go within even more than a kilometre of a wind turbine area when there’s a fire there,” he said.
There are six wind farms already built or approved in the shire, and another five applications being processed.
He says proponents of wind farms should have to contribute to the costs of fire-fighting.
“They should make a contribution to the community in which they’re being placed, because they’ve placed that community in a greater risk of fire and in a decreased capacity to fight the fire,” he said.
Fire service says ground crews most important asset
Mr Barlow says about 40 per cent of fire-fighting capacity is aerial, and the figure is higher in rugged areas where ground crews cannot get in.
But the New South Wales Rural Fire Service disagrees with that figure.
Assistant Commissioner Bruce McDonald says it is more like 10 per cent, and emphasises that firefighters on the ground are always the most important asset.
“Our ground troops can access around wind turbines anyway,” he said.
“There are generally maintenance tracks up to the turbines and those sorts of things. There is general ground access and that’s our primary source of fire fighting.”
Mr McDonald says wind farms are just one of the risks pilots face when fighting fires.
“Aircraft are restricted by a number of things – wind farms is one of them, as are power transmission lines, TV towers, mountains, etc,” he said.
“We’ve also got to recall that aircraft are operating in fairly smoky and windy conditions, so it’s a fairly dangerous occupation. They do have to be aware of the risks.”
Mr McDonald says the RFS does not have a policy on fighting blazes near wind farms.
“Each fire is different, each fire is dynamic, and we determine the strategy based on the fire, which can be a difference in fuel or topography, terrain, etc,” he said.
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