The wind farm company which commissioned a recent groundbreaking study investigating links between health complaints and low-frequency noise generated by wind turbines has told a Senate committee it was “never meant to be a scientific study”.
Acoustics engineer Steven Cooper, who has advised on transport and industrial noise and vibrations in Australia, the US and Britain for more than 25 years, released his report on renewable energy company Pacific Hydro’s Cape Bridgewater wind farm, in Victoria’s southwest, in January.
The study linked sensations including sleep disturbance to wind conditions that produced acoustic results.
Despite never claiming to have medical expertise and admitting the study, which examined the experiences of six people living in three houses next to the wind farm, required replication, Mr Cooper was attacked by sections of the media including the ABC’s Media Watch.
Pacific Hydro executive manager Andrew Richards tried to downplay Mr Cooper’s findings by saying they couldn’t be considered as “scientifically rigorous’’.
“To be fair to Mr Cooper, it was never meant to be a scientific study,” Mr Richards said. “It was an attempt by Pacific Hydro to understand.
“Steven was the choice of the residents to complete the study. He set up the study program, acting on the brief we gave him.”
Yesterday’s select committee into wind turbines was attended by Queensland National senator Matthew Canavan, WA Liberal Chris Back, independents Nick Xenophon and John Madigan, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, Family First senator Bob Day and Tasmanian ALP senator Anne Urquhart.
Senator Xenophon told Mr Richards that Mr Cooper was an acoustics expert with an international reputation.
“He’s used by the Department of Defence. I think aircraft noise around the world, the way aircraft approach runways around the world, has been influenced significantly by Mr Cooper’s work so it’s not as though you chose a layperson who has no knowledge of acoustics,” Senator Xenophon said. “So if that doesn’t give us a scientific flavour or indications in respect of health matters, then what is it?”
Mr Richards said he recognised Mr Cooper was an “acoustician of some experience”. “But the fact is, it doesn’t matter how experienced an acoustician is or what their credentials are, if the testing program wasn’t set up in a rigorous scientific method, then it can’t really claim to be a rigorous scientific report. Again, it was never meant to be,” he said.
Mr Cooper described his acoustics work as “the tail that’s wagged the dog” on the effects of wind farms on health, saying much more work needed to be done with a larger sample size and from a medical perspective.
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