Despite describing himself as an “active and outspoken critic of wind farms”, Independent Victorian Senator John Madigan says the select senate committee on wind turbines he chairs has no preconceived outcomes and is giving all Australians a “fair crack” to put their opinions forward.
The committee, which was formed late last year to inquire into the application of regulatory governance and economic impact of wind turbines, held its first public hearing in Portland last week.
About 70 people attended and they heard from staunch opponents and supporters of wind farmer. The latter included representatives from Glenelg Shire, Ararat Rural City and Pyrenees Shire councils that have benefited economically from wind farms in their regions.
Mr Madigan said residents who lived near wind turbines also expressed their concerns impacts on healthy business and property values.
Glenthompson residents Bill and Sandy Rogerson told the committee their farming operation had been hit hard by AGL’s 32-turbine Oaklands Hill Wind Farm, which was next to their property.
“The number of deformed lambs increased during the period of the wind farm operating near our property. The lambing rate in our merino stock decreased to a rate of 37 per cent from 85 per cent prior to the wind farms being established,” Mr Rogerson said.
Farmers in favour of wind farms have also made submissions, including Hamish Officer who, with his family, lives among AGL’s Macarthur Wind Farm in the state’s south-west.
His submission reads that they live within 800 meters of five turbines and the wind farm has provided financial security to the family which previously relied almost entirely on agricultural production, which he described as a “… a notoriously high risk, low return environment constantly under threat from unfavourable seasonal conditions and volatile global commodity markets”.
He said other farmers deserved the opportunity to have wind farms on their land and diversify their businesses in a way that also supported local investment and jobs.
His submission also called into question the value of another public inquiry or review of wind farms, a sentiment shared by The Wind Alliance national co-ordinator Andrew Bray who calculated this was the 14th in six years.
Mr Madigan conceded that there had been other committees with overlapping terms of reference, but to advocate shutting down public debate on wind farms would set a “very dangerous precedence”.
“Who would be the judge of who can express their opinions?” he said.
He said such high level and widespread discussion on wind farms was necessary because, in his home state of Victoria for instance there were “huge amounts of planning permits” being processed to expand or build new wind farms.
According to the latest Victorian Government figures, existing major operating wind farms had combined wind energy capacity of 1080 megawatts and a further 2345MW-worth of capacity had been approved but was not operation as at October last year.
The Municipal Association of Victoria president Bill McArthur said the proposed $4.8 billion in wind farms would constitute the single biggest investment in rural Victoria.
Mr Madigan said as elected representatives, he and his fellow committee members had a duty of care to protect people.
“Without robust discussions we can’t formulate the needed proper guidelines about wind farms, because people don’t leave their homes and farms for no reason,” he said.
He called for more research by multi-disciplinary, high-level scientists into the impact of wind farms.
“This is a huge issue and research and consultation needs to be done thoughtfully.
“I’m up front about my concern for people affected by wind farms.”
He said the six-member senate committee would meet soon to discuss what he hopes will be a series of public meetings.
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