Abbott government vows to appoint a wind farm commissioner in crossbench talks over renewable energy target
A national wind farm commissioner to investigate complaints about wind turbines will be appointed by the Abbott government as anti-wind energy senators move to curb the industry’s growth.
The senator driving the push, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, said the crossbench sought Tony Abbott’s backing after the Prime Minister told broadcaster Alan Jones he wanted fewer turbines in Australia.
“Once you have the Prime Minister’s general agreement on what you’re trying to achieve, you don’t get as much pushback from elsewhere,” Senator Leyonhjelm told Fairfax Media.
“We were encouraged by the Prime Minister’s interview last week and that’s what prompted us to seek a meeting with him.”
A draft letter, leaked to The Guardian on Thursday, from Environment Minister Greg Hunt outlines several measures the government could pursue to clamp down on wind energy, which Mr Abbott has described as “visually awful” and noisy.
The proposal has delayed a vote in the Senate on legislation to reduce Australia’s renewable energy target to 33,000 gigawatt hours of annual renewable energy production by 2020, which is now not expected to take place until Monday.
The proposed agreement is part of a deal with the crossbench as the government looks for support to include the burning of native timber in legislation for a reduced renewable energy target. It comes after last-minute talks between the crossbench, Mr Abbott and Mr Hunt on Wednesday and Thursday.
It includes a plan for a national wind farm commissioner who would “handle complaints from concerned residents about the operations of wind turbine facilities”.
The letter also agrees to establish a new scientific committee to again investigate the health impacts of wind turbines after multiple inquiries into the subject.
Numerous reviews by leading medical bodies, including the government’s own National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), have found no reliable or consistent evidence to support the claim that low frequency sound from wind farms causes health problems.
A spokesman for Mr Hunt said the government wanted to work with the crossbench to ensure the RET is passed, “but to also ensure that local community groups who have raised concerns about renewable energy projects can have these concerns heard and considered.”
“We note that in the NHMRC report released in February, the Council “considers that further high quality research on the possible health effects of wind farms is required,” the spokesman said.
An interim report from a Senate inquiry led by anti-wind senators Leyonhjelm, John Madigan and Bob Day made recommendations on Thursday afternoon.
Among its seven recommendations are calls for a national wind farm ombudsman, a scientific committee to investigate the impact on human health of “audible noise and infrasound” and the creation of national wind farm guidelines that state and territory governments would have to reflect in their planning.
Senator Leyonhjelm said components of the leaked draft letter from the government had since changed and talks would continue through the weekend.
A key sticking point is that some crossbenchers want tougher measures to direct more renewable energy investment toward solar and other forms of renewable energy and away from wind.
In the draft, the government agrees to consider proposals such as promote start up grants for solar and encouraging the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) – which it intends to abolish – to invest heavily in solar instead of wind energy.
But Senator Leyonhjelm and some other anti-wind senators are not convinced this goes far enough.
The Greens reacted angrily on Thursday, accusing the government of “hypocrisy” and of pandering to “extreme views” in both the Coalition and crossbench.
“Isn’t it remarkable that a government that has hung its first term on this reduction of red tape agenda would now impose this huge additional layer of red tape on an industry that is jobs rich, that is good for the climate, that’s good for investment, good for people,” Greens leader Richard Di Natale said.
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