The Abbott government should draw up national rules restricting how wind farms are built and operated and punish states that do not accept them, a Senate committee has urged.
In its final report published on Monday evening, the committee puts forward a range a measures to curb wind farms, including recommendations to reduce support for projects under the national renewable energy target.
The inquiry’s recommendations were backed by government and crossbench senators on the committee. But Labor members wrote a dissenting report rejecting the proposals as expensive, duplicative and unworkable.
The report comes at a sensitive time for the Australian wind industry, which has seen investment dry up over the past 18 months on the back of uncertainty surrounding government support.
In particular the industry points to the protracted push by the Abbott government to reduce the national renewable energy target, a push which was ultimately successful. The government has also directed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation not to invest in wind farms.
The majority report said the committee believed the science on wind farms and human health problems was “evolving”. It is critical of past reviews by the National Health and Medical Research Council which found no reliable evidence connecting wind turbines with health problems.
Amid the recommendations it is proposed that an independent scientific panel be established, which would have the power to block new projects being registered by the government if it believed human health was at risk.
The panel would also help draw up “national wind farm guidelines”, which the federal government would introduce and ask state governments to adopt.
Those guidelines would include national standards on wind farms for infrasound, vibrations, aircraft safety, indigenous heritage, birds and bats, shadow flicker, fire risk, electromagnetic interference and blade glint, among other things.
If a state government did not accept a new national measure for infrasound and low-frequency noise, the committee recommends that wind projects built in those states should not get renewable energy certificates under the national target, which are used to help subsidise new wind farms.
The committee also wants changes made to the renewable energy target to cut back subsidies for projects. It recommends projects only be granted five years of renewable energy certificates, significantly less than an operator would currently get. But the committee also wants the government to draw up rules allowing renewable energy projects to qualify for carbon credits.
A spokesman for Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the government had no plans to make further changes to the renewable energy target, effectively ruling out the inquiry’s recommendations to reduce certificates and block them in states that don’t comply with new national rules.
But the government has previously agreed with crossbench senators to establish a wind farm commissioner and a scientific panel, and to promote national guidelines with states, echoing some of the report’s recommendations.
National wind farm guidelines were discussed at a meeting of national environment ministers last month, but the concept was rejected by a number of state governments at the meeting.
The committee also proposes an investigation of the power price impact of wind farms.
The inquiry was led by Senator David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrat Party and independent senator John Madigan.
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