Australia’s first wind farm commissioner has been appointed by the Turnbull government, with the former chairman of the telecommunications watchdog, Andrew Dyer, to take the role for three years.
Mr Dyer’s appointment comes as the government also established a scientific panel to “provide advice on the science and monitoring of potential impacts of wind turbine sound on health and the environment”.
The government agreed to put in place a commissioner and panel as part of a deal with anti-wind farm crossbench senators to get the burning of native forest timber for power included under the national renewable energy target.
There is heated community debate in some parts of rural Australia about wind farms and whether they can cause health issues for nearby residents.
But reviews by a number of state and federal government health bodies, including the National Health and Medical Research Council, have so far found no clear evidence of a link between wind farms and medical conditions. The Australian Medical Association last year also released a statement saying the available evidence did not support the concept that wind farm noise harmed humans.
As wind farm commissioner Mr Dyer has been tasked with referring complaints about wind farms to state authorities and to ensure that they are addressed. He will also identify priorities for monitoring wind farms and report to Parliament once a year.
But he carries no power to alter the construction or operation of any wind farm. The terms of reference for the role states it “would not seek to duplicate or override the important statutory responsibility of other jurisdictions”.
As well as being a former chairman of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, Mr Dyer has also previously been a director of US-based BrightSource Energy, which develops solar thermal technology. He currently sits on a number of boards and is a Vice Chancellor’s Professorial Fellow at Monash University.
Mr Dyer has written several times on renewable energy in the past. In 2011 he suggested the equivalent of the National Broadband Corporation for clean energy, and also wrote favourably of the idea of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and other government loan and incentive schemes for renewables.
Mr Dyer told Fairfax Media he saw the role as marrying his experience working in the energy industry, including in fossil fuel, renewable and nuclear technology, and at the telecommunications ombudsman.
“I look forward to bring that experience and skills to what is a very interesting space,” Mr Dyer said.
He expected to come across his desk issues surrounding the impact of wind farms on amenity and “real or perceived” issues about the sound output of wind farms.
In a statement Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the scientific committee on wind farms that has also been established would build on the work of the National Health and Medical Research Council, along with advising on the monitoring of wind farms and potential impacts on health and the environment.
The committee will be chaired by acoustic researcher and RMIT University Adjunct Professor John Davy. The other members are: Dr Kym Burgemeister, an acoustic engineer from engineering firm Arup; Associate Professor Simon Carlile, head of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Sydney; Professor David Hillman, a sleep physician at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
The committee’s terms of reference say the body would advise on sound measurement and standards for wind farms. It will also periodically review science on potential health impacts of wind farms.
The position of commissioner and the committee will be reviewed in three years.
In response the head of the Clean Energy Council, Kane Thornton, welcomed Mr Dyer’s appointment and said the industry expected the appointments “will help to blow away some of the conspiracy theories about wind farms that have been championed by a small number of federal senators over the last few years”.
“They will also play an important role in better informing local communities about the reality of this safe and clean technology, which is essential to ensure the continued strong public support for wind energy,” he said.
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