Australia’s wind farm commissioner has insisted taxpayers are getting good value for money out of his $200,000 a year salary.
In an interview with Fairfax Media, Andrew Dyer, who was appointed to the wind energy watchdog post in October, said he believed there were genuine issues around wind farms to be solved and he was one of a handful of people with the skills to do it.
The national wind farm commissioner has been a highly contested position since it was first created by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year.
Critics say the position – established via a deal with anti-wind crossbench Senators – was another attempt to stymie the roll-out of clean energy. There has also been a heavy focus from critics on Mr Dyer’s $205,000 a year remuneration and the job’s classification as part-time.
Mr Dyer said he could not claim to be full-time while holding other positions, including volunteer board spots, chairing a private company and involvement with Monash University’s sustainability unit, but added: “I can assure you it is a very big load.”
“It’s seven days a week, a lot of travel,” Mr Dyer said.
“And you are by yourself. You’re driving your car. You’re are looking at maps. You’re with wind farms and residents all day. You’re getting back to your motel, and they’re not salubrious out in the bush, doing emails to 10-11 o’clock at night.”
The most controversial element of the wind farm debate is claims infrasound (inaudible noise) from wind farms can make people sick. A long list of symptoms have been ascribed to so called “wind turbine syndrome”, including sleeplessness, headaches, nausea, memory loss and tinnitus.
But numerous health and government assessments – including by the National Health and Medical Research Council – have repeatedly found no link between wind farm infrasound and health problems.
Mr Dyer said this had also been his advice, though no health complaint, whatever the reason, should be ignored. More research into the issue should be done, he added.
And there were numerous other concerns about wind farms to contend with, Mr Dyer said, including construction, amenity, transparency, vibration, economic loss and distances between homes and turbines.
Since November the commissioner has launched a website and established a complaints policy. Fifty complaints have been received, half about wind farms yet to be built, and many of them about noise.
He added there was a case for a national review of wind farm noise standards to assure these are applied consistently.
But is this noise any worse that what millions of people who live in cities deal with in traffic noise and other urban sounds?
“You could perhaps put yourself in the shoes of a rural resident who is used to very low background noise,” Dr Dyer said, “particularly at night, who would see this as a major change.”
Mr Dyer has been appointed for a three-year term. Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler said if the ALP won this year’s federal election it would axe the position.
“A Labor government will not continue with a position that is little more than a sop to reactionary views about renewable energy,” Mr Butler said.
But a previous critic, the Australian Wind Alliance, has warmed somewhat. The group’s national coordinator, Andrew Bray, said: “On what we’ve seen so far, the commissioner’s ‘independent broker’ role seems to be taking some of the heat out of local disputes, especially for projects that are not yet operating.”
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