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Wind farm complaints continue to dwindle, latest annual report shows

Community concerns about the impacts of wind farms continue to dwindle, with just five complaints about operational turbines registered by the Office of the Wind Farm Commissioner in 2019.

According to the latest annual report by Commissioner Andrew Dyer, obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, his office received 75 complaints overall last year even as the industry continued to expand.

Of those, 44 related to 23 proposed wind farms and five for operating plants, with the latter down from eight complaints in 2018.

“While the number of complaints, from 2017 onwards, about proposed wind farms remain relatively high compared to operating wind farms, the data indicates an ongoing trend in reduction of complaints about operating wind farms each year,” the report found.

“Given the large number of wind farms that have commenced operating in the last few years, this data could suggest that community concerns are significantly diminished once a project commences operation,” it said.

Some 23 other matters did not specify any project or development, while three related to three proposed solar farms. The office did not receive any complaints related to energy storage, a new part of its remit.

Mr Dyer declined to comment on the report, which was submitted at the end of March but has not yet been released by Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor.

A spokesman for Mr Taylor said the government “considers community concerns about wind farms to be an important issue”.

“While views differ throughout communities, some continue to express a deep sense of anxiety and they have a right to be taken seriously,” he said.

Mr Dyer’s appointment in 2015 initially stirred fears in the renewable energy industry because it was seen as likely to encourage concern about so-called wind-farm syndrome related to the health-effects from the spinning turbines.

The following year, the National Health and Medical Research Council – Australia’s top medical research body –gave two researchers $3.3 million to study the effects of wind farms on human health despite its own year-long study finding no “consistent evidence” that a problem exists.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said the Wind Farm Commissioner “was set up to try to discredit the wind farm industry but it’s doing the opposite”.

“The usual campaign against wind farms is running out of steam,” he said, adding that “the government’s only response has been to bury” the commissioner’s findings.

Over time, Mr Dyer’s reviews have expanded to solar farms and large-scale batteries, and it may eventually extend further to examine ways to address the web of new transmission lines needed to link the rapidly expanding solar and wind projects.

Since his office’s inception in November 2015 to the end of last year, it had received a total of 361 complaints, 70 of them related to 14 operating wind farms.

Some 58 proposed wind farms had drawn 234 complaints over those years, while five solar farms had drawn six complaints.

Mr Taylor’s office did not say when the report will be formally tabled in parliament, nor whether the commissioner’s role will be extended once the current term ends in October next year.

An earlier version of this article contained a typo. ‘Since his office’s inception in November 2019′ should have read, “Since his office’s inception in November 2015’.