MOTION: SA-Best wind farm moratorium defeated

Today Mark spoke in strong opposition to the ill-conceived call by SA-Best for a moratorium on new wind farms in SA.  Without support from any other party in the Upper House, the motion was defeated.

MOTION moved by SA-Best (Connie Bonaros)

That this council—

1. Notes that a decision on Neoen’s development application for a significant wind farm of 26 turbines standing 240 metres high at the proposed Crystal Brook Energy Park will soon be made by the state government;

2. Acknowledges that, according to new guidelines for Europe published by the World Health Organization, wind turbines can cause health problems if they result in people being exposed to excessive noise levels;

3. Further acknowledges that a Supreme Court-ordered report on the Bald Hills wind farm in Gippsland, Victoria, found there was a nuisance under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act despite the wind farm being compliant with state planning laws;

4. Further notes that a class action lawsuit is now being prepared by local residents against the South Gippsland council, the Victorian government and the wind farm operator following the independent report;

5. Recognises that the core objective of the Environmental Protection Authority’s ‘Wind farms environmental noise guidelines’ is 'to balance the advantage of developing wind energy projects in South Australia with protecting the amenity of the surrounding community from adverse noise impact';

6. Further recognises that the most recent State of the Environment Report (2013) by the South Australian EPA reported on the increase in noise complaints from existing wind farms, yet there has been no change to monitoring and compliance requirements; and

7. Calls on the government to place an urgent moratorium on approval or construction of any new wind farms until an independent full and thorough review is undertaken and an updated planning and compliance regime is implemented.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I am yet to meet a single person who does not profess to agree that we need a cleaner, greener, more sustainable and a fairer world. If there is such a person who is genuinely happy to hand over a trashed planet to their children and grandchildren then I have not met them. Protecting the environment, living more in harmony with nature, caring about social justice and future generations are all universal values, and everyone says that they want them. So what do we do?

This motion asks us to stop or slow down one of the most effective and efficient forms of renewable energy available. It asks us to put the brakes on one of this state's most important and growing industries that is part of the solution to climate change rather than part of the problem. The Greens are absolutely opposed to this ill-conceived call for a moratorium on new wind farms, and here is why.

The world is facing a climate emergency. It is now beyond all doubt that human-induced climate change is having a profound effect on our planet. It is changing the environment irretrievably and it is sending species extinct. Climate change risks the world's food production capacity and it impacts hardest on the poorest communities with the lowest resilience. Climate change is also increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, which affect us all.

This climate emergency is an existential threat. It is indeed, as others have said, the greatest moral challenge of our time, but thankfully there are things that we can do. We have the knowledge, we have the technology and we have the overwhelming bulk of the community on side. If we have political will, we can take real and effective action to address climate change and to minimise the harm that it will cause to people and the environment on which we all depend.

One of the most important areas identified for action is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The lowest hanging fruit is to change the way that we generate electricity. That is exactly what South Australia has been doing, and we need to do more of it. Putting the brakes on the development of renewable energy in this state is absolutely the wrong way to go, and the Greens reject it. In rejecting this motion, I want to delve a little deeper into the rationale for the motion and the evidence that has been relied on.

I have received a number of submissions from stakeholders, and I want to put those on the record. The most important stakeholder is the Clean Energy Council, which represents the entirety of the renewable energy industry, including wind, solar, batteries, pumped hydro and all of the other forms of electricity generation that are helping to reduce climate change. I received a submission from Kane Thornton, the CEO of the Clean Energy Council, which states:

Dear Mr Parnell,

I am writing with regards to a motion that was tabled in the Legislative Council on 24 October by SA-Best member, Connie Bonaros MLC, advocating for a moratorium on wind farm developments in South Australia.

This motion is based on a poor interpretation of the relevant information and it seeks to undermine public confidence in the robust planning and environmental controls already in place for wind farm developments.

Ms Bonaros' statement to the Legislative Council cites a number of concerns regarding the size of turbines proposed for the Crystal Brook project, a recent World Health Organisation…report, a class action at Bald Hills wind farm in Victoria, and the EPA's 2013 State of the Environment Report. The Clean Energy Council does not consider that these matters provide evidence as to why a moratorium or a review of the state's wind farm planning and compliance regime should be necessary.

There are stringent planning and environmental policies and regulations in place in South Australia, developed over many years, which govern the way that the wind industry develops its projects. South Australia's noise standards for wind farms are already amongst the strongest in the world and are in line with the noise limits conditionally recommended by the WHO's Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region (2018). These standards apply to every wind farm, regardless of the number of wind turbines or their megawatt capacity.

Further, the WHO's Guideline Development Group found no studies available with respect to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, hearing impairment or tinnitus. The only available evidence for the health impacts of wind farms related to 'annoyance', but here it determined that the evidence was 'low quality'. The WHO also examined six cross-sectional studies on wind turbine noise and self-reported sleep disturbance, and here too deemed the evidence to be of 'low quality'…

A primary function of the National Wind Farm Commissioner's office, which was established in 2015, is to receive and refer complaints to the relevant respondent. In 2017, the office received a total of 73 complaints across Australia and just one of these was in South Australia. While the industry strives for zero complaints, we note that these numbers are nevertheless comparatively low when compared to the 80-plus wind farms currently under operation and the further 65 wind farms currently in some form of development.

Furthermore, according to the Commissioner's 2017 Annual Report (31 March 2018), noise complaints fell by 27 per cent and health complaints fell by 58 per cent year-on-year. Were it the case that wind turbines adversely affected human health, one would expect to observe growth in the number of these complaints as the number of wind farm developments across Australia increased.

The Hon. Ian Hunter has already alluded to the Wind Farm Commissioner. Members will recall this was created largely at the behest of the climate denialists and anti wind farm members of the federal parliament, the Hon. Nick Xenophon and the DLP Senator Madigan in particular. It has a budget of $2 million over three years, and just a few weeks ago the office was continued for another three years. So the amount of work that they have to do for the money that they have is remarkable.

I want to take members to the annual report of the office of the Wind Farm Commissioner to offer a few statistics. The first thing is the number of open files they have—across Australia, 18. That is not bad for a $205,000 per year part-time job with three staff, to have 18 open files. As a junior solicitor earning about $20,000 a year I had about 150 open files. It is a remarkably low number.

Let us have a look under the heading of Complaint Activity. In terms of operating wind farms, for the year 2017 there were 11 complaints Australia wide. In terms of all complaints since the office has been going, there have been 57 in total, over 26 months of operation. Another statistic that the Wind Farm Commissioner offers is complaints over the entire existence of the office that relate to South Australia—17. The number of wind farms those complaints relate to—two. Two wind farms. I know one of them the Hon. David Ridgway and I spent some time at, at Waterloo. We slept in the haunted house and hardly heard a thing. We had a good night's sleep.

Another submission I received was from the Australian Wind Alliance. This is a group that specifically represents the wind industry. [Apology: The Australian Wind Alliance do not represent the wind industry but bring together communities, businesses and individuals who support more wind energy for Australia] They were alarmed at this motion before the house, and they asked me if I could consider the following material. Andrew Bray, from the Australian Wind Alliance, says:

In the breathless rush to portray the WHO report as some kind of fundamental shift in our understanding of wind turbine noise, Ms Bonaros has overlooked a key detail in the WHO's determination. The WHO's recommendation around wind turbine noise is only conditional—this is, it is only tentatively made, and the WHO acknowledges there is little evidence to support it.

The WHO report updates WHO guidelines on a range of different noise sources. These updated guidelines are graded into strong and conditional categories, based on the WHO's confidence in the research regarding the noise source and the efficacy of proposed noise limits.

There is then the technical analysis, and the Hon. Ian Hunter referred to that. As has been said, their recommendations in relation to wind turbines was that they had very little confidence. The communication goes on:

The primary reason the report states for the low rating of their recommendations around wind turbine noise is either the lack of evidence to support claims of ill health, or, where such evidence exists, the research is of such poor quality that it cannot be relied upon.

The fact is, there simply isn't reliable evidence to support or back up the kind of claims of ill health Ms Bonaros makes. Indeed, respected Australian medical bodies such as the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Medical Association have both put out statements to this effect.

This lack of evidence is not for want of trying.

Wind turbines have been operating continuously in Europe for over 40 years. In Australia the first large scale wind turbines were installed 30 years ago, with many thousands of people living in close proximity to wind farms in South Australia for the last ten years. As turbine numbers have increased across the country in the last five to ten years, these numbers run into the tens of thousands.

All wind farms have been assessed to operate within approved noise limits and the number of complaints is extremely low. It is worth noting that many host landholders agree to allow exposure to higher levels of noise than is stipulated under the EPA guidelines, as part of their commercial agreements with wind farm operators. Complaints, or evidence of ill health, from this cohort is almost non-existent.

…In short, the conditional recommendation of the WHO to a particular level of wind turbine noise, may be a signal that we should keep an eye on this issue. But it falls a long way short of a justification of the extreme measures Ms Bonaros calls for, such as moratoriums on approvals or constructions for new wind farm projects.

Another submission that I know the Hon. Connie Bonaros has received herself, because it is a submission that has been posted on the web by David Clarke, who is a long-term campaigner in relation to renewable energy—he was the person who camped under the wind turbines at Waterloo all those years ago when we were last debating this issue. David Clarke has written an open letter to Ms Bonaros and put it on his web page where anyone can see it. He states:

G'day, Connie:

You probably haven't come across my response to your complete misinterpretation of the WHO report yet so I will point it out to you.

He then signifies a web page. He goes on:

I wonder, does climate change, ocean acidification, sea level rise, the millions of deaths world wide each year from air pollution, damage to the Great Barrier Reef, increased frequency and seriousness of fires, floods and storms, thousands or millions of species going extinct, etcetera, all resulting from the burning of fossil fuels bother you at all? Or do you somehow see renewable energy to be a greater threat to the future of the planet?

I will not go through all of the detail but most of it the Hon. Ian Hunter has put on the record. He goes through in forensic detail, page by page, the World Health Organization report and shows that the motion before us is not a natural consequence of that report.

I want to refer quickly to some of the media commentary around the issue of wind farms generally and then around this motion. I refer members to an article that appeared in The Conversation last year on 7 April 2017. The author was Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney. He again refers to the tiny number of complaints that have been received over the last few years. It is a year old so his figures do not reflect the report that has just been released. Basically, he points out that, as of when he wrote last year, there were 46 complaints relating to nine operating wind farms—and that is Australia-wide. He points out that there were 76 operational wind farms in Australia in 2015. He says:

These figures are frankly astonishing.

The complaint investigating mechanism was set up after a Senate enquiry report that cost undisclosed millions to deal with a 'massive' problem with wind turbines.

But the hordes of people who apparently needed a way to help them resolve matters have now gone shy.

He does, though, as a professor of public health, specifically address the issue of wind turbines and sickness. Professor Chapman, after referring to the lack of complaint, then goes on:

This is all very awkward for those who argue wind turbines cause illness. How is it that if wind farms are a direct cause of illness, that 67 wind farms around the country (88%) [of the total] saw not one complaint, about health or anything else across a whole year?

The stock answer given here by wind farm opponents is that wind farm illness is like sea sickness: only a few get it. So in the whole of two states,—

and he points out there were two states where there was not single complaint about any wind farm—

and across 88% of wind farms, there's apparently no-one with susceptibility to wind farm illness.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who described wind farms as 'ugly', 'noisy' and 'visually awful', threw the senate committee a giant political bone.

The committee, and the Office of the Wind Farm Commissioner, put up their 'we're open' shingle and invited the alleged throngs of suffering rural residents to air their problems.

This annual report shows very few did, and the great majority of 'complaints' dissolved by being sent information.

This sorry episode in appeasing the wind farm obsessions of a tiny number of cross-bench senators needs to have its time called, fast.

The final commentary I will refer to was published back on 25 October in the RenewEconomy online journal by Sophie Vorrath, and under the heading, 'SA-Best calls for wind farm ban as it seeks to rekindle health concerns', the first paragraph of the article says:

Nick Xenophon may be gone, but his anti-wind legacy remains. What is now known as the SA-Best Party has—again—called for an inquiry into the human health impacts of wind farms, and demanded an 'urgent' ban on all new wind energy developments in South Australia until that review is carried out.

I will not go through the whole article, but it includes:

…the new call for yet another 'independent' parliamentary review of wind health impacts is disheartening—particularly in light of the numerous parliamentary inquiries, reviews and medical reports that have already been produced on the subject, and returned little tangible evidence that it is any sort of a thing.

Further on:

Even the very WHO report Bonaros says should be terrifying us all—a broad report on the health impacts of noise pollution—found little to support the claim that wind farm noise, audible or otherwise, had direct long-term health impacts.

Having put all that on the record, we need to point out, as I think the Hon. Ian Hunter did, that that is not to say that every location is appropriate for every wind farm. Obviously, we have to have a rigorous planning process, which we have. We need a rigorous environment protection process, particularly in relation to noise, which we have, and there are certainly locations where wind farms are inappropriate, but to call for a moratorium to basically pull the plug on one of South Australia's most important and growing industries that is part of the solution to climate change is ill-conceived.

I will conclude with the following remarks. Again, this is just to conclude the submission from Kane Thornton, the CEO of the Clean Energy Council. He says:

The motion's reference to the noise nuisance case regarding Bald Hills Wind Farm in Victoria is premature as the Council's investigation is ongoing.

Australia is currently witnessing an unprecedented wave of investment in clean and lower-cost new energy generation capacity, which is stimulating regional economic activity, creating new employment opportunities, putting downward pressure on electricity prices for consumers and businesses, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In South Australia, the wind energy sector currently employs hundreds of people, provides steady income for landholders and local governments, and benefits broader communities through the numerous community enhancement funds in operation.

It is important that the design, planning and delivery of these new projects is managed responsibly, and over the past few years, the wind industry and the CEC have taken many positive steps to improve community engagement approaches. These have included a range of best practice guidelines and a new Best Practice Charter for Renewable Energy Development. These enjoy strong support from our members and we are committed to working together to continue to raise the bar further.

In summary, wind energy generation investment in South Australia is proceeding within the context of a mature planning regime that aligns with international standards, and an industry that observes responsible community engagement practices. We therefore encourage members of Parliament to reject the SA-Best motion for a wind farm moratorium.