Clean energy sources and possible global warming are two fundamental issues to be addressed by Australia over the next few decades and wind farms are regarded by some as part of the solution.
In Australia, wind farms are a relatively new energy source and raise a number of legal, social and environmental issues.
The State Government’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) issued updated guidelines last year to help wind farm developers, landowners and others to assess the impact of noise emissions from wind farms.
Development applications for wind farms are referred to the EPA by the relevant planning authority (usually the Council) to assess the environmental noise impact and the EPA also has enforcement powers if it considers there is a breach of Government legislation.
It is important that potential adverse public health effects from wind farms, such as inaudible noise and shadow flicker, are minimised or avoided. If not, communities will become resistant to new wind farms and land values will be affected.
Internet searches reveal concern in other countries. For example, the US State of Minnesota issued a detailed report in 2009 “Public Health Impacts of Wind Turbines”.
The Minnesota report said, “complaints appear to rise with increasing outside noise levels above 35dB(A)”. It was also noted that shadow flicker (which is a rhythmic light flicker from wind turbine blades) can affect individuals “outdoors as well as indoors”.
A Working Group that includes Commonwealth and State representatives of the Environment Protection Heritage Council (EPHC) and the Local Government and Planning Ministers’ Council has been established in Australia. It has issued draft National Wind Farm Development Guidelines, running to 218 pages, for public comment. These can be accessed through the internet. Submissions closed in December 2009 and the Working Group will consider them for the purpose of making amendments or modifications to the Guidelines.
The EPHC, in addition to introducing safeguards to minimise any public health impacts, should also consider the need for the open disclosure of contract terms between developers and landowners in the interests of transparency. At present, most contracts have confidentiality clauses which make it difficult for landowners to know what is a reasonable rental and what are reasonable terms and conditions.
Developers should also be obliged to pay all landowners’ reasonable costs of reviewing their offers. When Governments compulsorily acquire land they have to pay a landowner’s reasonable legal, valuation, and other experts’ costs. Wind farm developers are essentially seeking certain rights to land, albeit not compulsorily. Farmers should insist on similar commitments from the developers.
The introduction of a Code of Conduct covering these and other contractual issues might help to establish a smooth and consistent framework. This may result in greater community acceptance of wind farms, which is in the interests of the wind farm industry as well.
While completing this article I wondered whether “Nimbyism” was an issue with wind farms. I did a Google search to check if “Nimbyism” was an actual word. Wikipedia certainly recognises the word!
Nimby is an acronym for “not in my back yard” and Nimbyism is its derivative.
There was an example of Nimbyism cited relating to a proposed off-shore wind farm called “Cape Cod”, in Nantucket South, Massachusetts. (That’s where the Kennedys used to holiday).
Conversely, Nimbyism was rejected as being a significant factor in community objections to wind farms in an English report quoted on the Environmental Research Web website.
Interestingly, it was noted local opposition to wind farms was less in Denmark than the UK. One suggested reason was that in Denmark most wind farms are locally owned by farmers or wind co-ops.