Senate’s Wind Farm Inquiry: Steven Cooper’s Evidence on his Groundbreaking Study
The Australian Senate Inquiry into the great wind power fraud kicked off on 30 March.
And, fitting it was, that this band of merry men – Queensland National Senator, Matthew Canavan, WA Liberal, Chris Back, independents Nick Xenophon and John Madigan, Liberal Democrat, David Leyonhjelm, Family First Senator, Bob Day (and one, not-so-happy, Labor women, and wind power fraud apologist), Tasmanian ALP Senator, Anne Urquhart – set to work taking the lid off the wind industry’s “stinky pot”, at Portland, Victoria: the town next door to Pacific Hydro’s Cape Bridgewater disaster.
The hall was packed with people from threatened communities from all over Victoria and South Australia; and long-suffering wind farm neighbours from there – and from elsewhere – keen to hear Steven Cooper’s exposition on the findings of his groundbreaking study (see our posts here and here and here).
Set out below is the Hansard (transcript) of the evidence given by Steven Cooper. What he has to say is a study in how careful, skilled and methodical people, like Cooper, and all bar one of the Senators on the Inquiry, are out to help the wind industry’s countless and unnecessary victims; and how, on the other hand, the wind industry and its apologists, like Anne Urquhaut, are hell-bent on preventing that from ever happening.
Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines:
Application of regulatory governance and economic impact of wind turbines COOPER, Mr Steven, Principal Engineer, The Acoustic Group Pty Ltd
30 March 2015
CHAIR (Senator Madigan): Good morning. I declare open this first public hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines. Firstly I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay respect to their elders past and present.
There are various matters I want to raise before we proceed with our first witness. I remind all present here today that in giving evidence to a parliamentary committee witnesses are protected by parliamentary privilege. Firstly, it is a contempt of the Senate for a witness to be threatened or disadvantaged on the basis of their evidence to a parliamentary committee. Privilege resolutions 611 and 612 clearly state that interference with or molestation of witnesses may constitute a criminal offence under section 12 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act.
Secondly, I want to repeat the following advice from the Clerk of the Senate that was provided to the Senate Committee Affairs References Committee inquiry into wind farms in 2011. If a person who is covered by a confidentiality provision in an agreement gives evidence to a parliamentary committee about the contents of that agreement, they cannot be sued for breaching that confidentiality agreement.
Thirdly, I remind everyone here today that a person who is adversely named in evidence to a parliamentary committee has a right of reply. A right of reply has been afforded to those people who have been adversely named in written submissions to this inquiry. For purposes of the public hearings where a witness adversely reflects on another person, I will interrupt the witness and may suspend proceedings. There will of course be a right of reply for individuals who have been adversely reflected upon in the Hansard transcript. It is the committee’s intention to gather evidence that is directly relevant to the terms of reference for this inquiry. While adverse reflections on third parties may be a matter of related interest, it does not assist the committee in responding directly and objectively to the terms of reference.
Fourthly, this is a sitting of the federal parliament, and it is my responsibility as chair of this committee to ensure that witnesses have the opportunity to speak without interjections. If members of the public here today do disrupt the committee’s proceedings, I will suspend the committee and ask the interjector to leave the room.
Fifthly, the following comments are directed to members of the media who are present here today. There are rules that govern the attendance of the meeting of federal parliamentary committee hearings. A copy of these rules is available from the secretariat. I ask that members of the media present here today do not film or photograph from behind the committee and do not get in between the committee and the witnesses. If you are unsure where you can film or photograph, please ask the committee secretariat for instructions.
There is an opportunity at 3:55 pm today for people who are not appearing as witnesses on the program to give a short statement to the committee. This session will run for 30 minutes. There will be a strict three-minute time limit on these statements. When three minutes are up, I will ask the next speaker to take the microphone. To participate in this session I ask that you register with the secretariat. The order for speaking will be on a first-come, first-served basis. The secretariat will write your name down and advise you of the time that you will be speaking.
Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you, and copies are available from the secretariat. I now invite you to make a short opening presentation and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.
Mr Cooper: I am an acoustical consulting and vibration engineer based in Lilyfield, a suburb in Sydney. I am here in the capacity of myself and my company, although I am the author of the Cape Bridgewater wind farm noise study, which was funded by Pacific Hydro. The study is a small telephone book, and I do not intend in terms of my submission to go through that study. It identifies problems, issues, measurements and results that occurred from the wind farm study. For simplicity one can go to the executive summary in the conclusion. The importance is that study has been hailed around the world as finding new information and material previously not put together or understood with regard to wind farms. It is such a point that I have been invited to a number of conferences in America to talk about this very study.
I have provided a submission to the committee, but it only went to the committee late on Friday, so it was not up on the website. It covers a brief outline of the study itself and then two specific parts of the terms of reference, of which there are some issues that I have raised of a technical nature. To go through the study itself will take some time, so I am basically here to answer any questions that the committee may wish to put to me in relation to the study.
CHAIR: Senator Leyonhjelm.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Good morning and thank you for coming along. I would like to know a little bit about you to begin with. How long have you been an acoustics engineer?
Mr Cooper: Thirty-seven years.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Have you been involved in standards committees?
Mr Cooper: Yes, I have been on a number of standards committees here in Australia in terms of noise and vibration. I was on the aircraft noise standards committee for 26 years, the railway noise subcommittee for about 10 years, the architectural acoustics standards in relation to laboratory testing for about 12 years, the whole-body vibration standards committee for 25 years and committees overseas in relation to helicopter and aircraft noise. I have been with the Helicopter Association International for acoustics fly neighbourly committee for about 23 years. I have been an observer to the American standards aircraft noise committee and I have advised the International Civil Aviation Organisation by way of the UK Department of Transport.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Have you been an expert witness based on your expertise as an acoustician?
Mr Cooper: Yes, I must do about 50 cases a year.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Fifty cases a year?
Mr Cooper: Yes. I appear regularly in the Land Environment Court of New South Wales and sometimes, in terms of licensing matters, local courts or what used to be a licensing court and occasionally district court, Supreme Court matters and two matters in the Federal Court.
Senator LEYONHJELM: All right. Let’s get on to some broad detail. Is it an established fact—is it scientifically proven—that wind turbines emit infrasound?
Mr Cooper: Yes it is.
Senator LEYONHJELM: What can you tell us about infrasound? I am only a senator, so I do not know anything much. Give me a run-through on what it means.
Mr Cooper: If we imagine in many cases considering noise as the same as light, if you pass light through a prism, it will break up into different colours of the rainbow. We go from the reds, which is a low frequency, up to the yellows and ultraviolet as a high frequency. So that covers the broad spectrum of noise that we can hear, from bass in music up to cymbals, but there is also energy, just as in light that is generated outside what you can see. People understand infrared exists and can be used for therapy, and there is ultraviolet, which contributes to sunburn. In terms of acoustics we have the same terminology. Infrasound are the low frequencies below the normal level of hearing, so they are normally considered as being below 20 hertz. Ultrasonics are the frequencies above what we can hear and are normally taken as above 24,000 hertz or thereabout. As we age we lose our level of hearing in terms of its dynamics of frequency range, so some people have trouble hearing high frequencies. Musicians who train themselves to listen to music can pick a lot of these frequencies. Bats are very good at picking the high frequencies they use as sonar. So infrasound covers the area below normal hearing. Infrasound therefore is normally confined to the region between zero hertz or DC and 20 hertz. Low frequency in terms of discussion of turbines and general industry is considered between 20 hertz and 200 hertz.
The ear responds in a non-linear manner to noise. What happens is that we do no respond or detect the noise in the same way as a sound level meter. Sound level meters simply measure pressure. As we get different levels of sound, so the hearing changes in its sensitivity. You can generate high levels of infrasound where people can hear it, so studies have been done to determine what is called the threshold of hearing just as you can do the threshold of hearing for sound. When we get down to a level that it is no longer heard, that becomes inaudibility. The thresholds of hearing are done with various subjects, and you get a mean level. What is typically taken is the threshold of inaudibility is one standard deviation or about 10 decibels below the levels. When we measure noise, the common concept is to use decibels—after Alexander Bell, the originator of Bell—and it is a logarithmic scale. So one talks about different levels by reference to decibels.
Below what you can hear for infrasound are levels much lower at which people can perceive the level, so we actually have a threshold of perception where people can be subject to infrasound and they can feel it. Then at a much higher level we get the level of infrasound where people can hear it. Then when it goes above certain levels it can be a level of pain. You can do the same thing with the audible noise. We can have satisfactory levels, we can have painful levels, we can have inaudible levels. We can still have levels lower than inaudibility. It is just that we cannot hear it.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Does infrasound travel further? Is it transmitted any differently from audible sound?
Mr Cooper: Yes. What happens is that one normally expresses the attenuation or loss of energy on a basis of distance. Typically, for normal noises—the noises that you are hearing at the moment, traffic noise or industry noise when you are outside—it is normally considered to fall off at six decibels per doubling of distance. If you have a noise of, say, 50 decibels and you are 20 metres from a noise source—imagine a pump or an air conditioner—when you then go to double the distance, it will go down six decibels. Double the entire distance again and it will go down another six. That is normal noise and a normal propagation.
When you are dealing with the low frequency down to infrasound, the wavelength—that is, the dimension from a positive to negative and back to a positive of a wavelength—is much longer. Infrasound propagates at a lower rate. For many people who have carried out the work, it is between three and four decibels per doubling of distance. On low frequency energy, if you are subject to monitoring a rock concert, what people hear is the boom, boom, boom and they can hear the noise; but as you go further away, the general noise disappears and they are left with the base. The base frequency travels longer distances and particularly with infrasound.
Senator CANAVAN: How long is the distance?
Mr Cooper: I have measured infrasound from the Waterloo wind farm at eight kilometres. The University of Adelaide, during a shutdown of Waterloo, measured the Hallett wind farm, which was something in the order of 30 kilometres away. They are not hearing it, but they can see the data by the specific frequencies that are associated with the operation of turbines.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Does the ability to hear it or feel sensations from infrasound vary by individual?
Mr Cooper: Yes, different people will be subject differently. For an example, with sick sickness—going out on a boat—not everybody will get seasick. Certainly, not everybody will hear or perceived noise from various industrial operations. In terms of wind farms, not everybody detects the presence of the infrasound.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Can it penetrate insulated buildings and be felt in a built environment, so to speak, differently from outside?
Mr Cooper: If we take the first part of your question, all products that we have in building elements have a lower degree of the attenuation for low frequencies than high frequencies.
Senator LEYONHJELM: So they are more likely to be felt inside a building?
Mr Cooper: We will do the transmission part first. There is a lower degree of attenuation in the low frequency and infrasound. As to what happens with people perceiving low frequency or infrasound, firstly it is dependent on how loud or how much energy is there and secondly it depends as to whether the building interacts. In some cases, when you have energy such as infrasound that impinges upon buildings, it sets parts of the rooms, the walls and the floors into vibration so that it amplifies. If you go into an echoing room, everything sounds differently than if you go into a cinema, where it is designed to be dead. The room provides colouration of sound. You can understand that for normal sound. If you look at it or study acoustics, different materials in rooms change how a sound occurs once it is in the room. This same thing happens with infrasound. As a function of how big the room is or how small the room is, there can be natural modes or echoes that occur in the room.
Senator URQUHART: Given that we are not going to have a lot of time, are you happy to take questions on notice if I do not get through the number of questions I have got?
Mr Cooper: Yes, no problem.
Senator URQUHART: Thanks very much. Can I just confirm that you do not have any medical qualifications and that your experience is not of a medical background?
Mr Cooper: Correct.
Senator URQUHART: I understand that the study that you were involved in involved no medical professionals and also you did not gather any medical data about the participants. Is that correct?
Mr Cooper: That is correct.
Senator URQUHART: You and Pacific Hydro released a joint statement regarding the report that you talked about earlier. I would just like to go to some of the statements to see if you still agree with them. Firstly, the Acoustic Group and Pacific Hydro agreed that the study was not a scientific study. Do you still agree with that statement?
Mr Cooper: Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Secondly, the Acoustic Group and Pacific Hydro agreed that the report does not recommend or justify a change in regulations. Do you still agree with that statement?
Mr Cooper: Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Thirdly, the Acoustic Group and Pacific Hydro agreed that this was not a health study and did not seek or request any particulars as to health impacts. Do you agree with that?
Mr Cooper: Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Finally, on the statement that the study clearly states that no correlation had been found with standard acoustic parameters versus the wind farm, is that correct?
Mr Cooper: Yes.
Senator URQUHART: There are a number of experts that a very serious concerns about the methodology and the validity of your study. Among these are issues with the tiny sample size of six people and the fact that you only use subjects who already thought that wind turbines were the source of their health problems. Can I ask how you chose the participants of your study?
Mr Cooper: Yes. If you look specifically at the brief, the brief said that I was to undertake noise and vibration measurements to determine certain sound levels and certain wind speeds that related to specific local residents. The brief, which was issued by Pacific Hydro, said six residents. Those were the six residents, being the three houses that were looked at. Therefore, that was a restriction right from the start. The brief says that that is what I had to do. Some of the comments that have been made are from people who actually have not read the brief or looked at the report.
Senator URQUHART: The reason why there was not a larger sample size or a control group was that that is what the brief actually said from Pacific Hydro.
Mr Cooper: That is correct.
Senator URQUHART: Is it right that you have a history of appearing in court cases for wind opponents and casting aspersions on the academic research which shows that there is no evidence of the health impacts of wind turbines?
Senator LEYONHJELM: That is a bit loaded.
Senator URQUHART: I did not interrupt when you are talking, Senator Leyonhjelm. I am sure if Mr Cooper is uncomfortable with answering it, he will tell me.
Mr Cooper: I have appeared in one court case in South Australia and a VCAT hearing in Melbourne; I am not sure if you would classify it as a court as a strict technicality. I have been in no court cases in Sydney. I have only appeared in two matters in terms of providing evidence as to measurements that have occurred in wind farms. As to health impacts, I am not qualified so I have reported on the acoustic matters, that there is a wind turbine signature that is generated and that the dBA level which appears in permits, conditions and guidelines—so the New Zealand standard—do not cover infrasound and low-frequency noise. There is an issue there that they are inadequate to cover that specific spectrum of noises generated from wind turbines.
There is an issue in looking at saying this is what happens. Of the 11 wind farm that I have been to to conduct measurements, every one of them has exhibited this wind turbine signature. I am not the only person who has identified this. As my report sets out, the University of Adelaide has found this, the Shirley wind farm people identified this signature and Health Canada, in their major study, has identified the same signature. All of them have identified that that signature is not covered by the dBA method.
Senator URQUHART: With some of those groups that you talk about there—the Shirley wind farm and Health Canada, et cetera—do you have documentation supporting that?
Mr Cooper: Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Are you able to provide that to the committee?
Mr Cooper: Yes. I have made a reference in the submission to the material—
Senator URQUHART: As to all of those?
Mr Cooper: Yes. I have made reference to and I have included some data from the University of Adelaide, I have included the principal graph from the Shirley wind farm main report, I have included the spectrum information from Health Canada and I have made references to the primary source documents. For Health Canada, I have the two reports that have been issued by the group doing infrasound. I can give that to you. There are parts of it redacted in terms of it. I can certainly give you the entire Shirley wind farm report and also papers that have been issued by the University of Adelaide’s research group, who have got an Australian Research Council grant to look wind farms.
Senator URQUHART: Great. If you could provide that, that would be useful. On the one that has the redactions, why are there redactions in it?
Mr Cooper: It identifies locations in terms of it. It is the same thing in terms of the Cape Bridgewater study. None of the residents are identified by name. The numbers that are used are houses, which are not the same as any other studies. The numbers went way up. They became house 87, 88 and 89. I have not mentioned any names. The residents have provided their section and an appendix for their comments, but the report is specific about not identifying people. That is the same thing that has occurred in the Health Canada report, because they talked about some locations. That is what I assume is the basis of the reductions.
Senator URQUHART: I understand the South Australian Environment, Resources and Development Court dismissed your expert evidence against the Stony Gap Wind Farm, saying of your work:
At present, on the basis of his evidence before us, it seems that his approach to the task includes privileging the subjective experiences of those residents who have experienced problems, and their perceptions as to the cause of these experiences, over other contradictory data.
What would you say to that?
Mr Cooper: I would say two things: the court also, if you read the judgement, said that they are required to utilise the guidelines that are in existence at the time—and the South Australian EPA guidelines actually state that a well maintained wind farm does not produce infrasound, so it has a bit of a problem; and it uses DBA so it has a second problem. The evidence that was provided at the ERD court was actually during the early stages of doing the work there at Cape Bridgewater.
The fundamental problem that you have in looking at the issue of wind farms is that there have not been health studies so the health studies are not there to show either an impact or no impact. Therefore, you cannot answer the question about what is occurring. It is a concept that I presented in Portland 2½ years ago. To get into this area, we needed to find first a signature from an acoustic viewpoint and do a socio acoustic study to work out the impacts from the noise perspective. Then when we had that we could move into the full character in the medical studies.
You read out just earlier that Pacific Hydro have agreed that there is no correlation between the normal noise indices and the wind farm. What that means is that even the permit conditions are not correlated to wind farms whereas if you use what I call the wind turbine signature, that is correlated to the wind farm and it is that concept that now enables that to move forward in the medical study. So acousticians that have been researching wind farms on both sides of the fence have actually said this concept of WTS or DWTS—it is in my report—actually make sense because it fits up with all the graphs and now it gives a tool so that you can move into the medical phase.
There are a number of places in America that are already adopting the survey profile that was done here for Cape Bridgewater and are looking at that very exact tool with people looking forward to move forward into the medical studies. If you did not have a way of relating the wind farm to what was occurring in the houses then you could not do the medical studies. Therefore, what you have said in the ERD judgement is correct and that is the basis why it is correct.
Senator URQUHART: Is that the same process that you undertook with the Cape Bridgewater study?
Mr Cooper: The Cape Bridgewater study had a specific brief. The brief was to determine certain wind speeds and certain sound levels that related to disturbances. It was not looking at health. I did satisfy the brief on both of those components. Having satisfied the brief, we now have an index that says we can relate it to disturbance. That index allows those studies to proceed.
Senator BACK: I go to the New Zealand standard 6808. You made the observation earlier that it does not measure infrasound; it is not mention infrasound in its particular assessment and measurement of sound.
Mr Cooper: Yes, it does not measure infrasound and it uses of a DBA parameter and that does not work for infrasound because the filter curve that appears has a very substantial amount of attenuation that it becomes insignificant in the DBA level.
Senator BACK: So the New Zealand standard is actually the one that has been used throughout Australia. Is that correct in satisfying local and state government requirements in planning?
Mr Cooper: That is incorrect. The New Zealand standard is used in Victoria and it is referenced in the permit for Cape Bridgewater Wind Farm and other wind farms in Victoria.
Senator BACK: What about in other states?
Mr Cooper: In other states, South Australia has a guideline and that guideline is also being used in New South Wales and sometimes it is being looked at in Queensland.
Senator BACK: And do those guidelines from South Australia and New South Wales also include infrasound in their particular assessments?
Mr Cooper: No they do not. The South Australian guidelines are DBA and they also make a point of saying well maintained wind farms do not produce infrasound.
Senator BACK: Can I conclude from the work here that any assessment process that does not incorporate infrasound is of little value?
Mr Cooper: That is correct.
Senator BACK: As an adjunct to that in the event that infrasound has not been considered by any sets of standards, then, by definition, they cannot have incorporated impacts on human health. Is that correct?
Mr Cooper: That is correct.
Senator BACK: The wind turbine signature concept that you have introduced in the Cape Bridgewater study, is that new to this whole world of acoustic interpretation of wind turbines around the world?
Mr Cooper: No, the use of ‘wind turbine signature’ is my use. I have been expressing it for a number of years because it was a way of describing what occurs from wind turbines. The fundamental of physics says that if you have a fan that rotates, it will produce a frequency that is called the blade pass frequency—the number of blades times the speed that the fan is doing—and it will produce harmonics. It is the law of physics. So all that happened was that does exist and it occurs from wind turbines.
If I go back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, a lot of work done in America including by organisations such as NASA, MIT et cetera identified that this signature exists. They were using a downwind turbine rather than an upwind turbine. All the other researchers had looked at narrow band—that is an important thing. So I have just used the term ‘WTS’.
Senator BACK: So the term ‘wind turbine signature’ is accepted. I have a question in relation to these sensations as you describe them. The sensations seem to be what people anecdotally record and they record them on the level of severity from zero to five, with zero being nothing and five being maximum. The value of any scientific research, of course, is that it can be replicated anywhere and one would expect then that, if replicated faithfully, the same results or similar results would be repeated in other locations. That is what I understand to be the value of a scientifically valid outcome.
Mr Cooper: That is correct. What I attempted in the first instance for Cape Bridgewater was to replicate the South Australian EPA survey questionnaire from Waterloo.
Senator BACK: Which you have now developed further?
Mr Cooper: That is correct. What happened was, when the residents tried it, they found that it had ambiguity but it did not describe what they were perceiving. The EPA study was on noise and noise did not fit into what was occurring because they were not hearing it; they were perceiving it. We added in vibration as a separate distinction because residents were reporting vibration that they could feel through the floor or just experience.
I had looked at the concept of sensation in Waterloo in 2013 when I had looked at the perception. I put it to them: would this be an answer for what you have had trouble describing? They agreed that was the case and many of their complaints that had been attributed to noise should have been attributed to sensation.
Senator BACK: Finally then, one would expect we could now take your Cape Bridgewater findings and they could be replicated in other locations in Australia and elsewhere using the same methodology, using controls as in this case, using a wider sample of the population, and we would hope or expect that we would actually find similar outcomes based on sensations as they relate to changing of the activities of the turbines themselves?
Mr Cooper: Yes, that is already happening overseas. There is one looking at happening in Australia. As to the similar results, we may be getting some lower levels of sensation because they will involve people in controls who do not have a sensitivity.
Senator CANAVAN: Thank you, Mr Cooper, for appearing. Your report is very interesting reading. You prepared the report for Pacific Hydro; have you had any discussions with Pacific Hydro about your evidence today?
Mr Cooper: No.
Senator CANAVAN: I was interested in Senator Back’s questioning before about the South Australian guideline. The guideline said that a well maintained wind farm would not produce infrasound. Is it possible in your view for a wind farm or wind turbine not to produce infrasound?
Mr Cooper: The laws of physics say a wind farm will produce infrasound for the speeds that we see. A windmill pumping on a farm has a small blade, has more blades and operates at a higher speed so it will produce a signature but there will not be any infrasound. What happens is as the blades get bigger, they have to reduce the speed. You get supersonic wind effects at the tips of the blades like helicopters. They are governed by the speed that the rotar can go by the number of blades and the size of them. So you have dynamic problems as you start getting bigger. What has occurred is the bigger turbines have started to reduce the speed
Senator CANAVAN: So it is physically possible to reduce infrasound but for practical purposes, it is not possible?
Mr Cooper: Yes and no.
Senator CANAVAN: I will phrase my question another way. Could a wind turbine operator change its operating guidelines to reduce or mitigate the production of infrasound, not necessarily to remove it but to moderate its generation?
Mr Cooper: I have not been permitted to talk to the wind farm turbine people to give you an answer. I found in terms of the data from the resident’s observations that there were four different scenarios in which there was a greater degree of sensation: when the turbines were trying to start up, when the turbines were at maximum power, when they started to depower the blades and when they were changing the power output by more than 20 per cent going up or down.
If you are a pilot and you fly a plane with a variable pitch propeller, you can change the pitch to be more efficient in its operations. So what happens is the angle of the blade changes with the wind to have a more efficient flow. It has been suggested that when that angle is not correctly aligned for efficiency then you get more disturbance across the blades and the infrasound component becomes greater. They seem to be the four scenarios that the residents came up with that had a heightened level of sensation. But I was not able to talk to the wind farm designers to actually ask: does this hypothesis fitting with what’s occurring—
Senator CANAVAN: Why were you not able?
Mr Cooper: Pacific Hydro said that they would handle it in-house.
Senator CANAVAN: Did you ask Pacific Hydro?
Mr Cooper: Yes I did.
Senator CANAVAN: And they said ‘no’?
Mr Cooper: They said they would ‘handle it in-house’ and I did not get a reply.
Senator CANAVAN: What does ‘handle it in-house’ mean?
Mr Cooper: They have people who govern and look after turbines and who can look at the answers.
Senator CANAVAN: Did they say they would look into what you have raised but do so in-house? Did they actually make a commitment to look into this issue of the design of the turbine blades?
Mr Cooper: It was not the design; it was finding out what was happening in my concept. I never got an answer.
Senator CANAVAN: In your study, you say at the end there is a potential need for further investigations—although you do say there would be significant costs involved. Could you outline what are the priorities for further investigations now, given the results of your work?
Mr Cooper: Statistically, if we start off with six people who are sensitised then we find the worst-case scenario. If you want to create a standard or look at it, you need a much larger database or you need to repeat the study to see how it occurs across a wider area with different turbines. Therefore, there is an automatic limitation of being just six people in this work. You would need to have a much larger database if you were looking at introducing a standard. You certainly could not change the regulations in Victoria based upon six people.
The second part is you need to look at the medical impacts. If you go back a couple of Senate inquiries, they talked about the need for medical research into it. So I believe that if we have this tool we could go to that step. That needs a multidisciplinary approach, because it is not just AGP; you need people that look at brainwave function, sleep disorder—all of these combinations. So, in effect, the acoustic side is very much the tail that is wagging the dog.
Senator CANAVAN: I take your point that we could not really change regulations on an existing operator based on six people, but what do we do for future wind developments? There is a well-established precautionary principle in regulation. Is there enough here to say we should be very precautionary about approving further wind developments until we can do these studies?
Mr Cooper: If you look at the material that is available from the University of Adelaide, the Shirley Wind Farm and Health Canada, it tells you what is happening with infrasound. They say it is easy to measure out to 10 kilometres. We have material from NASA talking about annoyance; we have perception. The question becomes, in infrasound: what is the level at which we should be protecting people? I certainly cannot give you that level; I am just a noise engineer. So it is that that you need to look at. That is where the research needs to occur. People in America, particularly Dr Paul Schomer, are looking at this work. That is why they want me to come to America in May and August—to be on panels to talk about research into wind farms and where we should go as the next step.
Senator CANAVAN: But there are questions that remain about the impacts of wind farms, in your view, after you have done your study?
Mr Cooper: There are certainly questions about wind farms, but infrasound is not just restricted to wind farms. You get infrasound from power stations and gas turbines. I have been doing work up in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, where I have found that a coal powered fire station is affecting hundreds of people 15 kilometres from the power station. I started by looking at infrasound from a ventilation fan on a coalmine. I found that the coalmine does produce infrasound, but it is not of the order of magnitude that is causing the problem for residents. But the residents are experiencing the same sorts of effects as residents around wind farms. I have shown, very conclusively, that the infrasound components are coming from a very large power station.
Senator DAY: On the same path here, I played in a rock’n’roll band for many years, so I am very familiar with noise complaints and decibel levels. Also, coming from Adelaide, we hosted the grand prix for many years, and that took the concept of noise to a whole new level. We could hear that high-pitched sound from the grand prix 10 or 15 kilometres away. So I am interested in the difference with this whole new province of infrasound. What calibration or measurement system would you envisage would be encompassed in this new area of subaudible sound called infrasound? This is a fascinating subject. We all know about the sound above the audible level; we all experience that. But how is this new province measured in layman’s terms?
Mr Cooper: I have an entire chapter in this report, chapter 10, that talks about instrumentation problems. Not everybody puts forward reports and says, ‘These are the problems that we have,’ but it is there for other researchers, because you require special equipment and knowledge in terms of doing this work. So it has cost me a lot of money in instrumentation to be able to do the job. I lost hundreds of thousands of dollars doing this Cape Bridgewater study in terms of time and money that I had to expend to be able to do it. So the report gives an entire chapter to help others. We got a special calibrator to measure down to infrasound for our microphones, because we could not rely upon manufacturers’ work. So there are a whole pile of different protocols. I and other acousticians in America have been researching using microbarometers, pressure detectors, to measure what is occurring from wind farms, as a much cheaper alternative than special microphones. That seems to be the way that it is occurring. There is a draft American standard that is also including this in the mix for doing measurements. The Health Canada report on infrasound shows that they are using microbarometers, because this becomes a relatively simple way of doing it.
This is quite a new area, although it is not so new if people were doing it 30 years ago. It has just been forgotten about. But infrasound affects things like sick building syndrome. A former Prime Minister of New Zealand moved into an office and had an infrasound problem from the air conditioning. So it is a matter of understanding it and having the specialised knowledge to look at it. I have the advantage of having carried out for years machine vibration measurements looking at rotating equipment, so I automatically think about frequencies and dynamics. I have done a lot of work at concerts and nightclubs, and that is about controlling low frequency.
Senator DAY: I remember you. You shut us down once.
Mr Cooper: The laws shut them down. My job is to keep them going.
Senator BACK: A wise move, I think.
Mr Cooper: I did a lot of work with F111s and the Joint Strike Fighter for the Department of Defence. We were doing tests out in the middle of the desert on full afterburner, and we could tell when the pilot turned off the afterburner at 18,000 feet. So we understand how it travels, but actually there is not that much infrasound. It is noise frequency.
But it is very new, interesting work and a lot of people, if they do not have the right gear or they have not spent thousands of hours checking it to see what is going on, have problems. So I have worked closely with Adelaide university on calibration and we have exchanged ideas to help one another, to make sure we have the right microphones, the right settings, the right preamps.
Senator DAY: Those who are familiar with the movie This is Spinal Tap know they covered that by taking the dial up to 11 from 10. So you cannot just take it into minus when you are measuring the decibel level, because it is not decibels, is it?
Mr Cooper: Correct. It changes. We do a little bit more sophisticated limiting in nightclubs. Unfortunately, I have those very bad hours doing nightclubs and concerts at night—
Senator DAY: I am pleased to hear that.
Mr Cooper: sorting out those problems. So I understand where you are coming from and it is different. Infrasound is a completely new area and it is challenging to get the right results—that is for sure. That is where we have problems. A lot of the instruments that are available are measuring the wrong thing. We found two instruments from the same manufacturer that had different curves electronically and we had to unweight all those curves to get the right answers.
Senator DAY: I have a science background, so I know what you are talking about. That is very interesting. Thank you very much.
CHAIR: Senator Xenophon, are you there?
Senator XENOPHON: Yes, I am. I can barely hear you, Chair, and the irony is that a jackhammer has just started up outside my office in Adelaide. So there you go. There is no infrasound with that one, I think. Mr Cooper, I want to ask you some general questions about whether you have ever been gagged, silenced or limited in your ability to comment by anyone who has retained you as a consultant to investigate and remedy noise pollution. Bear in mind you are covered by parliamentary privilege in what you say, so any confidentiality clauses you may have signed would not be valid in the context of anything you say before this inquiry.
Mr Cooper: I have had a number of gag clauses in relation to contracts, in terms of legal engagements. Specifically I had one on providing an opinion with respect to the Uranquinty gas fired installation, which had a significant infrasound problem.
Senator XENOPHON: Where is Uranquinty?
Mr Cooper: Uranquinty is near Wagga, in New South Wales.
Senator XENOPHON: And there is a gas fired power station there?
Mr Cooper: That is correct. It was new one that presented problems on a particular mode of operation, basically the start-up of the power station. It affected houses out to about two kilometres.
Senator XENOPHON: And you were prevented from speaking out on that?
Mr Cooper: Yes. Well, I was retained and had significant clauses on disclosure of any material on it. I was representing the Australian supplier and the German manufacturer in various court proceedings. In relation to—
Senator XENOPHON: So if the committee were minded to ask you for a copy of that, if there were a formal request—that is a matter for the committee and I will go through the chair and the committee generally—is it the sort of material that you still have?
Mr Cooper: Yes, I still have some files and information on it.
Senator XENOPHON: Sorry, I interrupted you then. What else were you going to say?
Mr Cooper: In relation to this Cape Bridgewater service, I have a contract which has limitations in terms of confidential information that is provided to me from Pacific Hydro, which is a standard sort of format. The intellectual property material that is associated with this study has four components. There is confidential material provided by the company. There is principal intellectual property, which is material relating to the wind farm data which was supplied to me by Pacific Hydro. There is background IP, which is material I brought to the study, being my wind turbine signature—my graphical presentation of the noise level versus the wind and the power outputs et cetera. I hold that, so I do not have a restriction on that. Then there is the project IP, which is whatever is developed through the project.
So the dB(WTS) developed in the project is the property of Pacific Hydro. The observations that have been recorded and presented on graphs that show the output is the property of Pacific Hydro under the terms of the contract. Therefore, under copyright, I am not permitted to reproduce those graphs out of the report. So people around the world can have the report and look at it, but I am not permitted to take these graphs and present them. I have a number of peer reviewed papers that have been done for the purpose of identifying sections of this report and what has happened, and under the copyright laws I am not permitted to use those and I do not have a licence from Pacific Hydro to use even dB(WTS).
We have now proposed, with some other academics around the world, to use the terms LS-WT for wind turbines, LSW-AC for air conditioning or LSW-PS for power stations. So other researchers who were thrilled about the concept of dB(WTS) have now looked to use this terminology. Of course, if I have copyright problems, it is a bit hard to go to a conference and say, ‘Here’s the work,’ if I cannot show any of the graphs. Most of the graphs refer to the wind speed, because that is a very important part of the Cape Bridgewater study. So that has presented a problem for me. Further than that, I still have what I will call gag clauses in the contract.
Senator XENOPHON: I just want to understand this. I think appropriate peer review is important for the robustness of any reports such as this, but you are saying that there are limitations on the level of peer review that can be carried out by virtue of the copyright limitations placed upon you?
Mr Cooper: No, I am not saying that about peer review. There was no peer review from my side of the equation before the report was done. There have been peer reviews done since the report was issued and people are using that work. What I am saying is that I am not permitted under copyright to provide any papers or publications that have graphs directly out of the report. My lawyers have confirmed that is the property of Pacific Hydro. I have requested a licence and permission for some peer reviews. In the submission that I have uploaded to the Senate committee’s website, I have two of my peer reviewed papers where all the graphs have been removed, as required by Pacific Hydro. It shows that two of the papers to be published are completely useless. I could not present them to any conference.
Senator XENOPHON: To summarise, would it be fair to say that the absence of this copyright licence from Pacific Hydro restricts further public debate and discussion in respect of wind turbine noise?
Mr Cooper: It does not restrict people overseas or anywhere else in Australia discussing it; it restricts me from entering into those discussions and showing the material. So it just restricts me.
Senator XENOPHON: But the effect of restricting you as the author of this report would be presumably to restrict some robust debate and discussion about this whole issue.
Mr Cooper: I am having difficulty as to how I prepare a paper in May. That says I cannot use the material in the report—the Cape Bridgewater study the causal links. It is correct that I cannot use the data I have got and reanalyse it. I am okay about that, but there is a published report and it has a wealth of information. For example, chapter 9 identifies the problems in using the South Australian EPA methodology and it shows quite clearly how if you go a little bit finer in the resolution the answers are all there but if you restrict it you cannot do it. That is one of the papers that have been refused to be issued.
Senator XENOPHON: Before I go to the South Australian EPA methodology, have you raised your concerns with Pacific Hydro? To give credit to them, they did give you access to Cape Bridgewater. It was groundbreaking in that sense—that there was a level of cooperation—and I congratulate them for that. Have you raised with them your concerns about the lack of access or the copyright constraints placed on you?
Mr Cooper: Yes, in December last year I requested this very matter in terms of the licence because under the contract every time I want to use DWTS I have to write to them to get their permission. So I did raise it and there were discussions about a licence. I provided them papers earlier this year and raised it again. I have been told that a licence is coming about DWTS but I have been instructed that there is copyright over the reproduction of the report.
Senator XENOPHON: Could you please provide to the committee copies of all of your correspondence, including emails, any documents exchanged and any notes of conversations you may have had with Pacific Hydro or between your company and Pacific Hydro in respect of this. I would be quite interested to see that chain of correspondence.
Mr Cooper: I can but I point out that I am a little bit reluctant. But, yes, I can provide it.
Senator XENOPHON: Perhaps we can get advice from the secretariat and even the Clerk of the Senate as to your legal protections to provide such information. If there is a concern about that, you may want that to be considered in camera by the committee in the first instance. That is something we can perhaps ask Pacific Hydro shortly. Are there any other reports you have written in relation to environmental noise pollution where you have been constrained, gagged or in anyway fettered in terms of what you can discuss about those reports?
Mr Cooper: There are a couple but they are related to the Department of Defence where I used to have top secret clearance so that is involving matters of military concern. If I exclude that, no, I have not had any other restrictions.
Senator XENOPHON: Thank you. Finally, you refer in chapter 9 of your report to the South Australian EPA methodology. In a short summary—and you may want to elaborate on this on notice given the time constraints—are you saying that the South Australian EPA guidelines are fundamentally flawed in considering these types of applications?
Mr Cooper: Yes, I have detailed in my submission as to where the flaws are. What I was saying in chapter 9 is if you go into one-third octave resolution you will not find any difference between a natural environment and a windfarm affected environment. If you put the narrow band in you see straight away that there are differences. That is what chapter 9 is all about—to show that if you use the right tools you can actually measure what is going on. If you restrict yourself to a dBA or a dBG, you will not find any difference between a natural environment and a windfarm affected environment. That is actually the critical aspect.
There is an acknowledgement that this study, which had the cooperation of the windfarm and the residents and did on-off testing, had never been done before in the world. We have the likes of Dr Paul Schomer praising this work. He was one of the authors on the Shirley windfarm report. They were very critical that the energy company would not assist in the work. They have said this is exactly what they needed. So when they did see the report—and they could not see the report before it was issued—every one of those authors of the report congratulated me. There is dialogue. I have in appendix B to my submission their comments about it. They think it is a major step forward as well as the threshold work that I have done.
Senator XENOPHON: Thank you.
Senator CANAVAN: I would like to follow up on Senator Xenophon’s questioning. I find it extraordinary that you cannot use your own charts. Can I just clarify, if you are doing a PowerPoint presentation overseas, you cannot copy and paste a chart out of your report and put it on a slide?
Mr Cooper: If it is in this published document, I have been advised that I cannot. I prepared two peer reviewed papers and they are attached in my submission. I have a copy of it here, but I have cut out all of the charts on that specific instruction of Pacific Hydro about 10 days ago. My lawyer has confirmed that I cannot do it.
Senator CANAVAN: Ten days ago, they advised you that you could not do that.
Mr Cooper: That is correct.
Senator CANAVAN: That advice related to your submission to this Senate hearing?
Mr Cooper: I was in the process of doing my submission. It related to papers that I had given to them for the purpose of publication. I had a paper on infrasound, I had a paper on the narrow band and I had a paper on sensation.
Senator CANAVAN: I find it unbelievable that you cannot do that. These are all public documents too; that is, the charts in this document that you are not allowed to use. But you can google that, can’t you, and find that on the internet?
Mr Cooper: That is correct. But my lawyer said under copyright law they are correct and I cannot do anything about it.
Senator CANAVAN: I will leave it there. I have some other questions, but I will put them on notice.
Senator LEYONHJELM: It is just straight copyright law that your lawyers are working off, isn’t it, and it is not a specific laws that you had in the contract you had with Pacific Hydro?
Mr Cooper: There is a contract at the IP. It is their IP and the project IP is Pacific Hydro’s IP. I cannot use it without their permission.
Senator LEYONHJELM: That is actually normal.
Senator CANAVAN: But you have asked their permission and they have not given it yet?
Mr Cooper: That is correct.
CHAIR: On my examination of the material in your report and in particular a reference to the Shirley wind farm, it would appear that the noise or the infrasound levels in house 87 are significantly greater than those obtained in the Shirley wind farm investigation. Is that correct?
Mr Cooper: Yes.
CHAIR: As I understand it, at the Shirley wind farm a lesser level that was recorded there was considered a public health risk. Is that right?
Mr Cooper: That is what the report says, yes.
CHAIR: Thank you for your testimony today before the committee.
Hansard, 30 March 2015.
Steven Cooper’s submission to the Senate Inquiry is available as a pdf by clicking on the link here: sub254_Cooper