Senate Inquiry: Hamish Cumming & Ors tip a bucket on the Great Wind Power Fraud
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). And see our last few posts for Cooper’s evidence to the Inquiry; and the ripping report from Today Tonight’s Rodney Lohse.
Beyond that it was also an opportunity for witnesses to tip a bucket on the great wind power fraud, and the state-sanctioned malfeasance of wind power outfits, more generally.
On that score, set out below is the Hansard (transcript) of the evidence given by a number of STT Champions, like Hamish Cumming, Annie Gardner and Keith Staff.
The way that their evidence played out and was received speaks volumes about the calibre of the witnesses. It also points to the very obvious fact that the Senators on the Inquiry, all bar one, are out to help the wind industry’s countless and unnecessary victims. Whereas, 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
30 March 2015
CUMMING, Mr Hamish, Private capacity
EZARD, Ms Catherine, Private capacity
GARDNER, Mrs Ann, Private capacity
HETHERINGTON, Mrs Janet, Private capacity
POLLARD, Mrs Robin, Private capacity
POLLARD, Mr John, Private capacity
ROGERSON, Mr Bill, Private capacity
ROGERSON, Mrs Sandy, Private capacity
STAFF, Mr Keith, President, Southern Grampians Landscape Guardians
CHAIR: I welcome Mr Bill and Mrs Sandy Rogerson, Mr John and Mrs Robin Pollard, Mr Keith Staff, Mrs Jan Hetherington, Mr Hamish Cumming, Ms Cathy Ezard and Mrs Ann Gardner to the hearing. Thank you for your submissions. The committee has a copy of these before them. Before we begin, can I again remind everyone that, in giving evidence to a parliamentary committee, witnesses are protected by parliamentary privilege. 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 6.11 and 6.12 clearly state that interference with or molestation of witnesses may constitute a criminal offence under section 12 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act.
I want to repeat the following advice from the Clerk of the Senate that was provided to this Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into wind farms in 2011:
If a person who is covered by a confidentiality provision in an agreement gave evidence to a parliamentary committee about the contents of that agreement, they could not be sued for breaching that confidentiality agreement.
I also 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 the purposes of the public hearings, where a witness adversely reflects on another person, I will interrupt the witness and may suspend proceedings. 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, they do not assist the committee in responding directly and objectively to the terms of reference.
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. Who would like to make a brief opening statement?
Mr Rogerson: Good afternoon, Senator Madigan and panel members. My wife and I are third-generation farmers and live adjacent to the 32-turbine Oaklands Hill Wind Farm at Glenthompson, Victoria, operated by AGL. Our home is 2.5 kilometres and our woolshed, where we work almost every day, is 1.7 kilometres from the nearest turbine, in an area deemed as an extreme fire risk through its location relative to the Grampians National Park. The Oaklands Hill Wind Farm, which is sited over the ridge lines of rolling hills in a saline, tunnel-erodible area, on a breached volcano, began operating in August 2011.
By September 2011, one of our sheepdogs became severely affected. Soon after, we both started to experience physical changes. I began to wake suddenly at night with heart palpitations, and my wife started to experience humming and vibration in her ears and waking up frequently at night. We notified AGL, and they conducted noise testing at our woolshed and home. AGL identified what they termed a tonality problem at three to five minutes per second wind speed. They replicated our dog kennels at the woolshed, moving the dogs to the house. By 14 March 2012, nine turbines west of the Caramut-Glenthompson road were turned off between 8 pm and 7 am Australian Eastern Standard Time. In April 2012, we found deformed lambs, something we had never seen before in all our years of farming. By marketing time, we found the mob closest to the turbines had lambed at the rate of only 37 per cent, down from a normal average of 85 per cent for our merinos.
AGL told us: ‘We are going to fit dampeners to the gearboxes of the turbines to fix the tonality problem and return operations to full capacity by November 2013.’ However, this did not happen at that time. But last Wednesday night, 25 March 2015, the turbines were all turned back on at night, after being off for three years. With the turbines off at night, we had been able to survive and work our farm. Whilst my wife’s ear problems persist, my palpitations have subsided. Our sheepdogs, however, have never fully recovered; there is a marked alteration in their personalities and their ability to work. And, despite our best efforts to reduce the effects by moving our lambing ewes from the paddocks closest to the wind farm, there are still deformities evident.
There is a huge problem between wind farms and life. The effects are debilitating. The National Health and Medical Research Council must investigate our concerns and do something about the problems we have to endure. In fact, there is a real need for all wind turbines, Australia wide, to be turned off at night to ensure life’s essential—sleep. The current guidelines for wind farms are based on outdated and inappropriate standards, with measurement of infra-sound, low-frequency noise and vibration non-existent. The siting of wind farms is incomprehensible where human and animal detriment, geological and environmental affliction—including fire risk—are precariously reconciled as net gain. Thank you.
CHAIR: Is there anybody else who wishes to make a brief statement? Just so that people are clear: the committee does want to ask questions of all of you, and it is very easy for us to chew up the time allocated for your presentations. That is just so you are conscious of it. So you are welcome to make a statement, but can we just keep them condensed so that we can get time to ask questions of you.
Mrs Pollard: Good afternoon. My message is short. Most aspects will be covered by others and are already in our submission. I did not believe for one moment that I would be affected by low-frequency infra-sound. Three to four months after the wind farm commenced, I realised I was badly affected. It was still extremely difficult but I managed to cope when the turbines were turned off at night. It varies with climatic conditions and is worst when the wind drops in the late afternoon but there is still wind turning the turbines on the hill. Infra-sound is more severe in various parts of the house. I could only cope because I knew I had a few more hours before they ceased for the night. The turbines were off for three years but were turned on again five days ago, and for two nights since it has been impossible to sleep. I appeal again to the Senate for help. Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Mrs Gardner: Thank you very much to all the senators for instigating this inquiry and allowing me the opportunity to speak. The suffering at Cape Bridgewater has been appalling. Steven Cooper has done a great job with his studies, and the residents must be commended for their cooperation during this groundbreaking investigation.
It is well known that the larger the turbines the larger the noise emissions. I would like to point out to the committee that at Macarthur we are forced to live with 140 three-megawatt turbines as close as 90 metres from our fence. In August 2013, a preliminary health survey was conducted around the wind farm. Sixty-six per cent of responding households reported acoustic impact; 96 per cent of those reported disturbance during the day; 100 per cent reported disturbance from turbines at night. Twenty-three households were affected, with 62 people being affected—out to eight to nine kilometres.
In January 2014 Piper Alderman acted on behalf of 42 residents, issuing Moyne Shire with a claim of nuisance under the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act. This was denied, with reference to the NHMRC statement: ‘No consistent or reliable evidence of health impacts.’ My family have made nearly 200 health complaints to AGL and government agencies, and AGL has received hundreds more complaints from other impacted residents. AGL denies responsibility for our health symptoms. They refer to the NHMRC statement, the AMA and Victoria health department’s two reports, and then recommend we visit our doctor—the same district doctors who had received AGL’s letter mischievously informing them that there is no infra-sound from turbines. AGL breached the doctor-patient relationship with this action. I received a letter from AGL asking permission for them to contact my doctor, no doubt to inform him that my complaints of infrasound were not due to their turbines. AGL has treated us very shabbily.
We were offered turbines in 2005. We refused. Several years later we were offered a relocation package by Meridian Energy, which we also refused. Not long after being awarded second prize in the Zegna of Italy prize for the finest fleece in the world, our ultrafine sheep enterprise was destroyed by dust inundation, contaminating drinking water over months and poisoning the sheep. We were one of only 10 producers in the world producing this wool. We lost a projected income of several million over the next 10 to 20 years. This business was 80 per cent of our farm income.
Despite ongoing complaints to AGL, they denied responsibility even though we were forced to clean our house several times. We had fraudulent compliance noise testing carried on at our property not according to the New Zealand standard. Moyne Shire and the Victorian department of planning ignored this and deemed the Macarthur Wind Farm compliant. We have comprehensive acoustic evidence proving noncompliance all around the wind farm. AGL wrote to us saying that, if infrasound testing takes place at our home, I must make a public statement claiming the Macarthur Wind Farm is compliant.
Nobody has ever visited our property to investigate our complaints of pain and suffering. My husband and I are forced to leave our farm for two nights every week to get some sleep. We cannot see or necessarily hear the turbines from our home, but we are being hammered with infrasound low-frequency noise. There is every indication that the New Zealand standard does not protect sleep as it does not measure the infrasound low-frequency noise inside homes. Thirty years ago, NASA research confirmed wind turbine infrasound and low-frequency noise directly cause sleep disturbance. Why is this crucial evidence from the US Department of Energy and NASA led by Dr Neil Kelley still being ignored, in particular by the NHMRC?
My husband experienced bolts of pressure which tallied up with pressure peaks measured by Les Houston 86 per cent of the time while my husband was blind to the acoustic measurements of the time. Refer to his recap statement. I suffer day and night from headaches, nose and ear pressure, nausea, heart palpitations and chest burning from vibrations through the floor, couch, chair and in bed all night.
Lack of accountability for all health authorities is a scandal. We cannot guarantee a safe working place for employees. I can no longer work in the paddocks. The current standards are just a joke. The New Zealand standard does not protect sleep as it does not measure infrasound inside homes. Infrasound is a real problem, and Steven Cooper’s results have demonstrated what Dr Neil Kelley’s study discovered 30 years ago. There are real safety issues on our farms.
Ongoing sleep deprivation is particularly dangerous when driving or operating farm machinery. I refer the committee to the case of Mr Peter Jelbart who has a huge problem driving his truck. He is exhausted. He has discovered he cannot continue his trucking business and live at his home at the same time due to severe sleep deprivation. Moyne Shire has refused to accept our peer reviewed assessment report by Les Houston. The shire has failed to protect us from noise nuisance despite hundreds of complaints. One councillor even suggested that residents may have tampered with noise-testing equipment. At a meeting in 2014, I along with one other neighbour was verbally abused by a representative of the Ararat Shire Council when we attempted to discuss health issues. Needless to say, we left that meeting in tears. There is no transparency in the authorship of the two Victorian department of health reports released in May 2013. Many peer reviewed reports were ignored, and my FOI request for information regarding authors and correspondence was refused. My appeal was upheld and now this case has been going on for nearly two years already. What does the Victorian department of health have to hide?
This is not about money, as you will have realised from our refusal of AGL’s offer to us. We just want to be able to live in our own home and work on our property the way we had for 32 years before the Macarthur Wind Farm began to create a nuisance and to trespass on our property rights with acoustic emissions from turbines 1.7 kilometres from our home. Please do not ignore our pain and suffering. These same symptoms were reported in 2004 by Dr David Iser at the Toora wind farm.
We need thorough compliance investigation and proper enforcement. We need thorough multidisciplinary health research in the field. Infrasound measurements must take place both inside and outside people’s homes. It is essential that Steven Cooper is employed at the Macarthur Wind Farm, as the symptoms are exactly the same to those in Cape Bridgewater. We need the turbines turned off at night so we can sleep in our own homes, which is our common law right.
Instead of moving to rectify this public health disaster, all levels of government and the wind industry are hiding behind the smokescreen of the NHMRC’s statements when in fact Professor Anderson recently admitted at, I believe, a Senate estimates hearing that there are health effects from turbines. To continue to ignore our pain and suffering is pure wilful blindness. Once again, I invite the committee to visit the Macarthur Wind Farm to speak to the impacted residents. Thank you very much.
Mrs Hetherington: My name is Jan Hetherington. I am an artist, I am a widow, I live three kilometres from the Macarthur wind facility and I am heavily impacted on by the low-frequency and infrasound emitted by the 140 three-megawatt turbines. The Macarthur wind facility was accredited in September 2012 before it was fully operational. In late January 2013 AGL was receiving recs for the wind facility which was not necessarily compliant and was not deemed compliant until the Moyne Shire voted in September 2014, ignoring residents’ pleas for council to view their independent acoustic report showing ample evidence that the Macarthur wind facility was not compliant. Residents have done independent noise testing for two years at their own expense where they have proved that there is infrasound, but no-one seems to want to listen to the truth. There is no-one looking out for us. The Victorian planning department and the Victorian health department take no responsibility for us. The system is broken. It has failed us, all because money and profits are the priority.
My business has suffered as I find it hard to work solidly in my studio for any length of time because of a vibration which feels like an electrical charge running through my body and noise nuisance. My ability to earn a living has diminished. My family no longer enjoy lengthy holidays with me on the farm for fear for their health and their children’s health from the damaging infrasound and noise nuisance. I have now become sensitised. After a recent procedure in hospital in Melbourne I experienced the same sensations of vibration, palpitation and tinnitus as I experience at home. I have become permanently damaged through the exposure to infrasound from the Macarthur wind facility.
At my farm, I experience severe adverse health effects such as vibration, heart palpitations, tinnitus, head pressure, headaches, sleep deprivation, anxiety, night sweats, nausea, itchy skin, cramps, and ear, nose and throat pain. Twice now I have experienced horrendous pain in my chest stabbing through to my backbone in between my shoulder blades. I contemplated calling an ambulance both times but could not move to do so because of the severity of the pain. Ten minutes later it had dissipated, leaving me with great stress and anxiety and feeling washed out. All these sensations leave me drained in the morning. I find it very hard to start work that day.
When I make a formal complaint to AGL they respond in the most contemptuous manner, with references from the NHMRC statement saying there is no reliable or consistent evidence that proximity to wind farms or wind farm noise directly causes health effects. The wind industry uses this statement to deny claims of health impacts; therefore, they refuse to do anything about it. Warwick Anderson from the NHMRC admitted in a Senate estimates hearing that there are health impacts from wind farms. What is going on?
AGL’s objectionable letter to the doctors at 12 medical clinics in the western district made my blood boil. I had a perfectly healthy, happy and trusting relationship with my doctor before AGL started meddling with my doctor-patient relationship. Many times I spoke to him about my health complaints due to the Macarthur wind facility and he was caring and wanted to help me. But one day during a consultation he turned to me and told me that infrasound will not hurt me and that I will just have to get used to it. I was gobsmacked and could not believe my ears. I asked him where he got his information from. He rifled through some paperwork on his desk and, as he did so, I noticed a letter with an AGL letterhead. I asked him to explain himself. That is when he told me that this information came from AGL, asking doctors to refer patients to the AGL website if they presented themselves with complaints due to the wind farm. This interference is outrageous. AGL have no medical expertise and have no right to interfere in a doctor-patient relationship. In my opinion, it should be a criminal offence to interfere in a doctor’s medical assessment of a patient.
We need comprehensive, multidisciplinary research into the health impacts from this noise nuisance. This research has to be carried out in the field and not behind a desk in downtown Melbourne. We need to have the same research carried out at Macarthur wind farm by Stephen Cooper as he did with Cape Bridgewater wind farm, where he found ground-breaking evidence that there is infrasound. I have pleaded with AGL to turn the turbines off at night between 7 pm and 7 am so I can get a good night’s sleep, but they simply ignore my pleas and refer me to the NHMRC statement. What a crock! AGL’s Glenthompson wind farm is turned off at night because of the health impacts and noise nuisance on residents. Why can AGL not do the same at Macarthur? Lord knows we continually request that, and the answer is still no.
Mr Pollard: My name is John Pollard. I am a retired station manager and we live on a lifestyle property of approximately 80 acres. Firstly, I would to say that Robin and I find it very difficult to appear here today as a number of our friends have turbines on their land. It is such a serious problem for us and many others that we felt compelled to be heard. Too many people have had to leave their homes. One family near us left their home almost 3½ years ago, and they are here today—Adrian and Helen Lyon.
The wind farm guidelines on health issues of this very serious problem have to be assessed. They will not acknowledge infrasound. I will relate one incident that happened in our home one night. My wife was sleeping in the chair beside me and I was watching television. This is after they had turned the turbines off. She was dead to the world and I was just watching the television. All of a sudden she woke up, completely startled and disorientated, and I was really worried about her because I thought she had had a stroke or something. Eventually she came to her senses and she said the turbines must be on. I said, ‘No, they’re not. It’s 10.30. They turn off at nine o’clock.’ I went outside and they were still running. So I thought that next day I would ring AGL. When I was about to ring, they rang me and said, ‘I’m sorry, John. We forgot to turn the turbines off last night.’ This is before it was computerised.
It really is a problem, and there are people further away from the turbines than us who are badly affected. One property is 3.5 kilometres away and she has got exactly the same symptoms that Rob has. Our property is on the bottom of a volcanic breach and it is the end of the lava flow and the turbines are well above us. Whether there is a seismic effect I would not know, and there have been queries about that. Dr Mosley in New Zealand said that they are tuning forks on hills. I do not know whether that applies to us, but we are certainly suffering from infrasound very badly.
Mr Cumming: I have tabled my opening statement in lieu of time. It just talks about the destructive impact of wind farms on brolgas and raptors and how greenhouse gases are not being abated. If you are happy with that, I would prefer to take the time in questions.
Mr Staff: I have lived in Penshurst for the last seven years plus. My wife and myself, after 30 years of living and working in Melbourne, decided that it was time for retirement, and what better part of the world could we retire to but the Southern Grampians. It was beautiful, quiet and rural. Were we wrong! After two years or so of making the big move, or tree change, we found out by accident about a proposal for an industrial wind energy facility of 223 turbines 175 metres tall to be located three kilometres from the edge of our historic property and the Penshurst township. This proposal would adjoin the Macarthur facility. The implications are horrendous.
If I could backtrack, at first I had an open mind about wind farms when we found out about this proposal. However, being a fairly independent minded sort of person, I decided that I would do some of my own research into the whole topic and question. This included visiting some impacted residents at Waubra. I had heard of Waubra but I had never visited. People said to me, ‘If you want to find out a little bit about this wind farm, visit these people.’ So we did. I was horrified. For the first time, I got up close and personal to a gigantic wind turbine—several of them. I heard the noise. These people were badly impacted—their health. That was the first indication to me that all is not what the proponents say. Secondly, we visited people at Glenthompson—and you have just heard some comments. There were the same repercussions, the same problems, the same impact. Then there was Macarthur. We visited Macarthur and we know people at Macarthur. To all of our quiet questions, our inquiries, the same message came back. Cape Bridgewater was the same. I visited the residents. I know how badly they are impacted. So we packed away a lot of personal experience and meeting people over a period of maybe two years.
So then I decided to get active. I changed from being non-committal and open minded to being anti industrial wind farms—and I am proud to use the word ‘anti’. Rather than just complain, I did one or two things. I formed a group. I am president of the Southern Grampians Landscape Guardians. Also I am an active member of the Australian Industrial Wind Turbine Awareness Network—a bit of a mouthful but there is such a group. We estimate that we have over 3,000 members in that network nationally. So it is not just a few people complaining in a few isolated rural areas; this is happening nationally. I am a committee member of the recently formed group in Victoria called Wind Industry Reform Victoria. Also I am a committee member of the Brolga Recovery Group—and that is a whole different situation. The brolga is a threatened species and an iconic bird in the south-west. Wind farms are the natural enemy of brolgas—they leave.
I sometimes have to justify my position to people. Locally, the town is bitterly divided. Families are divided. I do not have to justify my position—I am perfectly comfortable with my position and my knowledge—but I sometimes have to state the obvious facts. When people—and maybe the media—infer that I have connections I have to tell them that I do not receive any funding from the fossil fuel industry, I do not belong to any political party and I do not belong to a religious organisation; all of this is formed from my own contacts, knowledge and travel, including to the previous Senate inquiry in Canberra two or three years ago.
I will not go into the detail of my submission but it is based on my informed view that the whole industrial wind power business is a catastrophe on every level—environmental, social, fiscal and economic. The whole industry is characterised by exaggerated claims and false propaganda put out by the wind industry. I will finish with some comments about planning issues, the full text of which is in my submission. The planning issues are many and varied, and there is a strong case of fraud to be levelled at wind proponents and their paid consultants. If anybody wants clarification about what fraud means, it is easy. Fraud is an individual, a company, an organisation or a business supplying incorrect and misleading information in the pursuit of making a financial gain—and that is the wind industry.
Proponents’ consultants are paid large amounts of money to produce reports and assessments with one aim in mind, and that is to ensure that their clients gain a planning permit approval. These same consultants are then retained to make expert witness submissions at planning hearings, such as the VCAT scheme in Victoria. Individual community members making submissions at the panel hearings—and we have attended some in Melbourne—are effectively closed down by lawyers and barristers acting on behalf of the proponents. The common phrase is that you are not regarded as an expert witness. These are people who have lived and worked on their properties in rural areas for ages, and they are told: ‘You really don’t know what you are talking about; you are not an expert witness.’
Finally, the same misleading and inaccurate assessments by the consultants are then presented to planning and environment ministers and shire councils, with no independent experts appointed to check on the assessments. Shire councils, I believe, sometimes act with vested interests. Their first priority should be the health and wellbeing of their residents and their ratepayers, not to make it easy for wind proponents to gain planning permit approvals. Shire councils can be accused of wilful blindness; you have already heard some comments. Openness, honesty and transparency are a joke, as are shire councils’ community consultation processes. They are simply a ‘tick the box’ exercise run by slick city-based PR organisations acting on behalf of proponents. Thank you.
Ms Ezard: My statement is very short. I wish to thank the committee for taking on this important debate. The wind turbines at Cape Bridgewater have impacted on my enjoyment of my area. We are currently trying to sell our property so we can relocate away from the turbines in retirement. At the time the turbines were proposed for the Portland area, there was talk of 5,000 turbines for Victoria, a very small state. Where do you relocate to in order to get away from the impact of turbines? Some people have relocated, only to find another proposal for a wind factory in their new area.
Climate change is spruiked as the reason for the necessity of wind factories; it is said that, if we do not act, we leave a burden on future generations. Wind turbines will also cause a burden, with compromised landscapes even when turbines are decommissioned. Many companies, or wind factories, may no longer exist in 20 to 25 years, so who will be responsible for removing these monstrosities and rehabilitating the landscapes? Advances in technology will also cause the wind industry to become obsolete. Thank you.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I have a question for Ann Gardner. I think you said AGL has written to you, saying that you are not to say anything about infrasound.
Mrs Gardner: No. I had been complaining about the infrasound and wanting them to carry out testing on our property, because we have our own evidence anyway. They wrote to me—and I have a copy of the letter in my submission—informing me that, should the infrasound testing take place at our property, if this resulted in not breaking the rules or whatever, I had to make a public statement claiming the Macarthur Wind Farm is compliant. Compliance has nothing to do with infrasound anyway. I have the letter.
Senator LEYONHJELM: That is in your submission?
Mrs Gardner: Yes.
Senator BACK: We would like you to table that letter, if you would.
Senator LEYONHJELM: You put it in your submission, did you?
Mrs Gardner: It is in my submission.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I have not got to that bit. There are 330 pages to read for today, and so I haven’t got to that.
Mrs Gardner: I am sorry about that, but it is in there.
Senator LEYONHJELM: It is page 201, is it?
Mrs Gardner: It is a copy of the email.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Thank you. I have a couple more questions, and then I will give someone else a go. Mr Cumming, in your submission you say that the Loy Yang A power station annual report shows a rising carbon intensity, which is increasing proportionally to the increase in wind turbine output. Why is this so?
Mr Cumming: If you look through the annual reports from 2005 report through to about 2013 you will see that carbon intensity has continued to rise. Off the top of my head, it was something like 1.14 tonnes of carbon per megawatt and it is currently running at about 1.35. If you look at all the power stations, you will see where you can get the information—it is very hard to get some of it—and you will see that it is happening across the board, even in Queensland. The Queensland power stations are the same. It is all to do with backing up wind farms and making the grid safe so that it will not blackout. The more wind farms that come on, the higher the backup has to be. In 2005, it was something like 600 megawatts and now it is over 1,000. Nothing has changed in the grid. In fact, demand is less. The reasons for having it should be less. Industry is less. And it is all in line with wind farms coming on line.
Senator LEYONHJELM: So you think Loy Yang, Yallourn and Hazelwood burn more coal now than prior to the penetration of wind energy capacity into the grid?
Mr Cumming : Very much so. The data for Loy Yang is very clear and very public—much to their horror when I point it out to them. Now they have even changed the way they do their carbon intensity calculation. They have removed a third of the input data to try and make it look smaller, but it is very public for Loy Yang. If you look at the savings that they have made in thermal efficiency and other in-house savings of performance of the plant and then you look at the coal-led burning, there is a gap for Loy Yang of six million tonnes of coal a year today versus 2005.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Did you hear the evidence of Pacific Hydro this morning?
Mr Cumming: No. I was not here for that, sorry.
Senator LEYONHJELM: They basically put a completely alternative point of view to us on that.
Mr Cumming: Did he use Loy Yang’s annual reports and public data?
Senator LEYONHJELM: He did not provide any data. The view was simply that there was no increase in spinning capacity.
Mr Cumming: That is incorrect. You have to look at the documents that the industry runs on. There is a guy called Hugh Saddler, who works for Pitt & Sherry. He does what are called CEDEX reports, ACIL Tasman reports. That is what the industry is always based on. All the emissions, all the RECs—everything—is based on that. It is all reverse calculated. It is all calculated from what power is sold through theoretical thermal efficiency and data. It has a number of errors in it, including a seven per cent error for the Yallourn power station. When I highlighted this to them, they said, yes, they know. It is the closest thing they have got, whereas carbon intensity is actual fuel burnt. You cannot get away from it.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Do you think the Clean Energy Regulator’s reports of emissions reductions are accurate?
Mr Cumming: No, not at all.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Why is that?
Mr Cumming: Because they are relying on the CEDEX reports and the ACIL Tasman reports and those are all based on reverse calculation. None of it is based on fact. The fact has to come from the actual carbon, the actual fuel burnt—
Senator LEYONHJELM: The actual fuel burnt?
Mr Cumming: The actual fuel burnt. If you have actual fuel burnt for a half-hour period and then you use the AEMO data for the same half-hour period, you can see exactly what is happening. And this was highlighted in my submission on 4 July 2013, when McArthur, Lake Bonney and another one went off line at the same time. The power was instantly picked up, without a flicker of a light bulb, without down time of any industry. It was picked up by New South Wales and Queensland coal-fired power stations—450 megawatts. That is a massive amount of power. It is bigger than the largest Victorian single generating plant, and it was picked up instantly. The only way they can do that is if they are burning the coal already and venting for steam as backup. None of that is covered in the reports that are used officially by government.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Do you have a view on how effectively the Clean Energy Regulator is performing its legislated responsibilities?
Mr Cumming: My personal belief is that they cannot perform their responsibilities if they are not using facts. If they are using reverse calculated data estimates, they cannot perform their responsibilities. They have got to get the facts.
Senator LEYONHJELM: What would you do? Would you broaden their responsibilities or change the way they calculate what they are supposed to calculate already?
Mr Cumming: I would change the rules so that they have to use base data from the entire power industry. That will force the generators to provide the hourly coal feed, gas feed, fuel feed data. At the moment there is no regulation to enforce those companies to provide the data—and it is not in their interests to because it affects how they get paid. If they tell the truth about what they are doing then the investors are not going to allow AGL to buy more wind farms or build more wind farms when AGL owns Loy Yang A. It is the same with the other power stations. They all own wind farms, power stations and coal seam gas. It is in none of their interests to tell the truth.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Do you have some data on raptors and brolgas in relation to turbines?
Mr Cumming: Yes.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Could you quickly summarise that for us?
Mr Cumming: Raptors are being killed at an alarming rate by wind turbines. At one of the first Portland plants to start up at Codrington one turbine was killing 11 falcons every two weeks. Turbines in Woolnorth in Tasmania were killing at such an alarming rate that they were stopped. They come in from outside areas to feed on the dead birds and get killed themselves. AGL Macarthur employed consultants to look at it and they are estimating that the Macarthur wind farm is killing 10 birds per turbine per year, 30 per cent of which are raptors. That is 10 times what their planning permit has said they would do, yet the responsible authorities have done nothing about stopping it, limiting it or making them abide by their permit conditions.
With brolgas you have a separate issue. You have got displacement. Studies have been done in America and Australia that show that the turbines are displacing cranes—and brolgas are a crane—for a distance of up to 14 kilometres but regularly a distance of six kilometres. Since the Macarthur wind farm started—and I try to use all these people’s own reports; they are the best thing to use—their reports have said that 45 wetlands were abandoned in the first 12 months, and 25 of them were potential breeding wetlands, and no brolgas have successfully nested within six kilometres of turbines.
Three attempts at nesting were made during the first year of operation when the wind turbines were stopped. I have the whole year’s data from the AEMO from Macarthur and from other means through DSE. There were three attempts at nesting and as soon as the turbines hit 30 per cent capacity they abandoned their nests. On the first attempt they stuck it out for a few days, on the second attempt they stuck it out for one day and on the third attempt they did not stick it out—they just took off. That is what the American studies have found. The problem is getting worse over time. The displacement is greater and the time is shorter. They are a disaster for brolgas and raptors.
Senator LEYONHJELM: It is the equivalent of habitat loss, is it?
Mr Cumming: Yes, it is forcing them out of habitat. For brolgas there is very little habitat left. I am trying to stop RES at Penshurst and Trustpower at Dundonnell. Half of the remaining brolga habitat is going to be destroyed by those two wind farms if they are allowed to go ahead. They have to be stopped.
Senator CANAVAN: What would happen if you went out into the backyard and shot a few raptors in Victoria? Are you allowed to do that?
Mr Cumming: If you shot a raptor in Victoria it would be a $5,000 fine and potentially two years in jail. Macarthur’s own estimates is they killed 500 in the first year of operation. That is their own estimate and there was no penalty. They are not even told to try to prevent it.
Senator DAY: I know we have a veterinarian on our committee here.
CHAIR: Two of them.
Senator DAY: Are there any veterinarian studies you are aware of into the effects on animals of these wind turbines?
Mr Rogerson: None that I am aware of. We actually had one sent to the Werribee research place just out of Melbourne. They did not find any results. They could not pin down what caused anything to the lamb we sent down. He was badly deformed. Like I said in my thing this is the first time we have had deformities and I have been on the farm all of my life.
Senator DAY: You are not aware of any studies that have been undertaken?
Mr Rogerson: No, none whatsoever.
Senator BACK: No chemicals used?
Mr Rogerson: No.
Mr Cumming: If I can just very briefly jump in there. When touring Gippsland there was a dairy farmer who lost 30 per cent of his dairy calves that were born. When he moved them a distance away from the turbines the following year there were no losses. That is just a very strange possible coincidence.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Not exactly strange. I can understand the conception, the low fertility, but it is very hard to equate that with what Mr Rogerson is arguing about with deformities. I cannot think of any reason.
Senator URQUHART: Was there any evidence, any veterinary studies, on that one?
Mr Cumming: They based it on a study on goats that was done in Thailand, where half of a goat herd died.
Senator URQUHART: No, particular to the farm you were talking about.
Mr Cumming: No. They based their study on the Thailand one. There was no direct study on it. The Thailand one was a proper study.
Senator URQUHART: You were talking about studies in relation to the raptors and cranes.
Mr Cumming: In America, it was done by a person called—
Senator URQUHART: What about here, in relation to the comments you made about AGL?
Mr Cumming: The AGL one was done by consultants paid for by AGL. It was their own report and their own consultant.
Senator URQUHART: Can you direct us to that? Maybe not now, if you can provide it on notice.
Mr Cumming: I think I sent it as an attachment, and I attached my own analysis of it. Also, there was another study done, for Codrington-Yambuk by Biosis, again paid for by Pacific Hydro, that said the same thing: within five kilometres half of the native bird population had disappeared in the first year and it got worse in the second year and in the third year.
Senator URQUHART: Senator Leyonhjelm was asking about your claims that wind farms result in an increase rather than a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. I think you have also claimed that coal is burnt without generating power as a result of wind turbines, so it is all sort of wrapped up.
Mr Cumming: As backup spinning reserve, yes.
Senator URQUHART: I understand that you sent a letter recently which was printed in the Mortlake Dispatch, the local paper.
Mr Cumming: Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Is that a regular daily?
Mr Cumming: It is a weekly.
Senator URQUHART: Is that all around this region?
Mr Cumming: It would be Mortlake, Camperdown, that sort of area.
Senator URQUHART: So it has a fairly broad reach. I have a letter from AGL who are the owners of Loy Yang A power station, on which you based your claims. It was sent to the Mortlake Dispatch. AGL sent this letter to the editor of the newspaper last Friday, as I understand. I am happy to table the letter for the committee. I will take you through it. Referring to the letter you had published in the paper, it says, ‘In a letter dated 19th March, Hamish Cumming claimed that wind farms operating in the electricity grid have resulted in an increase rather than a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector.’ That was what was in your letter. Their comment then goes on to say, ‘This is completely untrue.’ It also states: ‘On average, the amount of emissions produced per unit of electricity sold into the network has gone down by over eight per cent since 2006, according to the national greenhouse accounts.’ The letter goes on to say that you also claimed: ‘Over this period the emissions intensities of coal power stations, including AGL’s Loy Yang A power station, have increased substantially because they necessarily burn a lot of coal without generating power so that they can be on standby to back up the intermittent power generated by wind farms.’ AGL say in their letter that this also is untrue: ‘Over the past six years the emissions intensity of AGL’s Loy Yang A power station has not substantially changed. In financial year 2009 it was 1.27 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity sent into the network. In financial year 2014 it was 1.28 tonnes and the average tonnes of coal burnt to produce each unit of electricity sold also has not changed significantly. Over the same period, wind generation in the network has increased dramatically, with numerous wind farms built in Victoria and other states. If Mr Cumming’s claims were true both the emissions intensity and the tonnes of coal burnt per megawatt-hour of power sold would have increased during this period as additional wind power came into the market, but this has simply not occurred.’ In light of that information from AGL, would you agree that your arguments have been revealed as being incorrect?
Mr Cumming: No, not at all. What AGL are saying there is totally incorrect. I can prove that very easily, and have provided you—
Senator URQUHART: Just to clarify, you have put the letter in and they have responded to the paper, and you are saying that what they are saying is wrong—
Mr Cumming: Correct.
Senator URQUHART: that they are actually lying.
Mr Cumming: Correct, as they did when we put in the paper their report that they refused to give us for several weeks about the brolgas and raptors. They said that I was wrong as well, but it was their report I was quoting. It is the same now. I am quoting AGL’s annual report and Loy Yang A’s annual reports for 10 years. The data I am quoting is out of their annual reports. They have not said there that for last year’s figure, which has gone from 1.35 down to 1.29, they have changed the calculation of carbon intensity to reflect that. They have not gone back and changed the calculation for the last 10 years to show that the graph has gone up. In my submission there is a graph, which I did not create. It is their graph out of their own annual report that they put on the Australian Stock Exchange. They cannot argue with that.
Senator URQUHART: I am not arguing; I am just trying to get the facts, that is all.
Mr Cumming: The facts are that they are lying through their teeth.
Senator URQUHART: So, basically, what you are saying is that they are lying.
Senator BACK: To assist the committee—this is very important point—was that a letter to you, Senator Urquhart?
Senator URQUHART: It was a letter to the editor.
Senator BACK: I ask, through the chair, Mr Cumming if you would be kind enough, when you have seen the text of the AGL letter, to respond to the secretariat and explain to the committee through the secretariat where you believe AGL’s response to your correspondence is wrong so that the committee can understand completely.
Mr Cumming: I will not see that until Thursday unless you give it to me.
Senator URQUHART: The secretariat might be able to get copies. I will table it with the secretariat.
Mr Cumming: It will not be published in the paper until Thursday.
Senator BACK: We do not need it in five minutes; we just need to get your response to it.
Mr Cumming: And the community will also get my response in next week’s paper!
Senator URQUHART: Mr Staff, you said you are anti-wind and proud of it. I think those were your words.
Mr Staff: I said ‘industrial wind’.
Senator URQUHART: Industrial wind, sorry. I understand that one of the most prominent anti-wind campaigns in Australia seems to be the website stopthesethings.com, which proudly states:
We’re not here to debate the wind industry – we’re here to destroy it.
The site has also been known to use abusive language and to attack individuals who support wind. I could not find any contact information from the owners of the site on any of its pages. The contact details were also removed from a domain name own research. Did know about the site are referring to?
Mr Staff: STT? No. There must be some very committed, knowledgeable people who put that together. I am not involved with it and do not do not know of anybody who is, but they have access to a lot of factual information, including from overseas. They tend to put over their point of view in a tongue-in-cheek, rather cynical way in order to make a point. It is very well researched. I have no idea who is behind STT.
Senator URQUHART: In 2013, there was an anti-wind rally at Parliament House. You were interviewed by the ABC is the co-organiser of the stopthesethings anti-wind rally.
Mr Staff: Excuse me? The ABC said I was the co-author?
Senator URQUHART: You were interviewed by the ABC as the co-organiser of the stopthesethings anti-wind rally. That is not correct?
Mr Staff: Wrong! I never said that. They never asked me that. It is completely wrong.
Senator URQUHART: Were you interviewed by the ABC at that stage about the rally?
Mr Staff: I was asked some questions, but not whether I was an organiser.
Senator URQUHART: But you were interviewed by the ABC at the time?
Mr Staff: Can I tell you what the ABC said?
Senator URQUHART: Certainly.
Mr Staff: They said, ‘Mr Staff, it appears to us that you,’ meaning the large group of protesters who were there in front of Parliament House, ‘have reached critical mass,’ which in media speak means you can no longer be ignored—your group, supporters, the people. It was nothing to do with STT.
Senator URQUHART: I am happy to throw this open to anybody else who feels like they want to have a say: some of you have mentioned in your statements, and in your submissions as well, that you are genuinely concerned about the health impacts of wind farms, and I think we have heard from a number of you today outlining that. A 2011 article in the Medical Journal of Australia, by four Australian doctors, cited studies showing that the risk of premature death for people living within 30 miles of coal-burning power plants is three to four times that of people living at a greater distance. In that context, I would be interested in whether you would be more concerned about living near a coal plant than a wind plant.
Mr Cumming: What about solar? What is wrong with solar? We do not need to do wind turbines. What is wrong with thermal molten salt solar, which is baseload, does work, does not displace brolgas, does reduce greenhouse gas and does not make people sick? Why not use that? Why are we entertaining the idea of trying to keep something supported and alive that has so many things against when there are technologies there that do work and do not have these issues?
Senator URQUHART: Anybody else?
Mr Staff: Could I just add that all of the pictures and the visuals that ABC in particular like to throw up on their news items showing coal fired power stations have cooling towers—everybody knows the cooling towers—and all the apparent smoke and pollution billowing out. It is not pollution; it is water vapour. But there are certain people—political parties and others—with vested interests in trying to indicate that that is actual pollution coming out of those cooling towers. It is not; it is water vapour.
Senator URQUHART: I just want to go the issue of birds and bats. I think, Mr Cumming, you outlined this in some of your answers. There was a 2007 study by the government of South Australia—I am not sure whether you are aware of that—that showed that one domestic cat kills more birds in a year than one wind turbine.
Mr Cumming: Next time I see a cat take down an eagle or a brolga, I will let you know.
Senator URQUHART: That is a very good point. I am just wondering whether you are aware of that report.
Mr Cumming: I am also aware of a report that says more birds fly into windows in Melbourne as well, but they are talking about sparrows, starlings and other small birds, not iconic birds that are protected and carry a $5,000 fine; if you killed one, you would be charged $5,000.
Senator URQUHART: Yes, that is what the 2007 report is referring to, not the bigger birds. I am just trying to get to the bottom of what you are referencing in terms of the big birds versus the other birds.
Mr Cumming: It is not relevant to wind turbines.
Senator URQUHART: I think I will leave mine there and give someone else a go. I might come back if I have some time.
Senator BACK: Mrs Gardner, we cannot find the correspondence, so would you be kind enough to provide the correspondence.
Senator CANAVAN: Sorry, we have. It is being sent through.
Senator BACK: No worries. Okay. Mr Rogerson, I will be interested—and Senator Leyonhjelm might also be interested—in whether we can actually see some records going back over time of lambing percentages et cetera in different paddocks. We cannot advance it here, but I would be interested to have a look at that.
Mr Rogerson: Yes, no worries.
Senator BACK: I have actually never spoken at all publicly about any issues associated with animals but, because I am a veterinarian, I suppose advice has come to me over time from France, Italy and other places of foetal abnormalities in different species, including a well-documented case in thoroughbred foals. I do not want to spend the time here, but I am just saying to you I am interested, and I am sure other colleagues would be.
Mr Cumming, the net greenhouse gas beneficial effect of industrial wind turbines has often been discussed, when you take into account the manufacturing of the steel and obviously the engineering work associated with the fabrication of the steel, the concrete that is poured et cetera. Do you have any advice for the committee as to what length of time—in terms of days, weeks, months or years—an industrial turbine would have to operate for before you would reverse that greenhouse gas negative from its construction and actually start seeing some benefit to the environment? Are these figures, or estimates, available?
Mr Cumming: I did a study some years ago now for a planning panel regarding this sort of thing. I used as much information as I could glean for the construction, maintenance and other associated greenhouse gas costs for the wind farm. I then used their manufacturer’s up time of the 30 per cent generation. I was then very conservative in favour of the wind farm company’s backup requirements. I used gas fired power stations. I used open cycle power stations, the most cost effective for the wind farm, making it look good for them as much as I could, so to speak. It came out with a 20-year life return payback of greenhouse gas.
Senator BACK: Could you explain what you mean by 20-year return?
Mr Cumming: It would mean it would take the wind farm 20 years running 30 per cent of its time generating into the grid to pay back those emissions.
Senator BACK: Before it would get back to equality.
Mr Cumming: That is right.
Senator BACK: Before it would start making a beneficial effect.
Mr Cumming: Yes. Without any major catastrophic bearing failure or anything like that, it would take 20 years. The industry claims four or five months, and I question those numbers quite seriously.
Senator BACK: You have also been quoted at different times—and even in today’s discussion you have been giving us the benefit of your advice—in terms of calculations, real versus apparent, et cetera. Can you tell us what data is needed from power stations to accurately determine what greenhouse gas impact wind farms are having on the grid? I am only talking about grid based industrial wind turbines now. I am not talking about those standing apart from the grid.
Mr Cumming: If they were genuine in wanting to show how good they were they would have provided this already. What you need to do it accurately is at least hourly actual fuel feed generation data—and preferably five minute, because AEMO data is every five minutes for generation and sales—from each of the power stations. Then you could crossmatch that against the AEMO’s data and you would see instantly who is burning coal and not producing power, if they are venting steam to the atmosphere waiting to back up, if they are spinning in reserve, if they are shut down, You will see that instantly. At the moment, the companies are not willing to give that willingly because it highlights too many problems on their side.
Senator BACK: A core concern of this committee, given the fact that we represent, at the federal level, expenditure by taxpayers, is that all these other issues, as I said earlier in the day, are interesting, but they are constitutionally the role of the states and territories and, through them, local government. But where this body—and where the Senate—has a direct involvement is in defending and justifying to taxpayers where their money is being spent. In view of the Clean Energy Regulator and renewable energy certificates, which the Clean Energy Regulator has responsibility for, what is the basis upon which the companies running industrial wind turbines should be, in your view, paid the renewable energy certificates?
Mr Cumming: In my view, if you have a transparent view of the entire grid and the inputs to the grid, the wind farm companies should only be paid for a net reduction of greenhouse gas. At the moment they have got open slather. Whatever they put into the grid is accepted, and coal is put offline. There is no saving in that. If it was a net saving then companies like AGL would think twice about burning an extra 6 million tonnes of coal to back it up, because there is no net gain for them between their wind farms and their power station if they have to declare that.
Senator BACK: If I am wrong my committee member colleagues will tell me, but I understood Mr Richards to say that the Australian Energy Market Operator, the AEMO, can predict out, with a high degree of accuracy—as in the high 90s percentage accuracy—some time into the future what the contribution will be from a wind farm. Therefore, the AEMO can make adjustments. In your view, is that correct?
Mr Cumming: In my view, it is bordering on some correctness. Yes, they can say, ‘We expect the demand to be this. We expect the power stations to do that. We expect the wind to be available for this period of time.’ But it cannot predict accurately enough how much capacity the turbines are going to generate, because they will not generate under 40 kilometres per hour and they will not generate over 90 kilometres per hour. Do not quote me on that, but there is a band where their generation is not efficient. They are relying on Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts, wind directions and other things to come up with that number. If that was the case and it was able to predicted, on 4 July 2013, when Macarthur and so on went off line, it was a fault. When they went off line, there should have been a blackout because, if they were predicting and running the grid in such a finetuned way as was claimed—
Senator BACK: It was a sudden fault, was it?
Mr Cumming: It was an unplanned fall off the line. They lost an interconnector—
Senator BACK: Without advance notice?
Mr Cumming: Yes, 450 megawatts fell off the line and was picked up from Queensland and New South Wales. If that was, supposedly, such a super finetuned grid and they were predicting all this, you would have had a blackout then, and we did not have a blackout. For those power stations to be able to deliver, you are talking coal fired power stations that take eight hours to ramp up from zero to full capacity. They can do about 10 to 15 per cent in half an hour; they cannot instantly respond in less than a second unless that power was available—
Senator BACK: Whereas, by contrast, would it be your argument that solar—and certainly those who promote wave energy can say that they can tell with a high degree of accuracy 48 to 72 hours out what the wave action is going to be and the amplitude of the waves—is an equivalent? Can people predict with a high degree of accuracy what it is going to be like on Wednesday afternoon in the peak demand time on the Melbourne-Sydney-Hobart-Brisbane grid?
Mr Cumming: You are talking about two different sorts of solar here: one is the household—
Senator BACK: I am talking about the large-scale; not the household.
Mr Cumming: With large-scale molten salt solar, yes, you can predict it well because their ability to store molten salt means that they can have a capacity of X megawatts up their sleeve ready to flash water onto the heat exchanger to produce steam. So the prediction ability is great, but the responsibility is even greater. It is almost like having your own little nuclear power plant running off the sun.
Senator BACK: And hydroelectricity, again, has the same degree of predictive accuracy.
Mr Cumming: Yes. I have been arguing with the Victorian government for 10 years now that we should be using the backup coal that is being wasted and the wind off-peak that is being sold for 1c a megawatt hour because no-one wants it in the middle of the night. We should be pumping the water back up the mountain—the hydro. We have the technology and the ability; they do it in other countries. The Victorian government will not entertain that at all.
Mr Staff: If I could make one comment which I think is really pertinent with Mr Cumming’s comments, these are our official figures. I think behind many of the questions and comments today is: just how efficient are industrial wind farms? These official figures are produced from the National Electricity Market board. Figures as of Saturday in Victoria for electricity generation in Victoria by category are very pertinent. For brown coal, which is obviously in the Latrobe Valley, Yallourn, capacity produced generation for Saturday was 5,714 megawatts. This is one day: Saturday just passed. Next is gas, which was 30 megawatts. Hydro was 245 megawatts. Wind was 29 megawatts. These are official figures. Large solar capacity was zero. The smaller solar capacity, which is obviously rooftop panels, was 194 megawatts. That is the total electricity generated in Victoria last Saturday.
Senator BACK: Large solar was zero?
Mr Staff: Large solar was zero.
Senator CANAVAN: Ms Ezard, I believe in your submission you raise the issue of the impact on land values or your ability to sell your property. Would you expand a little on your experience of the impact of wind turbines in that regard.
Ms Ezard: We have had the property on the market for four years. A lot more people have come in. Not long ago one came all the way from Western Australia to have a look at the property, and she was very upset when she got there and saw the wind turbines and with the fact that we had not mentioned that there were wind turbines in the area. It was just a wasted trip, as far as she was concerned. We also had the issue of using an agent in Melbourne. He was trying to sell the property for us and he brought the issue up with a client. He said: ‘There are wind turbines in that area. If the client is prepared to drop the price down, we’ll negotiate from a lower figure’—which means downwards again. So it is definitely having an impact.
Mr Pollard: We are in a similar position. We have 80 acres and we have wind turbines beside us. We have been devalued. If anybody wanted to buy our place, we would have to say, ‘You could be impacted by the turbines.’ Some people are affected and some are not—you know, Rob is badly affected but I am not so badly affected. You just have to explain to them that there could be an impact.
Senator CANAVAN: You are not going to know until you live there, of course, and it is too late then. Have you estimated a figure for the devaluation?
Mr Pollard: It has been quoted as 30 to 40 per cent. I do not know whether that is a figure that has been bandied around a lot and how true it would be.
Senator CANAVAN: Is anyone aware of sales that have occurred post wind turbine construction that might give a market valuation?
Mr Pollard: Not really, no.
Senator CANAVAN: You can’t properly say?
Mr Pollard: No.
Senator URQUHART: Has there been any valuation doe since then?
Mr Staff: A study is being done at the moment by the University of Melbourne. Two or three people visited the Penshurst-Macarthur area 18 months ago and they were specifically studying the possible impact on rural property values—related obviously to wind turbine facilities. I have not heard the result of that report. It was sponsored by the University of Melbourne.
Senator CANAVAN: It was done by the University of Melbourne or by some researchers there?
Mr Staff: Researchers from the University of Melbourne.
Senator CANAVAN: If you can provide any more detail on that to the committee it might be worthwhile.
Senator URQUHART: Do you know who the researchers were?
Mr Staff: I have the names and I can supply them.
Senator URQUHART: That would be great. Ms Ezard, you spoke about the real estate agent. Have you had a property valuation done?
Ms Ezard: Not personally, but the council has had one done. According to the council, our property value has actually gone up.
Senator URQUHART: I do not know how it works in Victoria. Is that a government valuation? Government valuers come around every couple of years and do that. Is that what they are basing that on?
Ms Ezard: Yes.
Senator CANAVAN: Presumably those valuations are for a broad area, not for individual properties.
Ms Ezard: They apparently drive around and value each individual property.
Senator CANAVAN: I have a couple more questions for the Rogersons. Senator Day was asking about the lambing percentages. Senator Back, you have already asked for more detail on that.
Senator BACK: I have.
Senator CANAVAN: Mr Rogerson, have you had any more discussions with AGL? Is that the company you are impacted by?
Mr Rogerson: Yes.
Mrs Rogerson: They took videos of the lambs.
Senator CANAVAN: Have you broached the topic of compensation for the impact on your business?
Mr Rogerson: No.
Senator CANAVAN: You have not had any discussions about it at all? They do not accept there is a direct link between the turbines and the lambing percentage?
Mrs Rogerson: No, they do not. But they still have the video; they actually took it themselves.
Senator CANAVAN: What is it a video of?
Mrs Rogerson: Of the deformed lambs.
Senator CANAVAN: Can I just clarify this. In your view, there is an impact on percentages as well as the deformities?
Mr Rogerson: Yes.
Senator CANAVAN: Can you give us a ballpark figure on the percentages? Is that lambing percentage just straight births regardless of whether they are deformed?
Mrs Rogerson: Regardless of deformities.
Senator CANAVAN: That has reduced? And after you have taken account of that reduction there is also the impact on lambs not being able to live?
Mr Rogerson: We take our percentages from when we mark the lamb.
Senator BACK: And these are paddocks that you have used over the years?
Mr Rogerson: Yes, that is right.
Senator BACK: You have not suddenly changed and put the lambing ewe flock over there under the wind turbines?
Mr Rogerson: No, that is right. What we have to do now is: we have to take our flock, our lambing ewes, away from that area and put them in another part of the property. And that is what we have tried to do.
Senator CANAVAN: And Mrs Gardner, you had a similar—
Mrs Gardner: We have had the same experience. In the paddock of ours, which is 90 metres from a turbine, where we had always lambed 85 per cent, we had between five per cent and seven per cent the first year of operation. Needless to say, we do not lamb in that paddock anymore.
Senator BACK: Down by five or seven?
Mrs Gardner: No, no; it was only five per cent.
Senator BACK: Lambs marked?
Mrs Gardner: Absolutely. I was talking to a neighbour on the other side of the wind farm and he said, ‘Hey—that’s exactly the same as happened to me.’ He had less than 10 per cent. But of course there is no control. We are not going to keep lambing in that paddock, because it was such an enormous financial loss that we have just abandoned that paddock for lambing.
Senator CANAVAN: I think you are saying you have moved your lambing operation.
Mrs Gardner: Yes.
Senator CANAVAN: What sort of buffer zone do you think that it has an impact over?
Mrs Gardner: I do not know. It is a bit hard to tell, because we do not know. There are other factors for our other lambing or whatever.
Senator CANAVAN: So you have moved the lambs. Where are they now? How far away are they now—the lambing ewes?
Mrs Gardner: One or two paddocks over, and there is nowhere near the impact of that. That was just unbelievable.
Senator CANAVAN: So you are getting good lambing percentages—
Mrs Gardner: Yes—the same as normal; up and down 10 per cent a year.
Senator CANAVAN: So a couple of paddocks over, but you were saying that 90 metres was the proximity?
Mrs Gardner: Yes. I cannot even go into that paddock; the noise, the vibration—just the roar—
Senator CANAVAN: But you were not hosting the turbines then at 90 metres; they were just that close, on someone else’s property?
Mrs Gardner: They are right next to our fence. If they fell over they would fall into our property. We were told by AGL that the closest turbine to our fence would be 130 metres and now it is 90, if not fewer, metres.
Senator CANAVAN: And likewise, Mrs Gardner, you are not offered compensation at all for that impact?
Mrs Gardner: No. AGL denied anything, totally.
Senator CANAVAN: Can I ask a broader question that is related to that. Has anyone here spoken to lawyers or legal firms about the impact? I would be interested to hear. Anyone can comment, but I will go to Mr Staff to start with.
Mr Staff: Our group, the Southern Grampians Landscape Guardians group, and its supporters retained the services of a lawyer and barrister some two years ago. They sent—can I call it this—a warning letter to landholders south of us where the proposed turbines would go—’proposed’—and essentially it was a warning letter to say that there was a danger that they could be sued under that small but very important word ‘nuisance’ if they caused noise and problems to a neighbour who has not signed up. That is law. That is legal. Every person has a legal right to live in peace and quiet in their own home.
Mrs Gardner: Thirty families around the Macarthur wind farm also employed, several years ago, a barrister and solicitor to represent them.
Senator CANAVAN: Can I ask what the status of these engagements is at the moment? Is there court action that you—
Mrs Gardner: Not as yet, because none of us can afford it. And we are fighting AGL, probably the most powerful and wealthy power company in Australia. Everything we say they deny. The media will not put our case over. It is David and Goliath, and Goliath at this stage, particularly with the media, has precedence over the people, who are literally just collateral damage. It is ongoing.
Mr Rogerson: Just going back to the bit in this paper that I read out to you about our dogs: we have been compensated for the dogs. They did shift our dog kennels from our woolshed—they were up there all the time—to our house. As I said, the woolshed is 1.7 kilometres away and the house is 2.5 kilometres away. That cost AGL $20,000.
Senator CANAVAN: What did they do? Was it compensation or was it being paid for something?
Mr Rogerson: No, it paid for something—to shift the dog kennels. They relocated the dog kennels, for 20 grand.
Senator CANAVAN: Have there been other examples where AGL have, if you like, admitted an issue?
Mr Rogerson: There is a house being done not far from us, on the northern edge of the wind farm at Oaklands Hill. That was double-glazed.
Senator CANAVAN: In the same vein, I was interested in the operation at night. I think, Mrs Pollard, you might have mentioned they had switched them off at night. Why did they do that? Did they accept at the time that there were issues with running them at night?
Mrs Pollard: We just found it impossible, and we appealed to them.
Senator CANAVAN: Did they accept that there was an issue?
Mrs Pollard: Yes, they did.
Mr Pollard: They did testing out in our paddock, and they said there was a tonality problem. They were blaming the gearboxes and, as we said, they put dampeners on the gearboxes. They did that over at Hallett with no effect at all. They came one Sunday morning with their computer and showed us what was happening on the thing. I think they did realise there was a problem there, but they could not put their finger on it, so they kindly turned the turbines off each night for us. That lasted for three years, which we were very grateful for. Otherwise it would have been absolute hell to stay there.
Senator CANAVAN: But they are back on now.
Mr Pollard: They are on now. When there is wind on the hill and it is calm where we are, that is when we get the worst effect. If it is blowing a gale, it does not worry you so much, but, if the turbines are turning on the hill and it is calm where our house is, that is when the infrasound is at its worst. They are east of us, so an easterly wind would make it worse, but with other directions you feel it. Rob feels it too. If there is a gale blowing, it does not affect us all that much.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Could I ask a follow-up to that. On this issue about the tonality, were you able to identify yourself what they thought was a tonality issue?
Mr Pollard: No, we could not. They had it on the computer, and I could not identify it.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Did you try to compare what you felt with what they were finding?
Mrs Pollard: There was no correlation.
Mr Pollard: No correlation. Robin is affected badly. I can hear them, but I do not feel them. Rob feels them but cannot hear them, but I can hear it; it sounds like a train coming over the hill.
Mrs Pollard: It is pressure to the body, the temples and the ears and down my spine. But we were tested three years ago by Steven Cooper.
Mr Pollard: Steven Cooper tested our house three years ago, yes.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Has there been any attempt to compare what he found with what AGL conceded was a tonality issue?
Mr Pollard: I do not know. I do not think so.
Mrs Pollard: No.
Senator LEYONHJELM: You are not aware of anything? Okay, thank you.
Senator URQUHART: Mrs Pollard, have you sought medical treatment and advice about what is happening with you?
Mrs Pollard: Absolutely, with an ENT specialist. Yes.
Senator URQUHART: What are they saying is the cause of your problem?
Mrs Pollard: They agree that there is a problem with infrasound and it is very serious.
Senator URQUHART: So that is your ear, nose and throat specialist?
Mrs Pollard: Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Do you have a report or something that verifies that?
Mrs Pollard: No, I have not.
CHAIR: Mrs Gardner, I was just going through this letter from AGL that you tabled with the committee, where they say, in response to your comments on infrasound, that there have been multiple scientific, thorough, peer-reviewed studies on wind farm noise that have found that infrasound from wind farms is not problematic. It goes on to say, ‘AGL will soon be publishing the results of its own infrasound studies at the Macarthur Wind Farm, which we will send to you.’ This letter is dated 20 June 2013. Have you received a copy of the infrasound studies that they said here that they would be sending to you?
Mrs Gardner: I am not sure, actually. I possibly have. I would have to check on that.
CHAIR: Would it be possible for you to take on notice and, if you have received a copy of this infrasound study that AGL claimed to be doing, for you to provide the committee with a copy of that infrasound report?
Mrs Gardner: I am sure it was just their general infrasound report that was released.
Senator LEYONHJELM: It says that is a result of its own infrasound studies at Macarthur Wind Farm. I was thinking that it was probably another thing in the submission which I had missed. But, if you cannot think of it, then perhaps it was not. If you have it, that would be interesting to see.
Mrs Gardner: I will see. Whether I was sent it personally, I am not sure.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes, exactly.
Mrs Gardner: I am sorry. I cannot quite remember that one.
CHAIR: Ladies and gentlemen, with your experience with the wind farm operators in your areas and the complaints procedure that you are asked to follow with them, how would you rate that and the wind farm proponents’ response to you?
Mrs Gardner: I would say it is absolutely appalling. It is total denial, as I said in my statement. All they do is respond to us giving that one particular pet phrase, which I think the whole wind industry uses, of the NHMRC statement saying there is no consistent and reliable evidence of health impacts due to proximity of wind turbines. Then they quote—and I could read this to you:
Thank you for your email recorded on our database. Your reference number is … The health and wellbeing of the communities in which we operate remains a priority for AGL. To date we have carried out extensive noise monitoring at various locations around the wind farm. Over 40,000 hours of data has been captured, well above our permit obligations. All the information from our noise monitoring program shows that the wind farm remains compliant with the noise levels outlined in the planning permit. Independent infrasound monitoring also confirms that there has been no change in infrasound levels from before the turbines started to current operations today. In February 2014 Australia’s medical and scientific research body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, published a study titled—
And this is in blue—
Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health, which concludes ‘there is no reliable or consistent evidence that proximity to wind farms or wind farm noise directly causes health effects.’
Again in blue—
The Australian Medical Association has concluded that ‘the infrasound and low-frequency sound generated by modern wind farms in Australia is well below the level where known health effects occur.’ The Victorian department of health have also released a report on wind turbines and infrasound which can be found here…. The South Australian Environmental Protection Agency has also released a report on wind turbines and infrasound which can be found here…. We encourage you to seek medical attention for any health-related matters.
Community Engagement Manager.
That is the response we receive every single time we put in a report, a complaint, as from 2014 when the NHMRC report came out. Prior to that, they were a little different, depending on what studies were out, but this is what we get every single time.
CHAIR: The monitoring that AGL referred you to that they say they are continuing—I think you said it was 40,000 hours.
Mrs Gardner: Yes, at two homes. Two homes apparently, neither of whom had complained of any health impacts as far as I am aware.
CHAIR: Do you know if the research that they have conducted is publicly available for public scrutiny?
Mrs Hetherington: I asked them to send me that report, and they declined.
Senator BACK: Perhaps the committee might ask for it. As a follow on, Mrs Gardner, I refer to the letter from Ms Frances Duffy of June 2013. Did you comply with the requirements that AGL had?
Mrs Gardner: No, we did not.
Senator BACK: I imagine you did not.
Mrs Gardner: We did not proceed at all. That was just appalling.
Senator CANAVAN: That was just to clarify and put on the record that that request was to require a public statement from yourself to say that AGL were compliant with existing standards.
Mrs Gardner: Yes, because I am the one who has been complaining. I had to get out there and make it.
Senator BACK: Had it gone ahead, regardless of what the outcome of the infrasound testing would have been, this document still required you to make a public statement to acknowledge that compliance with the standards required by the permit have been established?
Mrs Gardner: Correct.
Senator BACK: Regardless of what the outcome of the infrasound might have been, because the infrasound did not form part of the original compliance requirement.
Mrs Gardner: It is not part of the planning permit obligations.
Mr Staff: On the point of complaints, I attended in Canberra the Senate Community Affairs References Committee on the Social and Economic Impacts of Rural Wind Farms. Recommendation 2 was:
The Committee recommends that the responsible authorities should ensure that complaints are dealt with expeditiously and that the complaints processes should involve an independent arbitrator. State and local government agencies responsible for ensuring compliance with planning permissions should be adequately resourced for this activity
My comment is: I do not believe anything is happened.
Mr Pollard: Your previous question was about AGL; we had numerous meetings with AGL. They have come to see us. We have always been polite to them but we have had quite a few aggressive meetings. The second last meeting we had with them, she was very rude to Rob and upset Rob for about a month afterwards. The next time she came she apologised. I am in my 80s. We are too old for that sort of treatment. We are past that. We just want to live quietly on our block and do not need that sort of thing.
Ms Ezard: Can I table this for the committee? It is the latest response from Pacific Hydro when we requested a guarantee that wind farms do not cause health impacts, a guarantee that there is no devaluation of property as a result of the wind farm and a response to Pacific Hydro regarding trees that were removed from our property.
CHAIR: Thank you for your submissions today.
Mr Cummings: Cranes and brolgas do not have any land values to worry about. They are not nimbys and have no vested interests but they cannot live next to a wind farm. In America the crane studies showed that within two kilometres of a wind farm, when they fed cranes to see the reaction, they could not eat enough food as was needed to offset the stress they were under. They lost weight and in some cases were deemed to be about to die. A crane has no vested interests. When these people say they cannot live there, I would tend to believe them—when you see what the cranes do.
CHAIR: Thank you for appearing today.
Hansard, 30 March 2015