Australia is going to get a 'wind farm commissioner'

Photo: Getty / File

The political fight against wind farms, which prime minister Tony Abbott labelled “visually awful” and noisy last week, looks set to go up another notch with a leaked draft letter from environment minister Greg Hunt proposing a “windfarm commissioner” to deal with complaints about the industry in a bid to gain crossbench Senate support for the government’s renewable energy plan.

The Guardian Australia has a copy of the proposed letter to the Senate crossbenchers who oppose wind-powered engery as the federal government tries to include burning wood waste from the native forestry as a renewable energy to meet its reduced renewable energy target (RET).

The wind energy industry says it has up to $18 billion worth of investment on the drawing board, but crossbench Senators David Leyonhjelm, John Madigan and Bob Day have become increasingly vociferous in their opposition to it during the current Senate inquiry into wind turbines. Preliminary findings are due next month, but the government is trying to finalise Senate support for its new RET of 33,000GWh, down from Labor’s original 41,000GWh target.

The ALP agreed to back the Coalition’s target, but bipartisan support split over the government’s plan to include burning native wood waste as a renewable source. While the move would be popular in Tasmania’s volatile marginal seats, Labor fears a Greens-led backlash, meaning the Coalition needs crossbench support for the deal.

The leaked letter from Greg Hunt outlines plans for a new “independent scientific committee” to consider the claimed detrimental health impacts of wind farms.

The committee will be asked to “provide research and advice to the minister on the impact on the environment and human health of audible noise (including low frequency) and infra-sound from wind farms”.

In January 2013 the government ordered a review by the National Health and Medical Research Council into the health effects of wind farms and “wind turbine syndrome”. The review looked at 30 years of studies, including two earlier NHMRC reviews and was released in February, concluding that “there is no direct evidence that exposure to wind farm noise affects physical or mental health”.

The wind farm commissioner will be expected to listen to the concerns of residents and produce details on operating hours and noise levels for the turbines.

The government will also “respond actively and in good faith to the findings of the Senate select committee on wind turbines,” the letter said.

The minister’s draft letter also emphasises a major focus on solar power and other renewables outside wind energy.

A copy of the letter has been published on the Guardian website.

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