LEON BYNER: Now, wind farms have been very controversial because, first of all, they’re not cheap. We keep getting told that it’s cheap energy but it isn’t really because it’s heavily subsidised and, of course, if the people that build them have an issue where they need to connect to the grid, they want you to pay for it, which means our power prices will go up even further but there are other issues with regards to wind farms, so, to get a grip to where the Coalition is on this, let’s talk with Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon, thanks for your time.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, Leon, and good morning to your listeners.
LEON BYNER: As you know, South Australia has more wind power, by a country mile, than anywhere else in Australia. For a whole lot of reasons it’s become controversial, so what is the Coalition’s policy on wind farms?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Coalition believes we need to give some real certainty and clarity as to what the situation is when it comes to noise impacts and health effects of wind farms. We’re not against wind energy. We are pro renewable energy and support having a strong Renewable Energy Target but we do think that the concerns of those who live near wind farms should be taken seriously. They should be looked at seriously and addressed if they’re proven and that’s why we have proposed some legislative changes that would require a very, very thorough, top class, world leading study into the health effects of wind farms and that then we would expect regulations to act on whatever that study demonstrated.
LEON BYNER: Simon, is that requirement… if it gets into law and you get into government, is that going to mean that wind farms will be more expensive to set up, even more so than they are now?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, no, this shouldn’t have any impact on the expense of setting up wind farms. What we want to do is be very clear as to what the noise effects of wind farms are, understand how close they can or can’t be to where people are living, what health effects they have and then, simply, the regulation and planning guidelines should be addressed to reflect the best possible scientific evidence and that’s all that we expect to occur. We’re very disappointed, though, that we tried to debate these amendments* in the Senate yesterday and, sadly, Labor and the Greens shut down debate. I don’t think there’s anything to fear in this regard. We should be wanting to know exactly what the science is, exactly what the facts are and ensure that development acts on the facts.
LEON BYNER: Okay, are you aware of any proposals on the table now to have more wind farms in SA than we’ve currently got, because our State Government’s minister [for mineral resources and energy], Tom Koutsantonis, is on the record as saying he wants as many wind farms as we can get?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There are proposals for extensive expansion of the wind farm industry in South Australia and that, of course, is why we think we need to make sure we get research done as quickly as possible so that everyone is dealing in facts here. There’s a lot of genuine community concern in areas where wind farms have been developed that there are those who believe there have been some health impacts of the wind farms, particularly caused by the type of noise they generate. Now, I’m not a scientist, I’m not a health researcher, but I want to know that Australia is developing its rules based on the best science and the best health research and that’s what we should undertake.
LEON BYNER: Okay, so, what’s the distance, for example, that the Coalition would believe is appropriate from a wind farm to, let’s say, a farm or property?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, this is exactly the reason why, Leon, we think we need to have the right health research undertaken by either the National Health and Medical Research Council or an expert body commissioned specifically for this task, so that you can set up an understanding of what is excessive noise is it something like 10 decibels or so above background noise, which is what some Senators have proposed? and, then, how close can you possibly be to residential dwellings and there’s a concern that perhaps effective research hasn’t been undertaken to date. If it is undertaken, then it can provide some certainty to both the proponents and developers of wind farms and to people living in areas where those wind farms are being developed.
LEON BYNER: So, Simon, are you getting a lot of public feedback about this?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: There’s a growing public feedback from South Australia and right around Australia. There are strong movements in Victoria and New South Wales, as well, where local people have become quite concerned and that’s why we should address these concerns. We shouldn’t try to hide from them as Labor and the Greens have wanted to do by closing down debate. Let’s have an open debate. Let’s get the science in, see what it says and then we can make sure planning regulations reflect the best available science.
LEON BYNER: Senator Simon Birmingham, talking about the Coalition’s policy with regards to wind farms.
*amendments to the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Excessive Noise from Wind Farms) Bill 2012