ENVIRONMENT Minister Greg Hunt is ambivalent about wind farms but Prime Minister Tony Abbott believes they are “visually awful”, make too much noise and the number must be reduced.
In an interview with Sydney radio broadcaster Alan Jones, Mr Abbott was quizzed about the government’s recent deal with the Labor Party to downsize the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and current Senate select committee inquiry into wind farms.
The Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 legislation now before the Senate will adjust the RET down to 33,000 gigawatt hours of electricity in 2020, from the current mark of 41,000 gigawatt hours.
In reference to its impact on wind farms, Mr Abbott said the government would “reduce the number of these things that we are going to get in the future”.
“Now, I would frankly have liked to reduce the number a lot more,” he said.
Mr Abbott said the proximity of “these things” (wind farms) to people’s dwellings was an important issue, but something for State governments to deal with.
“When I have been up close to these windfarms there’s no doubt not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise.”
Mr Jones referred to an article last week by NSW Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm which said it was “beyond dispute that wind turbines emit infrasound and low frequency noise”.
“It is well established that inappropriate levels of infrasound, regardless of the source, cause adverse health impacts,” Mr Jones said in quoting the Senator’s article.
But when asked about Mr Abbott’s comments, Mr Hunt said, “I'm less fussed about these things - that's the honest answer”.
“You know, he likes Picasso, I like Dali,” he said.
“Everybody has their own views on these things but there shouldn't be any problem with people expressing those views.”
Mr Hunt said many people were concerned about wind farms and “have a right to be heard without those who don’t live with them in their backyards deriding them”.
He said wind farms were part of the reduced RET but solar was also becoming increasingly competitive.
“The whole purpose of this target is to achieve a certain renewable energy outcome for Australia - 23.5 per cent by 2020 - and then to let the different forms of renewable energy compete and solar’s becoming more competitive each day,” he said.
Asked about the health impacts of wind farms, Mr Hunt said there was a Senate assessment underway and “I won’t try to pre-empt that” or an assessment being omission by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Asked how much damage the Prime Minister’s comments had caused the wind farm industry, Mr Hunt said “none”.
“We inherited a catastrophic mess from the ALP,” he said.
“The ALP ignored our warnings just like pink batts, just like green loans, just like cash for clunkers.
“They came up with a wacky idea for phantom credits and it led to chaos in the industry and if we had not taken steps what we would have seen was the industry go to penalty price and for Australians, for people here, that would have meant an effective $93 per tonne carbon tax.
“So we took steps to clean up Labor’s mess.
“They got their policy wrong, they got their projections wrong on electricity, they created phantom credits for renewable energy which was never actually generated.”
Later in the week, Mr Abbott spoke of his personal experience with a wind farm while cycling around Rottnest Island a few years ago, off the coast near Perth.
“My path took me almost directly under the big wind turbine which has been on Rottnest Island for some time,” he said.
“Now, up close, they are ugly, they are noisy and they may have all sorts of other impacts which I will leave to the scientists to study and that's why I think it's right and proper that state governments should have increased the distance from habitations that these installations now need to keep.
“It's right and proper that we are having an inquiry into the health impacts of these things.
“Frankly, it's right and proper that we have reduced the RET because as things stood, there was going to be an explosion of these things right around our country.
“There will still be some growth, but it will be much less than it would otherwise have been thanks to measures that this government has taken.”
But Tasmanian Labor Senator Anne Urquhart, who is a member of the Senate select inquiry, labelled the Prime Minister’s comments ‘totally baseless’ and ‘completely unsupported by expert evidence provided to the committee’.
“There have been 25 reviews into the issue across the globe and not one has found evidence that wind farms are detrimental to human health,” she said.
“There’s a growing body of credible research which shows that exposure to anti-wind messages can have a significant impact on people’s perceptions of the impacts of wind farms on their health.
“The Prime Minister’s words will only serve to increase anxiety in regional communities and create uncertainty in an industry that offers billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs.
“Yet again the Prime Minister is completely misrepresenting the facts in order to further his vicious war on renewable energy.”
Senator Urquhart’s comments reflected statements by Climate Council Councillor Professor Will Steffen, who said there was no consistent evidence that wind farms caused adverse health effects.