The Senate Inquiry Into Wind Farms Has Given Me Tinnitus


I think I have tinnitus: I often believe I can hear the sound of the Liberal Party and its allies ossifying.

Tinnitus is caused by noise that’s not objectively apparent. An ache-inducing ring, buzz, whistle, roar or hum in the ear. It can be excruciating, maddening, but can also take the form of a dull throb, snivelling away at the quality of your everyday life.

This week, my undiagnosed tinnitus was raging almost as hard as a codger living next to a wind farm. Coincidentally, the Senate witch-hunt into wind farms held two pubic hearings.

The evidence was shocking: The Association of Australian Acoustic Consultants told the inquiry that studies had found no real physical reaction to infrasound (sound outside the range than the human ear can register, which may annoy while remaining annoyingly imperceptible) was caused by wind farms.

In February, the National Health and Medical Council released its own findings that “there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans”.

Since then, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm claims, the Senate Inquiry into wind farms has done what inquiries conducted by governments in New South Wales and Victoria could not.

It’s dug up some “credible evidence” against wind farms, in much the same way coal companies dig up fossil fuels at huge cost to surrounding residents and the planet.

This morning, the honourable Tony Abbott weighed in, claiming victory over the scourge of wind farms. He shared this triumph with wind-hating broadcaster, Alan Jones.

“I do take your point about the potential health impact of these things,” Abbott said.

“When I’ve been up close to these wind farms, not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise.”

Poor Tony, like his Treasurer Joe Hockey, has to suffer the awful amenity of wind farms en route to Canberra in his Commonwealth car. Sick of being downtrodden, the Prime Minister revealed, they hatched a plan to take the wind out of renewable energy’s sails.

“What we did recently in the Senate was to reduce, Alan, capital R-E-D-U-C-E, the number of these things that we are going to get in the future.”

While he “frankly would have liked to have reduced the number a lot more” Tony Abbott and his government “got the best deal [they]could out of the Senate”. Given investment in renewables tanked by nearly 90 per cent last year, it wasn’t a bad job.

“If we hadn’t had a deal, Alan, we would have been stuck with even more of these things.”

The deal Abbott was referring to was a 20 per cent cut to the Renewable Energy Target, which the government maintains it supports, despite its objective being to increase the deployment of renewables like wind farms.

While “admittedly imperfect,” the government’s efforts managed “to reduce the growth rate of this particular sector as much as the current Senate would allow us to do”.

Wind turbines. Or as they're commonly known: beacons of death.

The Senate inquiry into wind farms, which crossbencher David Leyonhjelm got up with Coalition support, was presumably inspired by a similar desire to protect the public from the evils of wind farms.

A libertarian, Leyonhjelm is no fan of government subsidies for renewables generally, but he appears to share Abbott’s particular hatred for wind farms, the most commercially viable source of large-scale renewable energy currently available.

Writing in The Australian yesterday, Leyonhjelm explained he had “met with some of those affected” by wind farms and that this was the impetus behind the inquiry.

“They tell me they mainly suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, but some also suffer sinus pressure, tinnitus, pains in the chest, headaches, nausea, and vertigo.

“Their symptoms vary, but the similarities are striking for people who live so far apart.”

Oh yes, the symptoms vary. Simon Chapman, a Sydney University Professor who has worked in public health on three continents, has found 150 illnesses or ailments people have taken to the internet to blame on wind farms.

Deaths, cancer, losing or gaining weight – people have blamed wind farms for them all.

“Haemorrhoids have not yet been named, but nothing would surprise me,” Chapman wrote in The Conversation.

You can read Chapman’s analysis, in which he suggests illnesses attributed to wind farms are ‘communicated’ (read: not real), but the crux is that there is no credible evidence, despite the many studies and inquiries.

But Leyonhjelm points out in The Oz that “the evidentiary finger points mainly at the big turbines erected in Australia over the past few years,” which, because of their size, produce more infrasound.

Many wind turbines, he writes, are now “taller than the Sydney Harbour Bridge”.

A Leyonhjelm senior advisor, Max Rheese, has also pointed this out in his various attacks on wind energy. Last year, Rheese praised the paper his boss, or perhaps his boss’s staffers, are now writing for “exposing the fallacious myths perpetrated by those who believe wind power will save the planet and who will say anything to advance what has become a noble cause”.

This he did while he was the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs’ spin off group, the Australian Environment Fund (AEF), which doesn’t buy climate science and rails against subsidising renewables, and wind in particular.

‘Big Wind’, Rheese explained, is an arrogant money-grubbing industry. In yesterday’s Australian, Leyonhjelm also assailed “big wind” for an attitude derived from “a sense of smug untouchability”.

At this week’s public hearings, Leyonhjelm complained in the Oz: “Wind farm operators even denied owing a duty of care to nearby residents so long as they comply with what are clearly deficient regulations."

“This reminds me of Big Tobacco’s denials 50 years ago that cigarettes cause lung cancer."

Presumably the Senator from NSW isn’t overly concerned about that though – his party took “tens of thousands” worth of donations from a tobacco company at the last election.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.