ROD TIFFEN. The Australian’s Wind Farm Reporting

Apr 26, 2017

The National Wind Farm Commissioner, Andrew Dyer, delivered his first annual report on March 31, covering the first 14 months of the agency’s operation since being set up by the Abbott government, with the support of conservative cross-bench senators. The agency has an annual budget of around $650, 000 a year, while Dyer is paid $205,000 for his part-time role.

The Sydney Morning Herald, Guardian and Crikey covered the release with short news stories. The Australian, and I think the other Murdoch dailies, ignored it.  

This was no doubt partly due to its lack of newsworthiness. The great bulk of the 46 page report consists of seemingly sensible observations of what procedures should be followed in terms of new developments, handling complaints and so forth.

Moreover, the Commission received only 90 complaints – two of these were about wind farms in general, and another 42 referred to proposed wind farms not yet built. So 46 referred to existing wind farms, indeed to just nine of the 76 operational wind farms in Australia. Of the 90 complaints, 67 are recorded as closed, either because the complainant did not proceed further when contacted or was satisfied with information supplied to them. The remaining submissions are ‘at various stages of the complaint-handling process.’

It would have been desirable to have more precise information on the cases, but it is clear that Dyer has not yet confirmed a single verified case of health damage caused by a wind turbine. He speaks of anecdotal evidence only, and wants more complainants to seek proper medical advice.

The small number of complaints, and the fact that so far few, if any, complaints about existing wind farms have been confirmed stands in strong contrast to the rhetoric that preceded the establishment of the office. Leading this charge was the Australian. A small smattering of its notable articles is summarized here:

As early as March 2011, its Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd was writing of ‘an increasingly vocal army of people in rural settlements who believe they have become collateral damage in Australia’s rush to embrace wind as an alternative energy.’ The majority of the 1500 word article referred to individuals and their complaints and fears. One warned of ‘an unfolding public disaster’. By September Lloyd thought wind farm developments ‘have become a case study in what happens when ideology and a passion for green development take precedence over proper community consultation and due planning process.’

In January 2012, Lloyd devoted an article to quoting the paper’s favourite non-expert Maurice Newman, who thought wind farms ‘fail on all counts’ – ‘grossly inefficient, extremely expensive, socially inequitable, a danger to human health, [and] environmentally harmful.’ No other views were quoted. Later in the month, Lloyd cited American noise expert Robert Rand – when he studied the impact of wind turbines in Maine, ‘he was literally blown away.’ According to Lloyd, ‘Rand’s testimony shows that, when it comes to wind turbines, what you can’t hear can hurt you.’ In April Lloyd had a front page story beginning: ‘A dead wedge-tailed eagle, chicken eggs without yolks and a dysfunctional village with residents bursting to flee.’

In February 2013, a reporter, Pia Akerman, had an exclusive revealing that a Victorian council had agreed that a wind farm development had slashed the land value of its neighbours. In December it ran an article by British journalist James Delingpole, who declared it’s clear that ‘corruption in multi-billion dollar green industries is rife’, and he details the way some have benefited financially from ‘the great climate change scam’, including ‘the unhealthily cosy relationship between the wind industry in Victoria and senior members of the state government’.

In 2015, the politics leading up to the establishment of the Wind Farm Commissioner was building up. Prime Minister Abbott was quoted criticizing the ‘visually awful’ wind turbines that make a lot of noise and revealed he want to slash the growth in wind energy. Then a Senate committee with a conservative majority urged the government to ‘strip billions more from subsidies to wind farms’.

Newman was back in October, asserting that sun and wind cannot match nuclear energy, and asserting that while the scaremongers’ attacks on the latter had proved groundless, there is ‘growing evidence of the adverse effects from wind turbine infrasound.’

Given the dozens of articles the paper had devoted to scare stories about wind power, it does seem strange that it so completely ignored the first report of the wind farm commissioner, the body whose creation so many conservatives had urged.

It parallels the paper’s recent determined ignoring of a series of reports on damage to the Great Barrier Reef. As Media Watch and John Menadue noted, while this created great interest in several countries, Australia’s own national daily had nothing to say. And now it has nothing to say about the Wind Farm Commissioner’s Report. Yet again, its sense of newsworthiness aligns with its political agenda.

Rod Tiffen is Emeritus Professor, Government and International Relations, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, University of Sydney.

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