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Windpower Noise vs. Farmers and Livestock: The View from Australia (Queensland)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- October 26, 2023

“AgForce is aware of excessive noise complaints at both Mt Emerald and Coopers Gap Wind Farm with a court case on noise nuisance still in progress against the Mt Emerald Wind Farm5…. Noise pollution can cause … fatigue, headaches, elevated blood pressure, irritability, digestive disorders and increased susceptibility to cold and other minor infections.”

“AgForce also has concerns about the impact of wind farms on livestock…. The British Horse Society Advisory Statement recommends a setback of at least 4 times the overall height away from the path of horses to minimise safety risk.”

MasterResource has long reported on the health and nuisance problems of industrial wind turbines on residents and wildlife. There is a reason why such turbines are built remotely and need so much transmission, adding more cost to the high costs of dilute, intermittent, uneconomic energy.

I was reminded of this by recent publicity regarding a major farm group challenging lax requirements on wind industrialization in Queensland (Australia’s second biggest state). The debate has significant implications for the long-term expansion of wind-generated electricity in places where there are people and animals (both wild and domesticated).

Note the the farmers and livestock were there first, giving them a homestead right against nuisance and harms. Also note that the wind projects receive special government favor, typically at the expense of taxpayers, which puts the onus on the projects that otherwise would not occur.

AgForce Queensland Farmers Limited describes itself as follows:

A peak organisation representing Queensland’s cane, cattle, grain and sheep, wool & goat producers…. AgForce’s purpose is to advance sustainable agribusiness and strives to ensure the long-term growth, viability, competitiveness and profitability of these industries. Over 6,000 farmers, individuals and businesses provide support to AgForce through membership. Our members own and manage around 55 million hectares, or a third of the state’s land area. Queensland producers provide high-quality food and fibre to Australian and overseas consumers, contribute significantly to the social fabric of regional, rural and remote communities, as well as deliver stewardship of the state’s natural environment.

Excerpts follow of a submission to Deputy Premier Steven Miles (September 4, 2023) regarding Review of the Wind Farm Code (State Code 23) & Accompanying Guidelines.

Acoustic Amenity

AgForce sees that the acoustic criteria contained in State Code 23 (‘Code 23’) is contrary to best practice approaches. The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for community noise recommends that during the night, bedrooms should have less than 30 dB(A) indoors to allow for good quality sleep.

Noise pollution can cause significant short and long-term health consequences including fatigue, headaches, elevated blood pressure, irritability, digestive disorders and increased susceptibility to cold and other minor infections. However, under Code 23 the permitted maximum noise level from wind turbines on a host property at nighttime is the greater of 45dB(A) outdoors, or the background noise (LA90) plus 5dB(A). On non-host lots the permitted maximum outdoor noise level is the greater of 35dB(A) or the background noise plus 5dB(A).

Ordinarily noise is regulated by the Department of Environment & Heritage Protection (DEHP), however, wind farms are not subject to the same noise regulations that are prescribed by the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act)/Environmental Protection (Noise) Policy 2019. This is because wind farms are not considered an Environmentally Relevant Activity (ERA) as they do not burn fuel, which AgForce sees to be at odds with the objective of Queensland’s environmental protection framework.

Ultimately, this means that the DEHP has no statutory powers in assessing the noise pollution emitted by wind farms and the regulation of wind farms is done solely through Code 23. AgForce has serious concerns about the integrity of the guidelines adopted by Code 23. In a series of emails exchanged within the DEHP it has evidently ignored concerns from its own staff. In summary:

• On 24 August 2015, Paul Roff emailed David Cook regarding an enquiry received from the Deputy Premier of the Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Government & Planning (DSDILGP), explaining that the reply letter to the Deputy Premier needs to restate the DEHP’s opposition to wind farms being classified as an Environmentally Relevant Activity (ERA).

• On 26 August 2015, Dr Antoine David (Technical Specialist (Noise)) from the DEHP, provided to Paul Roff (Manager Environmental Planning at the Department of Environment & Heritage Protection), a bullet point list of technical points on the Draft Wind Farm State Code after his review, which was prompted by a letter from the Deputy Premier. Dr David’s concerns are attached as Appendix 2. Dr David’s conclusion is that the Code 23 acoustic criteria will not protect residents or animals.

• On 7 September 2015, Tony Roberts, Deputy Director-General Environmental Policy & Planning replied to Greg Chemello, (Deputy Director-General, Planning and Property Group, Department of State Development, Infrastructure & Planning) that the draft code is based on independent technical advice and has no concerns.

AgForce sees that the DEHP should have informed DSDILGP of Dr David’s concerns however, this did not occur and instead, Tony Roberts advised Greg Chemello that there are no concerns with the acoustic guidelines as they were based on independent technical advice.

AgForce takes issues with this as the acoustic consultant engaged by DSDILGP, John Savery, had no known previous experience with wind farm noise other than at the same time being engaged to provide acoustic advice for the proposed Rabbit Ridge Wind Farm at Dalveen. The Rabbit Ridge wind farm was refused by Southern Downs Regional Council in the first instance because it could not meet the requirements set by the former Noise Policy (2008) however, was later approved under the acoustic guidelines in Code 23, which were advised by John Savery.

Evidently, Mr Savery had a conflict between his duty to the State of Queensland in setting the acoustic criteria in Code 23 to protect residents and animals and his duty to his client, the Rabbit Ridge Wind Farm, at the time of advising on the acoustic criteria in Code 23 and favoured his duty to his client and set acoustic criteria so that Rabbit Ridge would be approved. It is clear that the interpretation of acoustic data would have been manipulated in such a way to allow wind farms to generate greater noise levels at the cost of human and animal health and well-being.

AgForce is aware that Bryan Lyons, on behalf of Wind Energy Queensland, advised DSDILGP of this serious lack of impartiality in writing on 13 May 2014. DSDILGP chose to accept the conflicted advice from John Savery over the independent advice of its own noise expert.

It is bewildering that no response has been provided or no real review of the merits of the acoustic advice informing Code 23 has been performed, even with the conflict of duty and interest of John Savery being raised to Greg Chemello by Wind Energy Queensland.

Dr Antoine David, in his list of concerns, has also noted that the 1.5km buffer zone from the wind turbine is insufficient as this figure was based on much smaller turbines. With larger turbines being used today it would be apt that the guidelines reflect these changes through the recommended buffer distance. Dr David has also highlighted that the concept of wind masking has been erroneously applied in Code 23 to justify increasing noise limits at the residences (background noise plus 5 dBA) with increased wind speeds at the wind turbine (at least 1.5km away).

There is no guarantee that the same wind speed will be occurring at the receptor to create background noise at the receptor sufficient to mask the noise from the wind turbine. This again undermines the reasoning behind making wind turbines exempt from acoustic quality objectives set in the Environmental Protection (Noise) Policy 2008 (now repealed) and 2019.

Additionally, Code 23 does not consider the cumulative impacts of existing wind turbines to new or expanded wind farm development. Appendix 2 of Code 23 states that the noise criteria is based on the background noise level without the contribution of existing wind farms. This is extremely unacceptable and AgForce sees that the cumulative noise impact should be considered with any application made to the State Assessment Referral Agency (SARA).

AgForce also has issue with the reference to approved sensitive land use receptors with the requirement to include noise modelling and predictions of free-field acoustic levels. Appendix 2 of the Code explicitly states that temporary or mobile habitable building structures on land are not included as sensitive land use receptors. This is a particular issue to AgForce members as often mustering or harvesting contractors will bring their own accommodation with them, either as a caravan or gooseneck, and AgForce is concerned that noise levels at these sites should be included otherwise landholders may lose the ability to easily engage contractors.

Furthermore, even where projects are approved, there is little onus placed upon the proponent to perform acoustic monitoring after the initial requirement placed upon approved developments by SARA to undertake operational noise monitoring within the first 12 months of the wind farm being fully operational.

This is unacceptable as the project could be emitting much greater amounts of noise than what has been approved. It is a flaw of the system that under the Planning Act 2016 (Qld), SARA is charged with enforcement of the acoustic conditions of approval but SARA is set up to carry out assessment of developments, it is not set up to carry out enforcement and it does not have the noise expertise to measure compliance.

Proponents should be cautious following the precedent set by Uren v Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd4 as compliance with Code 23 may not be sufficient to defend a claim in common law nuisance by neighbouring landholders. If anything, the Victorian matter should serve as an incentive for proponents to undertake proper noise monitoring throughout the course of the project’s life. AgForce is aware of excessive noise complaints at both Mt Emerald and Coopers Gap Wind Farm with a court case on noise nuisance still in progress against the Mt Emerald Wind Farm5 .

Complaints are being made to the wind farm company and are being investigated by the wind farm company. In all cases the wind farms have said the noise is compliant with their permit conditions. These complaints support Dr David’s comments that the Wind Farm Code and permit conditions based on the Code would not adequately protect the community from excessive wind turbine noise.

Noise on Livestock

AgForce also has concerns about the impact of wind farms on livestock and the lack of consideration given to this in Code 23. There is little to no evidence rebutting the possibility of impacts to livestock production and the safety of producers using horses to shift stock. Animal behaviour expert from the University of Queensland, Andrew Tribe, stated in a report that both cattle and horses would take time to get used to the noise and movement of a wind turbine and that he would expect greater risk to horse and rider safety near the turbines.

The British Horse Society Advisory Statement recommends a setback of at least 4 times the overall height away from the path of horses to minimise safety risk. This means that producers will be at greater risk when mustering on horseback near wind turbines, which is not contemplated anywhere within the code.

1.1 Recommendations in Response to Acoustic Amenity

• That a maximum of 30 dB(A) indoors (with windows open) be the permissible nighttime noise limit averaged over 10-minute intervals as to obtain an accurate average measurement.

• Ongoing requirement of noise compliance monitoring, recording and reporting. • The low frequency noise and infrasound should be assessed as part of the wind farm assessment.

• An adequate buffer distance that reflects the size of current wind turbines should be included in the guidelines based upon advice from a more appropriate and impartial acoustician. Dr David presented a paper to the 20th International Congress on Sound and Vibration held 7 – 11 July 2013, titled ‘An Underpinning Methodology To Derive Stand-Off Distances From A Wind Farm’, on this issue.

• A review by an independent acoustician should be obtained to inform the guidelines.

• Further research as to the effects on livestock be conducted as to allow for adequate and appropriate compensation on impacted businesses.

• Cumulative noise should be considered when further turbines are built on an existing wind farm.

• The concept of wind masking should not be used in the Code.

• AgForce has received information from Les Huson, acoustician, who recommends that the acoustic assessment should be performed on acoustically hard ground, as is the preferred method in South Australia and New South Wales.

• Ultimately, wind farms should achieve the objectives set out in the Environment Protection (Noise) Policy 2019.

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