15 June 2015
by Sophie Vorrath

Abbott says RET policies designed to reduce 'visually awful' wind farms

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has launched an extraordinary attack on wind farms in Australia, accusing them of having health impacts and describing them as “visually awful” — echoing similar comments by his Treasurer a year ago.

In an interview with Radio 2GB’s Alan Jones, himself a vocal critic of wind farms, Abbott also directly contradicted the Coalition party line on the amendment to the renewable energy target — namely, that the new 33,000GWh number was not a reduction on the original 20 per cent by 2020 target, but an increase.
Rather, Abbott declared the RET amendment for what it is — a “capital R” Reduction, aimed specifically at limiting the growth rate of the wind energy sector “as much as the current Senate would allow”.

The startlingly frank comments were made on Thursday morning in an interview with Jones — the diviner of many a startlingly frank comment from Coalition Party members, including Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s May 2014 statement that the sight of wind turbines was “utterly offensive”.

In the interview on Thursday, Abbott seemed to side with his treasurer on that point, too, describing wind turbines as “visually awful” and even suggesting that they could have potential health impacts.

Abbott told Jones:

I do take your point about the potential health impact of these things.
…when I’ve been up close to these windfarms not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise.

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 … I frankly would have liked to have reduced the number a lot more but we got the best deal we could out of the Senate and if we hadn’t had a deal, Alan, we would have been stuck with even more of these things …

What we are managing to do through this admittedly imperfect deal with the Senate is to reduce the growth rate of this particular sector as much as the current Senate would allow us to do.

But Federal Environment minister Greg Hunt and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane, who brokered the deal on the RET with Labor, have said exactly the opposite — that the RET amendment’s primary aim was not to reduce the amount of renewable energy built, or to reduce the number of wind farms, but to prevent the industry from failing to reach the original target, which would then trigger a penalty price that would force power prices up.

Australian representatives at international climate negotiations in Bonn have also sought to present the change to the renewable energy target as an increase rather than a cut, when pressed on the policy by the U.S., China. the EU, Brazil and others last week.

Opposition climate spokesman Mark Butler – who agreed to the 33,000GWh number and has himself toed the Coalition’s line that it will not result in a reduction on the 2020 target, but an increase – said Abbott’s comments on 2GB Radio had effectively confirmed his goal was to put an end to the renewable energy industry.

Butler said in a statement on Thursday:

It’s gobsmacking that Australia’s Prime Minister can be so short-sighted, and so out of touch.
It’s as if Tony Abbott enjoys making Australia the laughing stock of the world – he so frequently expresses his Jurassic views when it comes to climate change and Australia’s future industries.

Labor fought hard against Tony Abbott’s attempts to destroy the renewable energy industry last year and we’re pleased to have come to an arrangement where 25 per cent of Australia’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2020.

Butler added that the comments were:

…an embarrassment… [that] … would not help Australia’s participation in the negotiations at the upcoming Paris Conference.

The PM is already looking increasingly isolated on the international stage over his government's climate policies and their collective failure to pull Australia's weight.

As well as questioning cuts to the RET, representatives from Australia’s major trading partners used the recent UN conference in Bonn to question Australia’s 2020 emissions target, which is currently as a modest 5 per cent reduction, and its accounting for land use measurements, which has effectively allowed Australia to turn a 31 per cent increase in industrial emissions to a countrywide fall of 2 per cent since 1990.

Erwin Jackson, the deputy head of The Climate Institute, said in a statement that the Australian government’s response to these questions had only served to raise more questions:

The government’s response to other countries questions on the effectiveness of its domestic pollution reductions policy lack transparency and try to avoid accountability.
The government appears to be inflating the impact of its actions to 2020 without providing any estimate of the pollution reductions it will deliver.

And that is more or less the same conclusion drawn by carbon market analysts RepuTex this week who, in a new report released on Thursday, found that the official greenhouse gas emissions projections used by the Coalition in its submission to the UN ahead of Paris could be overstated by more than 200 million tonnes — more than the annual emissions from the entire Australian electricity sector.

According to RepuTex, the 'systematic overstatement' of emissions due to erroneously high projections for electricity, land-use, waste and resource export sector emissions, means it will be easier for Australia to meet its 2020 – and post-2020 –target, as emissions continue to be far lower than projected.

This was likely to lead to more major downgrades in Australia’s emissions projections over the next five years, said the report — regardless of the effectiveness of government policy, it said.

But it seems Abbott is more concerned about the “potential” – but as yet scientifically unsupported – health impacts of wind turbines than the scientifically backed – and potentially devastating – impacts of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions.

He has done nothing to hose down the anti-wind campaigning from government cross-benches, including key Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, who is leading the current Senate Inquiry into wind farms – the 10th such inquiry in five years – and who recently called for the Abbott Government to set up a new regulator to monitor noise levels near wind turbines.

In an op-ed published in The Australian on Wednesday, Leyonhjelm wrote that, with around 1,800 more wind turbines set to be built over the next five years as a result of the bipartisan RET agreement,

'...it is absolutely certain that tens of thousands of people who live within a few kilometres of these new turbines will become sick.'

But that is not what scientists and health experts say.

On Wednesday, members of the Association of Australian Acoustic Consultants told the fifth public hearing of the wind Senate inquiry that several studies had found no perceivable physical reaction to so-called infrasound from windfarms, as claimed by some residents living close to them.

The chair of the AAAC windfarm subcommittee, Chris Turnbull, said.

We can measure the level of infrasound in a windfarm, and we know what that level is, and we can measure it inside rooms, and that has been done on a number of occasions.

If we replicate that level at the same character, and the same frequencies, that person is essentially exposed to the same level of infrasound in terms of character and level [as a windfarm] ....

To date, all of the studies have suggested that there is no reaction to that level of infrasound. And, as Friends of the Earth renewables spokesman, Leigh Ewbank, pointed out on Thursday, there are many more reviews that have come to the same conclusion.

Abbott’s statement on the alleged health impacts of wind farms are out-of-step with the the view of public health experts.

There are now 24 reviews by credible bodies, such as the Australian Medical Association, that show wind energy is clean and safe.