Victorian Planning Minister Guy Quietly Amends Planning Provisions to Allow More Powerful Turbines

Victorian Planning Minister Guy Facilitates “Minor” Changes to Already Approved Wind Projects Through an Amendment (VC113) to the Victorian Planning Provisions

A Commentary by the Waubra Foundation
August 2014

The categorisation “minor” camouflages major concessions made by a responsible public official and senior Victorian Government Minister to an industry which is knowingly and deliberately harming rural residents with acoustic pollution from wind turbines. VC113 will inevitably and predictably result in more widespread and severe abuses of human rights, particularly the torture of wind project neighbours from prolonged sleep deprivation.

The amendment VC113 has two effects in relation to permits granted prior to 15 March 2011:

Firstly, it removes the requirement for developers to obtain consent from owners of dwellings within 2 km to applications to amend such permits unless the amendment increases the number of turbines or decreases the distance from a turbine to an existing dwelling;

Secondly, it removes a right of VCAT review of any decision amending such permit, unless the amendment increases the number of turbines or decreases the distance from a turbine to an existing dwelling.

Although VC113 appears intended to facilitate amendments relating to turbines it is not limited to such amendments. Where it existed, the VCAT right of review has been stripped away in relation to any amendment except one which increases the number of turbines or decreases distance to a turbine. An amendment extending the time for commencement or completion of construction, for example, would not now be subject to VCAT review.

No explanation or justification is given as to why amendment of permits granted prior to 15 March 2011 should be treated differently as regards VCAT review from permits granted after that date. The stripping away of such review rights is arbitrary and capricious.

Changes in turbine blade length and tower height have the capacity to substantially increase the severity and occurrence of adverse health impacts on local populations. The Minister, however, has proceeded as if any change to blade length, tower height or turbine power can only reduce health impacts. Such an approach by the Minister is inexplicable given that his department staff were well aware of the peer reviewed Danish Acoustics Research by Professors Moller & Pedersen when it was published in mid 2011, which confirmed these predictable effects.

Victoria has 19 wind projects approved but as yet unconstructed. These projects are now all potentially subject to amendment of turbine size and power facilitated by VC113.

Those living around these projects need to know that larger turbines produce a greater percentage of their total sound emissions as low frequency noise and infrasound (ILFN) than do smaller turbines.

This effect will be compounded by increased wake interference, unless the turbines have also been repositioned further apart, in accordance with the spacing specifications for the larger turbines. Wake interference results in turbulent air flow into adjacent turbines, with a consequent loss of efficiency, and increased ILFN generation.

The two biggest wind projects in Victoria, Waubra and Macarthur, are causing severe health impacts and chronic sleep deprivation. These are two examples of arbitrary permission via secondary consent (by the former Labor Minister of Planning) to increase turbine size.

What is the Rationale for Doing This?

The “technical” justification is that new turbines are “quieter”.

No evidence is offered by the Minister to support this statement.

Dr Neil Kelley and NASA showed thirty years ago, that it is the impulsive infrasound and low frequency noise resonating within dwellings which directly causes the “annoyance” symptoms, including sleep disturbance, so commonly and frequently reported by the wind turbine neighbours. Preliminary findings from Steven Cooper’s acoustic survey at Cape Bridgewater, commissioned by Pacific Hydro, are consistent with Dr Kelley’s findings.

These sound and vibration frequencies below 200 Hz are not currently considered by the Victorian Wind Turbine Noise guidelines or planning permit conditions, which are meant to protect the health and sleep of the neighbours, but instead act as a licence to damage both. This is hardly surprising, as the wind industry and its favourite acousticians “helped” write the Victorian Wind Turbine Noise Standard (from New Zealand), based originally on UK ETSU 97, which also ignored the measurement of the ILFN frequencies known to directly cause the damaging adverse health effects and sleep disturbance.

Why The Secrecy?

The Notice of Approval for Amendment to a Planning Scheme dated 31 July, 2013 says: “No notice of the Amendment was given” and “The Minister did not consult the responsible authorities.”

Why No Consultation?

Not only did the current Victorian Minister for Planning not consult the responsible authorities, being the local councils who are currently, and will be, dealing with the predictable breaches of the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act, he also exempted the amendment from the usual process of exhibition and submission. The public was simply not allowed to have a say about this even though the Minister’s actions may substantially increase the number of adversely affected rural Victorians.

Minister Guy is aware of the findings of Dr Bob Thorne’s case series at two Victorian Wind developments, which confirmed severe sleep deprivation, and impaired mental and physical health, and reduced quality of life in Victorian wind turbine neighbours. He is personally aware of the dire circumstances of Victorian residents, who have written directly to him.

Did Minister Guy consult with the Victorian Premier Dr Napthine? Dr Napthine is also personally aware of the suffering and sleep deprivation experienced by his own constituents at Macarthur and Cape Bridgewater, in fact he has been aware for some years.

Indeed, which, if any, of the current Ministers in the Victorian Government were aware of these changes, and who approved them? What due diligence did any of them do?

Did Minister Guy consult with his colleague Minister Davis, the Victorian Health Minister? Minister Davis offered $100,000 to the Federal Minister for a Health Study, in 2013 and whose Environmental Health Medical Staff admitted on two occasions in 2011 at public meetings that there were genuine health problems for these residents?

Did Minister Guy consult with Minister Ryan Smith, the Minister for the Environment and Climate Change? Minister Smith’s EPA staff reportedly refused to accept the proposed recently revised Victorian Wind Turbine Noise Standard Revisions, presumably because they know what is currently occurring in Victoria is profoundly wrong and indefensible, and the proposed changes would not adequately protect people.

What Are The Human Rights Consequences Of This Action By Minister Guy?

Prolonged severe sleep deprivation for more Victorian rural residents is inevitable, along with a variety of other symptoms and health problems, which will worsen with the physiological stress effects from exposure to operating wind turbines, also commonly reported by residents. This means the residents will be unable to attain the highest possible levels of physical and mental health, enshrined in most of the UN Conventions to which Australia is a signatory.

Prolonged sleep deprivation is also specifically acknowledged as a method of torture by the members of the UN Committee Against Torture, who stated:

“The Committee against Torture (CAT) has noted that sleep deprivation used for prolonged periods constitutes a breach of the CAT, and is primarily used to break down the will of the detainee. Sleep deprivation can cause impaired memory and cognitive functioning, decreased short term memory, speech impairment, hallucinations, psychosis, lowered immunity, headaches, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stress, anxiety and depression.”

Physicians For Human Rights consider both sleep deprivation and sensory bombardment with noise as torture techniques, and detail the clinical consequences of sleep deprivation, and the legal consequences for those who allow it to occur.

Article 2 of the UN Convention Against Torture states the following:

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

In other words, there is no justification, ever, for torture.

Not War. Not even a “war on climate change”. Not even to cynically try to win the votes of city residents who are oblivious to the human rights abuses currently occurring, unless they have rural relations and friends who are directly impacted.

The current Victorian Government and its Planning Department, appear to be knowingly, and therefore intentionally, allowing acts of torture to continue – indeed the VC113 amendment, promoted by Minister Guy, facilitates amendments to approved but unconstructed wind farms which would increase their adverse impact.

Which other Victorian Government Ministers knew of, and sanctioned, the VC 113 amendment?

Article 4 of the UN Convention against Torture states the following:

1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.

2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

What happens when politicians of all parties, responsible Ministers, and the senior bureaucracy responsible in health, planning and noise pollution regulation are all complicit in allowing torture to continue, indeed they facilitate it?

That is the current deeply shameful situation in Victoria, Australia

For all those who are, or who pretend to be, ignorant of the abuses of human rights currently occurring in Victoria for neighbours of industrial noise polluting facilities: please carefully consider the following question.

If a government Minister, and the government of which he or she is a part, allows acts of torture to continue to the extent that people are being driven out of their homes as a result, and the government’s political opponents will not do anything to protect the victims of this abuse, in this instance rural residents living near industrial wind turbines, then which minority group in the community will next be discriminated against? Which minority group will have their human rights so abused that they are also forced from their homes, subject to ridicule, and their legitimate complaints ignored by all those public officials responsible; officials who then try and hide what they are doing, or turn their backs, refuse to investigate, and pretend nothing is happening?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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