Australian Environment Foundation: What Vestas Knew, and When

The National Forum – On Line Opinion, February 17, 2014

What Vestas Knew, and When

This is a story about the wind industry and turbine manufacturer, Vestas and the global campaign to counter dissent about the adverse impacts caused by their product to an often ignored minority of people living in rural communities worldwide.

It is also about the useful idiots co-opted to help sell its message. A term used for those who are seen to unwittingly support an objectionable cause which they naïvely believe to be a force for good.

For a decade individuals and community groups have been calling for studies into the adverse health impacts of wind turbine noise both in Australia and overseas.

This relatively recent phenomenon coincides remarkably with the growth in size of wind turbines from 50m in height to over 150m, taller than the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Noise from these massively larger turbines has increased correspondingly with low-frequency noise broadcast over a much larger area according to Danish experts Professors Moeller and Pedersen who said “It must be anticipated that problems with low-frequency noise will increase with even larger turbines.”

The common refrain from wind energy companies and their supporters is that there is no evidence of adverse health impacts to nearby residents. To be factually correct they should have been saying there was no published evidence, which is why those affected want an independent properly constituted health study acceptable to all parties. Despite these claims by the wind industry as of late 2012 there were over a dozen peer-reviewed published papers linking wind turbine noise with health impacts.

Supporters point to 20 reviews, mainly of existing literature, held in various countries that have found no conclusive evidence linking turbine operations with poor health.

Literature reviews of previous studies serve a purpose as do the plethora of separate studies by acousticians, sleep experts and physicians, many of which draw the conclusion there is a strong prima facie case that low-frequency noise generated by wind turbines causes chronic sleep deprivation in some people which then degenerates to adverse health impacts.

Global wind turbine supplier, the Danish company Vestas, launched their Act on Facts campaign in Melbourne during 2013 to counter the “success” of community groups, the Waubra Foundation and the Australian Environment Foundation in convincing parliamentarians of the need for a study.

The Act on Facts campaign, as the name implies, is to quash ‘myths’ and counter ‘misinformation’ by those who have concerns about the uncritical acceptance of wind energy.

Therefore the recent discovery of a 2004 PowerPoint presentation by Vestas employee Erik Sloth to the former Australian Wind Energy Association (now the Clean Energy Council) demonstrating Vestas knew a decade ago that safer buffers are required to protect neighbours from noise, their pre-construction noise models are not accurate and that “we know that noise from wind turbines sometimes annoys people even if the noise is below noise limits” is a disturbing contradiction to their rhetoric and the ideals of their campaign. It is also confirmation the global wind industry have in fact been peddling misinformation rather than facts.

Issues referred to in the Vestas presentation were commented on in the previously mentioned peer-reviewed paper by Professors Moeller and Pedersen published six years after the Vestas presentation, where they stated “that minimum distances to dwellings are often calculated from noise data that lack an appropriate safety margin. Using data without a safety margin, such as mean values for a given turbine model, measurements from a single turbine, or ‘best guess’ for future turbines gives in principle a probability of 50 per cent that the actual erected turbines will emit more noise than assumed and that noise limits will be exceeded.”

This statement no doubt accounts for some of the known instances of wind farms exceeding noise guidelines as detailed in a Supreme Court case in South Australia. The level of angst in rural communities from disruption to their lives through intrusive noise and wind industry resistance to long-held community concerns has driven more than one expensive court proceedings.

The numerous instances of wind farm operators refusing to release noise data, not keeping accurate records of complaints and buying out some neighbours to silence them with gag clauses is well known and also indicative of an industry desperate to suppress damning information.

The Act on Facts campaign is acknowledgement by the wind industry that they have not been able to successfully control the dissemination of information that is detrimental to their very existence. Community support is vital for the wind industry as they cannot profitably survive in any country in which they operate without continued generous public subsidies.

This is what makes the Vestas Act on Facts campaign nothing more than corporate spin as outlined in The Guardian: ‘Ken McAlpine, public affairs director for Vestas in Australia, said the highly-unconventional corporate campaign was being launched here because anti-wind groups in Australia had been more successful than in any other country. He accused some of spreading misinformation and using “astroturfing” (fake grassroots) campaigns to persuade politicians to pass legislation making wind farm operations more difficult.’

Or maybe the more than 2000 community groups in 33 countries have been successful because they are the only ones telling the truth.

Does Vestas inside knowledge, since 2004, that their turbines will have an effect on some people and their subsequent denials of such constitute misinformation or something much worse? Certainly the culture at Vestas is called into question by Professor of Political Science, Peter Nedergaard from Copenhagen University who said “There’s no doubt that Vestas here smears its opponents.”

If one accepts at face value the claims of the wind industry, vociferously articulated over the last decade that there are no health impacts from wind turbine noise, it begs the question of why they are so secretive with regards to noise data. More importantly if they are so confident of their product, why not take the fight to their critics by vigorously encouraging government to undertake health studies to prove there are no adverse effects as they claim?

Surely it would be in the interests of the wind industry to fund independent studies to vindicate their claims and silence critics, especially since they say their turbines pose no threat to human health.

The hypocrisy of claiming moral purity while not taking available action that would exonerate them, while concealing information that damns their operations, exposes the duplicitous nature of the wind industry and some supporters.

These supporters, many of whom are on the fringes of the medical fraternity, have either knowingly or unknowingly endorsed the denials of the wind industry.

Despite the wind industry being well aware for years that their product has the potential to cause serious harm to human health they invited Professor Simon Chapman, the Climate and Health Alliance, and others to help Vestas launch their ‘fact-based’ campaign last year.

Professor of Public Health, sociologist Simon Chapman who lacks any medical or acoustic qualifications, has been vocal in the media denigrating those who call for medical research into the effects of wind turbines and spoke at the launch of the Act on Facts campaign.

How can Professor Chapman reconcile his ridicule of the reasons numerous people have been forced to abandon their homes because of continuing adverse health effects with the knowledge that the company initiating the campaign knew a decade ago there were problems?

Or how does Professor Chapman reconcile his statements at the senate inquiry into the impacts of wind farms where he was asked if he would be opposed to research into health impacts he said it “would be a wonderful idea” with his strident advocacy depicting those seeking such research as “scaremongering” activists.

Chapman in an SBS radio interview in January this year questions the need for any further research, despite thinking it is a wonderful idea, saying there have been a total of 20 reviews since 2003. Indeed there has; reviews of existing literature but no independent research.

In the same interview he says “the U.S. research was done on wind turbines that were much smaller than what’s used today” which renders that research completely irrelevant as per the conclusions of the Moeller Pedersen research. Chapman by his own statements displays no obvious comprehension of the acoustical properties of wind turbine operation, but pretends to understand the issue.

What is worse though, for someone who parades his ‘health’ credentials while behaving like a dilettante on actual noise issues, Chapman and other ‘health professionals’ display an amazing lack of compassion in their dismissive attitude to people who claim to be suffering debilitating effects from pervasive wind turbine noise. Considering there has been no government health study demonstrating adverse health impacts – or studies showing there are not – one could be forgiven for thinking health professionals, of all people, would take a precautionary approach as recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Indeed much the same could be said for the convenor of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA), Fiona Armstrong who also spoke at the campaign launch. What due diligence did the CAHA undertake before deciding there was no substance to the concerns of thousands of people around the world who are directly impacted by wind turbines? As someone representing health professionals did Fiona Armstrong call for independent health studies to settle the noise issue once and for all? Having endorsed the Vestas campaign to stick to the facts, what is the response of the CAHA to the internal Vestas document acknowledging noise from their turbines impacts some people in rural communities?

President of the CAHA is Dr Liz Hanna. It is assumed that Dr Hanna authorised the participation of CAHA at the Vestas launch of its corporate spin campaign. This immediately puts both Dr Hanna and the CAHA in a position of assisting a turbine manufacturer to deny the adverse health impacts from its product – impacts which it is well aware of and were acknowledged in the 2004 presentation.

There is no evidence any of these health professionals have taken the trouble to interview Annie Gardner, Donald Thomas, Trish Godfrey, Noel Dean, Brian Kermonde, Carl or Samantha Stepnell or dozens of others in Victoria alone to determine the integrity of their claims relating to the effects they have been subjected to from wind turbines.

Perhaps the health professionals knew they would be confronted with inconvenient truths if they did, which would undermine their confected outrage at the temerity of those who do not genuflect before the turbines of righteousness.

Another speaker at the campaign launch was Simon Holmes à Court, chairman of Hepburn Wind. Holmes à Court is famous for being the driving force behind the two turbine community owned wind farm near Daylesford Victoria, the first of its kind in Australia. Holmes à Court has assiduously cultivated the media in numerous feature articles to present as the community minded crusader for wind energy. He is perhaps infamous for Hepburn Wind repeatedly reneging on a commitment to release noise data from the Daylesford wind farm after a number of nearby residents, including a local doctor started suffering health impacts.

Uncritical public acceptance of wind industry spin began to change after the 2011 senate inquiry into the impacts of wind farms, chaired by Greens senator Rachel Siewert made the unequivocal recommendation that “the Commonwealth Government initiate as a matter of priority thorough, adequately resourced epidemiological and laboratory studies of possible effects of wind farms on human health.”

After a decade of grass-roots rural community angst from being ridden over roughshod by multi-national energy companies aided by state and federal governments eager to be seen to be ‘doing something’ about climate change, while ignoring the basic human right to enjoy rest and repose in their own home, the issue of health impacts will now get the hearing it deserves.

The Abbott government has announced a health study into the effects of wind farms with the Victorian government pledging $100,000 support.

Environment groups that have supported the wind industry and taken their thirty pieces of silver, ‘health professionals’ who have no expertise in acoustics and no interest in faraway rural communities, but do have an overblown interest in climate health effects, have jumped on the wind energy bandwagon eager to claim the high moral ground despite the human collateral damage. They instead should have taken the time to look at the noise data and the evidence. It also would not have hurt to at least speak with the affected families as well.

By allowing themselves to be co-opted as useful idiots to support a so-called ‘noble cause’, where the ends justify the means as well as failing to exhibit a modicum of caution or undertake due diligence, they now find themselves endorsing an industry denying in public what it knows in private to be true. Good luck with that!

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