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Wind in the Bush aims to be the most informative, comprehensive, and up-to-date pages on Australian wind power and wind farms.
The author is not beholden to any company, lobby group, or government.

On this page...
Abatement of greenhouse CO2
Health concerns
Noise
Land values
Advantages of a nearby wind farm
Relevance to Australia
Visual amenity
Turbines and agriculture
What can you do?
On a lighter note
Conclusion
Also see
Wind power in Australia
Popularising wind turbines
Liberals want no action on CC
Why I support the local wind farm

Why support wind power

Why should everyone support the generation of electricity by wind turbines? The short answer is that it will be good for the community that hosts it and we should be doing all we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Wind generated electricity displaces fossil fuel generated electricity.

If we increase the amount of wind power we will slow down the climate change and ocean acidification that otherwise will greatly damage the world that our children and grandchildren inherit. Wind and solar power are the most economically viable clean alternatives to the burning of fossil fuels.

Apart from that, wind power saves lives because it reduces the air pollution from coal-fired power stations that kills millions of people each year.

People who live near a proposed wind farm have very little to lose by welcoming the development, and much to gain.

Put 5kW of solar panels on your roof and you save about 8 tonnes of CO2 per year; help get a 20 turbine wind farm built by spreading the facts on wind power and you will have a part in saving 180 000 tonnes of CO2 per year.


Written 2011/08/01, modified 2016/06/19 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com – Comments from anyone who can point out errors or possible improvements in this page will be welcome.
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Wind turbines

If you want to make an impact in the fight against climate change you can do so by actively supporting wind power!

Why wind power? Why should we worry about climate change?
In the last few years a lot of people have taken up solar power by putting photovoltaic panels on their roofs. Many have done so because they saw it as a good financial proposition, but many were also at least partly motivated by a desire to do something toward reducing global warming and limiting climate change. They felt some responsibility to personally 'do their bit'; perhaps they saw it as a duty toward giving their children or grandchildren a future.

 
Working
PV: 2.7kW × 24 × 365 × 0.18 = 4 265 kWh/yr = 4.265 MWh/yr
Wind turbine: 3MW × 24 × 365 × 0.35 = 9198 MWh/yr
Note: the 0.18 (18%) capacity factor for solar was derived from various sources including Wikipedia and my own solar installation. The 0.35 capacity factor for wind was calculated as the weighted average of all the larger wind farms on the south-eastern Australian power grid.
This is good, but how does it compare to wind power?

The average roof-top solar power system in Australia in 2011 was about 2.7 kilowatts (figures from the Australian Renewable Energy Regulator) and an installation of this size will generate about 4.3 megawatt-hours of electricity each year. A typical 3 megawatt wind turbine will generate about 9200 megawatt-hours each year, as much as 2000 roof-top solar power systems!

(The working for these calculations is shown on the right. See the glossary for an explanation of capacity factor.)

So while putting a solar power systems on your roof is a step in the right direction, providing support to a wind-power company that wants to put wind turbines on our hills is a step that is a couple of thousand times bigger.

Wind farms repay the energy used to build them in around the first six months of operation, after that they just sit there and generate clean electricity.

Wind power displaces fossil-fuel power

South Australia's first major wind farm was built in 2003. By 2014, an average of about 33% of South Australia's electricity was being generated by wind turbines which release no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere while generating. Had these wind farms not been built new fossil-fuel-fired power stations would have been built instead. SA's wind turbines have resulted in a reduction in greenhouse gas production from generation of electricity.

It has been calculated that about 3.4 million MWh of electricity were generated by SA's wind turbines in 2011. Since the wind-generated electricity mostly replaced coal, we can say that this would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions from electrical generation by roughly 3.4 million tonnes.

Fossil fuel power stations

Not only do coal-fired power station produce climate changing CO2, they also produce particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen; all of which cause serious and undisputed health problems in a great many people. The toxic heavy metal mercury is also released into the atmosphere.

Gas-fired power stations release about half the CO2 (per MWh of electricity) that coal stations produce and they also release nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere. (See USA EPA.)

Another problem with natural gas is called 'fugitive emissions'. This is the leakage of the methane, which forms the largest part of natural gas, into the atmosphere at any stage from extraction to end use. Methane is a much more active greenhouse gas than is CO2.

"If climate change drives temperatures up a few degrees," goes the common dismissal, "how bad could that be?" In a word, catastrophic!

Some effects of climate change...

  1. Higher temperatures and increased summer temperature stress on animals and plants. As of early 2016 the sixteen hottest years in the history of reliable global temperature data had all occurred since 1998.
  2. With rising temperatures bushfires will become more frequent, fiercer, and will burn greater areas;
  3. An increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, severe dust storms and hurricanes;
  4. Long-term rainfall decline in some areas, increase in others. In many cases this will cause the displacement of the residents of those areas;
  5. Habitat change; some areas will become unsuited for their fauna and flora;
  6. Warming oceans causes bleaching of coral reefs. This will result in the loss of reefs – Australia's Great Barrier Reef is in serious danger;
  7. Loss of the Arctic Ocean ice sheet in summer, loss of ice from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, with largely unknown, but probably very serious, consequences;
  8. The spread of some diseases into areas where they have not previously been a problem. Recently the leading medical journal, the Lancet, described the health impacts of climate change as "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century". (See Doctors for the Environment Australia);
  9. Extinction of many species;
  10. Destabilisation of populations; Mick Keelty, head of the Australian Federal Police, has said that this will be the greatest threat to Australia's future security;
  11. Possible changing of some of the major oceanic currents (if the Gulf Stream was to fail, as seems possible, much of northern Europe would become uninhabitable);
  12. Sea level rise – which will lead to flooding of some very populous river deltas (eg. Nile, Mekong, Ganges) with resultant displacement and probable starvation of millions. Several low-lying Pacific island nations could virtually disappear;
  13. The melting of mountain glaciers, particularly in the Himalayas, with the consequent forming of high altitude lakes. The lakes are held back by moraines which then become unstable and can burst causing catastrophic flooding.
  14. Loss of productivity of farm land due to the weather ceasing to be suitable.
  15. Possible run-away greenhouse due to such things as release of the methane currently locked up in permafrost, melting of sea-ice, etc. There is even a very small possibility that such a run-away greenhouse event could cause the Earth to become a second Venus; a lifeless planet that 'has been cooked to death'.
The release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is also causing ocean acidification, a process in which the oceans become slowly more acidic with potentially dire results to marine organisms that make carbonaceous shells and skeletons, such as mollusks and corals.

My pages on climate change in the international context and in the Australian context discuss the subject in more depth.

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Abatement of greenhouse CO2

 
Emissions graph
From Climate Spectator, 2012/12/17
The most important reason to support wind power is that it causes reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity generation industry.

The graph on the right shows total electricity generated on the Australian National Electricity Market (that is, the interconnected grid that covers the settled areas of the five eastern states) and the emissions from that power generation.

While some of the abatement would be due to the installation of solar power on many of Australia's homes, the majority must be attributed to the development of wind power.

Also see The benefits of wind power, CO2 abatement from wind turbines and CO2 and wind farms elsewhere.

Catchy, simplistic, but true

"For every hour that a wind turbine operates there will be about one tonne less CO2 going into the atmosphere."

"A wind turbine operating for three hours reduces CO2 emissions as much as taking one car off the roads for a year."

"A wind turbine generates as much emissions-free electricity as about 2000 typical roof-top solar PV installations."

The above statements apply to utility scale wind turbines (about 3MW) operating in mainland Australia. (Also see wind farm images with a message.)

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Health concerns

Coal power causes illness and wind power replaces coal

There is no doubt that burning coal to generate electricity causes millions of deaths and even more serious illnesses world-wide through air pollution each year. While most of the deaths are in developing countries such as China and India, the regions in Australia where there are coal-fired power stations are also known for their health problems. The Hunter Valley in NSW and the Latrobe Valley in Victoria are examples.

On top of the illnesses and deaths routinely caused in the Latrobe Valley, the Hazelwood coal mine fire that burned for 45 days in early 2014 has been blamed for an additional eleven deaths from air pollution.

The record in South Australia shows that wind power can replace coal power.

No evidence that wind turbines harm health

There is no scientifically acceptable evidence that wind turbines harm anyone's health beyond some sleep deprivation in susceptible people who live particularly close to wind turbines (usually less than 1 km) and anxiety in a small minority of others, most of whom had negative views on wind power or on a particular wind farm before it was built.

It is notable that very few of the landowners who profit from wind farms on their property have any health problems from the turbines. (Wind farm opponents explain this by saying that they are under gag orders on the contracts that they signed. In fact the confidentiality applies only to the contract itself, not to any health effects.) Wind farm workers, likewise, do not suffer adverse health effects. This point was made by the CFMEU (Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union) in their submission to the recent Senate inquiry into 'The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms'.

Sarah Laurie, Medical Director of the Waubra Foundation (WF), has many stories of people who are convinced that they have been made ill by wind turbines. She has no evidence that the illnesses were caused by the turbines rather than by anxiety or other causes. She cannot say what it is that is coming from wind turbines that could possibly make people ill. Very few are taking Ms Laurie's claims seriously any more, especially since the value of her evidence has been discredited in several court cases and since the WF has been making more and more ridiculous claims. Clinical psychologist, Dr Sarah Edelman, has provided a far more convincing explanation for these cases, and more recently Fiona Crichton has collaborated in several very informative papers on the subject.

The Waubra Foundation itself, while claiming to be independent, is closely linked to the Australian Landscape Guardians (ALG), a vociferous anti-wind-power group. The Waubra Foundation has the same address as the ALG! The Chairman of the Waubra Foundation is chairman and/or director of a number of fossil fuel, mining, and uranium exploration companies. In its turn, the ALG has links with the right-wing pro-nuclear Institute of Public Affairs. (See an interesting and revealing exposé of these links by Sandi Keane on the Independent Australia site.)

Are there medical doctors who hold views contrary to those of Sarah Laurie?

Very much so; see Doctors for the Environment Australia and research by Professor Garry Wittert, head of the School of Medicine at Adelaide University. Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health and Director of Research of the School of Public Health of the University of Sydney has also been vocal in discrediting claims that wind turbines harm health.
Also see Health problems without wind farms.
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Health problems without wind farms

If we do not change to sustainable energy, including wind power, the alternative (since there is not enough uranium in the world to replace fossil fuels with nuclear power) is to stay with burning fossil fuels with the resulting ocean acidification and unrestrained climate change, which has been called "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century" in a recent issue of the prestigious medical science journal, The Lancet.

The proven health problems relating to the burning of fossil fuels (especially coal, bunkering oil used for shipping, and diesel oil) are far worse than any that are claimed to be caused by wind turbines. Not only do coal-fired power station produce climate changing CO2, they also produce particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen; all of which cause serious and undisputed health problems in a great many people. They also release the toxic heavy metal mercury into the atmosphere.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that air pollution kills around seven million people each year. Wikipedia, Environmental effects of coal burning, states that "Coal-fired power plants shorten nearly 24 000 lives a year in the United States, including 2 800 from lung cancer".

Hazelwood coal mine fire, February 2014
Hazelwood fire
It seems that the Victorian Liberal government are quite happy to have coal mines in this area, even when they are run incompetently, but wind turbines are against the law. Does the reader see any ethical problems with laws like this?
More on the coal mine fire on The Conversation
Image credit 350.org




Noise

The sound level about 100 m from a wind turbine is about 55 dB. I have measured it myself many times. This is the same level of sound as you will hear from a car travelling at 65 km/h 100 m away from you. You can carry out a conversation without raising your voice at all (the sound level of a normal conversation is about 60 dB). At 350 m from a wind turbine you can expect the sound level to be 35-45 dB. Normally sound decreases by 6 dB every time the distance is doubled.

The greatest distance I've ever heard wind turbines from is about 2.5km (correction, on 2013/07/07 I managed to just hear some turbines 3.0km away), and then only in a light breeze. In a strong breeze the noise made in nearby shrubs and trees drowns out the turbine sounds. If there were any cars within a kilometre or two of me their noise made it impossible for me to hear the turbines. (I have heard it claimed that sound levels of up to 100 dB have been measured 3 km from wind turbines. Such readings can only be explained as being due to someone not familiar with sound meters allowing the wind to blow over the microphone.)

The best thing you can do to learn the facts on the sound levels from wind turbines is to visit a wind farm yourself. (More on noise and wind turbines elsewhere.)




Land values

There have been a number of studies of the effect of nearby wind farms on land values (I have written in greater detail on the subject elsewhere). While there can be a small drop in the value of land near wind farms when they are proposed and during construction, the findings were generally that nearby wind farms do not lower land values in the long term. Of course land with turbines on it will significantly increase in value along with its earning potential.
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Advantages of having a nearby wind farm

A wind farm, Clements Gap, was built within 15 km of my home several years ago. It brought:
  • Extra income to the turbine-hosing farmers, effectively 'drought-proofing' their farm businesses;
  • Empoyment;
  • Work for local contractors;
  • Business for accommodation providers, cafes, hotels, etc.
And the company that owns it donates $50 000 for community projects each year.

So far as I know, it harmed no one.

There is every reason to expect the same boost to the local community from any proposed wind farm.

A bonus to local people who value their environment, want to see climate change and ocean acidification limited and want their grandchildren to have a future, is that they can see these graceful giants working toward that any time the wind blows.




Relevance to Australia

Australia's per-capita rate of greenhouse gas production is the highest of any developed country in the world. The only countries that are worse than Australia are a few poor nations that are ravaging their forests and several Middle-Eastern oil nations that have oil to burn. We generate a lot of our electricity by the dirtiest of all methods: by burning coal. Australia has a moral responsibility to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Contrary to many politically motivated claims, Australia is in no danger of 'going it alone' in attempting to reduce greenhouse emissions. Most European countries are well ahead, and developing countries like India and China are working hard to develop clean energy. It is true that China is building many coal-fired power stations. It is also true that China is building far more wind turbines than any other nation on earth, and that China's per capita greenhouse gas production is way below that of Australia.

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Visual amenity

 
Clements Gap WF
Clements Gap Wind Farm
One of the objections I hear from the local people is that they don't want to see all our hills covered with wind turbines. I can understand this point of view, although mine is the opposite; I like to look at wind turbines. That's partly because I see them as doing good work in reducing the need for fossil-fuel-fired power stations and partly that I see them as graceful and attractive; something like a modern counterpart of sailing ships.

Wind farms are built where they are most financially viable. If local people stop them being built anywhere near houses or towns it is quite possible that they will not be built at all, because of the cost of building too far from power transmission lines, or because they will generate less electricity in areas where the winds are not suitable.

Finally, is your view more important than your children's futures and the future of the world?

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Turbines and agriculture

Wind turbines take up little space on grazing land and stock quickly get used to them. Reasonable concern has been expressed about the effects of wind turbines on aerial agricultural operations such as crop spraying, fertilizer application and mouse bating on prime agricultural land. These issues are discussed on another page on this site; as is fire hazard and fire fighting.
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What can you do?

If a person who had not previously made any particular effort to minimise his or her greenhouse impact was to try really hard he might, by changing his life-style, installing solar power and solar water heating, and making his house more energy efficient, reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) he was responsible for by perhaps ten tonnes a year.

The same person, if he tried hard and was very successful in convincing other people to do as he had done, might have a part in saving a hundred tonnes of CO2 a year.

If same person, by influencing public opinion, managed to get one more moderate sized wind farm built than would otherwise have been built, would have played an important part in a project that reduces CO2 emissions by two hundred thousand tonnes a year.

The opinions of the general public, councilors, state and federal politicians are very important in determining whether or not wind farms, and other sustainable energy projects, are built. Many lies and half-truths are spread by climate change deniers and wind power opponents.

You could contact your state and federal political representatives, talk to your local councillors, write letters to newspapers, and use social media like Facebook and Twitter to give people the facts about how wind power can make a big impact on our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Use these pages and those that are listed in my links page to get the facts about wind power. Contact me if you think that I can help you, my email address is near the top of this page.

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Supreme principle of ethics

In his 'History of Western Philosophy' Bertrand Russell wrote of a 'supreme principle of ethics'. I don't know that he ever actually defined this principle, but it is a very interesting concept.

The philosophical discipline of ethics is all about the question of how we should balance our own needs and wants with those of others. Most people would agree that ethical behaviour involves modifying one's own demands if they unreasonably interfere with the needs of nearby people.

A trivial example is the loud exhaust systems that some people like to have on their cars – they place their enjoyment of the sound ahead of the annoyance they cause to all those people who have to live with the noisier environment. If the annoyance to others outweighs the enjoyment, then the act is unethical. I will not discuss how to balance personal enjoyment with annoyance of others here.

So, we have an ethical responsibility to consider the needs of those close to us, but what of those further away? A thousand years or more ago, when most of the moral codes of the world's great religions were being developed, the actions of individual people had little effect on anyone but their near neighbours. With the coming of industrialisation and globalisation that has changed; the actions of everyone, in what and how much we consume, how much water we use and what we do with our waste water, how we dispose of our rubbish; what chemicals we use and how we use them, what plants, animals, or diseases we spread from one country to another – all these things can effect other people, and not just those close to us.

Of relevance to the present subject is the question of how much carbon dioxide we are responsible for releasing into the atmosphere and how it affects other people. We know that carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gasses, are causing global warming and climate change and that these are damaging the environment of the planet. We therefore have an ethical responsibility to minimise the amount of carbon dioxide that we cause to be released. It is also reasonable to expect those who place most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to make a greater effort than other people (Australians, per-capita, are responsible for more than the people of most other nations).

That, then is what ethics is about. What about 'the supreme principle of ethics'? I suggest that this involves not only considering how we interact with those near to us, nor even how we interact with people on the other side of the world, but how we interact with all of life on the planet. Climate change will affect all of life on earth.

"The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk?, but Can they suffer?" (Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832; on discussing whether animals should have rights as people have rights.) Can micro-organisms suffer? Is extinction suffering? I certainly think that humanity has no ethical right to cause extinction of other species.

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On a lighter note

There is nothing like a proposed wind farm to turn people who previously didn't give a damn about anything environmental into keen environmentalists. Suddenly these people are concerned for the preservation of every stick of remnant vegitation, all the locally endangered species, native grasses, and particularly every individual bird.

This has to be another good reason to build (or at least propose building) a wind farm, the more environmentalists the better!

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Conclusion

If you support the development of wind power then you have a good chance of achieving something significant in the fight against climate change. Around 75% of Australians support the idea of sustainable energy and wind power, but very few are active supporters. It seems to be human nature to be more vocal in opposing something perceived as bad rather than supporting something seen as good.

If you oppose the construction of a local wind farm you are harming your children's future by slowing the adoption of sustainable energy. The alternative to sustainable energy is unsustainable energy, climate change and ocean acidification. It's as simple as that.


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Index

On this page...
Abatement of greenhouse CO2
Advantages of a nearby wind farm
Catchy, simplistic, but true
Coal power causes illness
Conclusion
Health concerns
Health problems without wind farms
Land values
Noise
On a lighter note
Relevance to Australia
Supreme principle of ethics
Top
Turbines and agriculture
What can you do?
Why should we worry about climate change?
Why wind power?
Visual amenity