OPINION: Windfarm complaint made loud and clear

AN INDEPENDENT one year study released last week found noise generated by a Victorian wind farm was harming people living nearby.

A class-action lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in compensation is now being planned by a group of farmers against their council, a Japanese wind developer and the state government.

It has spectacular implications for the wind turbine industry and Local Government, which have ploughed on with wind developments, regardless of complaints – including Wattle Range, Robe and Kingston.

Despite a public outcry in June 2012, those three councils gave Infigen Energy approval to build the Woakwine windfarm – another 124 turbines stretching into the sky along the Woakwine Range from Millicent, flanking the coast.

At the time Infigen claimed it had consulted with the community.

But during the planning approval process for the Woakwine proposal, the concerns for families with homes close to the Lake Bonney turbines was revealed in a myriad of submissions.

During the Wattle Range Council’s independent assessment panel 2012 meeting, people publicly unveiled their issues associated with the existing 112 Lake Bonney turbines, including the droning low level noise.

When Lake Bonney windfarms were first being constructed by Babcock and Brown, now re-badged as Infigen, Millicent farmers David and Alina Mortimer had been supportive and agreed to have turbines on their property, pleased with an annual payment, per structure.

David had even convinced other farmers, including his brother, to get behind the Lake Bonney windfarm project and allow turbines on their properties, believing in the concept of renewable energy.

Despite both David and Alina becoming very sick and spending two years in and out of doctor surgeries, he did not blame the turbines.

Then one day he attended a meeting and met a person from near Portland in Victoria who had exactly the same symptoms, believed to be caused by infrasound.

Subsequently, David, a highly regarded retired engineer, began his research on low level noise and the wind industry.

While giving evidence against Infigen’s proposal to the Wattle Range Council’s DAP, David almost broke down.

Pulsing sensations in the head, ringing in the ears and nocturnal panic attacks were among many symptoms for more than two years which led him to contemplate suicide.

But issues raised by David and other ratepayers were rejected and Infigen was given the approval it sought.

Contacted by many, David soon became an unwilling but credible spokesperson throughout southern Australia regarding wind turbines and their effects on health, often admitting he had no confidentiality agreement in his contract with Infigen regarding noise complaints.

The Woakwine Windfarm proposal remains part of Infigen’s corporate literature, but was placed on hold several years ago as a result of uncertainty over renewable energy targets.

Given the report released last week, the proposal might sit on the back burner for a bit longer – the class-action by farm families in Victoria is likely to take a while.

But it results from similar serious complaints being ignored and rejected.

Two years ago, a farmer Don Jelbart complained to the South Gippsland Shire Council that Bald Hills windfarm noise was affecting several nearby households.

But the council claimed there was no impact and dismissed all complaints.

The affected families were so distressed and tormented, they sought legal action in the Victorian Supreme Court.

In August last year the court ordered council to fund a proper, independent investigation into the noise complaints.

That $33,000 investigation resulted in a 25 page document released last week, officially recognising and supporting complaints about noise – hence the class action.

Meanwhile, earlier this year Flinders University announced a five year study involving wind farm noise.

Finally, Millicent’s David and Alina Mortimer, along with all those who they represent, can feel somewhat vindicated.

Infigen Energy currently pays around $750,000 annually to 24 landholders for hosting its 112 Lake Bonney turbines.

Chris Oldfield can be contacted at christobel47@bigpond.com