Australia’s physical landscape is changing along with the way the nation produces energy. Wind farms have been steadily increasing in number across the country as Australia seeks alternative sources of energy in preparation for the end of fossil fuels.
So far, more than $5 billion has been invested in wind farms across Australia, with over 60 wind farms in operation. Over half of the nation’s 1,500 turbines are located in South Australia.
Often labeled the ‘quiet achiever,’ wind power proponents say the energy source prevented more than seven million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the environment last year, the equivalent of taking 1.5 million cars off the road.
Despite the undeniable success of wind power as an energy source, the newly elected Abbott government may stand in the way of further implementation of wind power stations.
Investors and wind power operators say the biggest hurdle for further use of wind farms is changing government policy.
Abbott recently stated that his government will be reviewing the 20 per cent renewable energy target (RET), conducting further studies on wind farms in relation to human health and imposing real-time sound monitoring at wind farms.
Review of the RET comes as a surprise to many. Essential Research polls in June this year showed 73 per cent of Australians are in support of the current target; 40 per cent of those polled think the RET should be higher, while 76 per cent support more wind farms.
“We need a clear and supported commitment and clear renewable target. I think it’s a question of a couple of years and then it’s a business that can stand on its own legs,” Siemens head of energy sales Morten Pjengaard said at the recent All Energy conference in Melbourne.
Anti-wind lobbyists argue that wind turbines cause noise pollution and pose health risks, claims with which Andrew Bray, the state coordinator for the Victorian Wind Alliance, disagrees.
“The vast majority of people in wind communities are in support of them and that includes in places they’re being built,” he said.
There remains strong resistance from the minority in opposition. Many locals living in wind farm communities say the rural landscapes to which they have become accustomed are being ruined by wind turbines.
Many landholders with property viewing the Gullen Range in Bannister, New South Wales say their landscape is being destroyed.
The wind farm being built by China-based developer Goldwind will have 73 turbines when complete by December of this year.
John Benjamin, a retired builder bought his property for the view nearly 14 years ago but says it is now ruined with wind turbines being erected within a kilometre of his home.
Similarly, a New South Wales government-recommended proposal for a 63-turbine farm at Collector has residents in a fury. The proposal has been sent to the Planning Assessment Commission and, should approval be granted, a design and construction process of two years will begin by late 2014.
“We’re not getting a fair go. We’ve been denied natural justice, and to put it politely, we’ve been shafted,” said Tony Hodgson, a local resident and president of the anti-wind farm group Friends of Collector.
He said despite the government’s recommendation, there is a strong opposition from the community which they will be voicing at a meeting at the end of this month.
Despite the Abbott government’s plan to review the RET, the enthusiasm of wind farm operators, investors and advocates has not been affected.
Available public polls overwhelmingly show support for the RET and more wind farms by the majority of Australians.
Advocates admit that while policy changes and rules pose challenges, they can certainly be overcome. The biggest hurdle - convincing the majority of the population that wind energy is safe - has been overcome. The South Australian EPA and the Victorian Department of Health have released publications finding that infrasound from wind farms does not pose harm to human health.
More wind farms will undeniably change Australia's physical landscape and remaining skeptics may have to remind themselves that as non-renewable energy sources are increasingly depleted, there are few available option. Australia holds great potential for harnessing enormous amounts of energy, powering the nation well into the future.