Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Strong support for wind farms obscured, says CSIRO report


Dr. Jim Smithman Photo: Stefan Moore

Sydney Morning Herald
January 18, 2012
Kelsey Munro, Ben Cubby

Article is here.

THERE is much stronger public support for wind farms than media coverage of the issue would suggest, because a ''vocal minority'' who oppose wind farms secure the majority of media and political attention, according to new CSIRO research.

A peer-reviewed study by Brisbane researchers investigated attitudes to nine wind farms in various stages of development in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, concluding there was a strong level of support ''from rural residents who do not seek media attention or political engagement to express their views''.

By contrast, more than half of all wind farm proposals had been opposed by members of the Landscape Guardian group, the report noted.

The CSIRO's deputy director, energy technology, Jim Smitham, one of the reviewers of the report, said it showed a disconnect between negative and conflict-oriented media coverage about wind farms and the attitude of a majority in the communities where wind farms were proposed or already operating.

''You find more media stories supporting the case against wind farms than those for it,'' he said. ''Whereas, going into the field and doing interviews at community level, they have different reasons but many of them support the wind farm; it just isn't as apparent as the people who are able to find a short sharp reason to reject it.''

Dr Smitham said wind farm developers that proactively consulted with communities and responded to their concerns had achieved far higher local acceptance of their projects.

The report, Acceptance of rural wind farms in Australia: A snapshot, by CSIRO's social research team, comes as the draft guidelines on wind farm development in this state are open for public comment.

The researchers conducted interviews with wind farm developers, councils, turbine hosts, community opponents and supporters of the projects in each of the nine locations.

Wind farm opponents cited negatives including poor consultation, visual amenity and noise, while supporters cited benefits including improved infrastructure such as roads and firebreaks, clean energy and better local job prospects, the report found.

The debate over noise and health impacts has been a key issue raised by opponents. A series of peer-reviewed studies have found no evidence that low-level sound from wind farms has made people sick, but some international studies included self-selected surveys in which people living near wind farms reported annoyance and interrupted sleep as a result of vibrations from the turbine blades.

The CSIRO report noted wind farms can create stress which affects wellbeing.

The Landscape Guardians could not be reached for comment yesterday.


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