Wind energy, climate and health: evidence for the impacts of wind generated energy in Australia

by Jeremy Moss, Alicia Coram and Grant Blashki

Wind power is one of the least greenhouse gas intensive energy sources available and Australia has some of the best wind resources in the world. With the potential to produce up to 40 per cent of Australia’s energy need, wind power presents a great opportunity for reducing our national greenhouse gas emissions and heavy reliance on fossil fuels. 

Public polling by The Australia Institute reveals strong public support for wind power, with 84 per cent of people ranking it within their top three preferred sources for meeting Australia’s future energy needs. This stands in strong contrast to coal and coal seam gas (CSG), which were listed among the top three energy sources by a mere 38 and 35 per cent of Australians respectively.

Despite broad public support and the capacity for wind power to contribute more significantly to Australia’s energy supply, public discussion is often clouded by vocal opponents of this renewable energy source. Arguments made against wind energy are usually grounded in health or environmental concerns. This paper explores the nature and validity of these arguments to determine the overall impact of wind power technologies in the Australian context.

Among the outspoken critics of wind farming are some members of parliament, such as the Treasurer Mr Joe Hockey, who described wind turbines as “utterly offensive” and “a blight on the landscape”.

The paper finds, however, that a strong majority disagree with this opinion, with 80 per cent of people polled saying they do not consider wind turbines to have a negative impact on the landscape. In contrast, public perceptions of fossil fuel-based energy sources are less positive, with 68 per cent and 41 per cent of people respectively considering coal and CSG to have a negative impact on the landscape.

Though wind turbines have been linked to bird and bat deaths, rates are relatively low, especially when considered in the context of the impact of climate change. The paper also finds that technological advances are likely to reduce these ecological impacts even further. Other environmental impacts from wind farms are low and they can co-exist happily with agriculture and grazing operations.

A range of health claims are made against wind turbines, including disrupted sleep and annoyance to some individuals who live within close proximity to wind farms. This paper found there is no credible evidence directly linking exposure to wind turbines with any negative health effects. Available evidence suggests the health effects of wind turbines are strongly mediated by subjective factors. For example, health effects appear to be lessened in community-owned operations where locals benefit directly from the existence of turbines. Perceived high levels of opposition to wind farms on health grounds have been linked to a vocal minority of people.

Australia is not realising its wind energy potential and is currently generating far less energy from wind power than many European countries. The advantages of increasing our wind power are great, with wind having the lowest health, environment and climate impact of any energy source available.

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