Mount Emerald Wind Farm
Q1: What risks does the project pose to public health?
Wind energy is one of the cleanest, most environmentally-friendly energy sources. It emits no greenhouse gases or air pollutants. It emits no particles, unlike fossil fuels, which are carcinogenic and severely affect human health.
According to the public statement made by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia, “there is currently no published scientific evidence to positively link wind turbines with adverse health effects”.
- There is no reliable or consistent evidence that proximity to wind farms or wind farm noise directly causes health effects.
- There is consistent but poor quality evidence that proximity to wind farms is associated with annoyance and, less consistently, with sleep disturbance and poorer quality of life. Finding an association between wind farms and these health-related effects does not mean that wind farms cause these effects. These associations could be due to selection or information bias or to confounding factors.
- There is no direct evidence that specifically considered possible health effects of infrasound or low-frequency noise from wind turbines.
- It is unlikely that substantial wind farm noise would be heard at distances of more than 500–1500 m from wind farms. Noise levels vary with terrain, type of turbines and weather conditions.
- Noise from wind turbines, including its content of low-frequency noise and infrasound, is similar to noise from many other natural and human-made sources. There is no evidence that health or health-related effects from wind turbine noise would be any different to those from other noise sources at similar levels.
- People exposed to infrasound and low-frequency noise in a laboratory (at much higher levels than those to which people living near wind farms are exposed) experience few, if any, effects on body functioning.
From Clean Energy Council (2015) “Turbines emit most noise in the mid-frequency range (between 200 and 1000Hz). However, due to a range of effects, including their height from the ground and the impact of wind, it is a low frequency noise (between 200 to 10 Hz) that we actually hear. Sound with a frequency of less than 20Hz is known as ‘infrasound’. This type of sound is very common both in natural and man-made environments.
Humans cannot hear infrasound, but just like audible sound, it produces very low energy vibrations of the air. Cars, buildings, the waves of the ocean and even playground equipment all produce both low frequency noise and infrasound. Infrasound measurements taken from wind turbines at distances of 200 metres record infrasound in the order of 25 decibels. This is well below the threshold outlined in many established guidelines – including Queensland’s Department of Environment and Resource Management and the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – to protect against the potential disturbance from infrasound. Infrasound levels also decrease at distances further from the source. Wind turbines today are significantly quieter than those built 20 years ago due to improvements in design.”
Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) is a voluntary organisation of medical doctors in all states and territories who work to address diseases – local, national and global – caused by damage to the earth’s environment. DEA Submission to the Senate Committee on Health Effects of Wind Turbines (2011) – Summary
- Fossil fuels are responsible for a significant disease burden in our community and contribute to climate change, which is a major health threat.
- Wind power and other renewable energies have the potential to reduce threats to health through reduction in air pollution and mitigation of climate change.
- A number of allegations have been made in relation to adverse health effects of living near wind turbines which do not appear to be supported by scientific evidence.
- Noise is the predominant concern of people living near turbines, leading to annoyance in a small proportion of exposed people, particularly in association with perceived negative visual impacts or lack of perceived personal benefit. This may have implications for the health and well-being of these individuals.
- However there is no convincing evidence in the scientific literature of direct physiological effects occurring at sound levels commonly associated with modern wind turbines.
For a lighter view of this, check out the First Dog on the Moon cartoon: Self-Diagnosis Wind Turbine Syndrome Checklist
Q2: What are the project’s noise impacts?
The noise impacts of the project will be minimal for a number of reasons:
The site must comply with Development Approval (DA) conditions required by regulatory authorities which include:
- Maximum number of turbines to be 63. Actual construction will only be 53 turbines.
- Minimum setback of 1500m (1.5km) from any existing or proposed dwelling
- Maximum height of turbines and towers
- The wind farm must be designed and operated to ensure that outdoor night time (10pm- 6am) noise level at existing and approved land uses, does not exceed the higher of: 35 dB(A) or; the background noise level plus 5 DB(A).
Background noise monitoring has been undertaken, according to AS Standard AS4959-2010 Acoustics, at a number of locations around the wind-farm site.
Monitoring will be undertaken again, once operations begin and comparisons made to ensure that appropriate levels are met.
Options to minimise noise have included choice of turbines, siting of turbines, and may include limitations of hours of operations of specific turbines under certain conditions.
An Incident Reporting and Complaints process and 24hr phone hotline have been implemented to ensure prompt response to community concerns:
Phone number is: 1300 678 567
The turbines selected for this site, like all newer turbines, have rotors that turn slower (max 15 -20 revs per minute); are ‘feathered’ and coated, and are mounted in front of (not behind) their towers. These and other changes have dramatically lowered the noise. Wind turbines are one of the quietest forms of energy generation currently available.
Noise dissipates (lessens) the further it moves away from the source. The sound is absorbed by the air as it travels through it. This absorption is also increased due to contact with the ground, trees or other obstacles (including house exteriors), to a point where the sound is no more. The NHMRC has concluded that “It is unlikely that substantial wind farm noise would be heard at distances of more than 500–1500 m from wind farms.”
Specific regulations, codes and standards have been developed by governments to address noise from wind turbines. The planning process ensures that noise from all turbines is determined before the wind farm is built to ensure it is within the acceptable range, and complies after it is built.
At the Mt Emerald Wind Farm site, there are 9 residences, or groups of residences, within a 2km (but >1.5 km) distance. Actual data collected at sites surrounding the wind farm show existing background noise to be 27-32dBA for low wind speeds and 30-35dBA at wind speeds where the wind farm would be operating at maximum output.
The existing noise of the area is referred to as “background”. The majority of natural background noise is created by the wind and as such increases as the wind gets stronger.
Even in generally quiet rural areas, the sound of the blowing wind is often louder than the turbines.
The best advice for anyone concerned may be to go and hear for yourself! Windy Hill Wind Farm is the nearest established wind farm, and is located 5km north of Ravenshoe.
Q3: What risks does the project pose to local fauna and flora?
Big environmental and nature conservation groups like Birdlife, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Birdlife support wind energy. Birdlife recently stated that climate change was the single largest threat to birds and small native fauna and wind and renewables were a clear solution to climate change.
Wind farms are always subject to Environmental Impact Assessment to ensure that their potential effect on the immediate surroundings, including fauna and flora, are carefully considered before construction is allowed to start.
Bird mortality from wind turbines is probably one of the best researched areas of risk to avian species. Despite some bad experiences early in the US, where wind farms were constructed with little or no understanding about the potential bird impacts, environmental scientists agree that properly sited, today’s wind farms present minimal danger to bird and bat populations.
Deaths from birds flying into wind turbines represent only a tiny fraction of those caused by other human-related sources such as vehicles and buildings.
Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions – carried out by US Forest Service.
A 2012 study carried out in the UK (Pearce- Higgins et al.) concluded that a large majority of species can co-exist or thrive with wind farms once they are operating (Journal of Applied Ecology).
The Effects of Wind Turbines on Birds and Bats in Northeast Wisconsin – carried out by the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. There two-year study involved a 31-turbine wind farm.
- While bird collisions do occur with commercial wind turbines, the impacts on global populations appears to be relatively minor, especially in comparison with other human-related causes of mortality
Avian Monitoring and Risk Assessment at Tehachapi Pass and San Gorgonio Pass Wind Resource Areas, California – carried by The National Wind Coordinating Committee.
- The 1986 study found that 69 million birds flew though the San Gorgonio Pass during the spring and fall migrations. During both migrating seasons, 38 dead birds were found during that typical year, representing only 0.00006% of the migrating population.
Mt Emerald Wind Farm – Fauna Studies
The Siting and approval process for Mt Emerald Wind Farm considered potential impacts on Birds and Bats including impacts on flight, breeding and feeding behaviour, as well as indirect impacts like disturbance associated with construction and noise.
Birds and Bats are likely to be found on or moving across this site. There is an ongoing requirement to monitor for animal death during the construction and operation of the site. Few animals are expected to be impacted. No greater than expected to hit fences and windows of nearby farms or houses.
Of particular interest on this site is the Northern Quoll which targetted trapping during the EIS indicated are widely distributed across the majority of the site. Because the Quoll numbers have been significantly impacted in the Wet Tropics, initially by clearing of its habitat through urban and agriculture spread, and particularly since the introduction of the Cane Toad – preserving any potential habitat and minimising construction impacts on individuals has increased in importance. Quoll studies have been carried out by Dr. Scott Burnett (USC) to determine possible impacts and required mitigation measures to protect individuals and their habitat to ensure that Mt Emerald Wind Farm design and layout does not interfere with this sensitive species.
For more information: http://www.australianwildlife.org/wildlife/northern-quoll.aspx
DA conditions include:
- Searching for quolls prior to work commencing at any tower site. Any quolls present will be trapped and relocated.
- There is the option to move towers up to 100m in any direction to avoid impacts on quoll burrows.
- Monitoring will be ongoing to ensure minimal impacts on quolls.
AusWEA, Fact Sheet 8 states that in Australia “the impact of wind turbines on birds and bats is insignificant compared to the impact of domestic cats and the loss of habitat through development or even more dramatically, the chronic impact of ecological change due to climate change and rises in sea level induced by increased greenhouse gas emission. In Australia, collision rates are generally around one to two birds per turbine per year.”
Q4: What risks does the project pose to aircraft?
Do Wind Farms Impact Agricultural Aviation? (AusWEA Wind Fact 11) – NO
“The pilots of crop dusting or super phosphate fertiliser spreading aircraft are highly skilled and are easily able to negotiate between the wind turbines which are normally positioned hundreds of meters apart. These pilots regularly navigate other less obvious hazards such as power and phone lines. During the wind farm design phase, landowners (and in some cases pilots) are consulted on the position of wind turbines, particularly any machines near the approach and takeoff paths of unregulated rural airstrips.”
Civil Aviation and Safety Authority’s media spokesperson explained that
“a wind turbine tower is just like any other obstacle that an agricultural aerial spraying pilot would need to take into account, such as powerlines and trees, and the decision as to where they could safely spray would be their own decision to make.
If anyone has seen aerial spraying of an agricultural crop they’ll realise that these pilots will often fly quite close to a range of obstacles. Why wind turbines would need a 5km buffer, while they appear happy to fly within 100 metres of other dangerous obstacles such as powerlines, appears to defy explanation.”
Given the location and topography of the Mount Emerald wind farm and the surrounding area it is expected there will be very little disruption to aerial agricultural activities. The alignment of aerial spraying approaches and run lines can be easily adjusted to avoid passing over the project site. Provided the wind farm area is avoided on approach and exit there should be no restriction to normal operating procedures. Areas to the east and west of the site should use a predominantly north-south alignment and areas to the north an east-west line.
RATCH Australia has committed to work with the industry to understand and alleviate any concerns. They have drafted an operating procedure that will allow for turning off of selected turbines should operating times coincide with spraying times. This is unlikely as aerial spraying usually occurs in times of little or no wind, when the wind turbines would not be operating.
Wind Farm lighting:
DA conditions define the type, number and location of lighting to meet Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) requirements. Current aviation safety guidelines require that objects over 110m should be marked with hazard lighting, however CASA are presently considering increasing this limit to 150m which would remove the requirement for lighting. The wind farm night-time hazard lighting will be located on the body of the wind turbine and will include shielding to limit the lighting to areas above a horizontal plane, level with the hub height of the turbine. Given the wind farm site is 300m above the surrounding land and allowing for a 1° down angle, the lights will be shielded to a distance of approx 17km from the wind farm.
Q5: What impacts does the wind farm have on local land values?
“Wind farms do not negatively impact property prices. Over the past decade, multiple major studies by respected and independent organisations in countries across the world have failed to find any correlation between wind turbines and declining property values. In fact, some of these studies found positive impacts. The value of properties goes up and down for a wide range of reasons. Supply and demand, proximity to amenities and infrastructure, housing affordability and the desirability of the location can all have an impact. If someone is having trouble selling their property and it is near a wind turbine, there could be many other reasons to explain why this is the case.” – Clean Energy Council, (2016)
In the recent (2014) annual property valuation reports issued by the Department of Natural Resources, both the Mareeba and Tablelands Shire council area reports contained a summary of;
“Arable and intensive primary production values generally remain unchanged except for the arable soils of the basalt landforms in the Mareeba Dimbulah Water Supply Scheme. Recent sales for this area indicate the market is now paying prices similar to those historically only achieved in the area locally known as the “Golden Triangle”. This has resulted in large increases in value of properties with this country classification.”
Both the wind farm and the surrounding areas are predominantly zoned as “rural” thus it is difficult to support claims of a reduction in property value.
In 2016, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) commissioned Urbis to undertake an investigation into the potential impact of wind farm developments on property prices in NSW. This study follows on from the 2009 NSW Valuer-General’s assessment of the impact of wind farms on property values. Generally there are limited sales in the agricultural areas where wind farms are mainly located in Australia so the study has quite low numbers in its dataset, however, Literature review of Australian and international studies on the impact of wind farms on property values revealed that the majority of published reports conclude that there is no impact or a limited definable impact of wind farms on property values. Those studies which identified a negative impact are based in the northern hemisphere and are associated with countries with higher population densities and a greater number of traditional residential and lifestyle properties affected by wind farms. This is generally contrary to the Australian experience, with most wind farms being located in low population density environments that derive the majority of their value from productive farming purposes.
Q6: What are the visual impacts of the project?
TRUESCAPE was commissioned to produce a series of high resolution photomontages and visual simulations to show what the wind farm will look like from the surrounding district. (Mt Emerald Wind Farm – Reduced Size TrueView Photosimulations, Aug 2011). The imagery is available in the EIS documentation.
High resolution photomontages were produced for 10 general locations around the site to show an “as real as possible” image of the wind farm view. 134 visual simulations were produced to show the view from actual residences around the wind farm.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and whether you think a wind turbine is attractive or not will always be your personal opinion. However, studies regularly show that most people find turbines an interesting feature of the landscape. On average 80% of the public support wind energy, less than 10% are against it, with the remainder undecided. Surveys conducted since the early 1990’s across the country near existing wind farms have consistently found that most people are in favour of wind energy, with support increasing over time.
Opinion surveys conducted by AusPoll (2014) suggest most Australians use words like “interesting”, “graceful” and “attractive”, rather than “industrial” to describe wind turbines.
- Anecdotal comments on Visual impressions of Windy Hill Wind Farm (Ravenshoe) carpark illustrate that: 90% thought them “majestic”; 5% “an eyesore” and 5% no opinion.
Guidelines provided by AusWEA recommend:
- Wind generators must be uniform in size and design (including direction of rotation)
- Support tower, blades and nacelles should be painted the same colour – preferably off-white or light grey – and have a matt finish. They should not be used as billboards
Why are wind farms built on the tops of hills? Why aren’t wind farms built inland? (AusWEA, 2012)
Due to speed up effects, wind speed is significantly higher at the top of a hill or ridgeline.
Wind farms can be built inland where wind speeds are sufficient and the electricity grid is nearby. Inland sites, do however, generally need to be in elevated terrain to have sufficient reliable wind.
This is the situation at Mt Emerald Wind Farm.
Q7: What are the economic impacts of the project?
Consultants, Jacobs Group, provided a detailed Economic Impact Assessment for the Mount Emerald wind farm project. This assessment included an investigation into economic, agricultural, business and social, tourism, property and energy supply impacts due to the wind farm.
Expenditure required for construction and operation of the Mt Emerald Wind Farm would have a positive economic contribution to output, value added, employment and household income in the local and regional study areas and the broader Queensland and domestic economy. Overall, the impact assessment found:
- Total domestic expenditure for construction is anticipated to be around $188.7 million, 60% ($113 million) of which would be spent in the Far North Queensland region.
- Total expenditure (for the entire project life cycle – 2 years construction and 25 years operation) in the regional area would be around $426.2 million, with a resultant total output impact (including all indirect flow-on aspects) of around $939.7 million.
- This would have an associated direct value-added impact of around $161.5 million for Far North Queensland and a total value-added impact of around $386.7 million.
- The total household income impact is estimated to be around $177.2 million for the entire project life cycle, for the regional study area.
- The direct average annual employment impact expected in the construction phase is around 51 Full Time Equivalents for Far North Queensland.
- Peak employment during the Construction Phase can be expected to rise to 155 jobs for all of Queensland.
- The 25 year operational phase would result in an average of 15 direct annual jobs to the regional study area. The total employment impact for the region during the operations phase is estimated to be 19 Full Time Equivalents.
RATCH-Australia is committed to maximising local employment opportunities and a significant proportion of operational positions are expected to be by local residents.
Q8: Do renewable energy developments increase domestic power bills?
The huge benefit of wind and solar farms over other power stations is that after construction and minor ongoing maintenance costs, there is no ongoing costs for fuel. Wind and Sunshine are FREE.
The output of the Mt Emerald Wind Farm has been pre-sold at a set price to Powerlink through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) until 2030.
Renewable energy is becoming cheaper than coal and gas power, year by year, as shown by the graph at right.
Under the Renewable Energy Target, household electricity bills should decrease by $50 a year by 2020. If the target is kept in place, Australians will see savings of up to $140 each year after 2020.
Over the past few years, the rising cost of Australian energy bills have been mainly due to network costs ($45 billion investment 2005-2012) and soaring rising gas prices, as Australia’s domestic gas prices are raised to parity with export prices, not to the increase in renewable energy generation or the Renewable Energy Target. Australian government review (2015) indicated that the proportion of electricity bills that support renewables is less than 5%. The majority is wholesale costs and retail profit. (see National summary of retail electricity cost components. 2015 Residential Electricity Price Trends at right)
Q9: How does a wind turbine generate electricity?
Wind passes over the blades creating lift, which causes the rotor to turn. The blades turn a low-speed shaft inside the nacelle: gears connect the low speed shaft of the rotor with a high-speed shaft that drives a generator. Here, the slow rotation speed of the blades is increased to the high speed of generator revolution. The rapidly spinning shaft drives the generator to produce electric energy. Electricity from the generator passes through to a transformer which converts it to the correct voltage for the distribution system. The electricity is then transmitted via the electricity network.
How much electricity does a wind turbine generate?
The output of a wind turbine depends on the turbine’s size and the wind’s speed through the rotor. Wind turbines manufactured today have power ratings ranging from 250 watts to 7 MW. Those used at Mt Emerald will be between3.2 and 3.45MW.
How fast do the blades turn?
The blades rotate at between 15-20 revolutions per minute at constant speed.
Why do turbines sometimes stand still?
There are a number of reasons why turbines are not always spinning:
- Turbines have to be stopped for scheduled maintenance, for repairing components or if there is a failure that needs to be checked.
- If there is too little or too much wind. Wind turbines operate in winds from 3m/s – 25m/s.
- If the wind is too low they may still turn but not enough to generate electricity.
- If the wind is too strong the turbine will shut itself down and go into “survival mode”, the blades are ‘feathered’ to allow wind to pass over them and shafts locked to prevent spinning. In this way they are able to safely survive even heavy cyclonic conditions.
Q10: How many homes will be powered by the windfarm?
- The estimated Annual Generation from the site will be 500-600 GWh p.a.
- This will generate enough electricity to power the average use of 75,000 – 90,000 homes, which is about 1/3 of the homes in FNQ.
RATCH Australia would be pleased to answer any question you may have about the construction and operations of the Mt Emerald Wind Farm. Please direct any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Local procurement has commenced, with: • Koppens and Mareeba Crane Hire constructing the concrete culvert to protect the irrigation channel during December 2016. • A new vehicle purchased from Mareeba Toyota, January 2017 • Contracting of the MBarBarrum Aboriginal Corporation to undertake Cultural Heritage surveys and assist with environmental surveys during the entire construction period.…
Project and Compliance Updates
Early works commenced February 14th on the transport depot laydown area at the base of the site. All pre-start UXO, Cultural Heritage and Environmental surveys have been conducted to verify the site is ‘ready to go’. Flagging of works area has occurred to limit the extent of clearing, in preparation for pad establishment. Letters of…