Leaked excerpts of a report are being used to pressure the South Gippsland Shire Council in their deliberations on a nuisance claim by neighbours of the Bald Hills Wind Farm.
As part of a long running series of complaints about the wind farm, Council has commissioned a report on neighbours' experience of noise from the wind farm. The report hasn't yet been publicly released but selected quotes have been lifted from the report and leaked to the media before Council, neighbours or the wind farm operator have considered the document.
As we told ABC radio, it's impossible to know the validity of the claims being made in these quotes without seeing what methodology the consultant has used to back them up.
The neighbours have lodged a claim of nuisance under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, which applies to local Councils. Properly investigating and then resolving the matter will be a challenge for this cash-strapped council. The complainants need to establish that wind farm noise is causing a nuisance and is leading to poor health outcomes. Numerous studies conducted by expert health researchers have never found such a causal link, so it would be surprising, to say the least, if this study was able to. The consultant engaged to conduct the study, James C Smith & Associates, doesn't have a current website so it's difficult to get a handle on what expertise they bring to the issue.
This episode does raise a long-running confusion in the governance of wind farm projects in Victoria. The State Government, through the Planning Minister, has the responsibility for assessing wind farm projects and deciding whether to grant approval. Councils contribute to this process in areas that concern them - such as local roads and infrastructure. The State Government then obtains noise testing reports after the wind farm commences operation to ensure noise standards are being complied with. In this instance, however, Council has become the point of call for local residents with complaints and, with little experience or resourcing in the area, now has to make a decision under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act.
We have argued for some time that the state Environment Protection Agency (EPA) should be the body to look after post-construction noise compliance. The National Wind Farm Commissioner has recommended something similar. The EPA has the in-house expertise and resourcing to manage complaints and conduct whatever noise testing is required, relieving councils of this complicated work and giving more clarity to community members.
It's worth noting that the Bald Hills Wind Farm did receive its final compliance notice in August 2018.