Frequently Asked Questions
This page briefly answers some common queries regarding wind farm. For further information, the clean energy council here, they amongst others have more detail on their websites.
Westwind Energy Pty Ltd have produced a short film entitled Wind Energy: Separating the fact from fiction to help you understand the wind energy debate. We have provided the text of the narration along with video clip extracts for you to read and view.
Contrary to popular belief wind farms are not noisy. You can hold a normal conversation at the base of a modern wind turbine while it is operating. Wind turbines only emit noise while they are operating. At low wind speeds the sound of the blades may be heard over the normal background noise if you are very close to the wind turbine. In stronger winds the background noise of the wind itself will completely mask the sound of the wind turbine even if you are standing right next to it. Nevertheless, noise impacts need to be carefully analysed during the planning of a wind farm to protect the amenity of nearby residences.
More information can be found by visiting these links:
The evidence suggests no. At this stage there have been no formal studies on the affect of property values in Australia, but independent property valuers have reported that wind farms have had no discernible impact on local property values. Reports from elsewhere in the world, where wind farms have been operating longer than here in Australia, continue to show that house prices are unaffected by the proximity to wind farms.
“Trying to assess the impact of wind farms on the value of houses is a complex and emotive subject. Apparent changes in value disappear when examined closely.”
From – “What is the impact of wind farms on house prices?” – Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Oxford Brookes University, (UK) March 2007. PDF Can be downloaded here.
Wind farms are a very benign technology and generally have very little impact on the environment. However, wind turbines, like all man-made structures do present a collision risk to birds and habitat can be lost during construction if the wind farm is not sited appropriately. The risk to birds and other animals and plants is carefully considered during the planning stage of a wind farm. This includes an analysis of bird flight paths and species populations as well as careful investigation of any native vegetation. No rare, threatened or endangered birds or bats have been killed by wind turbines in Victoria. Mortality rates for common bird species are estimated to be 1 to 2 birds per wind turbine per year. This figure is insignificant in comparison to bird losses as the result of habitat loss from land clearing, the predation by domestic cats, and the collisions with cars along our roads.
No, wind turbines are very efficient. They typically convert up to 50% of the energy in the wind into electricity. By comparison Victorian brown coal power stations only convert approximately 25% of the energy in coal into electricity. Each megawatt hour of wind energy generated in Victoria avoids the production of more than one tonne of the greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change. In typical Victorian conditions, each modern wind turbine will produce between 6 million and 9million kilowatt hours of electricity each year – equivalent to the consumption of between 1,100 and 1,700 average Victorian homes. The embodied energy in a wind turbine – that is, the energy used in its manufacture, transport, erection and operation – is generally paid back within just 6 months of operation. Over its lifetime a wind turbine will produce more than 50 times its embodied energy!
A lot of research is done to ensure wind farms are sited in locations that experience consistent and strong winds. Many parts of Australia are blessed with conditions that suit the harvesting of wind energy. Wind turbines in Australia are, on average, actually in operation more than 95% of the time. Notwithstanding our favourable conditions, there are times even in the windiest locations when the wind does not blow. However, we can accurately predict when the wind will blow and how much energy the wind farm will produce. So while the wind may be intermittent it is predictable. Our vast electricity network is built to accommodate significant fluctuations both in the supply and in the demand for electricity. We use a range of generation technologies and plant to supply the electricity. Wind farms are just one part of this complicated system and will not be the sole source of electricity. The variation in demand for electricity is far greater than the variation in supply from wind farms. Assisted by forecasts of wind farm outputs as much as 24 to 48 hours in advance, the electricity system operators are able to balance supply with demand and ensure the continuing security of supply.
Wind energy is a proven technology and is cost effective. The wind is free and maintenance and operational costs are relatively low. However, it does cost more to establish a new wind farm compared to operating an existing generator. Wind power currently costs between 7½ and 8½ cents per kilowatt hour. This is higher than the general wholesale price, which in 2006-2007, wholesaled for 5½ cents. However, in the longer term wind energy is likely to emerge as the more economical choice, especially if the hidden cost of the pollution from coal fired power stations is taken into consideration. Many of our current fossil fuel fired power stations also use substantial amounts of water. Water is in short supply in Australia and is likely to become more expensive. In short, wind energy costs are likely to fall while fossil fuel costs are likely to increase as the true cost of their pollution disposal is internalised into the price.
Wind turbines don’t attract lightning but being large structures may be struck by lightning. A great deal of research effort has gone into protection systems for wind turbines. A modern wind turbine will often continue to operate normally even if they take a direct strike. The risk of fire is extremely low and no WestWind Energy wind turbine has caught fire anywhere in the world.
Like any large structure, wind turbines can potentially interfere with communication systems that use electromagnetic waves as the transmission medium (e.g. television, radio or microwaves links). It is possible that the moving blades of the wind turbine can sometimes cause signal variations, due to obstruction, reflection or refraction. These effects were more of a problem with first generation wind turbines, which had metal blades. The blades of modern wind turbines are made exclusively of synthetic materials, which have a minimal impact on the transmission of electromagnetic radiation.
In designing a wind farm site careful consideration must be taken by the wind farm developer to ensure wind turbines do not interfere with radio, TV signals and mobile receptions. Any possible interference problems identified during the wind farm’s design phase can be rectified by proper design and location the wind turbines or corrected at a relatively low cost through simple technical mitigations, such as the installation of additional transmitter masts.
With regard to compatibility and interference in telecommunications, it is worth mentioning that in many European countries, wind turbine towers not only do not create obstacles, but are already being used for the installation of aerials to improve communications, such as mobile telephone services.
Wind farms can actually provide opportunities for tourism as people find them fascinating and visually appealing. There are some areas where wind farms wouldn’t be developed because of competing tourist attractions but there are many locations where they can actually draw visitors.
Wind farms are popular with farmers because their land can continue to be used for growing crops or grazing livestock. Horses, cows and sheep are typically not disturbed by wind turbines and often use wind turbine towers as shelter from the wind and the sun or as rubbing posts.
For wind farms, an Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) is emitted from grid connection lines, underground collector network cabling, electrical transformers and turbine generators. The grid connection lines are usually made at no more than 132kV and is similar to the voltage used by utilities in existing distribution. These generate low levels of EMF that are comparable to those emitted from household appliances. The collector network cabling between the turbines is typically buried in the ground and effectively generate no EMF. The transformer located at the base of the turbine and is itself locked inside a metal compartment only accessible to electricity company employees. The turbine generators are around 60–100 m above ground level and so there is little or negligible EMF at ground level. Therefore, only low level electromagnetic fields are produced by the generation and export of electricity from a wind farm and these do not pose a threat to public health.
The environmental impact of wind farm, when compared to the environmental impacts of fossil fuels, is relatively minor. Harnessing power from the wind is one of the cleanest and most sustainable ways to generate electricity as it does not produce toxic pollution or global warming emissions. Wind is also abundant, inexhaustible, and affordable, which makes it a viable and large-scale alternative to fossil fuels.
While a wind farm may cover a large area of land, many land uses such as agriculture are compatible, as only small areas of turbine foundations and infrastructure are made unavailable for use. The ground disturbance and vegetation clearing required for wind farms is minimal. If wind farms are decommissioned, the landscape can be returned to its prior condition.
In Australia, wind farm developers undertake environmental assessment for each wind farm proposal to ensure that the potential impacts on the local environment (eg plants, animals, soils) is avoided or minimised. Turbine locations and operations are often modified, as part of the approval process, to avoid or minimise impacts on threatened species or communities and their habitats. Any unavoidable impacts can be offset with conservation improvements of similar ecosystems which are unaffected by the proposal. In addition, wind developers are often able to integrate beneficial local environmental measures into their construction and operational activities. This can include planting native species, protecting native bush areas, pest and weed management or erosion control.
Yes, you can.
In South Australian, Country Fire Service (CFS) published a fact sheet entitled Understanding Aerial Firefighting. The CFS approach to wind farms is no different to any other structures such as power lines, weather masts or TV transmission towers. The fact sheet states:
“where vertical obstructions exist in the airspace around a fire, such as power lines, weather masts, radio and television transmission towers, tall trees and wind turbines, a dynamic risk assessment is undertaken prior to the aircraft being committed to fire-bombing operations.”
More specifically in Victoria, in accordance with the Policy and Planning Guidelines for Development of Wind Energy Facilities, wind energy facility operators must develop a Bushfire Prevention and Emergency Response Plan as part of their Environmental Management Plan. The plan must address a variety of measures, but specifically noted in relation to aerial bush fighting measure:
“2.3. Wind turbines should be located approximately 300 metres apart. This provides adequate distance for aircraft to operate around a Wind Energy Facility given the appropriate weather and terrain conditions. Fire suppression aircraft operate under “Visual Flight Rules”. As such, fire suppression aircraft only operate in areas where there is no smoke and during daylight hours. Wind turbines, similar to high voltage transmission lines, are part of the landscape and would be considered in the incident action plan.”
Here we list documents from the CFA, Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) and the Senate Inquiry.
The technology that allows us to harvest energy from the wind is well proven and widely used throughout the world. We can use the wind to reliably produce large quantities of electricity at prices that we as consumers are prepared to pay. On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gases are harming our planet. If we don’t act swiftly global warming will impact the lives of millions of people. Australians emit more greenhouse gasses per person than any other country in the world. Here in Victoria approximately 50% of our greenhouse gases come from generating electricity. Our almost exclusive reliance on fossil fuels cannot continue. If we are to continue to enjoy our current standard of living, we must turn to sustainable energy sources. In a country with an abundant wind resource we owe it to ourselves, and to our children, to harness this free, clean and renewable supply of energy.