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Aren’t wind farms noisy?

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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:

Vic Health – Wind Farms, sound and health: Community information

Australian Medical Association (AMA) – Wind Farms & Health

Won’t a wind farm decrease property values?

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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.

Are wind turbines a hazard to wildlife?

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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.

I’ve heard wind farms are inefficient – is this correct?

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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!

What if the wind doesn’t blow?

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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.

Doesn’t wind energy cost more?

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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.

Are wind turbines a hazard during lightning storms and can they catch on fire?

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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.

Will the wind farm impact television, landline and mobile phone signals?

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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.

Do wind farms affect tourism?

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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.

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