The ‘tainted’ work of Brett Lane and Associates

One of the wind industry’s most frequently used consultants has a damning track record of producing inaccurate, incomplete and confusing reports.

Work undertaken by environmental consultants Brett Lane and Associates has been the subject of repeated criticism in planning panel hearings for almost a decade.

But the company continues to be utilised by wind farm proponents, and continues to be accepted as an expert witness in support of wind farm developments.

brolga112And of greater concern is that the work of BLA is used to prove lack of impact by wind farms on some of Australia’s most vulnerable species of birds and other fauna, including the Brolga.

A search of planning panel reports into major wind farm approvals since 2004 throws up ongoing concerns about the accuracy of BLA’s flora and fauna tracking, the thoroughness of survey work undertaken by the company and a lack of transparency in its findings.

BLA’s work was named in the Bald Hills report in 2004 as being the most contentious under examination by that panel, an extraordinary finding given the complexity of the matters under review.

The panel had searing criticism of BLA’s work, saying it approached “the threshold beyond which it cannot be used for effective, rationally based public decision making”.

The Macarthur wind farm report in 2006 said reporting by BLA was “imprecise and difficult to follow”.

The Waubra Planning Panel report (2005) was critical of the presentation of information by BLA, saying it created “considerable confusion”.

“Other panels have made similar comments about Mr Lane’s material,” it said, before urging him to adopt a more structured and rigorous approach.

“Although the Brett Lane and Associates investigations concluded there would be no significant risk to birds, including waterbirds or to bats, there is now evidence before the panel that additional survey work is required to more clearly determine Brolga nesting sites,” the panel’s report said.

At Mortlake (2010) the panel said data collected by BLA was “inadequate, the surveys not comprehensive and that BLA did not make a reasonable attempt to document local knowledge and expertise.”

The Stockyard Hill report, also in 2010, documents contrary evidence by BLA, while at Lal Lal principal Brett Lane referred to some of his own studies as “confidential”.

Complaints by panels of environmental studies by BLA also included the following:

  • Explanations by BLA of  “questionable” work provided at the end of panel hearings, and therefore not subject to further interrogation
  • Work “tainted with a level concern as to its initial robustness”
  • Concern that bird observation studies were taken at times to produce reports minimising the impact of proposed wind farms
  • Reports produced by BLA without any reference to local naturalists or birdwatchers
  • Poor design and data input
  • Little or no liaison with appropriate government departments
  • Findings on bird populations and breeding sites in direct contradiction to local bird watchers
  • “Unduly complicated” reports
  • Reports containing enough errors to result in erroneous conclusions
  • A failure by BLA to adequately explain its work.

The use of flawed or biased consultants’ reports by the wind industry in planning applications and in subsequent compliance matters remain one of the most controversial aspects of the wind sector – and it’s one that continues to be ignored by both state and federal governments.

746188-121229-hamish-cummingVictorian farmer Hamish Cumming has been a consistent campaigner on this issue – and has been threatened with legal proceedings by both consultants and Victorian government departments.

Mr Cumming told STT he had learned staff at one Victorian government department had allegedly been told by their superiors not to object to BLA reports in environment or panel hearings, even when those reports clearly omitted significant flora or fauna data

“The result is panel hearing after panel hearing where objectors raise concerns and provide real data proving BLA wrong, yet because that department does not object, the panels approve the projects even after the panels themselves raise genuine concerns about the validity and accuracy of BLA work,” Mr Cumming said.

“Government ministers have assured me to my face that the gagging is not a ministerial directive, so I really wonder what is motivating senior public servants to do such a thing.”

Mr Cumming said it was only after significant involvement from the Victorian Ombudsman that government representatives went against BLA at the Mortlake Panel hearing, where the Mortlake East proposal was not granted a permit due to it being shown how inaccurate and deficient the BLA reports were.

“In 2009 there was a Parliamentary Inquiry into the approvals process for renewable energy projects in Victoria,” Mr Cumming said.

“A host of recommendations were made including that  an enforceable code of conduct be put in place for consultants and mechanisms put in place to stop false and misleading information being used in the planning process.growling grass frog

“None of the recommendations were taken up by the then Labor Government, but I believe if they had been developed and enforced, most of the consultants used by wind farm companies in the past two years would have been prosecuted.

“If such recommendations had been in place since 2004, very few wind farms would ever have been approved in Victoria, because consultants would have been forced to submit accurate and honest reports, and these would have shown they should never have been approved.”

STT contacted BLA to give the company an opportunity to respond. At the time of this post, no reply had been received.

According to its website, BLA has acted for more than 80 wind farm proposals across Australia.

Questions were also put the Victorian Minister for Major Projects and Regional Cities, Denis Napthine. We understand he has been aware of Mr Cumming’s allegations. Again we received no response.

STT comment:

The ABC television show Media Watch referred to Hamish Cumming as a “maverick amateur”. On the contrary, this highly qualified engineer has been relentless on matters related to wind energy.

We have  seen detailed correspondence between Mr Cumming and a range of senior Victorian public servants on the issue of wind farms, testimony by BLA and the matter of Brolgas and other fauna.

Mr Cumming is indeed a maverick and is beholden to no vested interests.

Historically, it has been mavericks and whistle-blowers who have frequently brought about real change and cast light in areas mainstream media have ignored.

We believe Mr Cumming to be a highly credible source.

Certainly the ongoing criticism by panel hearings of evidence by BLA deserves greater scrutiny.

Mr Cumming has been calling for this for some time. We agree with him. The issue deserves formal investigation.

And certainly, we will have more to report.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Frank Campbell says:

    Ask why no journalists have made the effort to expose the sleaze so apparent in the use of “consultants” by wind companies. It’s been ten years, and journos have done nothing but regurgitate press releases.

    BLA is not alone. Corporations have numerous “consultants” to choose from. Both parties know that if any independence or integrity is shown, the “consultants” will get no more work in that industry. Don’t call us, we’ll call you…

    Industrial wind has more to hide than most, so their “consultants” are essentially corporate prostitutes.

  2. Jackie Rovensky says:

    Just how is it possible these projects get through the EPBC process in the first place? Surely they are meant to ensure everything possible is being done to prevent damage to the environment. Reading some of the proposals put to them and then their responses leaves me dumbfounded. The non existence of ethical and competent analysis of data, the complete lack of time spent on undertaking studies to ensure there will be NO – not minimal but NO impact on the environment is just mind boggling. These things are meant to save the environment yet they are being given permission to destroy it – to mitigate rather than avoid impacts. It seems it’s OK for them to destroy something as long as they then do something to try and mimic what they have destroyed. It’s now OK to kill one or two endangered creatures with no concern that the one or two may lead to the demise of a whole species. There is no understanding that to destroy a pocket environment that is struggling to provide for endangered beings does not prevent disaster. We should be creating and helping to increase areas where creatures can survive not destroy and try to recreate.

    With the EPBC and Development panels being completely absorbed in the concept of Wind Energy as a saviour they have lost sight of what they are meant to be doing – making sure we do not make things worse.

  3. Jenny Bruty says:

    BLA told everyone at a panel hearing that Brolgas only fly west! I think BLA needs to do more research on Brolgas!

  4. The modern day environmental assessment process with wind developments is as flawed as the approach to human health.

    Somehow, in some people’s minds, turning a quiet peaceful rural area into an industrial jungle, awash with low frequency noise, nauseating air pressure changes, EMF and other RF pollution is going to have “minimal impact on wildlife”.

    It is thus no wonder that the wind industry would prefer to fall back upon consultants with a dodgy history.

Trackbacks

  1. […] STT has reported on the shenanigans engaged in by DSE and the wind weasels’ consultants who routinely pull their punches in order to get projects approved. The “sharpest” of them all – according to a series of Victorian Planning Panels – is Brett Lane – who apparently ain’t afraid to gild the lily to help his clients earn their rubber stamps – numerous Panels have been highly critical of his work by reason of sloppiness and (careless?) omissions (see our post here). […]

  2. […] Lane copped a serve back in January in our post “The ‘tainted’ work of Brett Lane and Associates”. One of Brett’s theories is that birds will learn how to negotiate 50m turbine blades with […]

  3. […] Our investigations suggest the use of environmental consultants by wind farms is an area riddled with corruption – and policed by no government body. (We’ve already written about this.) […]

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