Senate’s Wind Farm Inquiry Turns Up the Heat On Pac Hydro’s Malfeasance

senate review

 ****

The Australian Senate Inquiry into the great wind power fraud kicked off on 30 March, at Portland in Victoria.

The Inquiry is teamed by a band of merry men – Queensland National Senator, Matthew Canavan, WA Liberal, Chris Back, independents Nick Xenophon and John Madigan, Liberal Democrat, David Leyonhjelm, Family First Senator, Bob Day and one, not-so-happy, Labor women (and wind power fraud apologist), Tasmanian ALP Senator, Anne Urquhart.

We have already covered the evidence given by Steven Cooper, the author of the groundbreaking study into the harm caused by Pacific Hydro’s Cape Bridgewater disaster, as well as the brilliant report on the Inquiry by Today Tonight’s Rodney Lohse:

Senate’s Wind Farm Inquiry: Steven Cooper’s Evidence on his Groundbreaking Study

Today Tonight Reports on Senate Inquiry Into the Great Wind Power Fraud

The day was one that the wind industry and its parasites have hysterically referred to as the start of a “witch hunt“.

burning witch

Rounding them up was, apparently, only half the fun ….

***

Now, while that reference, at a literary level, might have added some colour, and had some relevance, to events before the Inquiry, what they seem to have forgotten is that many a “witch hunt” ended up bagging one or two witches.

That was, of course, the point. Indeed the punters on the hunt – whether at Salem, Massachusetts or elsewhere – would have been disappointed if they didn’t get to throw their flaming torches on the pyre; and watch the hitherto-heathen go up in flames.

And, so it was, on day one of the Inquiry, where Pac Hydro’s man in the hot-seat, Andrew Richards, felt the temperature rising all around him, as a team of well-briefed and switched-on Senators turned up the heat.

To say that Richards was “uncomfortable” is somewhat of an understatement.

These boys have had the game all their own way for years, and simply aren’t used to being peppered by interlocutors with a handle on the facts; and the gumption needed to get at the lies and deception, on which the great wind power fraud depends.

mr uncorfortable andrew richards

Andrew Richards: “Mr Uncomfortable”.

****

That his own team were more than just a little disappointed with Andrew’s performance, is no surprise. However, that’s more of a comment on the abilities of the Senators firing the shots, rather than on Richard’s inability to dodge or deflect them – he was, after all, only being confronted with the facts.

Here’s Andrew’s evidence before the Committee.

[WARNING: For the wind industry, its parasites and spruikers, the following evidence may contain the unpleasant (for you) odour of burning witches. Should you feel even more unusual, or unwell, please seek advice from a legally qualified medical practitioner. Although you will only be “self-reporting”; and your symptoms will probably be put down to the “nocebo” effect.]

 Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines:

Application of regulatory governance and economic impact of wind turbines RICHARDS, Mr Andrew, Executive Manager, External Affairs, Pacific Hydro Pty Ltd
HANSARD
30 March 2015

John Madigan

Senator John Madigan (chair)

 *****

CHAIR (Senator Madigan): I welcome Mr Andrew Richards from Pacific Hydro to the hearing here today. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you and copies are available from the secretariat. I now invite you to make a short opening presentation and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Richards: On behalf of Pacific Hydro, thank you for the opportunity to appear here today. Pacific Hydro is a clean energy solutions provider globally, with headquarters in Melbourne. We are wholly owned by IFM Investors’ Australian Infrastructure Fund. Through its ownership, Pacific Hydro provides infrastructure investment opportunities for around five million Australian members of industry superannuation funds. Operating for over 20 years, Pacific Hydro develops, builds and operates renewable energy projects and sells electricity and carbon abatement products to consumers and customers in Australia, Chile and Brazil. Globally, we have 850 megawatts of operating hydro and wind assets and in excess of 2,000 megawatts of projects in our development pipeline around the world. Within Australia, Pacific Hydro owns and operates eight wind farms. We have 170 wind turbines, with a capacity of 306.55 megawatts.

While we strongly support the need for scrutiny of all aspects of the electricity generation to ensure ongoing development and operational standards are maintained, we are concerned that the scope of this inquiry unnecessarily duplicates similar inquiries and reviews of recent years. It is our view that the terms of reference have already been extensively assessed by over a dozen earlier federal and state based inquiries in recent years. We highlight to the committee that consistent conclusions have been reached by all of those recent inquiries and reports. For example, recent inquiries include the Climate Change Authority review of the renewable energy target in 2014; the Warburton review of the renewable energy target, including assessment of economic costs and benefits, in 2014; a further Climate Change Authority of the RET in 2012; the Senate committee investigating the social and economic impacts of rural wind farms in 2011; the South Australian Select Committee on Wind Farm Developments, which is still running; and the National Health and Medical Research Council’s statement information paper Evidence on wind farms and human health in 2015.

In relation to the terms of reference I would like to quickly address some of the pertinent points. First is the retail impact of the renewable energy target. The recent Warburton review found that the final retail electricity bills are lower than they otherwise would have been due to the effect the renewable energy target is having to reduce wholesale electricity prices and that any material reduction in the RET would assist in higher power prices for consumers. That was a key finding from the Warburton review. While the RET itself does provide a variable subsidy to new renewable energy development, the effect it has on the final electricity bill is minor. It is clear from analysis of the Australian Energy Markets Commission that the impact of the RET on household prices in 2014 was less than $2 a week, or around two per cent of the average bill.

The Australian Energy Market Operator found in its 2014 South Australian electricity market trend report that South Australian renewable energy generation is dominated by wind farms, which have low operating costs and tend to offer energy to the market at lower prices. When wind generation is available, it places downward pressure on the regional reference price. To put the impact of the RET on household bills into perspective, the largest contributors to electricity bill increases in recent years have been escalating network costs. For example, the Australian Energy Regulator’s recent decision in the ACT and New South Wales distribution network charges stated that the network owners had overestimated capital expenditure from 2009 to 2014, resulting in substantial increases in network costs. The Queensland government has recently announced it will relax the gold plating requirement for network reliability, which should result in lower network costs for Queensland households into the future.

I will quickly address the economics of wind power specifically. With the exception of hydro power, wind energy remains the most cost effective large-scale renewable energy generation technology available to us today. The International Renewable Energy Agency found in its latest renewable power generation cost 2014 report that the levelised cost of electricity for new renewable technologies including onshore wind is firmly within the range of the levelised costs of energy for new fossil fuel power plants. However, to compete against fossil fuel generators that were built over 40 years ago in Australia by governments using taxpayer funds and that at times have and continue to enjoy various forms of subsidy themselves, renewable energy in Australia does require assistance if it is to feature as part of the future clean energy mix that Australians are demanding. So, yes, the renewable energy target is a consumer subsidy to offset the high initial cost of renewable electricity generation development. This subsidy, as I mentioned, amounts to approximately $2 billion per year and contributes about two per cent of average electricity bills. It has so far resulted in approximately $18 billion of investment into renewable energy development in Australia and the creation of 29,000 jobs and an estimated 20 million tonne reduction in carbon emissions.

The assistance being offered to renewable energy is a fraction of what was provided in the past to coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries, particularly in their formative years, and it is clear that these industries continue to be heavily subsidised through various mechanisms in Australia an other countries. The International Energy Agency estimates that fossil fuel subsidies amount to more than $550 billion in 2010 alone and outstrip subsidies for clean energy technology by a ratio of 10 to one in the last few years. Australian fossil fuel industries still benefit enormously from subsidies in various forms. Studies from the Institute of Sustainable Futures in 2007 and the Australian Conservation Foundation in 2011 confirm that fossil fuel subsidies outweigh renewable energy efficiency subsidies by a margin of 12 to one in Australia. We note that the Australian mining industry receives about $4 billion in annual diesel fuel rebates and New South Wales provides an estimated annual subsidy of $1.5 billion for coal associated with its 2010 electricity assets sale. It is a preferential sale agreement to a number of power stations.

With regard to our commitment to local content, wind farms provide much-needed economic stimulus in regional Australia, creating job opportunities, driving regional and rural investment and providing support for social and community initiatives. Pacific Hydro has a longstanding commitment to purchasing Australian made components where they are available. Every wind tower the company has erected in Australia has come from the Keppel Prince facility here in Portland. We will continue that commitment.

The energy payback time for a wind turbine is quite small. While the payback time varies depending on the nameplate megawatts of the particular turbine, studies suggest that, at most, it is two to three years and a minimum of seven months for turbines ranging between two megawatts and five megawatts. As stated in an article in The international journal of life cycle assessment:

… the energy payback time (time regarding the energy required to produce and implement a turbine) is less than one year, much smaller than the useful lifetime of the system, which is at least 20 years.

On the claim about health impacts and the NHMRC section of the terms of reference, Pacific Hydro acts on the best available information from peak health organisations to form the conclusion that no causal link exists between the operation of wind turbines and human health. A recent NHMRC study concluded that there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans. Meanwhile, the Australian Medical Association released a position statement on wind farms and health in 2014 which included the following statement:

The available Australian and international evidence does not support the view that the infrasound or low frequency sound generated by wind farms, as they are currently regulated in Australia, causes adverse health effects on populations residing in their vicinity. The infrasound and low frequency sound generated by modern wind farms in Australia is well below the level where known health effects occur, and there is no accepted physiological mechanism where sub-audible infrasound could cause health effects.
The recently completed work by Mr Cooper at Cape Bridgwater has not materially changed our view of this issue given that it was not a health study, it was not a scientifically rigorous piece of work and was never intended to be and it did not provide sufficient evidence to justify any change of regulation in this area.

We note that there continues to be some confusion about this report. To assist the committee, we would like to table the joint statement from Pacific Hydro and the Acoustics Group which was released some weeks ago. We also note the NHMRC recently opened a targeted call for research into wind farms and human health, stating:

The TCR will support research that addresses one or both of the following issues:

The relationship between wind farm noise and health effects.

The broader social and environmental circumstances that influence annoyance, sleep disturbance, quality of life and health effects that are reported by residents living in proximity to wind farms.

We feel that the NHMRC is the most appropriate vehicle for this work to be carried out.

URQUHART2

Senator Anne Urquhart

 *****

Senator URQUHART: Thank you very much, Mr Richards. I want to go to that joint statement you just raised. In that, there is a statement that both the Acoustics Group and Pacific Hydro agreed that the study was not a scientific study. Can you elaborate on why this work does not qualify as scientific study.

Mr Richards: To be fair to Mr Cooper, it was never meant to be a scientific study. It was a study quite specific to six residents living near Cape Bridgewater. So it was a very small sample size, as has been pointed out. That was part of the design, to be frank. It was really an attempt by Pacific Hydro to potentially try to understand what was giving rise to the complaints that we were continuing to have, because the wind farm is compliant. So it was really an investigation on our part. Steven was the choice of the residents to conduct the study. He set up the study program, acting on the brief that we gave him.

Senator URQUHART: As we heard from Mr Cooper last night on the site, part of the study incorporated participants’ diaries that showed the symptoms they experienced throughout the course of a day. Is it true that there were some diary entries showing that residents were experiencing symptoms when the turbines were actually turned off?

Mr Richards: Certainly in the extensive report that has been produced there were issues raised in diaries when the wind farm was in a shutdown phase. A feature of this is that the wind farm was shut down for an extensive period of time—a two-week period. That was because we were doing some line maintenance work. So we took advantage of that to—

Senator URQUHART: I am sorry to interrupt, but was that the whole—

Mr Richards:  The entire wind farm was shut off up to between 10 and 12 hours at a time so that we could conduct that line maintenance. Again, we took advantage of that to simulate on-off testing of the wind farm. When you look through the data and the diaries you can see that there were certainly times stating higher sensation levels when the wind farm was not operating and had not been for 12 hours.

Senator URQUHART: Do you believe that using the word ‘sensations’ without a definition or measurement gauge is a useful means of determining health impacts?

Mr Richards: The study was not a health study, and it was never meant to be a health study. As to whether it is the right thing to do, I am really not qualified to answer that question. I will leave it for others to draw that conclusion.

Senator URQUHART: I would like some clarification on this. Do you know whether Mr Cooper changed his methodology and hypothesis into the project because the data was not showing any correlation? I have heard this, but do you know whether or not that is correct?

Mr Richards:  Mr Cooper gave a presentation to the Portland community at the golf club here some weeks ago. He explained the process that he went through. The report really points out that at some point he was not able to establish any kind of link using standard methodologies. So he effectively developed a new methodology, which has now given rise to his wind turbine signature, to see whether there was any correlation or link at all. But up until that time, using standard acoustic methodology, there did not appear to be any issue.

matt canavan

Senator Matt Canavan

 *****

Senator CANAVAN:  Doesn’t that go to the core of the issue, though? There is a new technique now and some new information. I am interested to know what you as a company that operate wind turbines are doing as a result of this new information. What further studies or investigations—

Mr Richards:  Mr Cooper has been very clear in saying that these are new hypotheses that he has developed in the course of this. They are untested, untried and not really validated. With all due respect to Mr Cooper—

Senator CANAVAN: Clearly, though, he is an expert in this field.

Mr Richards:  There are many other experts who—

Senator CANAVAN: : I am not—

Senator URQUHART: Sorry, Chair, I am—

Mr Richards:  I will happily come back to that later, Senator Canavan.

Senator URQUHART:  Some people have suggested that differences in energy generated and energy used means that sometimes wind power does not get used or coal generators burn without putting any power into the grid? Is that actually correct?

Mr Richards: The Australian energy market is a very sophisticated system. It also has a very sophisticated wind forecasting system that gives it close to 99 per cent accuracy on what wind farms across a certain region are doing at any particular time. They can alter dispatch mechanisms within the system to ensure that there is no waste. There is not a coal fired power station just churning out fossil fuels while it is waiting for our wind turbines to come on.

Senator David Leyonhelm

Senator David Leyonhelm

*****

Senator LEYONHJELM:  It is called a spinning reserve, isn’t it?

Mr Richards: Spinning reserve has been a feature of the market since it was built. There is always the need for a spinning reserve in case a power station goes out.

Senator LEYONHJELM:  So it is not technically accurate to say that they are not running; it is just that they are not generating electricity because they have not been switched on.

Mr Richards:  They are not running because of us. They are running because it is a feature of the market and always has been. If you required additional spinning reserve because of wind energy then the level of spinning reserve in the market would have gone up substantially in the last few years and it simply has not. In fact, the level of spinning reserve has fallen in the last few years.

Senator CANAVAN:  What about over a longer time period, such as 10 or 15 years—has it gone up?

Mr Richards:  No.

Senator URQUHART: Has Pacific Hydro undertaken any market research into community attitudes to wind farms in the region?

Mr Richards:  From time to time we have.

Senator URQUHART:  What have you found from those?

Mr Richards:  Within the broader Portland south-west region there is a high level of acceptance. They are very popular amongst most people. But that does not discount the fact that there are some people who do not like them. It is like any form of infrastructure: there will be people who do not like them and people who do. There is a large majority of people who do not care either way. That is not necessarily a feature of wind farms but infrastructure everywhere. Generally speaking, people are quite supportive, particularly when they look at the jobs that are created and some of the other benefits that flow into the community, through our Sustainable Communities Fund, for example.

Senator URQUHART:  Do you have any knowledge of the percentage of residents that say that they have health complaints as a result of wind farms?

Mr Richards:  We have not done that particularly, no. From what we are aware of, a relatively small number of people have made that claim, but that is not to discount those claims.

Senator URQUHART:  Some critics of wind say that the technology is intermittent and therefore not a reliable energy source. What do you say to that? Is that correct?

Mr Richards:  It is variable. As I said, the Australian Energy Market Operator have a very sophisticated system. They do not seem to be phased at all by the variability of wind. They treat it very much the same as the variability of consumer demand, which goes up and down on a regular basis. They can predict wind generation very accurately, as was mentioned before. So it has not posed a problem to them, no.

Senator URQUHART: Are you aware of any authoritative medical body in the world that says there is evidence of health problems caused by wind turbines?

Mr Richards: No.

Senator URQUHART:  What is the consensus amongst health professionals?

Mr Richards: Again, as a company, all we can do is look at the peak of medical associations and organisations. None of them are saying that this is an issue. We do look to the NHMRC, who are about to conduct some work in this area—and we are quite supportive of that—to try to deal with this issue once and for all.

Chris Back

Senator Chris Back

 *****

Senator BACK: Just to interrupt, the President of the Australian Medical Association disassociated himself from that statement, didn’t he?

Mr Richards:  I am not sure if he did.

Senator BACK: He did.

Senator URQUHART: Can I put a couple of questions on notice?

CHAIR (Senator MADIGAN): Senator Urquhart would like to put some questions on notice.

Mr Richards:  Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Mr Richards, what are your qualifications?

Mr Richards:  I am not an acoustician.

Senator LEYONHJELM:  What are your qualifications?

Mr Richards: I have got a Bachelor of Business from RMIT.

Senator LEYONHJELM:  On what basis do you say that Mr Cooper’s study is not a scientific study?

Mr Richards:  Mr Cooper said that it is not a scientific study.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Well, he has a hypothesis—and you are saying ‘just a hypothesis’; every scientific study begins with a hypothesis—for which he collects evidence. What he found was a correlation—just a correlation; he is not saying causation. Even in business, a correlation is not causation. So I do not know how you come to the conclusion it is not a scientific study.

Mr Richards:  Because Mr Cooper has said it is not a scientific study.

Senator LEYONHJELM:  Well, I disagree with Mr Cooper, in that case. Where I am going with this is that it seems to me that what he has identified is a potential new source of vulnerability for your company in that there is a new source of harm to consumers, called infrasound. He has identified a method of measuring it and he has found a correlation—not a causation—between it and potentially adverse sensations felt by some people. What are you going to do? If I were in your shoes, I would be concerned that, in due course, a tort liability would emerge out of this. I would want to know a lot about it in case, at some point in the future, on the basis of Mr Cooper’s work, a court might find that you had a duty of care to people affected by this infrasound. Do you share that view? Do you share that concern? Do you intend to do anything about it?

Mr Richards: The whole reason why we went into this process with Mr Cooper and the residents was to try and understand why a compliant wind farm, with current regulations, is still creating complaints of that nature. So we think, in conducting this report, we have been very thorough in trying to understand these issues. The report itself did not give rise, in our view, to any items that are actionable on our part. Again, we feel as though we have been very thorough and very transparent, and I would like to address some of the issues raised around the supposed gagging later on, if you would like. So, yes, we look at this very clearly, very closely. We are seeking other advice, a second opinion, if you will, because I am not an acoustic expert, and others at Pacific Hydro are not acoustic experts. We are certainly seeking other advice.

Senator CANAVAN: Would you just flesh that out. What other advice are you seeking?

Mr Richards: Other acoustic advice.

Senator CANAVAN:  Can you be more specific? Have you engaged an acoustic expert at this stage?

Mr Richards: Yes, we have.

Senator CANAVAN:  Who is that?

Mr Richards:  I am not at liberty to say, but a report has been produced that is being provided to us in the coming days, and that will make that publicly available.

Senator CANAVAN:  Is that measuring infrasound as well as—

Mr Richards:  It is more an assessment of the data that has been collected in the way that Mr Cooper has got peer review.

Senator CANAVAN:  So it is a hatchet job, basically?

Mr Richards: No.

Senator CANAVAN:  Okay, so there is no more testing or evidence that you can generate out of—

Mr Richards:  No, and it is not a hatchet job.

Senator CANAVAN: Are you planning to do that? Are you planning to have someone try and replicate Mr Cooper’s study?

Mr Richards: No.

Senator CANAVAN:  I might give you an opportunity, as you say, to clarify the issues around the gag order that you heard about from Mr Cooper where, at this stage, he has legal advice saying he cannot use the charts and information in his report publicly. Would you be at liberty to remove that constraint on his activities?

Mr Richards: There appears to be some confusion over the contract. Mr Cooper is able to use the report. We are quite happy to provide him with an ongoing licence to use that intellectual property—

Senator BACK: And the graphs?

Mr Richards: And the graphs and everything. The report is a public report.

Senator CANAVAN:  He said he has asked you. Have you responded formally, in a letter?

Mr Richards: We certainly have.

Senator CANAVAN:  With exactly the words you have just told us?

Mr Richards: There was an exchange of emails about a week ago. Then Mr Cooper would not return our phone calls. I eventually got hold of Mr Cooper on Friday, and he said that his lawyers had advised that he should not be talking, which was a little confusing. He said it was because of the gag clauses, which again was confusing because we do not believe there are gag clauses. An email was sent to Steven on Friday afternoon. I spoke to Steven about midday. We sent that email to him about 4.30 on Friday. In our view, there was nothing in there that would preclude him from talking about it or using those charts. We feel as though it has been a misunderstanding. Certainly the data that we provided to him for the building of the report is our intellectual property. It is also commercially sensitive, so I think Steven has recognised that that belongs with us.

Senator CANAVAN:  On gag clauses, I have here a document relating to the Sustainable Communities Fund that was issued by your organisation—application guidelines. I believe this is a fund set up to help fund local projects. Under the terms and conditions of that fund, clause 10 at j says:

The Recipient—
I presume the recipient of funds under this agreement—

shall not do or say anything or cause anyone to do or say anything that may prejudice or cause damage to the name and reputation of Pacific Hydro or its affiliated companies.

Would you explain that to me in layman’s terms. To me, that reads like: ‘Anybody who receives funds from your community fund cannot criticise you as an organisation.’ Is that correct?

Mr Richards:  No. They cannot do things that bring the company into disrepute.

Senator CANAVAN: It does not say that here; it says ’cause damage to the name and reputation of Pacific Hydro’.

Mr Richards:  That would be doing something that brings—

Senator CANAVAN:  But what if it was fair and reasonable to do that? It does not have any restriction here on something that is unreasonable damage. It seems to me just a straight-out gag clause. Why is that included?

Mr Richards:  This whole issue of gag clauses gets misinterpreted a lot because people have common-law rights, so, if they have been harmed or damaged, there is nothing in any clause like that—

Senator CANAVAN: Absolutely, Mr Richards. I completely agree and I would like to go to those common-law obligations. I keep hearing from you in the evidence you have provided this morning that you comply with regulations, but you would accept you have a liability above and beyond any regulations we set. Is that correct?

Mr Richards:  In respect of what?

Senator CANAVAN:  A duty of care.

Mr Richards:  We have a duty of care, certainly.

Senator CANAVAN:  You have a duty of care. And you have a duty of care that extends beyond your direct customers. You have a duty of care to the local community and others with the impacts you might have.

Mr Richards:  Correct.

Senator CANAVAN: So, whether or not your operations at the moment comply with the New Zealand standard or guidelines in South Australia or other things, you have a duty of care to ensure that harmful things are not done. You are telling us, though, that in your view—correct me if I am wrong—there is nothing reasonably foreseeable from Mr Cooper’s report that would indicate that there are potential harmful effects from your turbines.

Mr Richards:  That is correct.

Senator CANAVAN:  Is that the position of your board? Has your board considered Mr Cooper’s report?

Mr Richards: That is correct.

Senator CANAVAN:  And your board has come to the view that there is no reasonably foreseeable harm that could be done by your turbines?

Mr Richards: That is correct.

Senator CANAVAN:  In Mr Cooper’s review, he has been up-front with us. It is not a scientific study and there are still questions to be asked. He does recommend that medical surveys be done now. Are you seeking to fund those yourselves, apart from the study you have already mentioned? If I interpret Mr Cooper correctly, I think he is saying that there should be a medical health study which tries to see if there is a correlation between health impacts and these potential infrasound impacts. Are you going to fund that study?

Mr Richards: No, we are not because the NHMRC has already suggested that that is exactly what they are going to do.

Senator CANAVAN:  You said before that you do have a duty of care to residents in the community, but you are not going to fund these studies yourselves? They are your turbines; they are not the NHMRC’s.

Mr Richards: Yes. And, as I said before, in our view, the report that was provided to us by Mr Cooper gives us no actionable items.

Senator CANAVAN:  I am just getting a bit confused. On the one hand, you are saying that there is an actionable item because the NHMRC are taking care of it; and, on the other hand, you are saying, ‘We don’t have to do anything ourselves.’ I am just not following it.

Mr Richards: I am not saying that at all. I am saying if the NHMRC wish to follow up on this report by doing some additional work then that is fantastic.

Senator CANAVAN:  So the ball is in our court, so to speak, given that the NHMRC is an Australian government body.

Mr Richards:  If you like.

Senator CANAVAN: I find that a bit hard to believe. You have commissioned a report. You have paid for a report. It has obviously got some findings of relevance to your operations. Whether or not you accept those findings, they have obviously been conducted by a man that is expert in his field, but you are not going to take any additional steps to try and replicate the study or do further testing on your own operations and the impacts on health.

Mr Richards: As I said, in our view, looking at that report and the advice is to us that there is nothing actionable in that report. There is nothing that we can act on in that report.

Senator CANAVAN: Mr Cooper mentioned earlier the harmonic signal and infrasound created by fans, and he wanted to get access to some of the data from wind turbine manufacturers about some design elements. I might be paraphrasing there. He apparently asked you if he could access that information. He said that you said no.

Mr Richards:  Senator—

Senator CANAVAN:  Just hear me out. I have not asked my question yet. You said no and you would look at it in-house. Is that something that you are looking at in-house in terms of the design?

Mr Richards: We do not design.

Senator CANAVAN:  I understand that.

Mr Richards: The information in the report is clearly in the hands of the wind turbine manufacturers. Whether they choose to speak to Mr Cooper is entirely up to them. We have little control over that.

Senator CANAVAN:  You operate the turbines. It comes back to this duty of care you have, Mr Richards. Regardless of whether you manufacture them or not, you have a duty of care to ensure that they are operated in a way that does no harm or no significant harm that is foreseeable.

Mr Richards: We do not believe this report demonstrates that they are doing any harm, because it is not a medical report.

Senator CANAVAN:  Did you or did your organisation tell Mr Cooper that you would look at those issues in-house?

Mr Richards: We continually look at the operation of our wind turbines to make sure—

Senator CANAVAN: On this specific issue, have you gone back to the wind turbine manufacturers and said, ‘We may have a problem here and we need to look at how infrasound is generated by wind turbines’? You have not done that at all?

Mr Richards: We have not gone back and said, ‘We don’t think we’ve got a problem.’

Senator Bob Day

Senator Bob Day

*****

Senator DAY: You said that you had X-megawatts in the pipeline. In the construction of new wind farms, are you planning any changes to your guidelines with respect to proximity to residences?

Mr Richards: We are guided by what the current standards are; so we will comply with the current standards.

Senator DAY: That was not my question. In your planning for the construction of new wind farms, are you planning to change your guidelines with respect to the proximity of houses and residences to the construction of turbines?

Mr Richards: We are guided by what the—

Senator DAY: That has always been the case.

Mr Richards: Yes.

Senator DAY: Are you planning any changes?

Mr Richards:  No, we are not.

Senator DAY: There are no changes. So it could be the case that all your future turbines could be the same proximity as the ones here in Cape Bridgewater?

Mr Richards:  If they meet compliance standards, yes.

Senator LEYONHJELM: Are you planning to consider infrasound in terms of your impact on neighbours, or are you just restricting yourself to audible sound?

Mr Richards: We are restricting ourselves to the current standards. If the standards change then we will comply.

Senator LEYONHJELM: So you are totally determined by the standards.

Mr Richards:  Correct.

Senator LEYONHJELM: This more or less answers Senator Canavan’s question—you are reliant on the standards to meet your duty of care; no additional interests.

Mr Richards:  We are reliant on the standards to meet our duty of care and to ensure that they are operating within parameters. As far as our duty of care is concerned, again, I point to the report that we have funded to try to understand this issue better. There was nothing in that report, in our view, that was actionable beyond what we have currently done.

Senator LEYONHJELM: I am reminded of the tobacco companies 50 years ago testifying to a committee somewhat similar to this one saying, ‘Cigarettes do not cause lung cancer.’ It became a very expensive mistake.

Senator BACK: The standards that you speak of were standards that Pacific Hydro wrote in the first place—where they not?

Mr Richards: Incorrect.

Senator BACK: Who wrote them?

Mr Richards: The noise standards?

Senator BACK: Yes.

Mr Richards:  I do not know who wrote those.

Senator BACK: With regard to the contract you have with hosts, I understand there is a clause in the contract which basically indemnifies Pacific Hydro against any noise nuisance—is that correct?

Mr Richards:  There may be some of those contracts, yes.

Senator BACK: Clause 5(12), I think, is the one that I am going to.

Senator CANAVAN: Can I just go to that one, if I can. We have had this submitted to the committee. Clause 5(12) in one of the landowners agreements with yourself says, ‘The landlord acknowledges that generators may generate noise on or over the land which may exceed the New Zealand standard.’ You said you comply with the standards. Why is there a provision in the contract which says you might exceed that standard?

Mr Richards: The landowner themselves are a turbine host and part of the conversation you have with them is to say: ‘Under normal setbacks under the standard, we would not be able to put turbines on your land. So you have a decision to make as the landholder about whether you want those turbines on your land or whether you want them in this position which will maximise your revenue as well as ours.’

Senator CANAVAN: I have seen a report by Marshall Day for your organisation which shows that noise levels at some of the properties that are not hosts but are in the vicinity of your turbines exceed the New Zealand standard. Are you aware of those reports by Marshall Day?

Mr Richards: No. I would like to see those reports.

Senator CANAVAN: I have seen an extract of that report. Can you take that on notice—that any reports by Marshall Day acoustics to yourself have shown that noise levels at houses that are not hosts exceed the New Zealand standard.

Mr Richards:  Are you talking about a particular wind farm?

Senator CANAVAN:  Cape Bridgewater.

Mr Richards: Okay.

Senator BACK: The continuation of my question is fairly logical: if this clause exists in the contract and if your company believes there is no harm, why have the clause in there in the first place?

Mr Richards:  Under normal circumstances, if you like, if they were not a host then we would not put turbines there.

Senator BACK: If you have no cause to believe there is any harm then there is no occasion to put a contract into the clause which indemnifies the company against any possible harm?

Mr Richards: On an audible noise perspective—if they were not a host landholder who had agreed to put turbines on their property, and we had come to that commercial agreement, then we would not have put the wind turbines there.

Senator BACK: I asked you earlier whether you wrote the standards. Is it not the case that Pacific Hydro in another forum have actually accepted that they did participate in writing the Victorian wind farm guidelines?

Mr Richards:  Being consulted on the guidelines and writing them is very different. There were lots of people consulted.

Senator BACK: Perhaps you could clarify on notice price whether that was the case?

Mr Richards:  Sure.

Senator BACK: You have said a couple of times you are compliant. Is the compliance as a result of the New Zealand standard?

Mr Richards:  Yes.

Senator BACK: The New Zealand standard talk about audible sound but not infrasound?

Mr Richards:  Correct.

Senator BACK: I congratulate you, in fact. I think you are the first company to have actually sponsored the study that Mr Cooper has presented to us. I think that is to be acknowledged, incidentally.

Mr Richards:  Thank you.

Senator BACK: What is clear to me is that Mr Cooper has introduced the likely link between a different form of sound, being infrasound not audible sound. Indeed, should that be the case, and again I congratulate you on your statement that there is no limit from Pacific Hydro on Mr Cooper to now use the data in an open, international forum—

Mr Richards: The data that is contained in the report?

Senator BACK: Yes.

Mr Richards:  That is the licence we are engaged in.

Senator BACK: You heard the question I asked Mr Cooper, which was that if infrasound, rather than audible sound, is the link then the compliance standards, be they from South Australia, New South Wales or Victoria, relating to audible sound of themselves become effectively useless, don’t they? Following on from Senator Leyonhjelm’s questions, it is necessary now for the industry to participate more fully to validate or invalidate what appears to be a conclusion drawn from this, shall we call it, tentative or pre-emptive study.

Mr Richards:  You are right, this issue has caused a fair bit of debate amongst the acoustic community in particular. There are many views on either side. We have participated to some level; whether others choose to participate is up to them. Has this been a good experience from us? It is give and take. There are certainly some things that have been painful for us. Certainly, the final report has not given us an actionable item.

Senator BACK: As Mr Cooper said, it is not just the wind turbine industry. He pointed to a gas fired power station somewhere, but there was a coal fired situation in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. I think it is very interesting. It is not a breakthrough, yet, but it is an indication that further questions should be asked and further studies should be made.

Mr Richards: As a company, we feel as though we have done all that we can to this point. We cannot fund any more studies. We will not be funding any more studies. There is a fairly hot debate going on within the acoustic community about whether this is true, untrue, partially true—who knows. So as a company we sit back with the best available evidence we have at the moment and have made the decision that there is—

Senator BACK: But with an open mind to the future.

Mr Richards:  If regulations change in the future than we will certainly comply.

CHAIR (Senator Madigan): Just so we are crystal clear, currently Pacific Hydro believes there are no harms from wind turbines?

Mr Richards:  Correct.

CHAIR (Senator Madigan):  Why are the turbine hosts contracted to fully indemnify Pacific Hydro against any claims? You are telling us that you do not believe there are any harms, so why is that in the contract? Why does Pacific Hydro think it is fair to ask the landholder, who has no knowledge of health, acoustics, whatever it may be, to indemnify Pacific Hydro? How do you honestly think that a landholder is equipped to do that?

Mr Richards:  I am not really sure I understand. We have a relationship with our landholders which is based on a negotiation we have had with them and their lawyers, which we have paid for. We have paid for the legal advice of every landholder who signs up with us. The contract they have signed with us take into consideration where the turbines are on their property and a whole range of other things that may occur as part of the operation of the wind farm: operational people driving around on their property, them continuing to use their property fur farming purposes. There are whole range of issues that come up in a commercial arrangement between two parties. It is normal that those parties take their responsibilities and indemnify one another for issues—for example, if a farmer accidentally drives his backhoe into the substation.

CHAIR (Senator Madigan): I am not talking about that; I am talking about noise nuisance. You have asked them to indemnify, under the contract, Pacific Hydro from any noise nuisance.

Mr Richards:  They have agreed to do that as part of the contract because they have agreed to have turbines closer to their properties than they otherwise would have been. If they were not a landholder as part of the project we would not have put turbines where they are. The fact that they have decided that they would like those turbines in the position that they are, so that they can maximise their revenue out of the project, is fine. In other words, they cannot say, ‘You need to continue to pay me, but I want you to turn them off because I can hear them during the day.’

CHAIR (Senator Madigan):  But is it not the case that there are turbine hosts who do not live on the said properties?

Mr Richards: At Cape Bridgewater, that is correct.

Senator URQUHART: Just quickly, can I just follow up: Pacific Hydro pay for the legal advice that the landholders receive prior to signing the contract.

Mr Richards:  We will not sign the contract unless they have got legal advice.

Senator URQUHART: Do they get to choose their legal—

Mr Richards:  Yes, they do.

Senator URQUHART: Thanks, Chair.

Nick Xenophon

Nick Xenophon

*****

Senator XENOPHON: Mr Richards, is the market research that you referred to something that you could provide to the committee, even if on a confidential basis, so that we can get an idea of community attitudes and questions asked?

Mr Richards:  Yes, certainly.

Senator XENOPHON: You said in relation to Mr Cooper that it is not meant to be a scientific study and not meant to be a health study. What do you say it is then?

Mr Richards: It is an investigation into why a number of residents continue to make the claims that they have been making, despite our having a compliant wind farm. It really was a genuine attempt on our part to try and understand the issues more than we did and to try and advance the discussion, if you like, beyond an adversarial one. Whether that has been successful or not I do not know.

Senator XENOPHON: I do not want to labour the point, but the fact is that Mr Cooper is an acoustician who has an international reputation. He is used by the Department of Defence. I think the way aircraft make approaches to runways around the world has been influenced significantly by Mr Cooper’s work on aircraft noise. It is not as though you chose a lay person who has no knowledge of acoustics; you have actually chosen an acoustics expert. If that does not give it a scientific flavour or implication in respect of health matters, then what does it?

Mr Richards:  The residents actually chose Mr Cooper. We were happy with that: we recognised Mr Cooper as an acoustician of some experience. But the fact is that it does not matter how experienced the person is or what their credentials are, if the testing program was not set up using a rigorous, scientific method then it cannot claim to be a rigorous, scientific report. Again, it was never meant to be.

Senator CANAVAN: Are you saying that the report lacks rigour? There are two adjectives you used there.

Mr Richards: The report says it lacks scientific rigour.

Senator CANAVAN:  Sorry, no. Is it rigorous or not?

Mr Richards: In a scientific sense? No.

Senator XENOPHON: So you are saying that Mr Cooper’s methodology—the way he set up the equipment and the way he measured the noise—is not rigorous? That is a subtly different question.

Mr Richards: That is a subtly different question. We are not bringing into any doubt Mr Cooper’s approach to this or his professionalism or anything like that. Stephen has gone about his work in a way that has been very rigorous. The fact is, to draw scientific conclusions from this report—

Senator XENOPHON: I am not asking that question now; I am saying do you agree that the testing was done rigorously and on a scientific basis? Leave aside the question of conclusions, just the testing: was the equipment he used and the way he went about it scientifically rigorous in your view?

Mr Richards: It is difficult, because I am not an acoustician. It appears—

Senator CANAVAN:  Do you have any suspicions, belief, or reasons why it would not be?

Mr Richards: We have no reason to doubt that he has done anything wrong, no.

Senator XENOPHON: I will go to the issue of Mr Cooper’s concerns. I asked him some direct questions about gagging or being constrained. It is interesting that it was in relation to a gas fired power station at Uranquinty in New South Wales where it seems that he has been gagged. Haven’t you actually made a rod for your own back by not allowing Mr Cooper to use those graphs in the context of making submissions overseas and the like, by raising the copyright card? Isn’t that being unnecessarily restrictive, given the relationship you have had with Mr Cooper to share and obtain information in the context of this study?

Mr Richards: Again, we are quite happy and prepared to offer Mr Cooper an ongoing licence to use anything in that report that he has produced, whether it be the charts, the graphs or the report itself. It is a matter of coming to an agreement on that. We are quite prepared to do that. We have written to Mr Cooper recently to advise him of that. I think it is probably an interpretation around the contract. We had never believed that it did restrict him. His lawyers seem to believe that it does. We want to have a conversation with Mr Cooper to resolve that so he can do exactly what he wants to do with that.

Senator XENOPHON: I am pleased to hear that. It is just that when you said, ‘People can always rely on their common law rights,’ I saw red on that. I have been a lawyer for over 30 years and I can tell you that saying that people can rely on the common law rights could mean a very protracted and very expensive legal dispute that could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which I think would not be a fair fight in terms of what Mr Cooper would be risking to test that at common law. You can see my point that I think that it is better to resolve this than having a stoush at common law.

Mr Richards: We do not want to have a stoush. We do not want to go to court over this. We believe that it is a misunderstanding that can be resolved fairly quickly. We wrote to Mr Cooper on Friday to that effect. We have been trying to contact him all last week to that effect.

Senator XENOPHON: You are both in the same room; here is a great opportunity to sort it out. Can I just pick you up on one thing and maybe I misheard you and maybe I transcribed wrongly what you said: you said something along the lines that the variability of wind is like the variability of consumer demand, which goes up and down. Did you say words to that effect? That is what I jotted down.

Mr Richards: That is correct. If you talk to the Australian Energy Market Operator, it is a similar kind of challenge for them. What they get from wind farms though is a level of forecastability that allows them to manage the market quite easily.

Senator XENOPHON: Respectfully, isn’t it somewhat disingenuous to say that, because wind is variable and consumer demand is variable, but the variability of wind and the variability of consumer demand do not often intersect. For instance, if there is a peak demand between 5 pm and 7 pm in the evening, when people get home from work and it is a hot day, if the wind is not blowing at that time, there is not an intersection between the production of wind power and the demand for power.

Mr Richards: That is a slightly different question. You are talking about availability there. If the wind farms are not available due to lack of wind, then the market can react to that pretty quickly. This is not our assessment. This is the assessment of the Australian Energy Market Operator.

Senator XENOPHON: Could you just refer to that, because I am surprised that they would say that. That is, just on your statement that the variability of wind is like the variability of consumer demand. It does not take into account the fact that when there is a high demand, there may not be a high output of wind. I do not want to take it any further than that, but if you could refer us to that. Do you consider that Mr Cooper’s report provides some further information in considering what some have described as the nocebo effect in terms of the effect of wind turbines to the extent that it rebuts, at least in part, the allegations or the assertions made of a nocebo effect.

Mr Richards:  I am not sure that it addresses that particularly, no.

Senator CANAVAN:  Earlier, I mentioned a report from Marshall Day Acoustics. I will just clarify that was report number 002012008332. I have got a date here of 21 July 2010. It is entitled Cape Bridgewater wind farm post-construction noise compliance assessment. That was one that I was referring to. I have seen some charts in that report that show that noise levels exceed the New Zealand standard on some properties that are hosts. What is the average known plate capacity on your turbines?

Mr Richards: It is 2.2 megawatts.

Senator CANAVAN:  It’s 2.2 at Cape Bridgewater. How many megawatt hours a year would you expect from them?

Mr Richards: About 110 gigawatt hours. That is 110,000 megawatt hours.

Senator CANAVAN:  That is 110,000 megawatt hours per turbine.

Mr Richards: Not per turbine, as across—

Senator CANAVAN: For the lot. The RET price at the moment is about 30?

Mr Richards: Or thereabouts.

Senator CANAVAN:  So you get $3.3 million a year from RET credits?

Mr Richards: Yes.

Senator CANAVAN: You do not have any more funds to fund more studies?

Mr Richards:  No, but we have to pay the banks back.

CHAIR (Senator Madigan):   Is Pacific Hydro aware of a 2007 Victorian decision in relation to low-frequency noise and vibration impacts arising from the operation of a Melbourne gas fired power station; I believe it was the Metroll power station that Snowy Hydro elected to buy out. Are you aware of that decision?

Mr Richards: Yes.

CHAIR (Senator Madigan):  Thank you. We will break and then call Keppel Prince Engineering and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

Hansard, 30 March 2015

Andrew Richard’s obvious discomfort before the Inquiry, might also have something to do with the fact that the Ponzi scheme that he’s part of is imploding – with mounting and massive losses (STT thinks that $700 million in a single year is pretty substantial).

Pac Hydro has responded to its whopping financial melt-down by announcing that it will sack 25% of its staff: directors Garry Weaven and Brett Himbury were the first to fall on their swords; and community “favourite”, Lane Crockett has been given the ‘pink-slip’, too – here’s the background to Pac Hydro’s financial implosion:

Pacific Hydro’s Ponzi Scheme Implodes: Wind Power Outfit Loses $700 Million of Mum & Dad Retirement Savings

On those numbers, Andrew Richard’s pitiful performance before the Committee, no doubt, sits comfortably on a par with the rest of the Pac Hydro gang. Whether he’s able to weather the storm that’s hit Pac Hydro is another matter.

dirtyrottenscoundrelsoriginal

Don’t feel bad, Andrew. This scam was never built to last …

About stopthesethings

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

Comments

  1. Uncle Fester says:

    Please keep this daily read coming! Nice to see the operators squirm. Can’t wait until the NSW Dept of planning is asked to justify their decisions and actions (or lack thereof).

  2. Jackie Rovenksy says:

    So PacHydro paid to have acoustical testing undertaken so they could understand why people are complaining, but the results were not what they wanted so they retreat into the comfort zone of existing standards.

    They are not interested in the fact the existing acoustic standards are flawed and inappropriate for the industry, nor do they consider these are only guidelines, so there is no compelling requirement for them to not do more and exceed the guideline requirements.

    They are not progressive enough or community minded enough to accept the findings of Steven Coopers report and seek the turbine manufacturers’ assistance to solve the problem and work to have the guidelines changed so they can be sure they are operating at the highest safety standards possible.

    Nor are they interested in assisting those who have reported severe adverse health effects by either shutting down the offensive turbines completely or turning them off at night so people can at the very least hope to get a good night’s sleep.

    Questioning by Senator Urquhart appeared to be directed at trying to discredit Steven Coopers work. Her questioning was no help to PacHydro, all she did was put out into a public domain questions which may have discredited Mr Cooper and is work.

    This tactic failed, what it and the behaviour of PacHydro have done is focus people’s attention, helping them to see what has been going on, with more people now speaking out and questioning this industry’s failings; and it’s helped others to understand the pain those suffering have been reporting for years.

    This, combined with expert and relevant questioning by the other Senators, ensured PacHydro was exposed as a company incapable of meeting even the most basic standards of care for the environment of the people exposed to their torturous turbines.

    As it is, failings of PacHydro’s response to this important work of Steven Coopers and their determination to try and shut him down, highlights the nightmare they’ve brought on themselves and their industry by underestimating his capabilities and Professional ethics.

    In addition, questioning by the Senators showed the inability of this industry to provide a reliable energy source at a level of production commensurate with its stated installed capacity.

    All in all, PacHydro came out of it with its shield of lies, damaged beyond repair.

  3. Senator Uquhart, is just a front for Richards and his other grubby windweasel mates, but she has no chance of glossing over the corrupt way the fan club works. The geenie is out of the bottle and there is no chance of ever putting it back.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: