Rubber-Stamped Wind Farm Approvals by NSW Planning Commission – Rotten to the Core

Angus Taylor MP addresses one very angry community.

***

The Tarago and Mt Fairy community is nestled on the rolling hills of the southern Tablelands of New South Wales its defenders have, for years now, been in furious opposition to the threat by Spanish outfit, EPYC to spear 88 of these things into the ranges near Lake Bathurst, Tarago, Mayfield, Boro, Mount Fairy and Manar.

Proving that the community’s hatred of these things is equally matched by their persistence and tenacity, locals have been on a war footing since June 2014 – Jupiter wind farm threat sends locals into orbit – with no sign of relenting.

With the proposal about to be considered by the NSW Planning Department (as renowned for its incompetence as its corruption), its defenders have belted the Department with 536 submissions in opposition to the project.

One of its best and brightest is Dr Michael Crawford, who fired off this brilliant letter to the NSW Planning Assessment Commission over its blinding level of incompetence (others might call it the product of something more deliberate than mere ineptitude). Over to Michael.

Open Letter to Chair of NSW Planning Assessment Commission re Apparent Serious Breaches of PAC’s Code of Conduct by Commissioners Affecting NSW Electricity Security
Michael Crawford
26 May 2017

Commissioner Briggs,

It appears that the PAC commissioners who approved the Biala wind farm committed a serious breach of the PAC’s Code of Conduct by failing to carefully consider the potential adverse effects of the wind farm on NSW electricity security.

Given that the electricity system is the most critical infrastructure in the State, a breach of the Code of Conduct when deciding matters which affect that infrastructure, and in a way that may allow harm to that infrastructure, is extremely serious.

It appears that the commissioners who recently decided on the Capital 2 wind farm have similarly breached the PAC’s Code of Conduct by likewise failing to carefully consider the potential adverse effects of the wind farm on NSW electricity security.

I make this letter public for the following reasons.  If multiple senior members of an organisation act contrary to its avowed standards, the problem is typically the organisation’s culture.  After almost four decades of research on organisations, observing organisations and managements in action, and advising large organisations, I know that defects in an organisation’s culture are rarely fixed without external impetus.

Since the PAC plays such a critical role in the State’s development, it is essential that its commissioners act wholly in keeping with its Code of Conduct and be seen to do so.  Because the PAC makes decisions on proposals that are or become part of the NSW electricity system, it is essential for the State that the PAC carefully considers all consequences, positive and negative, for the electricity system and electricity prices when making decisions on those projects.

As detailed below, documents and advice provided by the PAC strongly indicate that for the projects mentioned above, and indeed some other intermittent power generation projects, commissioners have neither sought advice on nor carefully considered potential adverse effects on NSW electricity security from the projects they were determining or how those adverse effects might be mitigated.

Perhaps you are able to explain to the Parliament and the people of NSW why it is not appropriate for the PAC to consider all potential consequences for NSW electricity supply when approving the addition of electricity generators to the grid.  Perhaps you are able to explain why failing to carefully consider those possible consequences is not a breach of the Commission’s Code of Conduct.

Unless you are able to provide a compelling explanation, it is surely incumbent on you to discipline all those who have breached the Commission’s Code of Conduct and to address the cultural or other factors which have allowed breaches to occur.

The Planning Issue

Wind farms, and indeed any major power plants, are wholly unlike any other projects considered by the PAC.  The reason is that they normally operate as part of a complex, integrated system, connected by the grid, where their outputs have to be continuously in synchronisation not just in terms of volume but in terms of particular characteristics (e.g. frequency and phase).  That synchronisation has to be on a second-by-second basis and when it fails there can be major consequences throughout the whole of the grid and the State.

In addition, since the power plants connected to the grid compete economically, and “renewable energy” power plants are given a large subsidy, over time the plants with the large subsidies drive the others out of the system and, in so doing, may progressively degrade the robustness of the grid – since unlike traditional power plants, the subsidised power plants provide only intermittent and unpredictable supply and have other technical limitations.

Further, most power plants added to the grid require some new transmission infrastructure and, in the case of intermittent power generators, may require addition of some form of backup capacity provided, usually, by another party.  Each of these components must ultimately be paid for by electricity consumers, even if the cost is not directly in money paid to the owners of the generating plant.

All Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and DAs about which the PAC makes its decision have a section which is supposed to outline the strategic justification for the project, as well as a section required to describe the consequences of alternatives to the project, including not proceeding with the project.  Those sections for wind farms, including the ones mentioned in this letter, routinely claim justification based on the amount of electricity that will be generated but also routinely make no reference to possible effects on electricity security or on electricity prices.

The PAC determination reports, as is the case for Biala, routinely accept at face value the proponent’s assertions about the electricity to be generated and do not consider any potential adverse effects on electricity security or prices.

It would seem incumbent on any planner considering the addition of a substantial electricity generating facility to the NSW grid that they examine the effect that addition would have on electricity security in NSW and on electricity prices, particularly given the known intermittent character of electricity from wind farms and some other generators; and that the evaluation would be a significant factor in their decision.

The PAC has told us that the commissioners who approved the Biala wind farm did not consider the possible effects on NSW electricity security or NSW electricity prices and yet approved the project.  Consequently they appear to have breached the PAC’s Code of Conduct in multiple ways.

Proof of Non-Consideration

A GIPA request was lodged by Dr Michael Crawford with the PAC as follows:

“In relation to the PAC’s approval of the Biala wind farm (D446/16), please provide a copy of the documented evidence held by the PAC, upon which the PAC relied in this decision, which shows that the addition of further wind farms to the NSW electricity grid, and of Biala wind farm in particular, will pose no threat to the future stability and security of electricity supply in NSW.”

The PAC response to that request (David McNamara, Director Secretariat, PAC, 24 May 2017) declined to provide any information, stating:

“All documented evidence held by the Commission and upon which the Commission relied for its approval of the Biala wind farm is available to download at the following website:

http://www.pac.nsw.gov.au/projects/2016/12/biala-wind-farm

The documents at that website have been examined and contain no consideration of electricity security by either the PAC or the Department of Planning & Environment (DPE) in its recommendations to the PAC.

It thus follows that the commissioners involved did not give any consideration to the effect of the proposed project on future NSW electricity security.  Nor indeed to the effect on NSW electricity prices[1].

The material held at the website address specified by Mr McNamara consists of three categories:

  • the assessment and recommendations by DPE to the PAC;
  • the PAC’s determination report and the formal consent document; and
  • submissions to the PAC by members of the public.

Each of these has been carefully examined for any reference to electricity security or electricity prices (discussed in any form).

Department of Planning & Environment Assessment and Advice

There is no mention at all of electricity security in the Department’s submission and advice to the PAC.  The only mention of the grid is about the possibility of the Biala wind farm being able to physically connect to the grid given the resistance of locals to providing it with an easement to do so, and the local physical transmission capacity should a connection occur.

The Department’s assessment and recommendations also contain no mention of electricity prices or the potential impact on electricity prices from approving Biala and other wind farms.

PAC Determination Report

The only reference to electricity security in the PAC determination report is in an appendix which lists reasons members of the public gave for objecting to the proposal.  In that listing there is a single dot point “There has been a failure to determine the impact of the proposal on electricity grid security for NSW”.

Note.  That reference is not a comment by the PAC but a note of a warning given to the PAC.  The PAC report made no further mention of the matter.  It made no suggestions as to why the warning might have been invalid.  The report did, however, discuss a number of other reasons for objection given by the public.  It is, therefore, evident the PAC commissioners chose to totally ignore the matter of electricity security for NSW despite having been warned by members of the public.

There is zero mention of NSW electricity prices in the papers prepared by the PAC.  They neither produce any evidence that there will be no adverse effect on NSW electricity prices nor any analysis by themselves or anyone else to show there will be no harm.

Public Submissions

One submission (by Residents Against Jupiter wind turbines (RAJwt)) provided extensive explanation of the potential threat to electricity security in NSW as a consequence of careless approvals of wind farms and advised that:

“The PAC needs to defer consideration of this proposal until the Department of Planning has provided a well thought out, thoroughly investigated plan to ensure the placement of all future wind farms will minimise the risk to NSW electricity supply; and a set of conditions to be applied to the Biala wind farm which will ensure its approval will not in any way lead to a reduction in grid security.” (RAJwt submission, p. 4)

The PAC did not defer until provision of such a plan and its published documents show it had no such plan or even any argued basis for believing there would be no adverse electricity security consequences from approving the wind farm.

The RAJwt submission to the PAC mentioned the potential impact on electricity prices, stating:

“if you are determined to inflict higher electricity prices on the people of NSW there are at least some things that can be done in planning to reduce the risks that accompany this policy” (RAJwt submission, p. 2)

Summary re Biala Wind Farm Approval

The PAC has admitted that its commissioners who approved the Biala wind farm obtained no informed expert advice on the potential impact of the wind farm on NSW electricity security and electricity prices.

They did not seek any advice on conditions under which the wind farm could be added to the NSW grid so as to minimise any harm to electricity security and electricity prices.

Had they done so, it is conceivable they would have received informed, expert, documented justification as to why there is no problem, or how to mitigate any possible problems.  It is also possible they would have received informed expert advice that there is indeed a potential risk to NSW electricity security and electricity prices as a consequence of adding the Biala wind farm to the grid.

It is the deliberate decision to not seek such advice which is the core of the apparent breaches of the Commission’s Code of Conduct and constitutes an ongoing hazard to the State of NSW.

Approving the addition of an electricity generator to the grid without assessing the impact on future electricity security and prices is like approving a car for registration without checking its brakes or whether the tyres are bald.

If every clerk in an RMS office and every auto mechanic knows not to register a vehicle without those checks, why do the much more highly paid PAC commissioners seem not to know the equivalent?

Broader Context

At the time of the PAC’s Biala determination (12 April 2017):

  • Everyone in Australia who could read a newspaper or watch TV or access online sources knew of the electricity blackouts in South Australia associated with its high proportion of wind generated electricity.
  • In October 2016, the Australian Government, for COAG, had established the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market under the Australian Government’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel. That review was still under way at the time of the Biala wind farm PAC decision.
  • In February 2017, the NSW Energy and Utilities Minister Don Harwin established an Energy Security Taskforce chaired by the NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer in the light of perceived risks to electricity security in NSW. At the time it was established, the Minister said “My top priority as Energy Minister is to ensure that we maintain a secure energy supply for the people of NSW in their homes and workplaces”[2]

Note the word “security” which appears in the title of both of those reviews, and in Minister Harwin’s “top priority”.

So, even without the warning given in submissions to the Biala PAC, anyone in NSW paying attention, and certainly anyone in an official planning role, had to be aware that there was some reasonable concern both in public and in official circles about electricity security for NSW and about the composition of the electricity production and distribution system.

Consequently, anyone exercising due diligence in considering whether to allow the addition of a power generating facility to the NSW power system would ask the question “How will this affect the overall system, its stability and security, and the cost of its output?”

The Biala PAC commissioners apparently deliberately refused to ask that question.  Life experience indicates that when people deliberately refuse to ask a pertinent question it is usually because they fear what the answer may be.

The public and members of the NSW Parliament, in considering the conduct of the Biala PAC commissioners (and others), need to decide whether on the basis of the evidence, the commissioners were negligent in failing to consider possible adverse effects on NSW electricity security, or were even wilfully negligent in not doing so.

PAC Code of Conduct

The PAC’s code of conduct states PAC members are expected to

“act honestly, ethically and responsibly;

exercise a reasonable degree of care and diligence; and act in a way that enhances public confidence in the integrity of the role of the PAC in the planning system.”

Further, point 2.4 in the code of conduct requires that

“PAC members must take into consideration all relevant facts known to them (or that should reasonably be known to them) when performing their duties.”

Given the public information and government action at the time of the Biala PAC determination, the PAC members should have reasonably known that adding intermittent power generators to the NSW grid might have some stability consequences.  It therefore was in their power to obtain analysis and professionally sourced evidence to be clear about the extent of risk were they to approve the proposal.

We know they did not seek such analysis and evidence since the PAC has told us that everything upon which they relied is published on the relevant section of the PAC’s website and no such analysis or evidence is there.

The logical conclusion is that the three PAC commissioners for the Biala wind farm:

  • failed to comply with point 2.4 of the Code of Conduct and “take into consideration all relevant facts known to them (or that should reasonably be known to them)”
  • consequently they failed to “exercise a reasonable degree of care and diligence”
  • thereby they failed to “act in a way that enhances public confidence in the integrity of the role of the PAC in the planning system”
  • and thus they also failed to act “responsibly”.

Those conclusions flow from the evidence in the public domain.  It therefore appears the three PAC commissioners for the Biala wind farm are in breach of most of the main points in the PAC’s code of conduct.

Approval of Other Intermittent Power Generators

A month after the decision on the Biala wind farm, the PAC released a decision to extend the lapsed approval for the Capital 2 wind farm.  In that case the determination also makes absolutely no mention of any consideration of the potential impact on NSW electricity security or electricity prices.

The only mention of electricity security is in the summary of reasons given by the public for objecting to the proposal.  So on the reasonable assumption that the advice from the PAC’s David McNamara re the PAC’s Biala wind farm documentation is standard PAC practice, the three commissioners for the Capital 2 proposal also appear to have breached point 2.4 of the PAC’s Code of Conduct and consequently other parts of the Code of Conduct.

Examination of the PAC determinations for Crudine Ridge, Rye Park and Yass Valley wind farms suggests the PAC’s Code of Conduct has been similarly breached in those cases.

Thus there appears to be pattern of a culture consistently breaching the Commission’s published Code of Conduct.  I have not examined other types of projects for evidence of the same behaviour, so cannot say whether the apparent breaches of the Code of Conduct apply to all sorts of projects or are, for some reason, confined to wind farms.

Summary

The evidence from the PAC’s own documents of serious and repeated breaches of the Commission’s own published Code of Conduct is compelling.

That evidence also shows it has repeatedly occurred on matters where the potential consequences for the people of NSW, as a whole, are of the highest order.

It is surely your duty to:

  • discipline those who are guilty of breaches of the Code of Conduct;
  • explain to the Parliament of NSW how those breaches have been allowed to occur and how the PAC’s culture is to be repaired;
  • explain to the Parliament how the PAC will act to clarify potential harm done to NSW and its citizens through these breaches; and
  • explain to the Parliament the action needed to repair any harm.

Dr Michael Crawford

mcrawford.boro@gmail.com

cc: All members of NSW Parliament

Other interested parties

[1] The GIPA request did not specifically refer to documentation on electricity price effects.  However, since the PAC’s GIPA response was that all documentation held and relied upon by the PAC is at the specified section of its website, the absence in that material of evidence and discussion about electricity price consequences is clear indication that it also was ignored in the PAC’s deliberation.

[2] http://www.chiefscientist.nsw.gov.au/latest-news/nsw-chief-scientist-And-engineer-to-head-up-new-energysecurity-taskforce

Note.  On 22 May 2017 the Task Force issued details of an initial report and advice to the Minister, the first recommendation was “That the NSW Government, through the Premier and Minister, take a leadership role in COAG and the COAG Energy Council to encourage the states and Commonwealth to have a national policy approach to climate change and the integration of renewables within the National Electricity Market, to safeguard energy security and reliability. (emphasis added)” http://www.chiefscientist.nsw.gov.au/latestnews/taskforce-recommends-nsw-government-take-steps-to-shore-up-energy-security-before-summer

Dr Crawford’s letter is available here in pdf: Open Letter to PAC

About stopthesethings

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

Comments

  1. Terry Conn says:

    Excellent work again from Michael Crawford. Could I add a further breach by the Department of Planning and PAC – a very clear breach of the provisions of NSW’s ‘National Electricity Law’, in particular section 7, which provides (in conjunction with other sections) that the cheapest and most reliable forms of both generation and distribution of electricity must be used. In the past, wind farm proponents argued that wind turbines satisfied that requirement, it is now beyond dispute from the public record alone that they do not – any ‘approval’ of a wind farm is a breach of state law. The same law applies throughout Australia except for W.A. and the Northern Territory. The same law also governs the AEMO and the AEMC. The PAC was presented with this law in opposition to the Crudine approval by me as an individual and the Crudine general submission in opposition. I believe a court application could be made for a ‘writ of mandamus’ compelling the Department and/or PAC to comply with the legislation already in existence. As noted, evidence needed for success may have been difficult but I contend that is no longer the case.

  2. Jackie Rovensky says:

    The core aspect of this letter is repeatable in every State where Wind Turbines have been allowed to invade. Here in SA they are still working on approving projects, the person with the final say and is able to overturn a decision by any Planning Authority could be seen as being under the control of the industry – it cannot be any other way as a clear, independent thinker would not continue down the path of wholesale State wide destruction.
    There is no one in authority who has the desire to do the right thing, to investigate assess and not approve any of these projects.
    Every scrap of evidence from anywhere showing how dangerous these things are to a States ability to provide a safe and secure electricity supply at a manageable cost to the consumer no matter who that consumer is would not be sufficient to stop these projects from being approved.
    That will only happen when commonsense once again prevails.
    If it is not stopped now I can see the day when our Governments will be providing these companies with subsidies to pull down and dispose of turbines that have reached their use-by-date and those that are surplus to needs, with these same companies in another guise promising unseemly large numbers of jobs being provided to do the work, with claims they are investing money in Australia by providing these jobs, but all will be paid for as to-day from the Public Purse.

  3. Crispin Trist says:

    Please find link below to my most recent video upload depicting wind farm noise issues at Cape Bridgewater, Victoria, Australia.

    Inside Outside. This is what a compliant wind farm sounds like…

    • Noel Dean says:

      In reference to Crispin’s Noise Complaint, the sound is not compliant with the the noise standard because the sound that is heard is in the category of being a SAC. If it was not a special audible characteristic, it would not be able to be heard because of the physics of sound generation, the average of sound emissions does not consider the trough to peak – high air pressure events increases high frequency sound – it is only heard when the variation between trough and peak of these high frequency sounds.

      For instance if you were in a air pressure chamber, the pressure would normally be increased by 4 psi, the sound level. On my doctor’s suggestion I measured the sound inside of the chamber while doing so. The results showed that the high frequency sounds in the environment are normally 10dB or less, but in the chamber they go up by about 20 to 30 dB and the lower frequencies in the high frequency scale does not increase. The average sound level has increased and it is still possible to go to sleep in the chamber even though the sound is increased above inside noise limits.

      This is because the pressure is stable. What is happening at wind farm sites is that the air pressure actually creates a low frequency pulsing of high frequency sounds (SACs). A lot of the sound heard is measurable in the dBA scale, but this is required to be done independently of the developer, knowing when it is to be done because of turbine operation manipulation and also in real time to measure all the sound. SACs have a penalty of 5dB added to the received sound, therefore the standard of 40 dBA now becomes 35 dBA, and background plus 5 dBA, now becomes background only.

      In other words the sound shall not be heard outside within 10 meters of the dwelling at any windfarm in Victoria. This is because the reference is LA95 which is a used for a background and also appears to be the measurement in a complaint situation.

      If in fact the assessment was done correctly as required by the EPA using LAeq it may be up to 20dB over and above LA90 /LA95 limit, evidenced in testing done in 2012.

      International wind testing uses ambient sound pressure (LAeq) values for background, whereas MDA uses background LA95 or more recently LA90 for background and for wind turbine noise investigation. I consider this approach as cheating and have told the LAL LAL Wind Farm amendment hearing this. But this fell on what appears to be deaf, or selective hearing.

      International wind test results were withheld from the LAL LAL hearing. These tests have shown to be a deviation from the noise standard used in wind speeds less than 6 meters per second and higher than about 11 meters per second, as they have been requested to be be filtered out, I believe the reports are then fake and have been withheld for this reason, it was requested at the LAL LAL hearing that it be accepted that SOUND POWER IS GUARANTEED with out any evidence.

      The fact of the matter is that Sound Power and Sound Pressure are different, both use dB, but Sound power is a measurement in watts and sound pressure is the measurement of pascals pa. They also have different scales of attenuation (like a doctor using a thermometer to take a person’s blood pressure). I believe this is why the predictions are so very wrong because Sound power is being used, and has the higher attenuation rate.

      For our property there is no investigation report. In 2009 the then Managing director had said publicly that a noise investigation was done but we did not receive the report. In 2016 the Now Managing director has told the Windfarm Commissioner that noise investigation WAS NOT DONE AT OUR PROPERTY which is a requirement of permit and closed our complaint without any conciliation process.

      I ask that the data used to say that the noise level is compliant at Crispin/s Home be posted on this site so as the information can be scrutinized.

      Noel Dean

    • Melissa says:

      Take note it is pitch black out on the Capes. Because it is so dark most nights, it is impossible for neighbours to look out our windows to determine what turbines are doing. The turbines are clearly audible and we experience many discomforts caused by these unwanted, variable, unpredictable sounds and vibrations. Without seeing them. Sometimes sound exposure is at enough levels to warrant fleeing our homes for respite from the turbulence. Particularly when the disturbance lasts for days on end. Inside our homes you hear turbines and also sense them. The sounds vibrate the walls, floors and people, anything. The disturbance is undeniable and impacts on our health and well being are a direct result. We have been telling authorities of these risks for over ten years.

      Response to our out on a limb in small community reporting are harebrained, limited theories thought up behind desks which attack people with accusations we suffer from nocebo, or stress, or some kind of brainwashing. These ideas being applied to sound sensitised people like myself is inaccurate and unacceptable. Science and experience show repeatedly that the inner ear, our brain and body systems responds to sounds we hear and also sounds we don’t hear. We cannot live reasonably under these conditions being imposed on us.

      Repeatedly our verbal and written reports have been ignored. Turbines at Cape Bridgewater are not operated in accordance with the Planning Permit. There has been no duty of care or responsibility to act on our behalf or shown towards us by the Vic EPA, The Planning Dept., local Council nor the Dept. of Health. We have been left to suffer social, health and economic costs and while turbines are operated without limitations, our health remains unprotected. Plans are being discussed about an off shore wind farm development for SE Vic. Putting turbines offshore will not stop these vibrations nor offer protection from harm.

  4. william gray says:

    A beauty from Michael-as usual. We can thank our lucky stars that we have his ilk (and STT’s) on our side.

    My view is that you can put any amount of evidence or any commonsense rational argument and it will never make a shred of difference to these truly stupid and corrupt idealogues (they have to be Greens or Labor leaning).

    I feel they will approve Jupiter because ‘they know best and will not be dictated to’ and will find a way (not that they care) to get it through-with tremendous restrictions of course. Clearly, they are SO corrupt that they are an insult to ordinary corrupt folk. Makes one wonder how they got into such important roles in the first place.

    How they haven’t been prosecuted in the past is a mystery as every wind determination they make is clearly actionable especially with regard to the issues raised by Michael and so many others. Perhaps a lamington drive to raise a fighting fund is due.

    • Uncle Fester says:

      Misfeasance is such a lovely word. Bugger the cost – a crowd funded attack on the integrity of both the PAC and the Department of Planning and Environment (DOPE – what an apt acronym) may be called for. To quote Trump…. “Drain the swamp”

  5. Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

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