Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has appointed Andrew Dyer as Australia's first National Wind Farm Commissioner and has announced the membership of the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines. The Commissioner and the Committee will report separately to the Australian Parliament on their progress, with their roles up for review after an initial three-year term. Partner Chris Schulz and Associate Emily Johnstone report.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has appointed the former Chairman of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, Andrew Dyer, to the position of National Wind Farm Commissioner. The Commissioner role was created following Minister Hunt's deal with cross-bench Senators in June 2015 during the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines, and will be reviewed after an initial three-year period.
The Minister has also released terms of reference for the role. The Commissioner will work with all levels of government, scientists, industry and the community to resolve complaints from local residents by referring them to appropriate state authorities.
The Commissioner's other main function is to provide information about wind farms to the public and improve transparency of the industry by promoting improved monitoring practices and information dissemination. The Government has yet to release details of funding for the role.
Minister Hunt has also appointed members to the newly established Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines, which will complement the role of the Commissioner by advising the Government on the science and monitoring of potential health and environmental impacts of wind turbine sound. The Committee will build on the existing work of the National Health and Medical Research Council and advise on the development of measurement frameworks and standards, innovation in cost-effective and continuous noise monitoring of wind farms, and options for wind farm operators to maximise transparency in their operations (eg by publishing information on wind speed and other operational statistics, which is already common practice for many wind farm operators).
The Committee will comprise its chair, RMIT Adjunct Professor and acoustics researcher Jon Davy, head of the University of Sydney's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory Associate Professor Simon Carlile, Clinical Professor David Hillman from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital's Department of Pulmonary Physiology and Sleep Medicine, and Arup's Acoustic Associate Principal Dr Kym Burgemeister.
The appointments have drawn mixed reactions from stakeholders, with Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton welcoming the return of a 'sensible tone' to the wind farm debate. By contrast, Australian Greens Deputy Leader and climate change spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters has described the appointment of the Commissioner as 'unnecessary'. She also pointed out that the Government has not created an equivalent position to investigate the health and environmental impacts of coal mining, and that the Threatened Species Commissioner remains under-funded. Greens Leader Richard Di Natale described the appointment as a missed opportunity for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to demonstrate that he is different from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and said that Australia needs a plan to transition away from coal.
While detailed operational arrangements for the Commissioner and Committee have not yet been released, wind farm owners and operators should continue to monitor announcements from the Government to assess potential changes to complaints handling and information requirements. The wind industry should also continue to monitor Government announcements about the new Commissioner and Committee, as well as further updates from Minister Hunt about the eligibility of wind farm projects for funding. Minister Hunt announced in late September that 'emerging' wind power, such as new turbines or offshore wind farms, may be eligible for funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which deviates from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's July announcement that the $10 billion fund was prohibited from investing in wind projects.