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GETTING THE FACTS RIGHT: things to know about wind energy

 The Australian Clean Energy Council has published a community guide to wind farms.  This guide includes many frequently asked questions about wind energy generally and it can be found on their website here:



Wind farm noise

Wind turbines in Australia face some of the toughest planning and operation guidelines in the world in relation to their permissible noise levels, with strict measures for non-compliance.  Modern wind turbine design drastically reduces the aerodynamic and mechanical noise associated with their operation relative to earlier wind farms installed 10+ years ago. Even in generally quiet rural areas, the sound of the blowing wind is often louder than the turbines.

In addition to the noise modelling work during the planning phase, noise compliance assessments are also required after the commissioning of the turbines.  In this way, members of the public can be assured that the actual built development will be checked for its compliance with noise limits set by the appropriate authority and that all local land topography (including valleys etc. is taken into account).  Noise limits are enforceable by the Local Authority.

To avoid potential disturbance to neighbours, strict rules are applied by local authorities to ensure that wind turbines are far enough from nearby houses and it's in developers' interests to design their wind farms responsibly to ensure they do not cause a noise nuisance to local residents. The Dulacca project design ensures a minimum distance buffer of 1,500m to any existing residential properties.

Wind energy has a low impact on existing agriculture

Wind farms typically use less than 1% of the land area. Once up and running, existing activities such as agriculture and walking can continue around the wind farm infrastructure. Farm animals such as cows and sheep are not disturbed. Any impacts on the local environment must be balanced against the much more serious effects of producing conventional fossil fuel based electricity. 

Wind energy has limited impact on habitats and wildlife

Wind farm developers are required to undertake an environmental assessments for each project. Extensive efforts are made to avoid putting up wind farms in areas which might attract large numbers of birds or bats, such as migration routes.

In the UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has said that "we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms." Wind energy developers,  following industry best practice guidelines, work closely with such organisations to ensure that wind farm design and layout does not interfere with sensitive species or wildlife designated sites. 

In addition, impacts from wind power are extremely low compared with other human-related activities. US statistics show 1 billion birds are killed by colliding with buildings each year and up to 80 million by vehicles. By comparison, it's estimated that commercial wind turbines in the US cause the direct deaths of only 0.01 - 0.02% of all of the birds killed annually by collisions with man-made structures and activities.

Wind energy reduces pollution

Unlike other forms of power generation, wind energy is clean and renewable. During operation, wind farms do not produce any carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to global warming. By contrast, conventional power stations burning fossil fuels, mainly coal and gas, are responsible for a quarter of the increase in greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere. It's "renewable" because its fuel source is the wind - freely available and constantly renewed. 

Wind energy generates reliable electricity

Wind turbines generate electricity most of the time (around 80% of the time). Their output varies according to the strength of the wind. They start generating power when the wind is blowing at about 3-5 metres per second and then stop again if it reaches gale force strength - about 25 metres/second.  Over the course of a year, a wind turbine on land will generate from around 30% to more than 40% of its theoretical maximum output, depending on location. By comparison, conventional power stations typically operate at about 50% of their theoretical maximum (but only when it is economical for that plant to generate power).

Wind turbines produce much more energy than they use

It is a myth that building a wind farm takes more energy than it ever generates. The comparison of energy used in manufacture with the energy produced by a power station is known as the 'energy balance'. It can be expressed in terms of energy 'pay-back' time, i.e. as the time needed to generate the equivalent amount of energy used in manufacturing the wind turbine or power station.

The average wind farm in the will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months and will operate for 30 years. 

Wind energy is a vital part of the mix

Wind energy has an essential role in combating climate change and Australia needs a mix of both new and existing renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures, and as quickly as possible. Wind energy is the most cost effective renewable energy source available to generate clean electricity, help combat climate change and meet our energy security objectives right now. It is a proven, efficient technology that can be deployed quickly and has been contributing to the global electricity supply for years.  Furthermore, developing a strong wind industry will facilitate other renewable technologies which have not reached commercialisation yet, accumulating valuable experience in dealing with issues such as grid connection, supply chain and finance.