Matters that Matter

Finding answers - If only it was that easy

Getting the full picture means finding key facts and making sure they’re right, something that’s never easy when fact and fiction start fiddling with each other.

Add money and emotion, and you can guarantee that misinformation (aka LIES) will spread like blow flies.

Then, if you let in those two mental sidekicks of self-interest and survival (aka Greed and Fear), finding the TRUTH can get really hard indeed to find.

That’s why, as you delve into this website, you must keep your mind not only as open as possible, but also as alert and as questioning as possible. Don’t take our word for everything (or anything for that matter) even though we try to get the facts right and give as a broad picture as possible. Make sure you dig for answers as well. Dig as deep as you can.

You see, there are three baskets that you can use when dealing with really big issues in life (and the wind farm question is definitely a big one for Walcha community). Two of those baskets are to be avoided at all cost if you’re serious about seeking real answers: the TOO HARD and the TOO EASY baskets. The only viable one is the EXPLORE MORE BASKET. Most of us avoid it, of course; don’t go there, won’t go there, “it just complicates things”. But sometimes we don’t have a choice.

Green Matters

How Green are Wind Turbines?

Wind turbines are certainly a key part of a green energy future, especially when combined with solar and hydro solutions. But they do not come free of fossil-fuel and non-renewable raw materials. Basically around 86% of a wind turbine is made of metals like steel, copper, and aluminium. More important, however, are key raw materials like neodymium and dysprosium, essential in many wind turbine generators, and for which it’s not easy to find substitutes.

This matters because the vast bulk of these two materials (and there are plenty of others of which this is true) comes from China, and they’re not overly abundant anyway. What happens if they cease to be available either because of depletion, markets or international politics? How do we build more turbines for proposed new wind farms, or replace the dead ones after 25 years or so?

Development Matters

Ethics, trust and dealing with Developers

Wind farms are big business and big technical projects, but their inception and development often depends on personal decisions by landowners and small communities. For that reason alone it is essential that there be honest and transparent communication between the developers and communities where wind farms are proposed. People must be able to trust those huge multinationals promoting their green machines. Anything less is frankly unacceptable.

And the fact is this: whether developers like it or not, indeed whether it’s even founded or not, there are definitely perceptions in the public forum that at least some wind farm companies (if not all) are honesty-compromised in their dealings. That’s one of the reasons why staunchly aggressive anti wind farm websites appear, like Stop These Things, and need to be treated with caution.

But that perception is undeniably out there, and the Walcha community needs to decide to what degree it applies to any companies involved in our wind farm future.

Organisations like the Waubra Foundation offer a more balanced position, and there’s some good research from Stanford University dealing with issues of ethics, honesty and codes of conduct in the wind farm game. The Wind Energy Association of New Zealand also has a website with advice on best practices for wind farm developing and consenting.

The main thing to keep in mind, however, is that human input is critical here. With issues as big and as complicated as this no one has all the answers. And unless we do some real digging and ask searching questions, we will never have those answers.

So check out the links for a bigger picture


Some environmental impacts of wind farms

Not nearly enough significant research has been done into the environmental effects of large-scale wind farms in Australia. Apparently we’ve been in more of a hurry to install the things than seriously assessing any harm they might cause to wild life or the environment in general.

Fortunately the USA has a far better record in this area, and can provide some reliable (if sobering) information worth exploring.

According to USGS - an official website of the US government - a key challenge facing the wind industry is the potential for turbines to adversely affect wild animals both directly, via collisions, as well as indirectly due to noise pollution, habitat loss, and reduced survival or reproduction. Two of the most affected wildlife groups are birds and bats.

Don’t for one minute think that this is merely fairy-floss feel-good stuff, getting all soft and soppy about our fury friends. We homo sapiens are animals too, and we rely much more than we like to admit on all creatures great and small.

Take those two groups mentioned above, BATS and BIRDS. By eating destructive insects these migratory mates provide billions of dollars of economic benefits to the US agricultural sector each year, and yet dead bats are found beneath wind turbines all over the world. “Tens to hundreds of thousands die at wind turbines each year in North America alone.” A similar fate hits birds as well.

But you probably won’t hear that from the turbine johnnies and eagle blender boys. Maybe they’re in too much hurry to get in, get loaded and get out before the proverbial hits the fan. Or maybe they just genuinely not interested.


You better Believe it

It’s just a word, Installation. But when it comes to wind turbines (hundreds and hundreds at the very least) we really are talking about something monumental. Of course that’s fine - big projects can mean big benefits. But is that definitely the case with wind farms in general and with those around the Walcha area in particular?

Will such massive input of money, materials, energy and effort actually be worth it in the end? Or will it herald another story, a very different one, a story we will not want to be part of? We really do have to think hard about this before heading down what will almost certainly be a road of no return.

Installing a large-scale wind farm is an immense project because it entails three other big factors:

Site Preparation, Transport and Construction.

We can only touch on these factors, but hopefully we’ll give you enough information and links to gain a reasonable idea of the main issues at stake. And a good place to start is with Getting the Basics Right.

Installing a turbine onto its foundation could be done in a day at a pinch (although five is more realistic), but the full construction of a wind farm involves a long list of civil engineering and electrical work. It can take anything from one to three years, and requires expert management skills. But even before any physical prep work can get going on a wind farm site, a mountain of investigation and research has to happen. And that phase demands the involvement of experts as well.

Site geometry and suitability, wind resources, environmental factors, social issues, road design, energy infrastructure layout, individual turbine placement, geotech calculations and modelling of interaction between soil and foundations, plus issues of soil bearing capacity degradation . . . and those issues are only nibbling at what’s involved. It goes on and on, a plethora of issues! But the questions that are thrown up are what really matter.

Can we assume that those wind farms proposed for the Walcha district are based on site preparations of the highest standard? Have the developers of those projects done their research diligently? They’ve certainly had plenty of time to do. But have they?

Question like that must be answered satisfactorily, because getting all that ground work right is critical to success.


It really does!

When it comes to wind farms, transport really matters. It can be one of the single biggest issues. All those materials, all that earth-moving and construction equipment, and more has to be physically moved to where it’s needed - reliably, regularly, safely. That will need an army of trucks plus a road system that’s up to the job and maintained as such for at least the two or three years of the construction phase alone. Yep, transport definitely matters.

That’s okay of course. It can mean heaps of employment for truckers, builders, mechanics and so on. Unfortunately, though, there’s a snag: all that transport rigmarole comes with pain. To get an idea of just how much pain our little community will feel, consider some pertinent local facts and figures on the subject.

You’ve almost certainly read this information before; it’s from a report by Winterbourne Wind to the Community Consultative Committee meeting on February 2, 2022. But it’s worth re-reading if only to fully absorb, because it’s the kind of information that really puts things in perspective.

The Winterbourne Wind Construction phase alone is expected to last at least two years, during which it is estimated that there will be an Average Daily Movement of: 120 B-Double trucks, 56s MRV/HRV trucks, and 200 normal sized vehicles. That translates to an hourly rate of: 16 B-Doubles per hour, 8 MRV/HRVs and 70 normal sized vehicles. Peak Daily Movements would rise to almost 190 B-Doubles, 100 MRV/HRVs and 270 normal vehicles. That’s 20 B-Doubles per hour, 12 MRV/HRVs and 105 normal sized vehicles.

Absorb that, and try to imagine what it will mean in terms of traffic issues and road conditions for a little town and its surrounding environs. Then add this to the equation: The Blade Runners

That’s right, we haven’t even factored in those incredibly elongated monster that transport the turbine bits and pieces, especially blades. That kind of trucking is an art in itself - requiring specialist skills, vehicles, and logistical genius in designing the routes to be travelled from manufacturing facilities to final destination. When you look at what’s involved, you realise why an expert in the field once said: “Good traffic management is vital to a successful wind farm”.

Check out the link > to get an idea of how big this aspect of wind farming is. The Vestas video is a good display of driving and manoeuvring expertise, but more than anything it flags the massive impositions these vehicles will have on our roads. This is only one blade here, one truck. You need two more trucks for the other blades, plus more for tower parts and nacelles - say five trucks per turbine. The Winterbourne Wind project plans about 120 turbines, but it’s bound to escalate, and the cumulative number of turbines for projects in and around Walcha is looking like at least 800. That’s 3200 trucks just for the turbines alone. Solving Your Wind Turbine Transport Access Challenges › News


Challenges Galore

Like Transport, Construction matters too, increasingly so in fact as the industry becomes more sophisticated and technically complex. Just finding sufficient properly trained engineers, technicians and logicians is a major nightmare in itself, and the sort of problem that make projects grind to a halt or even never get off the ground to begin with.

So in the case of Walcha projects like Winterbourne Wind and others, it’s a fair question to ask how assured can we be that they will not only go ahead if approved, but will track through to a relatively unimpeded completion once commenced?

That alone is the sort of question that must be answered to our satisfaction before we can launch into any large-scale wind farm project in our area, such as Winterbourne Wind.

The four minute You Tube video from Nebraska is definitely worth viewing.


Never lose sight of this

Social scientists have been analysing host community acceptance and rejection of renewable power projects like wind farms and solar panels for ages, at least a couple of decades, and they’ve come up with largely common sense information, pretty well what you’d expect.

Basically their findings are that host communities will support wind farms when they perceive benefits and transparent consultation, and without perceiving discomfort or environmental problems. Real or perceived economic benefits generate support for wind farms, especially when those benefits strengthen livelihoods and land-tenure security of the communities.

On the other hand, issues like skewed financial compensation, socially mediated health impacts, opaque decision-making, trust and questionable site emplacement are major reasons doe community opposition to wind energy.

All of which confirms what VoiceForWalcha has already been saying, that when it comes to wind farm projects, community matters big time. BIG TIME!

Walcha community needs to take a position of empowerment wherever possible in the decision-making process. We need to know what we be as clear as possible in what we believe and want in regard to the whole wind farm argument, making sure it represents as broad a cross section of the community as possible. And we need to do this in a way that is always respectful, something that’s never easy when strong opinions and feelings are involved.

But we must do it that way because community matters.


Beyond Wind Turbine Syndrome

Some claim it’s a deadly serious illness. Others regard it with utter derision. But regardless of where one stands, it has become a significant part of the wind farm debate in Australia.

WTS is a blanket term for a whole array of negative health effect claimed by people who live near wind farms, thought to be caused by a mix of related factors such as infrasound and low frequency noise, louder and more intrusive sounds, “shadow flicker” from rotating blades, and electromagnetic radiation. Major symptoms can include nervousness, fear, anxiety, tachycardia, internal pulsation, sleep problems, dizziness and so on. The list is long, and nay-sayers reckon it’s a”You Name and They’ll have it” Illness.

However, as multiple and as diverse as symptoms might be, research reviews have not found evidence that wind farms directly cause adverse health effects in humans. Without that evidence, WTS has been labelled a “contested Illness”, its symptoms stamped as psychogenic or sociogenic (real putdowns in medical science.

Having said that, though, much of the research has been of poor quality, and there has especially been a lack of good longitudinal investigations into possible health effects of wind farms within 1,500 metres of subjects.

What’s more, WTS is hardly alone as a “contested illness”. Think chronic fatigue syndrome (or myalgic encephalomyelitis; fibromyalgia), Gulf War syndrome, Post Traumatic Stress Disease, and even one little beauty called Medical School Syndrome, along with a litany of contested chemical sensitivities. And of course, there’s Long Covid.

People experiencing symptoms without a medically agreed organic cause can face real challenges establishing the legitimacy of their illness. But that doesn’t nullify the legitimacy of their illness.


Other ways to green our scene

Wind energy is not the Golden Path to Humanity’s renewable energy future that many of its champions claim. It is undoubtedly part of that path, and a big part, but only part. And indeed there are flaws and questionable aspects in their development and roll-out that could end up seeing wind farms become expensive detours some way down the track, possibly even dead ends.

Unthinkable, you reckon? Maybe you’re right, but people have said that throughout history about heaps of tech wonders. Just a couple of decades ago every computer came with floppy disks; everyone had a PDA (a Personal Digital Assistant); teachers swore by overhead projectors; VHS tapes that had to be rewound were definitely the future; classified ads were ubiquitous; we pored over paper road maps; and phone booths would always be everywhere.

The pace of technological change was frantic back then. It has reached absolute fever pitch these days. And renewable energy is perhaps one the fastest areas of tech change anywhere. Under those circumstances, predicting what will be the dominant renewable energy technologies in even just a few years from now will be next to impossible. Wind turbines are right up there at present, but will they be so in five or ten years?

There are alternatives that should not be overlooked just because wind farms are flavour of the month, other renewable energy sources that are already key parts of the solution such as solar, hydro, green hydrogen, wave energy, micro-hydro turbines, and incredibly lateral thinking solutions like Bill Gates’ Terra Power program - not to mention the raft of innovations that are barely pipe dreams at present, but could become reality in a blink.

Homo Sapiens are incredibly inventive techno-animals, and we’ll keep on exploring the huge issue of renewable energy, creating solutions until the cows come home. Who knows what we’ll invent around the corner? And if by any chance wind farms were to be left behind as relics of a flawed vision, a dead-end path to green energy, imagine the unspeakable blight they would leave on our sight line.

We are hurtling ahead like lemmings in the rush to build wind farms all around the world. There’s something wrong with you if you’re not in on the act, But is it wise? Shouldn’t we be spreading our efforts among a wider range of alternatives? It doesn’t matter how many eggs you have in your basket if they all end up rotten.


Is BIG really the only rig in this gig?

Wind turbines are getting bigger every day; there seems to be a race to the top, however high that might be. Vestas boasts that its V236-15MW mode, at 280 metres high will be the tallest wind turbine in the world. But already other companies are developing their own massive turbines: think MingYang Smart Energy, Siemens, GWEC, Lockheed Martin and GE Renewable Energy. How big these monsters will get, how tall, how wide their blades is becoming anybody’s guess.

Fair enough. Conventional wisdom says that larger wind turbines are more efficient and effective, and there are sound figures to back that up. So f that’s really the case then it’s a no-brainer: go that way, Jose, go like the wind! But be aware that problems appear when turbines start getting too big for their boots, and those problems multiply with height.

Consider just a few of the challenges that come with taller turbines:
# Longer blades are more flexible than shorter ones, and can create greater vibration. If unchecked, this vibration affects performance and reduces the life of the blades and anything they’re attached to, such as the gearbox or generator.

# Taller turbines also need stronger support towers and foundations.

# As turbines grow, so too does the noise they make. A greater hissing sound has been found with bigger blades, although noise isn’t just a matter of size. For instance, place one turbine in the wake of another, and the sound of its blades passing through the turbulent air created by the upstream turbine can become very loud indeed - merely one of several new noise factors that require real ingenuity to correct.

# Increasingly large turbines require greater investment of both money and resources, and intensify the problem that turbines can only be productive in windy areas by making some turbines simply too large to operate in parts of the world. (Check out the link - GIANT WIND TURBINE COLLAPSES - a phenomenon not to be dismissed lightly.)

So maybe BIG is not the be-all and all in this game. Perhaps we should be thinking the other way - smaller not taller. It’s been a strategy for success in other technologies. Imagine if SIZE MATTERS were never pursued with mobile phones? We’d still be lugging around those ridiculous tele-bricks of yesteryear. Perhaps the wind turbine industry should be thinking more laterally than literally.

Interestingly, that’s exactly what’s happening now, especially in the U.S. It’s tentative but growing, and the potential is big. Have a peep at just two examples of wind technologies that aren’t slave to the “Big is Better” mantra: HALO ENERGY and VORTEX BLADELESS

Halo Energy

Halo Energy has developed a shrouded wind turbine that brings efficient energy production to small-scale turbines, which could reshape US wind energy technology and address imbalances in the sector. Halo’s turbine maximises its efficiency despite its limited size because of the static shrouding of the three rotating blades, creating a fixed perimeter around the edge of the rotor sweep, the space where blades turn, effectively increasing the wind speed of air pulled through the blades

Vortex Bladeless

Vortex Bladeless is a vortex induced vibration resonant wind generator. It harnesses wind energy from a phenomenon of vorticity called Vortex Shedding. Bladeless technology consists of a cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. The cylinder oscillates on a wind range, which then generates electricity through an alternator system. In other words, it is a wind turbine which is not actually a turbine. Vortex wind generators are more similar in features and cost-effectiveness over time to solar panels than regular wind turbines.

And while you’re at it, check out the ARENAWIRE link about a Little Aussie Wind battler that’s working wonders in combination with solar - another case of lateral thinking.


When turbines turn up
their toes

In Australia we haven’t really started down the decommissioning road, but it won’t be long, and when we do it will be a big issue. It has certainly proved so elsewhere in the world. That’s why potential wind farm host communities like Walcha must be prepared to think hard about it all, consult deeply and seriously with developers and others, and leave as little as possible to outsiders.

Are we sure that we’ve done that sufficiently well with nascent projects like Winterbourne Wind and others around our region?

Europe is basically where the bulk of ageing turbines are gathering but the U.S. is close behind. Germany leads, followed by Spain, Italy and France. It’s becoming a significant volume of turbines, needing serious logistics to deal with dismantling, collection, transportation, waste management treatment and site restoration in a sustainable way. And the costs can be huge. (See the IER link)

The matter is made more complicated by the fact that an international standard for decommissioning wind turbines has yet to be satisfactorily established. Bodies like WindEurope have worked hard to set up guidelines for sustainable decommissioning, identifying the main regulations for dismantling onshore wind farms in European countries.

Keep in mind, however, that even geriatric wind farms don’t necessarily have to be decommissioned. They can be recommissioned; it’s definitely a possible path. In fact recommissioning is already happening in Europe where older turbines are resold to developing nations. (Check out the link on the potential and cost-effectiveness for repowered wind farms).

As for Australia, we’re not exactly babes in woods, but we’re still very tentatively finding our way through what can be a mine field if not approached with eyes wide open.

Organisations like the Clean Energy Council have done some good work on the issue of decommissioning (see the CEC link), and there’s a raft of State-based guide books in this area as well. But be aware that there are no official national regulations or guidelines relating to the planning and development approval of wind turbines in Australia. And the mere fact that a growing flock of legal eagles is beginning to hover over the subject of wind farm development, offering advice on regulations, litigation and responsibility evasion, is cause for pause. Those dudes can sniff a pot of gold a mile off.

Of course the other pot of gold out there will be around that decommissioning of onshore wind farms over the next decades. There’s no doubt that the process has not been well planned in Europe, perhaps a little better in the USA. But like it or not, the the dismantling of these units is already in progress in Europe and pretty well in the United States too. Owing to the size of structures, landfills simply don’t have the capacity or equipment to break down and get rid of the the enormous blades alone.

Make no mistake, decommissioning wind farms is a very big process. It can also come with a very big expense. For that reason alone, the Walcha community needs to have a rock solid exit strategy for any wind farm development we undertake - a plan that like the turbines themselves is set in cement. And at the very least we need to know exactly who pays in 25-30 years if the funds are not enough to cover the expense.


The answers my friends . . .

It’s difficult to know where to stop in this collection of Matters that Matter with wind farms. The subject is incredibly complex, divisive and fraught with issues, and our coverage of matters is by no means exhaustive. But it has aimed to provide a layman-friendly review of a reasonable selection of key issues.

It may also be considered, by some, to be biased. If that’s the perception it is a pity, because all it can be is an opinion based on as rational a review of the available information as possible. As emphasised at the beginning of this website: ​

Don’t take our word for everything (or anything for that matter) even though we try to get the facts right and give as a broad picture as possible. Make sure you dig for answers as well. Dig as deep as you can.​

All we can reasonably hope for is that this selection of Matters that Matter helps you do your digging, thereby helping you build that broader picture.​

Frankly, there is no real finish to this part of the website; we could go on forever with Matters that Matter, because there still are plenty to cover. So this so-called final matter (what the Future holds) is in fact a good place to draw breath and flag some issues and questions that we’ve still left blowing in the wind. We can only deal briefly with these here, but they include:​

# Do we already have enough wind farms in Australia? Could our relentless drive to cover vast areas with large turbines in fact be a case of counter-productive overkill? (Check out the Harvard University research link)​

# Instead of building ever more wind farms, one possible approach could be to explore the range of new methods for optimising the energy output of our existing projects. Some glaring inefficiencies have been found in wind farms around the world; fixing them can make big differences to productivity. (See the MIT link)

# We also need ask whether an almost unquestioning drive for big turbines could harm the potential of the many other different, and especially smaller, wind turbines. Vertical Axis, Eco Whisper and Eddy turbines, Wind Lens, Shrouded and Bladeless units, Low Speed and Airborne turbines - all these could be part of a broader and far less land-consuming wind energy spectrum. ​

# And while you’re there be aware that a number of troubling issues seem to be surfacing with wind farms that could question their long-term viability. Soaring costs and supply chain problems in Europe. Significant falls in renewable energy projects in Australia, especially wind farms. Expertise issues in Australia that delay completion of projects. Massive grid problems that also cause significant delays. And some cutting edge research from Harvard stating that not only will wind farms cause more environmental impact than previously thought but that they will require five to twenty times more land that previously thought, and that such large scale wind farms would warm average surface temperatures over continental U.S. by 0.24 degrees Celsius.​

Have we just come full circle?​

With that in mind, there is arguably a major renewable energy project that must not be jeopardised in any way through dollars being swallowed by the wind energy sector. That project is REWIRING AUSTRALIA. It’s a program for generating cheap electricity for homes right across the nation, and there’s much about it that contrasts with the wind farm scenario. It’s highly community-centric, with simple logistics, no transport and construction nightmares, just roof-top solar panels, batteries for storage, and a subsidised electric car once your ICE jalopy has melted. Based on the highly successful REWIRING AMERICA program, it really does offer a path we should keep open. (See the Rewiring Australia link)

Just have a look at the map of the hundreds of wind turbines that will be part of the Walcha landscape. Look a bit further and you're looking at thousands of them. Think about what that will mean for you and your family.

Now you really have a story that matters.

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