November has been another bad month for the efforts of Australia’s most dogged opponent of wind farms, Sarah Laurie, to get her claims taken seriously by anyone other than her loyal flock. The high priestess of the concocted non-disease known as “Wind Turbine Syndrome” had given evidence to South Australia’s Environment, Resources and Development Court in a case brought by a wind farm developer, appealing a development refusal by a local government for the Stony Gap wind farm. In a judgement handed down on November 4, the energy company won. Laurie is the CEO of the Waubra Foundation, named after the Victorian town with an iconic wind farm. (Last year more than 300 members of the proud farming community petitioned the out-of-towners to stop using their name, a request the foundation rejected.) In the recent South Australian case, Laurie gave evidence for the respondents, but, as has become a pattern, the court was unimpressed:

“Dr Laurie is not an expert in assessing whether there is a causal link between wind farm noise and health impacts. She has no relevant qualifications or experience in this kind of research.”

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But the court nonetheless apparently couldn’t resist this priceless comment:

“Dr Laurie wishes to have investigated the theory that some people are ‘so exquisitely sensitised to certain frequencies that their perception of very, very low frequency is right off the shape of the bell curve’, such that they can, for example, from Australia, perceive an earthquake in Chile.”

Chile is a mere 11,365 kilometres from Australia’s east coast. This is not the first bizarre claim Laurie has made. In 2012, she wrote to New South Wales’ then-planning minister Brad Hazzard advising him that claimed rapid fluctuations in barometric pressure around wind farms could sometimes “perceptibly rock stationary cars even further than a kilometre away from the nearest wind turbine”. This was too much even for Mythbusters to investigate. Laurie may be a secret country and western fan, channeling the Patsy Kline and Kitty Wells’ duet Talk Back Trembling Lips (“shaky legs, don’t just stand there”) when she told the South Australian court in 2011 that wind turbines can make people’s lips vibrate “from a distance of 10km away”. That’s about the distance from the Sydney CBD to Chatswood.

Indeed, these vibrations are “sufficient to knock them off their feet or bring some men to their knees when out working in their paddock,” she added. A fellow traveller in the big distance claims department is Yass pharmacist George Papadopoulos, who swears he can personally sense low-frequency noise up to 100 kilometres away from wind turbines under certain conditions. That’s about from downtown Sydney to Lithgow, as the crow flies.

Laurie and Papadopoulos are among 76 “professionals” whose names appear on the Waubra Foundation’s website supporting independent research. The list even includes two sociologists, a profession whose mention normally causes apoplexy among wind farm opponents except when they join the true believers in opposition. But conspicuously absent from the list is medical practitioner and former federal health minister Michael Wooldridge, who as recently as October 14 was presented as a director on the Waubra Foundation website, although interestingly is today not listed. If he has resigned, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission hasn’t yet taken his name off its database.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission has the Waubra Foundation’s status as a health promotion charity under active review, with a decision expected by the end of the year. One of the main considerations in its decision will be its assessment of health authorities’ conclusions about the evidence of harm from wind farms. There are now 22 published reviews of this evidence, all of which reject the direct effects hypothesis, with most highlighting psychogenic and nocebo effects.

No doubt news from Canada also contributed to Laurie’s bad week. Health Canada published the results of a much-awaited $2.1 million investigation into wind farm health effects, in the sort of direct study that opponents have been demanding. Again, they concluded there was no reliable evidence of direct effects and yet again noted “annoyance was significantly lower among the 110 participants who received personal benefit, which could include rent, payments or other indirect benefits of having wind turbines in the area”.

Predictably, neither the Health Canada report not the 22 reviews have dented the resolve of wind farm opponents. The controversy-laden Waubra Foundation is, and always has been, an elaborate campaign of well-connected landowners determined to use any means to keep wind farms away from the horizons of their bucolic weekend estates. With the medical evidence only going the other way, the courts ruling against them again and again, and the authorities closing in on their practices, is it the endgame for the Waubra Foundation? And if, or when, they finally close their doors, rural citizens in wind farming areas will appreciate the some peace and quiet.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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