The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has announced two grants totalling $3.3 million to researchers at the University of New South Wales and Flinders University to “enrich the evidence-based understanding of the effects of wind farms on human health”.
This is despite its own year-long study that reported in early 21015 that there was no “consistent evidence” that a problem exists.
The NHMRC made a targeted call for research last year, and has now named the recipients as Prof Guy Marks from UNSW ($1.94m) and Assoc Prof Peter Catcheside of Flinders University ($1.36m).
A statement from the NHMRC says that UNSW will “investigate the broader social and environmental circumstances that may influence the health of people living near wind farms”, studying the health impacts of infrasound – sound waves typically inaudible to humans – generated by wind turbines.
Flinders University will “explore relationships between noise from wind farms and effects such as annoyances and reduced sleep and quality of life”.
Simon Chapman, emeritus professor of public health at the University of Sydney and 2013 Skeptic of the Year, told the Sydney Morning Herald that “There had been at least 25 reviews internationally – including by the NHMRC – that showed very little evidence of direct effects from wind farms.”
Effects that did exist could be put down to psycho-social factors, he said, such as pre-existing antipathy to wind farms, resentment by locals who had received no benefit from turbines in their region, and anxiety of perceived health impacts.
“It’s really quite disgraceful; it’s money literally poured down the drain. There is no health or medical agency in the world that would give any rational priority to wind farms and health.
“Potentially hundreds of researchers who had just missed on funding research would be angry as the money is being spent on wind farm research.”
NHMRC CEO Prof Anne Kelso said that further research was needed to explore the relationships between wind farms and human health.
“Existing research in this area is of poor quality and targeted funding is warranted to support high quality, independent research on this issue.
“To address this, we need well-designed studies conducted by excellent researchers in Australian conditions. These grants directly support the Australian Government’s commitment to determine any actual or potential effects of wind farms,” she said.
“NHMRC supports only the most outstanding research. Each application for this funding underwent the same stringent independent review process we apply to all NHMRC grant applications.”
The Abbott government, and particularly former PM Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hickey, were against wind farms on both supposed technical issues and aesthetic grounds.
The 2014/15 study by NHMRC was ordered by the Abbott government in January 2013, even before the results of a separate review of the issue by the council had been made public. The decision for another review stoked fears that the government was being swayed by anti-wind farm campaigners, including Maurice Newman, a senior business advisor to Abbott.