Wind home

On this page...

Cherry picking
Back's evidence

Most of the links on this page lead to further explanation and supporting evidence.

Senator Chris Back: opposed to wind power

A page of the Wind Power Ethics group*

Senator Back posted a piece on his Web site running down wind power as a clean alternative to fossil fuel-fired electricity generation. It was full of errors. This page is dedicated to exposing the worst of these as well as some of his other ill-informed utterances on wind power.

Written 2012/07/12, modified 2016/06/16
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
As with all my pages, informed feedback is welcome. If you are disagreeing with some point please supply evidence in support of your argument.
Wind home


Liberal's war on renewables...

Main page
Sean Edwards
Rowan Ramsey
David Ridgway
Angus Taylor
Wind energy opposition

I, Dave Clarke, the author of these pages, do not receive any payment of any kind from the wind industry.

The reputable Australia Institute provides the facts on Wind Enegy, Climate and Health
One of Senator Back's greatest errors is that he ignores the fact that wind turbines save lives and illnesses by reducing the air pollution from coal-fired power stations.
On his Net page Senator Back significantly did not mention the ethics of burning fossil fuels nor the proven health problems from the air pollutants released from coal-fired power plants; and of course, he did not write about the need to reduce Australia's per-capita rate of greenhouse gas production, which is the highest in the OECD. How is it possible to talk about the relative merits of fossil fuel fired generation compared to sustainable generation without mentioning things like greenhouse gasses, ocean acidification and the ill-health cause by the pollutants that coal-fired power stations put into the atmosphere – unless one has no ethical standards? Interestingly the graph that Senator Back (eventually) used did show CO2 emissions.

I have been generous to the Senator and referred to errors although in some cases it probably would have been more accurate to call them lies.

Senator Back picks cherries



Evidence for most of my statements on this page can be found by following the links provided. Most of the links on this page connect to other pages of mine. Should you want to go direct to original and independent sources go to my page Wind Links, or use this link for matters concerning health and wind turbines, or this for matters concerning wind turbines and noise.
In his speech to the Australian Senate on 2012/10/30 Senator Back spoke of a review of the scientific evidence conducted by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) published in July 2010. In this document, the key statement under the heading 'Do wind turbines impact on health?' is "... there is no published scientific evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health." Senator Back chose to ignore this and quote precautionary statements given in the document instead. To read Senator Back's speech you would get the impression that the main conclusion was quite different to what it in fact was.

To search through a document, ignore the main finding and take out-of-context quotes to try to support your own case is called 'cherry picking'.

Perhaps the only point that Senator Back has made with which I at least partly agree is his concern about some of the confidentiality clauses in the contracts agreed with wind turbine hosts. Any enforced confidentiality is an imposition upon the freedom of speech and should be avoided as far as possible. While the confidentiality clauses are far more limited than many wind power opponents claim, any enforced confidentiality gives the whole wind power industry an unnecessary bad name.

Senator Back's errors

Error 1

The third sentence on Senator Back's Net page is: "The oldest continually operating wind farm in Australia, Crookwell, has been in operation for 14 years."
In itself this error is unimportant, but it shows that the Senator did very little research and has very little knowledge of his subject. The longest continually operating wind farm in Australia is Ten Mile Lagoon, at Esperance (in Western Australia, the Senator's own state), which was started in 1993 and is still going strong in 2012.

Error 2

Senator Back goes on to say: "The following graph shows that coal provides the cheapest form of electricity generation in Australia. This is followed by gas, wind, hot rocks..."


Pollution from coal-fired power stations kills people

A paper published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, stated that air pollution from coal fired power stations result in 24 deaths and 225 serious illnesses per Terrawatt-hour (TWh) of electricity generated. Anil Markandya and Paul Wilkinson (Sep 15-Sep 21, 2007; 370, 9591; Research Library pg. 979) (More on another page.)
There was originally no graph in the document, but this had been corrected by 2012/07/17; again an indication of careless work. The Senator did not give the source of the graph or of the data that were used to make the graph. Hot rocks has not yet been developed on a fully commercial scale anywhere in the world so it's hard to see how it could be meaningfully costed.

Yes, coal-fired electricity is cheap while a nation still has existing coal-fired power stations, but wind power is comparable in cost with new coal-fired power stations (see International Energy Association paper on electricity costs). If you consider the damage burning coal does to the atmosphere and the very serious health impacts from the combustion products coal power is a very false economy. Coal with geosequestration of the CO2 produced is so prohibitively expensive that it is, so far as I know, not being done on a commercial scale anywhere in the world.
Wind home

Error 3

Under Health Impacts the Senator states "This has been the subject of bitter argument and disagreement, denial and deception for many years in all countries."
In fact the concern is almost entirely confined to English speaking countries where there has been a campaign to spread fear and an unfounded belief that has become an epidemic hysteria. Concerns regarding wind turbines and health are practically unknown in Western Australia too, because people like Dr Sarah Laurie have not spread their message there.

Error 4

Also under Health Impacts Senator Back states "There is a growing body of evidence that adverse health impact are real and that they are occurring at greater distances from turbines than previously recorded."
In fact there is no credible evidence that wind turbines cause illness beyond annoyance and loss of sleep in a few people. Professor Simon Chapman (Sydney University School of Health) and Teresa Simonetti have listed 17 reviews of the scientific literature, all of which come to this conclusion.

A number of people blame illnesses on wind turbines; Professor Chapman and Ms Simonetti have also listed over 220 diseases and symptoms that have been claimed to have been caused by wind turbines. Some people have been made ill by anxiety and fear, due at least in part by what they have been told about wind turbines by people like Dr Sarah Laurie and rumour-mongers like Senator Back.

Should any reader want to follow this further, I have written a page on why you should not believe that wind turbines make people ill elsewhere on this site. One can believe unsubstantiated claims from people like Senator Back and Dr Laurie, or one can accept the science.

Wind turbines are machines similar to other machines. Sound levels from wind turbines are low, and, apart from sustainable electricity, nothing else comes from wind turbines. The sound levels in your car are much higher than they are at any distance from a wind turbine.

Error 5

The Senator claims that windfarms have adverse impacts on animals.

Young cattle grazing peacefully beneath wind turbines
cattle and turbine
Toora Wind Farm
Just as there is no scientifically acceptable evidence for health impacts in humans there is absolutely no evidence for this claim. The photos here show that domestic animals are quite relaxed around wind turbines; anyone who has spent time around wind turbines where there are native or domestic animals will have noticed that it is common for them to sit or stand in the shade of wind turbine towers.

It is interesting that Nichols Poultry have their own 225kW wind turbine on their free-range poultry farm in Tasmania. Nichols have a Net site on which they provide information about their operation. Their chooks are aparently just as healthy as any other chooks.

On several visits to Waterloo Wind Farm I saw a number of kangaroos grazing and a pair of lazily circling wedge tailed eagles. Native wildlife is largely unaffected by operating wind turbines.

Sheep sheltering in the shade of a working turbine
Sheep sheltering
Clements Gap Wind Farm
Should the reader want to follow this subject up I have written more on another page.

Error 6

The Senator writes at length of what is in 'confidentiality agreements' that he claims landowners who host wind turbines sign with the wind farmers. There is only one gag clause that I know of that could be called unethical.

Wind home
So far as I know, the confidentiality in such agreements mainly involve the fees that are paid to the land owners.

No agreement would legally stop a landowner from seeking compensation for health impacts or on making such health impacts known. You cannot sign-away your common law rights.


I can only speculate on the Senator's motivation in writing this shoddy and unbelievable piece. The Australian Liberal Party has shown a long standing bias toward fossil fuels and against sustainable energy; the only reasonable explanation that I can imagine for this is that they are being lobbied by the mining and fossil fuel industries, from whom they receive generous campaign donations.

Senator Back's supporting evidence

Senator Back published a document in support of his claims about the health impacts of wind turbines. I took time to look into Senator Back's seven points and didn't find anything convincing that there is a link between wind turbines and health – beyond the usual occasional sleep problems in some people. (As discussed elsewhere it is quite possible to get a good night's sleep right underneath wind turbines.)

Back did not give a URL or other information on where several of his references were to be found. This makes it difficult for anyone to check the credibility of the papers concerned.

Senator Back's points:

  1. Ms Krogh's March 2012 summary. I couldn't find the document.

  2. Back states that Professor Leventhall (who is highly supportive of wind power) has known of the symptoms of 'wind turbine syndrome' for some time and that he was also aware of a link between "low frequency noise exposure and cortisol/physiological stress". The short answer is, so what? High intensity low frequency noise can cause problems, but all the evidence is that wind turbines produce very low levels of sounds of all frequencies.

  3. Published in Noise and Health, 'A Bimonthly Inter-diciplinary International Journal' which claims to have an impact factor of 0.739. "Our data suggest that wind farm noise can negatively impact facets of HRQOL [health related quality of life]".

    This is probably Senator Back's strongest supporting evidence, however note that there is no specific claim of ill-health, just a 'suggestion' of impact on HRQOL – mainly relating to annoyance and sleep disturbance.

  4. Back's point 4 is an article in the British Medical Journal that seems to make two links which wouldn't surprise many people, wind turbines disturb some people's sleep, and loss of sleep can have health impacts.

  5. From the Bulletin of Science Technology and Society, which has been discredited.

  6. Dr Nina Pierpont's self-published work on 'Wind Turbine Syndrome' is well known and has no standing in science. I have written a little on Dr Pierpont's work elsewhere on this site.

  7. This is about seismic vibrations. Seismometers are exquisitely sensitive; they record earthquakes on the far side of the planet! The fact that vibrations from wind turbines can be detected by seismometers at distances of 18km or more is not surprising and totally irrelevant to health.

Wind home
Wind home