Monday, 27 July 2015

Please stop making things up about renewable energy

Some people have a big platform, and they use it to criticise renewable energy. Opinion writers, shock jocks, journalists, senators - they've all got full-time access to a huge number of ears and eyes, and they use that to full advantage.

The thing is, when they say things they claim to be true things supported by numbers and evidence, they're often just.......not. I think it's weird, and interesting.

Alan Jones 


On rare occasions, those who loudly proclaim the children of their imagination as facts are questioned. During a debate on climate change, radio host Alan Jones nearly implodes with sheer outrage after he's asked if a paper he's brought up has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, below:



Last Monday, Alan Jones claimed on the ABC's Q and A panel show that:

"Eighty per cent of Australian energy comes from coal, coal-fired power, and it’s about $79 a kilowatt hour,” he said. “Wind power is about $1502 a kilowatt hour"

Mike Seccombe wrote a good explanation of precisely how wrong this in The Saturday Paper, as did Dylan Mcconnell in The Conversation, in which Jones admits to the error. To summarise, in a simple chart:


Terry McCrann


McCrann, a News Corp columnist, is growing more unique, as his level-headed colleagues quietly step back from angry dismissal of climate science. At some point, he'll be screaming his unintentionally comical diatribes at shoppers in Pitt St mall, but for now, he writes in The Australian:

"For the dirty little secret which nah-nah-nah denying Climate Change true believers refuse to face is that all renewable capacity has to be backed by continuing power stations which actually work: carbon-based coal or gas, or nuclear. Because when the wind don’t blow, and the sun don’t shine, the power don’t flow. Even across the vast span of southern Australia there are hours on end when we get not a single megawatt out of “all” those wind turbines"

He's usually more wrong than this, as I've written here before. Some remnant spark of self-awareness was forcing him to be not too specific about exactly which time periods he means. Even then, we can actually check his claim that there are 'hours on end' when the total output of South Australian wind farms is at zero. Let's first compare the total number of hours, in the past 1.5 years, where SA wind has been greater than zero, and compare it to the total number of hours it's been at zero:

Oh dear. In the past 1.5 years, about 0.12% of the time has been comprised of a total wind output of zero in South Australia, or about sixteen hours out of thirteen thousand, one hundred and four. Sure, some of those hours were 'on end' - the longest stretch of zero output was 2.5 hours in April 2014 - but these incidents are absurdly rare, and McCrann seems to genuinely hold the belief they're representative of normal operation.

Graham Lloyd


Lloyd's featured a lot on this blog, because much of his coverage of renewable energy sways towards misunderstandings, cherry-picking and factual errors. His piece from the weekend has several, but one caught my eye:

"In addition to guaranteed above-markets rates, intermittency helps explain why the addition of large scale renewables can lead to higher prices for electricity consumers. 
“When you study the states of Australia that have had dramatic increases in their household power bills in recent years you will find a direct correlation to the number of wind turbines that have been connected to the grid in those states,” independent senator John Maddigan told the Senate last month. “You will find the same correlation in European countries. 
This is irrespective of whether wholesale electricity prices fall as a result of additional renewable energy forcing its way into an already oversupplied market.
Indeed, Germany has some of the lowest wholesale electricity prices in Europe but some of the highest retail prices.

There's rather a lot to break down, even in this small section of Lloyd's article. The whole thing has an incredibly high concentration of misunderstanding and outright falsehoods - it would take weeks to debunk it. Simply, is there a 'direct correlation' between number of turbines, and high power bills?


----------------------------------------

So why is wrongness so prevalent in content that's churned out to be critical of renewable energy? And, is it just as prevalent in content that's out there to defend it? I can't really answer the second question, mainly because I'm responsible for a fair chunk of it, and so I wouldn't exactly be an impartial judge.

I honestly don't really have any theories. There seems to be an ever-present assumption that if we publicly declare something to be factual - as in, a thing that has been checked thoroughly and is likely to be true - that we won't be asked to support that claim with references or sources. I might just be over-attributing this to renewable energy, because it's my thing.

Sometimes, fact-checkers and wonks (like me, and Media Watch, and The Conversation and ABC Fact Check) tend to dive in and explain the wrongness. These media outlets have a decent platform, so I think they're doing good work. But I wonder if we should be encouraging a more wide-ranging shift in attitude: it's not okay to vomit out some numerical feelings-garbage, without expecting that you're going to be pulled up on it immediately.

Regardless, this is something that really happens quite a lot. For added fun, it's worth casually asking people to justify their claims. Really, it's great. I highly recommend it. Patrick Moore, who features in the video up top, is filmed here during the making of a documentary, being asked to stand behind something he's said. It's...fun. Watch it.


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Panic stations: The renewable energy target fear campaign has already failed

For most of this year, The Australian has been publishing a near-weekly update on why people living near wind turbines ought to fear for their lives, and why they should seek scientific medical information from their environment editor, rather than from the medical community.

After opposition leader Bill Shorten announced his intention to propose an ambition for 50% renewable energy in our electricity generation mix by 2030, The Australian shifted from 'wind turbine syndrome' to new format of panic.

In today's paper, there were twelve articles, a cartoon, and a front page plastered with a headline that is literally the repetition of a primary-school-grade slur used by Abbott (who admitted the phrase was 'unparliamentary', but was defended by Speaker Bronwyn Bishop).



Here's a list of articles in The Australian today, with a word count and quote from each (if I missed any, let me know):

Renewable energy: Flings of desire do not soar over truth - Graham Lloyd - 427 words

Labor’s astonishing renewable energy target turnaround - Chris Kenny - 704 words

Labor’s loony turn on renewable energy target - Editorial - 671 words

Renewable energy: glut of supply will raise prices - Adam Creighton - 572 words

World turns different shade of green as costs bite - Graham Lloyd - 656 words

Bill Shorten didn’t take new energy target to cabinet - Joe Kelly and Rosie Lewis - 469 words

Bill Shorten doing best to forget burning RET issues - David Uren - 321 words

Carbon blunders continue, as do the risks - Dennis Shanahan - 503 words

Power prices ‘certain to rise’ under ALP’s increased RET Annabel Hepworth - 493 words

Labor power play: Bill Shorten’s carbon reboot - Stefanie Balogh - 927 words

I’ve got carbon tax to thank for my job: Michelle Landry - [no byline] - 452 words

‘Labor Party must remember coalworkers built it’ - Rick Morton - 378 words

So, that's a total of 6,573 words dedicated to building the argument that a renewable energy target of 50% is terrible.

Standing awkwardly in a bustling crowd of panic, fury and keywords like 'jobs' and 'billions' was a single admission of the actual price impact of a 50% by 2030 scenario, buried in Adam Creighton's article:

"Labor’s policy would increase an average household’s electricity prices by $4 a year in today’s dollars between 2023 to 2030, according to modelling by Frontier Economics."

Creighton's begrudging admission is mentioned in passing on page 6 of the paper. The issue here is the impost of updating our energy system on retail electricity prices, as subtly delineated by The Australian's nuanced front-page headline. So....what's this modelling that Creighton refers to?



Apparently, the modelling is by Frontier Economics. Their RET review modelling doesn't mention a 50% RE scenario. They mention a 50% renewable energy scenario in passing, in a study that models European energy:

"Our quantitative analysis shows that it is possible for single countries to pursue their own development objectives without unduly burdening energy consumers. For example, our analysis of the German market in a scenario where renewables reach a 50% share of gross power consumption by 2050 confirms that any additional costs will remain manageable"

The Minerals Council, Australia's chief industry group representing coal and gas, are perturbed by the suggestion, and warn, as they did with the current RET and with carbon pricing, that everything we love will be eviscerated, if we adopt new technologies for generating energy:

"It is not yet clear that the Opposition is proposing an increase in the mandatory target to 50 per cent. If it does, the subsidies to renewables will double or even triple by 2030, at extraordinary cost to energy consumers"

They're very carefully avoiding explaining exactly how much the 'cost' will be - instead using terms like 'extraordinary'. Analysis by Hugh Saddler in The Conversation estimates a small impact:

"If implementation of a 50% renewable electricity target is accompanied by policies like [consumption reduction initiatives], households could find themselves paying no more for electricity each year after 2030 than they are paying today"

" If you want to estimate how much extra Labor’s policy might cost you, look at the difference between the light blue and dark blue bars for your state" - Hugh Saddler

Tristan Edis, an analyst at Business Spectator, guesses around $6 per bill. He also compares his estimates to the impact of a 15% GST on electricity prices:


The reason these estimates differ so greatly with regards to the household impost of a 50% by 2030 renewable energy target is because we really just don't know what mix of policy mechanisms are going to be used to meet that goal (assuming it's agreed to at the Labor party's national conference on the weekend).

It may not take the form of an adjustment to our current Renewable Energy Target scheme. Whatever form it takes, it's understandably difficult to model something that doesn't exist yet.

Soon, we'll have another round of warring models. As we've seen today, media outlets opposed to new energy technology will use tactics like vague, non-specific warnings and declarations of total cost (rather than cost per household), in the hope of producing big, scary-sounding numbers.

But here's the thing - filling the void that will exist between now and when this ambition is fleshed out with the furious tornado of fear offered in today's Australian isn't actually going to work. Abbott has tried already - repeating endlessly, to this day, that renewable energy causes 'significant price pressure'. He came to believe it himself - the Prime Minister's office commissioned a RET review led by a climate skeptic. Even then, it found the RET scheme lowers electricity bills in the long run.

The arguments in today's edition of The Australian are weak and watery, and I don't doubt many of the authors felt a profound wave of awkwardness writing them. The opponents of renewable energy have thrown their cards on the table. But they've played this hand before, and they walked out embarrassed. Chances are, it's going to happen again. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Australian Clean Energy Summit 2015 - Science, Sentiment and Control in Clean Energy

My presentation for the 2015 Clean Energy Summit is below, including some words. There was some media coverage, too, which is nice.

------------------------

I’d like to start with a quick anecdote I heard this morning. The Codrington Gardens B&B is Codrington’s #1 accommodation, and it’s about 2.1 kilometres away from the nearest turbine at Pacific Hydro’s Codrington wind farm.

A friend on Twitter told me about a story retold by the owner, about an irate guest who, in the morning after a stay at the B&B, issued a complaint about wind farm noise keeping him up overnight. In the morning, after breakfast, the owner went outside with the guest, who pointed out the noise. The owner responded by pointing out that specific noise was actually the sound of the ocean. Without missing a beat, the guest responded by saying ‘Well, if I’d known that, I would have been able to sleep”


Our reactions to the presence of wind farms is a little surprising, at times. When you tunnel into the history of our reactions to a variety of technological changes, it’s clear that the pattern we’ve seen so far with wind farms is precisely what you’d expect to materialise, considering the way we executed the development of these big, new clean energy machines.

I’d like to make a case for a developmental philosophy that pre-empts this pattern of response. One that assumes human reactions to technology are a certainty, not an anomaly. We’ve been stuck for so long in a world of discourse where ludicrousness has no ceiling. The claimed impacts of wind farms escalate into increasing absurdity, as you would have seen in First Dog’s talk. But when you listen with both ears to our detractors, as was suggested last night, we find there are answers and solutions that move past the endless scratching at the corners of scientific evidence, and into areas where both communities and clean tech providers reap enormous benefits.

Let’s dig into the tunnel of technological fear, and look some examples of human reactions to new machines that we live next to

Right now, we’re exposed a range of ultra high frequency and super high frequency wireless networks. There is a considerable range of individuals and groups across the world who consider this exposure to be a major risk to human health. The arguments are pretty consistent among these groups and individuals. ‘The science just isn’t in yet, we need to take a precautionary approach, and I feel sick near wifi routers’. Professor Ian Lowe at the Griffith School of Natural Sciences points out that

“Belief in electromagnetic hypersensitivity is the natural outcome of rational human behaviour. The human brain always looks for cause and effect relationships. If you get a headache while sitting near a router, you may attribute the headache to that router. Confirmation bias will see that belief grow over time, until the belief becomes so strong that it actually manifests a headache. But it's the fear of the router that's the problem, rather than the router itself”

When you test people who claim to be sensitive to wifi in a lab, they’re generally unable to detect the presence of WiFi signals when the experimenter switches the signal on and off. What we learn from this is that you don’t need a politically motivated fear campaign to see the emergence of health fears around technology. Wireless networking isn’t impacting the profits of political donors, no think tanks are pushing out reports against wifi, and conservative columnists don’t obsess over it. This is something that happens because we’re human. It’s inaccurate to say people who experience this are deluded, or irrational, or uneducated. This is how the electrified meat between our ears is geared to respond to technological change.

A similar phenomenon emerged around the mandatory rollout of smart meters in Victoria. There are now several examples of people claiming symptomatic experiences that are identical to the claims that exist around wireless networking. But in the case of smart meters, a political party was formed - called “People power victoria no smart meters”.



Part of their charter included pushing for the right for people to “to reject any object or technology being installed on or near their premises if they have reasonable concerns about its possible effect on their health, privacy or wellbeing”. They didn’t win any seats in the 2014 state election, but they won 1,375 first preference votes.

The backlash against Victorian smart meters, predicated on the theory that they’re likely to hurt human beings, is a clear example of the role of control in how we perceive risk. Research shows that the less control we have over a change in our environment, the more likely we are to overestimate the risk of a technology and see a bizarre, ludicrous mix of claims. The rollout of smart meters in New South Wales will be optional - my bet is that we will see a near-zero emergence of health fears in New South Wales.



Compare, on this slide, the purple bubble for plane crashes, and the light blue bubble for car accidents. If we got to hold the wheel when flying in a plane, would our perception of risk be more closely aligned to the actual danger? Conversely, will self-driving cars lead to a significantly higher perception of risk, alongside big improvements in safety?



On a side note, it’s worth comparing our collective perception of the risk of climate change versus the risk of terrorism, compared to the likelihood that either of these things are going to kill or injure us. Think about which risk has dominated media coverage and government priorities over the past year, and think about how wind farms might sit on this chart.

In 2009, a couple living near a planned wind farm in New York coined the term ‘wind turbine syndrome’, and paired the phrase with a self-published book detailing a self-selected sample of phone interviews, with no control group.


Since then, the phenomenon has been adopted by political and local wind farm opponents, but roundly rejected by a cluster of scientific reviews, acoustic studies, provocation tests, health authority reviews, legal cases and some preliminary large-scale epidemiological studies.

A cursory examination of ‘wind turbine syndrome’ tells us that we’re seeing the same phenomenon we’ve seen with wifi and smart meters. The actual symptoms are nearly identical, including many instances where complaints are issued despite nearby wind turbines being inoperative.


So the answer should be simple, right? Give people control, let them have influence over the project and the over-perception of risk should abate. This is the nexus of why the development of clean energy needs to incorporate community engagement and ownership schemes - people react badly when they’re left out of major changes to the environment. This needs to change.

It seems that some of this logic was at play when Pacific Hydro, one of Australia’s leaders in wind farm community engagement, let residents near the Cape Bridgewater wind farm nominate their own acoustician, to compare noise emissions from the wind farm to their own symptomatic experiences. I followed the release of this report, and subsequent media coverage, very closely.


The report’s conclusions, based on a sample of six residents already opposed to the project, void of any tests of statistical significance and not published in a blinded peer review scientific journal of any kind, was euphemistically labelled a ‘pilot study’, rather than a bad study, by the recent senate wind farm inquiry, and was explicitly used to justify the creation of a wind farm commissioner and new scientific bodies examining wind turbine syndrome, in addition to several months of media coverage in a range of local and national media outlets.

Why did efforts to restore control, in good faith, back to the community result in a bad outcome for the community, for the industry and for the scientific discourse? It’s because the myth of wind turbine syndrome survives through bad science - studies claim to detect the presence of a malicious disease, but are so ridden with confounders and bias that they could be detecting anything at all. We’re going to be in this position many times in the future, as we feel our way forward, but we can’t stop discovering and testing and exploring, because the future of the industry depends entirely on whether the technologies are accepted by communities. Anti-wind activism does impact investment, and has a real financial impact on the wind industry.


The people whose live next to economy-sustaining technology need to be deeply involved from the outset. Already, wind farm land owners speak up when the leader of the country expresses his desire to destroy an Australian technology due solely to his internal aesthetic machinations. Imagine entire communities rising to defend clean energy projects, when they come under attack from proponents of decades old machines running on dinosaur juice. We’ve already seen this phenomenon at work with solar citizens, who are very skilled at empowering household solar owners to speak up in defense of their technology. Benefit sharing schemes can be tuned and tweaked to suit communities. The financial benefits for clean energy companies will be realised through increased investor confidence in projects that don’t incur lengthy planning cases.

We’ve been living too long in a world where there is no upper limit to absurd, nonscientific medical diagnoses propagated by anti-windfarm groups and small pockets in the media. If open the doors to communities and let them become participants in this crazy world of decarbonisation, then we’ll find ourselves able to fend off the daily onslaught of attacks on wind farm investment.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Most sequels suck - "Carbon Tax Death Apocalypse 2" will probably fizzle

I was working in the operations room for Capital Wind Farm the day Julia Gillard visited. It was the same day a now-infamous anti-carbon tax rally was held on the lawns of parliament house, during which Tony Abbott proudly stood among a collection of sexist, conspiratorial, denialist signs, most of which ferociously attacked Gillard on a personal level.


Abbott would not have clambered into power had it not been the carbon pricing mechanism, and his successful campaign against the policy. His slogans worked; people hated the policy and rewarded him for his simplistic but effective campaign.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

A few years on, and there have been some interesting developments.

Namely:

- After the carbon price was scrapped, emissions rose quickly. This was partly due to hydro altering their generation initially, but the trend has continued. Brown coal is up, black coal is straight and renewables try their best to keep up. This was widely reported in the media, and people were vaguely embarrassed.

By Hugh Saddler at Renew Economy

- No one feels they got the $550 they were promised by Tony Abbott. The reduction in electricity price that came about due to the repeal of carbon pricing has already been dwarfed by the rising costs of network infrastructure, as shown in the AEMC's latest report - the removal of this little grey rectangle of lines is the thing that flung our PM into power. Dwell on that, for a second:

From here

- Climate change denial has weakened in Australia, alongside increased support for climate change policy and renewable energy, as shown in yesterday's Essential report:


Murdoch news outlets put their foot on the gas this morning when  Labor plans for an emissions trading scheme were leaked to News Limited:


Abbott's done the same, bringing his sloganeering skills into gear:


Tony Abbott attempted to use his anti-carbon-tax power-price-paranoia tactic with the Renewable Energy Target, repeating consistently that the RET causes power prices to rise. When he commissioned a review by a climate skeptic, the modelers found that scrapping the scheme would actually result in higher prices for households and businesses.


I don't think Abbott has the magic mix of ingredients needed to get the same frothy brew of panic that carried him into power in 2013. The sexists are presumably less enraged by Shorten than Gillard, so they're out. The climate change deniers have grown small in numbers, and fallen out of favour with the media - Abbott's less likely to be seen in front of Agenda 21 New World Order signs than back in 2013. If he is, he'll get called out on it, this time.



I suspect, at the very least, this won't work as well as they hope. As with most sequels (except for Terminator 2 and Aliens), this one is going to try and recreate the same magical mix that brought success for # 1 - it'll probably work a little bit, but nowhere near as well as the original. With any luck, it'll be more Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 than Terminator 2:Judgement Day.

For a great explainer on this, read Tom Arup's piece in the SMH, here. And join me in hoping that the sequel really does suck.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The clean tech revolution comes to luxury chaffeur services...

I'm recently back from a brief holiday in New Zealand, and our last stop was in Christchurch, a city damaged quite badly by an earthquake in 2011. It's five years on, and the streets of the central city are  relatively quiet at night, save for the occasional pop-up disco platform and a sea of silent, bright orange cones.

The gap-filler disco, near our hotel

The rejuvenation of the city's centre is focused on public transport, walking and cycling, but for now, a whole stack of businesses are located just outside the city - not walkable, but very easy to access by car. 

At the Quake City museum

I think it's an important reminder of the need for a diverse range of machines we can use to transport ourselves from one spot to another, but also the importance of ensuring none of them link us to a reliance on carbon-intensive fuel types. 

My wife and I very graciously accepted an offer for a complimentary trip back from the airport to our pad in a limo service called Evoke. Our driver, Justin, was great. Evoke rely solely on a fleet of truly incredible Tesla Model S spaceships running on clean energy:

"To reduce our carbon footprint, Evoke vehicles are charged using Tesla’s supercharger network in Sydney, which is carbon offset. When we are not supercharging, we use 100 per cent GreenPower"



Electric vehicles will obviously play a big role in transport, in the very near future. That there's already limo services that capture the market springing up from real excitement around this technology makes me really happy.

The car is such a pleasure to ride in, but I also know that the electricity it's running on has been offset through generation from clean energy sources. In the near future, it'll come directly from black panels pointed at the 'handy nuclear fusion reactor in the sky' (Elon Musk's description of the sun). 



I recorded a short Periscope from the inside of the car, too, including some smooth jazz:


...and a ridiculous Vine



We're going to see electric vehicles trickling in to our line of sight with increasing regularity. There will be a point when seeing one in a queue of cars isn't interesting or curious - it's the norm. Evoke cleverly captures our excitement about what is a genuinely incredible piece of engineering - the sheer excitement of rocking around in a spaceship is enough to justify the occasional trip in a Tesla.

But for me, it's a pretty clear sign that the electric car is starting to slot neatly in to the gaps in our transport systems. Blended with stuff like self-driving cars, it's going to change the way we move ourselves from one place to another. You become hyper-aware of how important this change is, when you visit a city that's in a constant state of flux, like Christchurch. And, it means we don't need to carry around a carbon-intensive, super-heavy explosion machine in the front of our cars.

Cheers to Evoke and to my wonderful wife for taking some splendid photos. And if you get a chance, book a Tesla. It's...really quite something. 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

No, That Mining Industry Report Doesn't Mean Wind Turbines Are Hazardous

Graham Lloyd, Environment Editor at The Australian, shuns the idea of reporting information along the lines of scientific evidence. His latest piece (essentially now a weekly column on 'wind turbine syndrome') presents the viewpoint that people are sick due to the presence of wind turbines as a medical diagnosis, along with bits and pieces of scientific research. 

If this happened in a medical clinic, the health professional would have their licence revoked. On the pages of a national newspaper, it's seemingly okay. It's worth breaking down his latest piece a little bit, to get a better understanding of why this approach gets traction. 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

"Each morning fine-wool grower Ann Gardner broadcasts her wind farm woes to an unreceptive world. Politicians, shock jocks, journalists and anyone Gardner hopes will listen are included as recipients of uncomfortable missives that outline the “torture” of living next door to Australia’s biggest wind farm at Macarthur, Victoria. Gardner is used to being ignored, unlike her neighbours, Hamish and Anna Officer, who routinely are quoted as model wind farm devotees"

The idea that wind farm opponents are ignored is pretty strange. The Prime Minister has adopted their cause, alongside the tenth government inquiry in to wind farms designed to allow opponents to air their grievances. A new government role has been created solely for the purpose of receiving wind farm complaints, and money is being re-directed towards scientists who will be tasked with testing their claims. 

Ann Gardner has received full write-ups in The Australian, and has been quoted in media here, here, here, here, here and here, just to provide a few examples.

"Gardner contends the failure to report the plight of the Gares or the full picture for the Officers is typical of the one-sided treatment the wind turbine issue has received. She says much of the media has shown itself willing to misconstrue findings from the National Health and Medical Research Council and suggest research had cleared wind turbines of ill effects. In fact, the NHMRC said only limited, poor-quality research was available and the issue of wind farms and health remained an open scientific question."

This is a fairly common assertion - the creation of a false dichotomy. It's why the question 'Yeah, but you support more research, don't you?' is raised so frequently by wind farm opponents, as if the existence of scientific investigation is enough to incriminate wind energy. It's satisfying for someone who's faced with the task of asserting that wind turbines are dangerous, without having any evidence to back it up. 

"And a new study by researchers from Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine have found “the odds of being annoyed appear significantly increased by wind turbine noise”. The research, published in Environment International, has found wind turbine noise significantly increases the odds of experiencing sleep disturbance, and results in lower quality of life scores."

Another common tactic is to frequently switch between hypotheses. 

Wind farm opponents simultaneously claim that audible noises causes stress, and that inaudible infrasound causes health impacts. The first claim has some truth to it; and it's used as a wedge to support the second claim.

They're both very different, but as you can see above, Lloyd sees no fault in using evidence for one to support the other. Lloyd intentionally excludes some key sentences from the study's authors, who write that: 

"Further, visual perception of wind turbine generators was associated with greater frequency of reported negative health effects. In conclusion, there is some evidence that exposure to wind turbine noise is associated with increased odds of annoyance and sleep problems. Individual attitudes could influence the type of response to noise from wind turbines"

Lloyd left those words out for a reason, I suspect. Lloyd goes on: 

"Publicly, the wind industry has an army of supporters ever ready to rubbish claims that wind farms can have any effect on health. But there is evidence the wind industry has known about the impact of infra­sound for more than two decades"

Lloyd repeats the myth that NASA found that wind turbines cause sickness, and that the wind industry has conspired to bury the research. It's absurd. And, on he goes....

"A federal Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism report into airborne contaminants, noise and vibration, published in October 2009, says “sound in the frequency range below 20 hertz is normally defined as ‘infrasound’ and can be heard (or felt) as a pulsating sensation and/or pressure on the ears or chest”.......The report does not refer to wind turbines but it accurately describes many of the complaints that are being made"

It'd be weird, in any other field, to claim a technology is dangerous, and then provide supporting evidence that literally fails to mention the technology. The reason this is acceptable, here, is based on the assumption that any exposure to infrasound is dangerous, regardless of the amplitude or the frequency. 

Again, the things that Lloyd chooses to exclude are the most telling. The following is from the last paragraph in the section he quotes: 

"Factors such as the attitude or mood of the person, his or her environment, the degree of arousal or distraction experienced, and whether the noise is felt to be an invasion of privacy or disruptive, will dictate personal response. This is important for shift workers who sleep during the day. The predictability of noise and how frequently it occurs will also influence the reaction"

In fact, the handbook is actually about the mining industry:

"LEADING PRACTICE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM FOR THE MINING INDUSTRY"

As it happens, blasting the ground open with explosives produces more noise than operating a wind turbine: 

From page 72

----------------------------------------------------------------------

This mish-mash of bad science is presented as a diagnosis - the individual he quotes is sick because of wind turbines, not because of some other medical issue. There's no doubt. It's a key assumption in the piece. It's simple to presume that Lloyd sees no fault in doing so, considering there's been a constant stream of this for several years. 

This, in his eyes, is a 'balanced' approach - the exclusion of all individuals, reports and experts who might fail to support his diagnosis - even to the extent that mining industry reports are being used to implicate wind energy. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Australian's 'Wind Turbine Health Researcher': not a health researcher

It's been an absurd couple of weeks for the wind energy industry. There's been a daily barrage of pseudoscience, feelings, antagonism and rage from small-in-numbers but strong-in-feelings opponents of renewable energy in Australia.

A few of them hold the highest office in the country, which isn't helpful.

Largely, the discourse has centred around anecdotal reports of wind farm impacts - and the creation of a new wind farm watchdog.

Here's a screenshot from an article published in The Australian:


The article features an interview with Mary Morris who, as the captions tell us, is a 'wind turbine health researcher':

'Mary Morris, who conducted the only Australian study into wind turbine health impacts accepted by the National Health and Medical Research Council, welcomed the government’s draft proposal to the crossbench. “It’s long overdue that there should be a proper mechanism for dealing with complaints and for conducting more rigorous testing at wind farms,” Ms Morris said'
On the 18th of June (the day before), Morris also featured in an article by Graham Lloyd:


"Mary Morris, who conducted one of the only studies accepted by the National Health and Medical Research Council, said she would welcome any undertakings by the federal government to increase supervision"

She seems like an expert source. She conducted a study in to health impacts, and that study was 'accepted' by the NHMRC. Out of curiosity, let's see what the NHMRC found from her study, when they did a systematic review of existing evidence, on page 221:

-----------------------------------------

Morris, M 2012. ‘Waterloo Wind Farm survey’. Available at: <http://www.wind-watch.org/news/>.

Affiliation/source of funds [2]
‘Mid North Wind Farm Awareness’ member

Internal Validity: 
Confounding subscale [13]
Comment on sources of confounding:
No details on responder characteristics or plausible confounders e.g.socioeconomic status, economic factors, age, gender, chronic disease and risk factors for chronic disease, occupation, education, employment, urbanisation, background noise, wind turbine visibility and terrain.

Bias subscale [14]
Comment on sources of bias:
There was no clear definition of what ‘affected by noise’ included. Self-reporting survey, hence no independent confirmation of claimed adverse effects. Differences between responders and non-responders were not assessed. Study intent was not masked for survey recipients.

Reporting subscale [17]
Comment on quality of reporting:
There was no clear description of main outcomes, participant characteristics, exposure level or any differences  between responders and non-responders

Chance [18] 
No data analysis.

Overall quality assessment (descriptive) [19] 
On the basis of the Internal Validity assessment made above, and the detailed critical appraisal of the study given in Table 7, this study is considered poor qualityfor the purpose of this review.
There is a high risk of exposure misclassification (time and personal characteristics criteria were notwell-defined), recallbias (study intent not masked), sample selection bias(40% response rate), confounding (no statistical adjustments were made), and outcome misclassification (non-validated survey questions)

Comments [28]
The study was quasi-scientific and of poor quality. The study design,poor execution and analysis prevent any firm conclusions from being drawn. The study has limited capacity to inform the assessment of wind turbine noise as a cause of adverse health effects.

-----------------------------------------

Not only was the study incredibly poor quality, the author is a wind farm opponent, and the study is only available from an anti-wind website.

Incidentally, the 'health researcher' in question also garnered some media coverage when sending out emails urging people to complain about wind farms:

'In the email, Ms Morris, who lives 17km from the wind farm, said Goyder Council had said it had received no written noise or health complaints regarding the Waterloo wind farm. 
It asked residents to send in a written complaint to both the Goyder and Clare and Gilbert Valley councils, outlining the impact of the wind farm on their health and hearing. 
"All it has to be is a simple letter stating that the noise and vibration is causing a serious disturbance to sleep and rest, and/or that people are becoming sick - mention elderly and frail people AND children as well, especially if this applies to you," the email said. 
"If you have already sent in a letter, send again with a cover note that you wish your submission to be considered as a formal complaint about the effects of the Waterloo wind farm."'

When it comes to giving bad science the veneer of veracity, this is a pretty common tactic - the usage of 'fake experts'. It's prevalent in climate change denial, but there are many examples of it in the 'wind turbine syndrome' world as well. As Skeptic Science outlines:

"These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research 'junk science'."

It's one thing to leave out vital information, like what the NHMRC said about the quality of Morris' survey. But it's another thing entirely to label her an authoritative source. That goes well beyond the ways that bias tweaks everything we write - that's an outright falsehood.

Sure, it's necessary, when you're trying to give a manufactured disease some seemingly scientific substance, but it's also going to result in real harm to people seeking authoritative medical advice. We're going to see a lot more of this, in the coming weeks - each instance will feature a different page from the pseudoscience playbook.