The MacArthur wind farm is the largest approved wind farm of its type in the Southern Hemisphere. Located on a 5,500 ha site between the western district townships of Macarthur, Hawkesdale and Penshurst, the proposed wind farm involves a development application for permission to install a capacity of up to 450 MW of electricity usable by up to 150,000 homes.
A total of between 140 and 183 turbines have been planned for, but the conservative estimate from the engineering group Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia suggests it is likely that around 150 will be built. Each of the Vesta V112 wind turbines are a height of 90 metres above ground level, and the wind farm will link to the 500kV national electricity grid while reducing greenhouse gases by around 1.7 million tonnes annually.
The project is a trans-Tasman venture between New Zealand renewable energy generator Meridian and Australian energy company AGL, with Leighton Contractors managing the construction.
Macarthur is expected to involve between $850 million and $1 billion of investment and with construction having commenced in 2009, energy is anticipated to be feeding into the national electricity grid by 2011, with total completion predicted by 2013.
Community concerns and proponent response
In the planning phase, there has been legitimate concern voiced from some elements of the community regarding the impact of the proposed wind farm upon the local landscape with regards to both its ecology and amenity.
These concerns included;
• impact upon the regional landscape in terms of remnant vegetation, terrestrial fauna, avifauna (birds and bats) and impact on the visual amenity of local landowners,
• the effect of blasting impact on adjacent bores and possible water pollution,
• operational and construction noise,
• visual effects on dwellings and workplaces due to shadow flicker and blade glint, and the impact on property values due to this, and
• obstacle lighting requirements for aviation, safety for aerial spraying.
However, these concerns were addressed by the Macarthur wind farm application panel report in May 2006 as follows:
• (Given the consideration of view-shed analysis that considers features seen at more than 15 kilometres to be visually insignificant), in terms of ‘industrialisation’ of the landscape, wind farms were considered a permissible use in the Rural Zone due to its enabling of a wide range of potential developments consistent with the objectives of the zone. Where significance landscape assets are identified, there is provision in the planning scheme for the application of a Significant Landscape Overlay (SLO) or Environment Significant Overlay (ESO). The sensitivity of the landscape to overall change was deemed to be low because of the broad approach of avoiding the rocky knolls and the wetlands and the micro-siting of the final location of the towers and meteorological masts proposed by the developer. This was supported by the panel, resulting in no major constraints to the project in relation to rare or threatened flora species.
• However, the panel did recommend that this was achievable only insofar as preparation of a pre-construction map of potential habitat for the Stripped Legless Lizard and Fat-tailed Dunnart as required, with further monitoring to assess the impact conditions upon bats and avifauna, to be undertaken.
• blasting was not considered likely to cause damage to adjacent bores, providing adequate safeguards were undertaken.
• water contamination due to the rupture and release of oil from a nacelle was considered an unlikely event except in exceptional circumstances, with sufficient emergency management procedures in case of such a situation
• careful noise monitoring, data analysis and information presentation was considered critical in ensuring that the facility conforms to the noise criteria specified in the New Zealand assessment for background acoustics of wind energy turbines. However, it was not suggested that noise monitoring programs should be ‘continuous’ in any sense, with operational wind facility noise monitoring recommended to be carried out with the commissioning of the facility in a stage-by-stage process, to be repeated about 12 months later. Overall, the panel determined the project to be feasible given it met the noise criteria, including the stricter criteria during night time hours.
• while the panel concluded that the visual impact from the wind turbines on nearby dwellings and their immediate surroundings to be potentially substantial, they argued it could be considerably moderated by existing windbreaks and boundary screen tree planting.
• a separation distance of 1.25 kilometres from the nearest turbine to existing residencies was found to preclude any potential of shadow or reflective flicker. This was derived from evidence suggesting that reflective glint is not detectable at distances of greater than one kilometre, if at all, given the application of non-reflective surface treatment. Shadow flicker was found not to occur within roughly 300 metres of any dwellings.
Further information on the project can be found here (this is the developers site).
A note on energy use and the MacArthur wind farm
For energy production from renewable sources to have value in reducing our contribution to global warming, new wind or solar power must displace the use of coal or other greenhouse intense sources for meeting our existing and basic energy needs.
Unfortunately, it has been announced that power from MacArthur will be used to run the energy intense desalination plant being built near Wonthaggi.
In July 2009, AGL Energy Limited (AGL) announced that it had secured the energy supply contract for the $3.5 billion desalination plant. The contract is for a term of 27 years with an annual requirement of up to 860GWh of electricity and associated renewable energy certificates.
FoE does not believe the desalination plant is required. There are a range of other ways that Melbourne can meet its current and future energy needs without either the desalination plant or North South pipeline. To see this ‘new’ energy go into an un needed and energy guzzling venture like the desalination plant is deeply disappointing.
AGL in the broader community
AGL has a broad-based portfolio, which includes a range of fossil fuel projects.
At present they are under pressure due to their involvement in coal seam gas mining in the Hunter Valley in NSW. Check here for details on the campaign by the Hunter Protection Alliance.
Other content on the Macarthur project on this website.