[please scroll down for the diary from the road trip]
Federal Member for Hume Alby Schultz is pushing to stop all proposed wind farms in the electorate of Hume in NSW. This will have serious implications for regional economies in Hume and, more broadly, the environment as it would lock off a large area which is very suitable ‘wind country’. Hume is largely a mixed agricultural economy, with strong farming traditions based on mixed farming, grazing, fat lambs, fruit, vegetables, wine, timber and textiles. Wind farming can add significant direct income to these practises.
‘wind supporters’ field trip to Yass, Boorowa & Crookwell
From July 19 til 21, we visited towns in the area from Yass to Crookwell and Boorowa, and down through the Yass Valley projects, to meet with people who do support appropriately sited wind energy projects.
Please check here for further information.
DAY 3. Heading home, 21 July
I missed a meeting this morning due to under estimating travel times and the number of people who wanted to talk yesterday, but had one last yarn before heading home down the Hume.
If you listen to the noisy wheel that is the ideological anti wind movement, then everyone up this way hates wind energy. But as they say, you shouldn’t always ‘believe the hype’.
By simply sending an invitation around my very limited networks up this way, I was lucky enough to access a great and very diverse group of people – landowners with turbines, and those hoping to get them on their properties. And people who live in Yass, Boorowa and Gunning who quietly support wind energy because of its contribution to local economies and greenhouse benefits.
I heard many stories of frustration at the ‘one eyed antis’ as one farmer put it, who continue to ‘peddle lies, half lies and panic’. I had a few people ask me about health issues, wanting a ‘second opinion’ that went beyond the ‘hysteria’ of some of the anti wind claims. Some of my random conversations were with people who didn’t like wind energy.
I walked and sat around some of the existing projects, like Cullerin Range and Gunning, to try and decide whether they ‘worked’ in the landscape. No one is suggesting that wind farms are without impact. The main issue for many people is concern about visual impacts, and turbines are certainly huge ‘industrial’ constructions. From working in the realm of wind energy for a year or so, I feel that the health concerns, fears about fire risk and property values are greatly over stated by the Antis. But on some levels I do understand the visual issue. But as many people noted in the Senate Inquiry into wind farms, and elsewhere, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Most of the farms I have visited – including in this part of NSW – ‘work’ for me, both up close and in the broader landscape. This is, like all the places where turbines should be put, a heavily modified land, largely used for mixed farming. There is lots of remnant bush and grassland. The secret to good and well supported wind development here will be based on careful management of these remnant ecosystems. My initial reaction from visiting the ‘info shop’ for the Windlab / Suzlon project planned between Boorowa and Rugby is that care is being paid to these issues and possible impacts on animals like the wedge tailed eagle.
I also heard about the changing nature of the towns, with the arrival of Sydney and Canberra people who are buying houses for holiday homes, commuting or retirement. A number of locals felt that the influx of newer people could push sentiment against wind because retirees (according to some people) are ‘worried about property value and views’ and hence could be amenable to an anti-wind message. At the same time, others noted that arrivals of new people to the region was bringing a comfortable approach to wind energy and an understanding that we need to take action to reduce our greenhouse emissions.
Of course, the prospect of wind energy is often emotionally charged and difficult. The ideological Antis, those who are completely one-eyed in their opposition to wind energy, have had a good run in the media. Other people, who have not swallowed the whole ‘flat earth’ ideology of the organised Anti movement, clearly have concerns about health or property or visual impact. I had hoped to be able to hear some of the ‘other side of the story’ on my brief trip. And that is what I heard, loud and clear. Many people, many who identify as being part of the silent majority, support the continued development of the wind industry in their region.
This message is not as media friendly as conflict, fear and negativity. Lets hope some of the good news story does get out there.
DAY 2. Reportback, YASS – BOOROWA – CROOKWELL, 20 July
Julia opens a wind farm. Farmers talk sense
What a day! Have been travelling a big circle from Yass to Gunning to Boorowa, on through Rugby and Crookwell.
This is such beautiful country. Driving the road east from Boorowa, late afternoon, the sun sinking behind the hills and long shadows running across the golden brown grass, a huge wedgetail eagle floated just overhead. Good country to come back to when I have a bit more time.
Conversations started in Gunning, then it was on to the launch of the Acciona wind farm up towards Gurrundah. Surprise guest was Julia Gillard (“this project demonstrates what you can achieve when you have the courage to embrace the future”). The launch was held right under a turbine, but what was noticeable was that the generator that was running the PA system was louder than the blades turning over head.
This 31-turbine development will have the capacity to power almost 24,000 homes and save more than 160,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year. According to Acciona, that is the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the roads.
This quote comes from the Canberra Times coverage of the launch:
Farmer Alan McCormack, whose property hosts the ACCIONA development, said it was a way of drought-proofing without causing the ”enormous amount of angst and divide” experienced with similar developments.
”All the farmers in the area were in favour because it’s a good site,” he said.
”It’s not interfering with anybody. This is an 8000 acre property, the neighbours are a long way away.”
Mr McCormack also dismissed health concerns explored in a recent Senate inquiry, saying that illnesses allegedly caused by proximity to wind farms was ”a bit self-induced”.
”If you’ve got something you don’t like and you worry about it enough, then it will affect you,” he said.
”It will become a bit of a burr in the saddle type thing where it’s always annoying you. ”
I had lots of good conversations before heading on to meet interested locals elsewhere.
As with the visit at Yass, consistent themes kept emerging, especially a desire to see opportunity and employment come to the area.
A number of people spoke about the changing fortunes of farming communities. One comment was that, with a long drought, and drop in the price of fine wool, wind farming was a perfect addition to land management in the region. ‘Hilly marginal country – suitable for wool – is also perfect for turbines. And they can both co-exist. The valley bottoms, where soil tends to be better and you can introduce cattle, will not be impacted by the wind industry. This injects funds exactly where it is needed.’
One farmer had this to say:
‘I am one of the land-owners participating in the Windlab/Suzlon development at Rugby. I am 65 years of age and forced to work harder & longer than I have had to at any stage before in my life. It’s a bit of a “ catch 22 “ situation – working my butt off and as a result not being able to enjoy what I’m working for.
‘In some ways it is the reverse of the usual country syndrome – that is young people being forced to make their futures in larger centres because of income opportunities & an old guy like me not being able to move to the bush for the same reasons.
‘One of the reasons for my problems is that I have lost all of my stock over the last couple of years because of drought & perimeter fencing issues, and probably theft is an issue. Now that conditions are good, I can’t afford to replace my stock because of the current high prices, and in any case, it would be pointless to do so until I spend significant sums addressing the fencing problems, and being able to be on site permanently.
‘Receiving rental income from hosting wind turbines would benefit me greatly in terms of helping to service debt on the property, and the community would benefit greatly as well because a significant proportion of the rental income would be spent in the area with fencing contractors & rural suppliers, stock agents, shearing contractors & other business owners in the district. I am sure my situation is not unique and having a strong, viable farming community will contribute significantly to the financial security of the district. I believe the term for this is “ micro-economics “ and it is a situation that can be replicated right across Australia’.
I met local business owners who argued that wind can bring regular and reliable income to towns where even a few new jobs – and the spending that comes with that – can make a big difference.
There was considerable frustration at the landscape guardians, who ‘tend to bang on endlessly about the same thing’ in the local paper. Various people said they felt that the anti-wind movement was ‘the same people’ endlessly driving around to meetings and was no longer attracting new people. ‘These people use multiple arguments but at heart many of them simply don’t like turbines. But they hide behind all the ‘fears’ – health, fire, etc. But to argue against them on visual grounds alone would sound bad, so they latch onto other issues.’ ‘Some people feel aggrieved by change and feel powerless because the wind developments come from outside the community. But they are missing the opportunity that can come with them’. ‘If we miss this wind development, we will live to regret it’.
Most people said they needed to be careful with what they said, and were cautious about being seen publically as a wind supporter. Yet many of these same people stressed that the majority support wind, often putting the ‘hard core’ opposition at between 5 and 10%.
There is so much more to say but I will just add one more observation from today. People spoke about how hard it is to maintain public infrastructure, and how beneficial income to Local Councils from wind projects would be.
An inspiring day. Back on the road tomorrow, another report then.
DAY 1. Report back from YASS, 19 July
Once we decided that it could be useful to travel through the Yass – Boorowa region to try and find the positive side of the wind energy story, we started to get various people approach us who were keen to talk.
The negative side of the story has had a good run in the media. We wanted to see what the diversity of opinion was, and to try and provide an outlet for people who do want to support renewable energy development in the region.
We realised 2 and a half days was just not long enough, so trimmed Yass and Goulburn from the schedule.
However, after a radio interview earlier in the week, I started to get calls from people in the Yass area. One guy (a farmer I think) simply rang to say ‘good on you’ and ‘give the crazies some stick’. With two other people we were not able to organise a meeting time that worked on the one night we had available.
Amongst the 5 people I was able to catch up with, the main message I got was that they were non-plussed by the level of angst over wind energy that they are reading in the media. Two people from Yass, who said they were ‘light green’ said they just ‘didn’t get what the problem is, this technology has been around for years’. When asked about the general local feeling towards wind energy, they said ‘what you read in the paper is not what you hear in the newsagent’. Another person said that ‘it made sense’ to generate green energy in the region given the proximity of Canberra. She asked what the issue was with health concerns: having been at the recent public meeting where the issue was raised, she said the story that was given about health risks was ‘scarey, but didn’t feel right. I could tell there was another side to all this’. These people all felt wind energy would provide local job opportunities.
I also meet a farmer who had recently retired to town. His drinking buddies are against wind energy. But he feels they don’t really know why. He went to the recent public meeting but said it was ‘the most one-eyed ranting’ he had heard for some time.
When he mentioned to his friends that he was catching up with us, they warned him ‘that lot are paid off by the wind companies’, to which his response was ‘how do you know?’ ’We heard that at the meeting’ (I said that I had heard there was a placard saying as much at the public meeting). His response to me: ‘I don’t believe every whacko with a texta and a piece of paper.’
He said if the wind companies were paying me, they should get me a better car (gee, thanks).
I will leave you with some wisdom from my new friend:
‘Farmers are endlessly inventive. Look at how they are always looking for a new edge which will make things more viable. We are mostly surviving year to year. We need to experiment. I have seen people go under by trying crazy things. But wind farms are a sure bet: regular income for years, drought or no drought, rain or no rain. I have been to the farm down near Canberra and it was fine. Some people say it wrecks the landscape. But look around: this isn’t wilderness, this is working country. My dad spent most of his life clearing trees. I spent the second half of my life planting trees. Times change. Look at all those phone towers on every hill along the Hume (Freeway). Do you hear the Anti wind mob complain about that? No. But they have some bee in their bonnet about a few turbines. We should just get on with it’.
Hopefully I will have another report tomorrow.
Molly Harriss Olson and Phillip Toyne
“Wind energy is a thing of wonder. It generates electricity day and night from free, natural, clean resources.
This is good for land owners – they can continue to farm while reaping a substantial economic benefit. When you see all the disruption that comes with coal mining and coal seam gas (CSG) operations, you can see that this energy source makes sense.”
“Wind farms are the energy source for the future – a great, clean way to power life.
There is no cleaner or more elegant solution for our energy future”.
I thought I would add this submission by Charlie Prell to the recent Inquiry into the Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind Farms, because it is such a well considered assessment of the many issues facing farmers in the current climate.
I am a family farmer near Crookwell, … and have been involved in this debate from the beginning. I live next to the Crookwell 1 windfarm, and have been working for the past ten years to build a windfarm on my property. This new windfarm is known as Crookwell 2, and was probably the first windfarm to be embroiled in the controversy that currently exists.
While I have very serious concerns about climate change and most particularly the impact it may have on agricultural land, my primary motivation for building a windfarm is to drought proof my property. If I can establish a passive income stream that is not dependant on rainfall, then I am in a position to run an economically and therefore an environmentally sustainable farm. I also am establishing a viable superannuation scheme for my wife and myself, which will allow the farm to be passed on to future generations, either my children or a purchaser, intact as a long-term sustainable farming operation. I believe farming as a stand-alone business in Australia is currently economically and therefore environmentally unsustainable in the long term.
Farmers everywhere are looking for off-farm income to “subsidise” their farming business. It seems farmers are not going to be paid to sustain their land in the near future, so I see the offer from windfarm developers for a long-term secure lease payment as a way to achieve this diversification of my income stream.
You may see this as selfish and a devil-may-care attitude, but I have empathy with all my neighbours and the local community, and the vast majority of them have the same empathy with me. I would also point out to you that, like most family farmers, the vast majority of my spending is in the local community. The only real exception to this is the interest payments I make to the multi-national banking industry, which are considerable and have been rising over the last few years, due mainly to the extended dry period we have experienced. This flow-on effect of windfarm lease payments into the local economy has not been mentioned by any of the anti-windfarm lobbyists.
I have been actively involved with the Upper Lachlan Shire Council, being a sitting Councillor for the first four years of its existence. I wasn’t re-elected at the last council elections. As a Councillor I was intimately involved in the preparation of our new Local Environmental Plan. Through this process it became abundantly apparent that this area’s capacity for food/fibre production was strategically critical to the NSW State Government’s vision for its future. If the NSW Government is serious about this vision then it needs to acknowledge the long-term sustainability of the current farming systems is critically endangered and not economically or environmentally sustainable. With the synergies of traditional farming, particularly grazing systems (food/fibre production) and windfarms there is a natural and compelling reason to support the development of windfarms in agricultural areas. I’m sure you are all aware of the forecasts of a critical shortage of food production in the near future. Anything this country can do to assist our food production systems should be considered with this scenario in mind. In light of this, any discussion about rezoning land with wind turbines on it as industrial land should be dismissed out of hand. Such rezoning would nearly certainly make it unviable for agriculture due to the massive increase in local council rates that would result.
While I dismiss most of the arguments presented by the anti-windfarm lobbyists as pure scare-mongering, I believe there is a better way to manage windfarm developments in this relatively sparsely populated area. I presented a proposal to the Upper Lachlan Shire Council only recently that I believe would solve most of the problems the windfarm issue has created in this and any other area. Very briefly, my proposition is that windfarm lease payments should be shared differentially amongst people affected by a development and not only paid to the hosts of the turbines. Because windfarms actually do work, and are commercially attractive businesses, there is scope for these extra payments to be achieved. Unfortunately the Council didn’t see the merit in my proposal and it may not proceed any further. For your information I will attach a copy of the presentation I made to Council to this submission.
I believe the vast majority of representations made to you, and to the general community, by the anti-windfarm lobby groups are without foundation. They are mostly backed up by information obtained from the Internet, substantially based on outdated information and on submissions/studies from overseas that have little or no relevance to this issue in Australia. The only points made by these groups that have any relevance to the debate in this country are the issue of possible devaluation of property values adjacent to windfarm developments (which is totally unsubstantiated), and the visual aspect of wind turbines (which is totally subjective).
As you deliberate the representations to this committee, there are number of other issues I suggest are important: –
· In conjunction with the last local council elections an overwhelmingly significant 70% of the ratepayers of the Upper Lachlan Shire responded to a referendum on further windfarm developments in this Shire in the affirmative. This was despite massive negative campaigns from the anti-windfarm lobby and the lodgment of the Development Application for the Gullen Range Windfarm shortly before the election. This 70% is the silent majority who generally don’t make submissions to enquiries such as this, but I believe agree with most of the points I have made to you today.
· There has been some discussion in the community on the 2 kilometre setback distance for wind turbines in the Upper Lachlan Shire Council Development Control Plan (DCP). You need to be aware that this 2 kilometre setback distance is based on visual aspects alone. I don’t believe there is any scientific justification for this exclusion zone, and it would not stand up to a serious challenge in any legal forum. There is a range of set-back distances applied in other jurisdictions that could be obtained by this committee as it deliberates on this matter. Other issues, such as noise, are addressed in further clauses in the DCP.
· The contentious issue of safety lighting on the turbines needs to be addressed by this committee. There needs to be some justification of them being installed under CASA recommendations.
what people said about wind companies and the wind industry
There was a strong desire to see opportunities for local apprenticeships in towns like Boorowa.
There was one company in particular that got a bad rap for ‘lying’ to land owners. There was a strong ‘one bad apple can ruin it for everyone else’ message.
‘There need to be minimum standards for contracts with wind companies. Dont’ sign anything without getting advice from a lawyer’
‘I support wind income being also spread to nearby land owners that don’t have turbines’
Random quotes from my meetings:
‘the only danger from wind farms is that they produce electricity’
‘do a plebiscite of the young people in the town and let them decide what should happen to future wind development. They will be the ones living with the future we create now’
‘There is already a shortage of water up this way – we need energy sources that don’t add to this burden’
‘I believe that most farmers support wind energy. Most of the opposition comes from the towns’
‘all our social services are suffering – income from turbines to Council will really help us’
‘one of the great benefits of wind energy is that it builds a decentralised energy system. At present we have a few centres of energy production – mostly coal and some hydro – and this power is then sent long distances via the grid. We lose a lot of the electricity that has been produced in this process’