Wind farm debate revs up
THE colossal turbine blades at eight wind farms are currently rotating across Victoria, creating enough power for about 200,000 homes.
Although more will be finished by the end of 2012, the issue continues to place a deep rift between communities.
Harnessing wind offers a valuable renewable energy source, but noise, health and aesthetic complaints over turbines are still surfacing.
Will a solution to the debate ever be reached?
At Ballarat – near what is one of the biggest wind farm in Australia at Waubra – Andrew Bray has been helping to organise the official launch of the Victorian Wind Alliance.
It’s a new organisation that supports wind farming and he is one of the eight committee members across the State.
This week the alliance put out a call to Victorians who support the energy source to use town meetings and social media to make their voices heard.
“We welcome community members, farmers and businesses to come on board,” he said.
“I suppose this alliance has been born largely out of the frustration there are a lot of people out there who support wind farms, but that’s not coming across in public debate.”
Mr Bray said wind farms were a great way of generating clean, safe energy, a point he says can sometimes be overlooked in the contentious debate.
“The Federal Government has set a national renewable target of 20 per cent by 2020,” he said.
“And wind allows us to cut emissions and move closer to this goal, away from coal power.”
Nearby at the 128-turbine Waubra wind farm, he says the benefits have been far-reaching.
“The wind farm has bolstered a lot of businesses,” he said. “It’s had and continues to have an economic benefit to the community.”
The farm was completed in 2009, but when it was under construction Mr Bray said it created 200 full-time jobs that were mostly awarded to local people.
Some positions were on-going, he said.
Mr Bray doesn’t dismiss some residents’ concerns over noise levels, but says many have no qualms about the turbines.
But last year the Victorian Government introduced new exclusion zones detailing where wind farm could be built.
Now, they cannot be built within 2km from any homes or 5km from townships. It was revealed earlier this year that no new wind farms had been built since the planning laws came into effect.
Mr Bray admits he is feeling exasperated by the exclusion zones, and adds they are biased against wind farms.
“Coal and gas stations do not face the same limitations,” he said.
He says South Australia have also embraced wind energy, with 25pc of their power generated from turbines.
“Victoria has nowhere near that same amount of energy coming from wind and it’s disappointing,” he said.
However, he remained optimistic about the prospects of the wind farming industry – and adds there was a “groundswell” of support for the energy source.
In particular, Mr Bray said the first community-owned farm at Hepburn – which began operating last year – was an example of how wind farms should run in the future. It features two turbines that generate enough power for 2300 homes, more than the number of houses at the nearby town of Daylesford. The farm is owned by 1900 members (mostly local people) who own shares in the enterprise, which was established as a way of addressing climate change.
“This is a fantastic initiative,” My Bray said. “The Castlemaine community want to follow in Hepburn’s footsteps, but they can’t because of the exclusion zones, which is a sad situation.”
Mr Bray is hoping the newly-formed Victorian Wind Alliance will help to provide a voice for those in support of wind energy.
But the debate continues, dividing communities everywhere.
In Waubra, a festival was held recently in support the local farm and what it’s achieved in the region.
On the other hand it cannot be overlooked some residents were forced to leave the area, complaining of vibration and noises that literally drove them off their properties.
In south-west Victoria at Mortlake, Hereford breeders Peter Allen and his wife Lisa remain worried a parallel situation might arise.
Acciona Energy plan to build 51 turbines in their local region.
In the beginning, Mr Allen considered the company’s proposal to build towers on his property at $5000 each.
“But the more I learn about wind farms, the more I come to realise we need to know more their impact,” he said.
“They are not just dividing communities, but friends and families too.”
Mr Allen said wind farms were not “clean energy” and produced huge amounts of carbon just in construction, while roads were damaged in the process too.
He is concerned about the level of noise the turbines will create in his quiet community and also believes the farm will render his property’s airstrip useless.
It’s a saga that he says has been dragged out over four years.
“This is going to affect our health and livelihood – and that of our neighbouring farmers too,” he said.
Mr Allen believes there were other ways of harnessing wind – and perhaps other places to position turbines too.
“The wind companies have been too eager in putting them in highly populated areas like Mortlake South, where there are too many houses and too many farms,” he said.
“They need to be managed correctly. This shouldn’t be dumped on our backdoor.”