A proposed wind farm has divided the Great Southern community of Kojonup.
On November 23, 2011, the Kojonup shire council unanimously approved stage one of the $400 million Flat Rocks Wind Farm to be built by developer Moonies Hill Energy.
The first stage will see 30 turbines and an electrical sub-station built in the Kojonup shire.
The project was first floated in 2009 but was met with widespread opposition from farmers in the region who were concerned about the potential health effects.
But according to local farmer and Flat Rocks opponent Roger Bilney the situation had significantly worsened in recent weeks, pitting life-long friends, families and neighbours against one another.
He believed modern wind farm technology had out-paced local planning capacity which had started to destroy the fabric of the small farming community.
Mr Bilney’s is one of 28 neighbouring properties of the proposed Flat Rocks Wind Farm.
He said the 28 farms consisted of about 400 individual locations within five kilometres of the intended project.
But he stressed the widespread opposition to the Moonies Hill Energy project, whose three company directors and handful of shareholders were Kojonup and Tambellup farmers with the intention of hosting turbines on their own properties, wasn’t a personal attack.
He said the Kojonup shire’s inadequate planning laws and its inability to exercise its duty of care when approving the early stages of the wind farm project were to blame for the social split.
“The Merredin and Dandaragan shires have dealt with the same issue very well in recent years and demonstrated that their duty of care is paramount by consulting with neighbours of wind farms,” Mr Bilney said.
“All that we’re asking is that the shire stop racing ahead with the project and see that the technology and planning line up.
“But for now the Moonies Hill project is going ahead without proper neighbour consultation and planning and that’s not acceptable in a farming community.
“Life-long friendships have been destroyed and neighbours who have farmed alongside each other for generations are no longer on speaking terms which has happened because the planning laws have let it.”
Mr Bilney said about half of the 74 intended Flat Rocks turbines were set to be erected on neighbouring boundary lines with little, or in some cases, no consultation from Moonies Hill Energy regarding noise, turbine safety, health concerns, de-commissioning strategies, fire insurance or property values.
But Moonies Hill Energy director Sarah Rankin disagreed and said contrary to belief the Flat Rocks project hadn’t been met with widespread opposition and there had in fact been a wide range of community consultation.
Ms Rankin said the company began meeting with project neighbours as early as 2008 when planning approval was needed for site monitoring purposes in the same year.
“Being a local company everybody knew what was going on and people knew me but some of the problem is they just don’t want to be consulted,” Ms Rankin said.
She pointed to a number of open days which she described as being well attended and an extensive range of project information available online.
Ms Rankin also said the Flat Rocks project would provide a large number of benefits to the Kojonup community including renewed income and opportunity provided by a new industry at a time when agriculture wasn’t as prosperous as it once was.
“WA has the toughest wind farm planning rules in Australia and there have been no reported health issues in WA,” she said.
“It’s the hardest place in the world to build a wind farm and looking at the anecdotal evidence over the last 25 years it seems to be the most successful.”
Ms Rankin said change was frightening for some people and it had come down to an ‘us’ and ‘them’ type battle within the community.
She also said it was important to note that Moonies Hill Energy was always open to consultation and the Kojonup shire had done nothing wrong in following the rules of the WA Planning Commission in approving the project’s first stage.
Kojonup shire chief executive officer Stephen Gash staunchly defended the Kojonup shire council’s decision to approve the wind farm despite the fact council member Michael Baulch is a director of Moonies Hill Energy.
He said extensive consultation was under taken and the shire need not defend itself because it followed planning regulations to a tee.
When asked whether the council had the ability to hold-up the approval process until all stakeholders were satisfied with the project’s conditions he said it would have been a near impossible feat.
“The approval process wasn’t taken lightly and it didn’t happen overnight,” he said.
“As I explained at the special meeting held by council when the first stage was approved last year, the council has operated within the according statutory environment and guidelines under which it assessed the wind farm application.
“That includes consultation with relevant planning and health research agencies and the incorporation of relevant Senate Committee recommendations.”
The Kojonup Wind Farm Stakeholders Group was also established by the group of concerned residents to help flag a number of concerns.
“Other than the lack of evidence to suggest turbines don’t and won’t cause health problems, they are also incompatible with rural pursuits for a number of other reasons,” a Kojonup Wind Farm Stakeholders Group spokesperson said.
“Turbines in this region would interfere with neighbouring aerial spraying and firefighting activities.
“It’s also quite possible reductions in land values in the area will occur subsequent to the building of a wind farm.
“Previous anecdotal evidence shows landowners immediately adjacent to wind farms suffer the greatest reduction in land values with the impact being reduced the further your property is from the wind farm turbines.
“It should be noted that if you are able to demonstrate financial loss caused by the wind farm you may be able to claim compensation for injurious affection following shire approval.”
p Visit www.mhenergy.com.au or www.kojonupwindfarmstakeholders.c om for more information.