A landmark decision to allow a controversial wind farm at Taralga could mean a proliferation of wind farms in NSW, with at least 18 under development and a further 15 being mooted, say wind energy groups. So far, NSW has only two large wind farms.
The Taralga judgement, handed down on Monday in the NSW Land and Environment Court, upheld a decision by the Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, to approve the $185 million wind farm, despite concerns from residents about wildlife, noise and visual pollution.
The company that will build it, RES Southern Cross, has restarted investment in at least six more NSW sites along the Great Dividing Range.
“It’s been very difficult to justify investing in those sites because of the uncertainty with Taralga,” said the company’s commercial director, Colin Liebmann, said yesterday.
“It is absolutely true that a decision like this creates a precedent, it makes a big difference. [Our projects] will happen sooner. We are able to go back to our shareholders and ask them to commit the funds.”
Mr Liebmann said the Taralga judgement clarified many issues for the planning development, which would make it easier for projects to be assessed. “It means they can make their decisions quicker, process the developments more rapidly, I would hope.”
Taurus Energy, which has at least three NSW wind farms at various stages of development, expects the Planning Minister to assess its application to build a 15-turbine farm at Cullerin Range in the Southern Tablelands soon.
“It’s going toward Sartor on the next couple of days,” said its executive director, Martin Poole, adding that the company was now investing in a further nine NSW wind farms.
But the Australian Wind Energy Association’s chief executive, Dominique La Fontaine, was cautious. “You can’t presume that because of this particular finding that suddenly there will be wind farms everywhere,” she said, adding that state and federal renewable energy targets were a more important factor driving the wind energy industry.
The Taralga Landscape Guardians, who took the case to the Land and Environment Court, said other rural communities should expect wind farms in their backyard any day now.
“We believe that is was the worst sited wind farm of all the proposals put forward in the last couple of years. If this was can go ahead, not just through the Department of Planning but also through the courts, then everything is fair game,” said the Guardians secretary, Martha Grahame.
Pacific Hydro, which is looking to build a 50-turbine farm at Rock Flat Creek, said such comments were “scare-mongering”.
“These objector groups try to make out there’s this goldrush mentality and we’re running round trying to get all the land we can, but more often than not it’s farmers coming to us looking for ways to make their land more profitable,” said a spokesman, Andrew Richards.
Mr Sartor said all development applications would be assessed on their merits, and that the Taralga decision would not speed up the assessment process.
Urban Affairs Reporter
The Sydney Morning Herald
15 February 2007