AGL Energy’s decision to pull the plug on a $140 million wind farm in south Gippsland has ended years of uncertainty for the local community. Last week’s announcement was made minutes before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal was to hear their appeal. While residents of Dollar claimed victory, at significant financial and personal cost, Victorians have still been left in the dark. The project had been exempted, contrary to earlier promises, from an environmental effects statement and normal planning processes. It was referred to a special panel, which received more than 1500 submissions and completed its work in May 2005. By then the controversy had cost Labor a seat at the 2004 federal election.
Extraordinarily, the report of this publicly funded review has never been released, despite two Freedom of Information applications. That was what last week’s appeal was about. At a time when Premier John Brumby is vowing to meet the public’s need for “‘more information, more background, more knowledge” on matters of public policy, the Government is failing the test on wind farms. Despite assurances that the state will lift renewable power use from 4 per cent of generation – unchanged from five years ago – to 10 per cent by 2016 (in 2002 the promised date was 2010), AGL said the project was not financially viable “even considering the current and any future emissions-trading environment”. The Government has also pushed back its 1000-megawatt target for wind energy from 2006 to 2010.
Wind power is a problematic energy source, requiring constant back-up from conventional generation as fluctuating winds vary output by up to 70 per cent. It produces a third of installed capacity at best. The loss of the 79-megawatt Dollar wind farm adds to the challenge of offsetting the 100 megawatts needed for a desalination plant – that calls for a 300-megawatt wind farm. In addition to the wider inconsistencies of state policy on climate change, there are questions about wind farms’ reliability, cost, siting and commercial viability. The state is offering few answers, only vague assurances that all is well even as its targets recede into the future.
20 August 2007
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