For millions of years, Cape Bridgewater was among the wildest peninsulas in Australia, torn by gales and assaulted by the Southern Ocean.
In the last few weeks, its nature has changed utterly.
The quest for renewable, carbon-free energy has redrawn its ancient silhouette.
Soon all the headlands around Portland, in far western Victoria, will be transformed by crops of giant wind turbines, each taller than the light towers at the MCG, as we seize the power of the wind.
As the Garnaut draft report demands greater commitment to renewable energy and the Federal Government commits to making massive cuts in the emission of greenhouse gases, communities will become accustomed to new skylines.
The most obvious adjustment will be to the so-called wind farms. Many hundreds of windmills are built or planned in Victoria.
Among the most confronting are the new towers sprouting at Cape Bridgewater, an ancient limestone bridge between the mainland and a volcanic upthrust that constitutes Victoria’s tallest ocean headland.
The cape includes a “petrified forest” – the remains of trees calcified by time, wild sea-lashed cliffs called The Blowholes, and a bay beach considered one of the most picturesque in the nation.
All have been dwarfed by windmills as high as 33-storey buildings, 109 metres from the base to the tip of their blades.
They were approved several years ago by former planning minister Mary Delahunty, despite the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s 1998 finding that the environmental benefits could not justify sacrificing the cape’s landscape.
The Portland Wind Energy Project is Australia’s biggest wind-harvesting scheme: 144 towers will harness the gales that sweep in from the Southern Ocean. Thirty-five towers have stood for several years between Yambuk and Codrington, west of Port Fairy; 29 have soared during the past two months above the Cape Bridgewater promontory; and another 22 are under construction directly across the bay from Bridgewater on Cape Nelson.
A further 22 are on the drawing board for Cape Nelson north, and another 36 are planned for the next peninsula to the east, Cape Grant, where the massively energy-intensive Alcoa aluminium smelter dominates the skyline.
Most residents of the Portland region supported the $335 million wind project, said Emily Wood, the communications manager of the company building the Portland wind enterprise, Pacific Hydro.
More than 300 people had been employed, the towers were built at the Keppel Prince Engineering factory at Portland and all subcontractors were local, Ms Wood said.
But the Bridgewater Bay community is less impressed.
“It’s destroyed the area,” said Joe Austin, who runs Seals by Sea Tours, a boat charter business. “It’s split the community. I’m no longer able to gain access to my boat shed through a neighbour’s property because I objected to towers on his land. I can only get to the shed now by boat.”
Some land owners have made good money from the project; Pacific Hydro pays between $5000 and $8000 a year to lease each tower site.
Cathy Ezard, who owns the Seal Cove Guest House above Bridgewater Bay, has put her business on the market. “Some people who come here are just astounded that these things were allowed, but others don’t see it as an issue at all.”
5 July 2008