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Wind farm consultation under fire

The Mayor of the Harden Shire has criticised the handling of a second wind farm development proposed for the shire.

Energy company Epuron developed plans for the proposed 180-turbine Copabella wind farm near Jugiong.

It has now lodged plans with the New South Wales Government for an 80-turbine wind farm south-east of Jugiong.

A letter from the Department of Planning, dated July 29, arrived at Harden council nearly one month later, asking for input on the second wind farm.

Council staff say even if the letter had arrived promptly, there was not enough time to properly consult councillors and the community.

Harden’s Mayor Chris Manchester is frustrated.

“They are fast tracking a lot of this major development,” he said.

“It’s taken out of the hands of local government and we have no say or no control over what does happen, they are rushing through.”

Harden council has told the Planning Department the area of the proposed wind farm is steep, inaccessible in wet weather, bushfire prone and susceptible to soil erosion.

Councillor Manchester says locals are apprehensive.

“It’s a major concern. The Copabella one, there was very little consultation of the community. It just happened and the next minute it’s on sold to Origin Energy,” he said.

Origin Energy says it is currently responding to public submissions about the Copabella wind farm and once that is done a development application will be lodged with the State Government.

Cr Manchester says the new development would significantly impact on Jugiong and Bookham.

He says the State Government has not done enough community consultation.

“It’s creating problems within the local community, with the local landholders because they’re unsure where it’s going and what’s happening and what they’re going to get out of it, if anything,” he said.

“What’s going to happen with the local community?

“Everyone’s left up in the air except probably our Planning Minister who is maybe the only person who knows what’s going on, but certainly the local community doesn’t.”

Opportunities

The Planning Department rejects the claim there has been a lack of community consultation, saving it is creating even more opportunities for councils and the public to respond.

Department spokesman Mark Skelsey says the wind farm owners are accountable at every step.

“People are not just making decisions but proponents have to respond to those issues raised in submissions,” he said.

“With the Birrema wind farm, which is earlier in the planning process, we’re actually making the proponent even respond to the council views before it even puts the plans on public exhibition.”

Mr Skelsey says any major concerns about the wind farm will be assessed by the department and it will make changes if necessary.

He says there are plenty of opportunities for the council and the public to have input but the final decision rests with the State Government.

“It’s got to be kept in mind that both these wind farms actually span two local government areas and that I think increases the case for them being reasonably significant proposals and that’s why the NSW Government sees itself as the assessing authority,” he said.