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Brolgas earn reprieve as wind project delayed

Opponents of a proposed $350 million wind farm in the Mortlake-Darlington district have won a partial victory by delaying almost half the project to protect brolga breeding areas.

Planning Minister Justin Madden has followed the advice of an independent panel and approved a permit for only the 51-turbine Mortlake South portion.

His ruling means that renewable energy company Acciona will have to undertake further expert assessments before applying again for its Mortlake East section where 46 turbines were proposed.

“Given the local brolga population and the impact the original application would have on birdlife in the region it was not appropriate to approve the entire wind farm of 97 turbines,” Mr Madden said.

“The panel considered the Mortlake East cluster should not proceed until such time as the potential impact of the project on the Victorian brolga population had been further assessed.”

His announcement was cautiously welcomed by Kolora’s Susan Dennis who has been campaigning for almost two decades to protect brolgas.

“For God’s sake leave the birds alone and build the wind farms elsewhere,” she told The Standard yesterday.

“This is one of the most important breeding areas in Victoria.

“There are only about 650 in Victoria and the south-west has 450 of them.

“Last year 12 chicks were raised in Victoria of which six were in the vicinity of Darlington where the turbines were proposed.”

“Many more wind farms are coming stretching from Melbourne to the South Australian border.”

The panel’s report considered evidence from the company’s consultants, residents and environmentalists on the effects of wind farms on flora and fauna and human health.

It said the most effective way of mitigating potential harm to brolgas would be by “ensuring appropriate separation distances between turbines and the areas being used or likely to be used in the future for brolga breeding or flocking”.

The panel also called for more evidence on the impact on Latham’s snipe birds in the area.

It noted deep division in the local rural population over the project and called for a review of the assessment process to establish clear paramaters for determining effects of wind farms on communities and landscape.

The vexed issue of determining how wind blade noise affects health was also addressed by a recommendation calling for new 2010 standard to be adopted urgently.

Recent south-west applications have used older standards.

Comment was not available from Acciona yesterday.