The Supreme Court of South Australia will soon hear its first appeal against a proposed wind farm development.
The appeal follows a landmark judgment by the Environment, Resources and Development Court late last year in favour of AGL’s Hallett 3 project at Mt Bryan – a decision hailed by developers and condemned by anti-wind farm campaigners.
Four Mt Bryan residents, including William (Bill) Quinn, who has lived in the area for 54 years, have taken AGL and the Goyder Council to the ERD court over objections related to the potential noise created by the turbines and their visual impact.
“Initially I was all for it, but as the turbines keep coming closer to our houses, I can see them for what they are just green vote-catching devices, nothing more, nothing less,” Mr Quinn said.
In the Notice of Appeal to the Supreme Court, the appellants state the ERD Court “erred in law in its interpretation and application of the relevant provisions of the Development Plan … “.
An AGL spokesperson said the company would not comment on the appeal since the matter is before the courts.
The appeal could open the door for more community litigation in the higher courts.
Already, a second case by dairy farmer Richard Paltridge against Acciona’s project at Allendale East near Mt Gambier is ongoing in the ERD court.
Mr Paltridge has concerns related to the humming noise of the turbines and its possible long-term health impact, the flashing lights on turbine towers and obstruction of views.
Final submissions by both parties are due in February and a decision is likely in May.
Acciona also did not wish to comment on this story pending a decision by the ERD court.
In the meantime, opposition to the project is gaining momentum. Earlier this month, about 50 residents of Allendale East belonging to the Landowner and Concerned Residents Group signed a petition to protest against the “dangerous proximity” of the project and continue their fight to reopen community consultation.
Most of the state’s 33 per cent renewable energy by 2020 target is being driven by fast-tracked multi-million dollar wind farms in regional areas.
More wind power is generated here than any other Australian state or territory with 13 operational wind farms, and Premier Mike Rann has also foreshadowed changes to the Pastoral Act to open up 400,000sq km of Crown Land for solar and wind farms.
But concerned splinter groups are uniting to take on councils and big developers AGL, Origin, Acciona and others.
These groups say wind farms are getting too close to rural settlements in order to ensure easy access to electrical grids.
A statewide group to be formed this year will bring together communities opposed to wind farms in the Clare Valley (Waterloo), Mt Bryan (Hallet 3), Robertstown, Collaby Hill, Carmody’s Hill, Allendale East and Clements Gap, among others.
Dr Sarah Laurie, medical director of the Waubra Foundation which is studying the health effects of wind turbines on rural communities, says there will be more litigation.
Opposition to Origin Energy’s Collaby Hill wind farm near her residence set the course for her study into the after-effects of Victoria’s largest wind farm at Waubra.
“Because the process is unfair, and because the current guidelines are so inadequate, I can see many situations developing where the turbine developments go ahead, poorly sited, without due consideration of problems being identified worldwide,” Dr Laurie said.
“If the health and wellbeing of the community is not being preserved, there is something wrong with the system,” she added.
The National Health and Medical Research Council’s review of published scientific literature in 2010 and a report commissioned by the Clean Energy Council have found no evidence to show wind farms cause any pathological effects.
But the loud protests have attracted political attention.
Family First Party Senator Steve Fielding has asked the Senate to conduct an inquiry into the social and economic impacts of rural wind farms by April.
Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association executive officer Diana Laube has placed on record her protest against the Rann Government’s encouragement of these developments.
Some are worried about the economic impact of such projects on existing set-ups. The Clare and Gilbert Valley Council is talking to Planning SA about securing its wine-making and tourism potential under landscape protection provisions included in the draft Mid North Regional Land Use Framework.
However, the business case for wind farms is still strong, despite the increased threat of litigation and resultant project delays, says KPMG’s SA-based national renewables leader Mathew Herring.