There was a public meeting in the small town of Boorowa in my federal electorate of Hume a short while ago.
A good percentage of the population packed the ex-services club to hear first-hand about the rumours swirling through the community that this area was to be the site of a massive wind generation project.
There were audible gasps from the audience as it was revealed that the project was indeed real, that it would span some 35 kilometres and involve the construction of more than 100 turbines.
There were more gasps when it became apparent that the wind energy developer had actually been in negotiations with some of their neighbours for many months.
The meeting heard that the farmers who had been quietly persuaded to host the turbines would reap tens of thousands of dollars in rental a year.
They heard about pilots who wouldn’t fight fires or dust crops if they had to fly in the vicinity of the giant swirling blades.
They heard about possible health effects for those on neighbouring land ranging from heart palpitations to migraine headaches.
But this is not an argument against wind power. It is also not a criticism of farmers who have struggled through a decade of drought and see the way clear to make some alternative income.
There may indeed be areas where wind turbines can be built and where the impact is minimal. But there are many areas where they should not be constructed. As things stand though I truly fear our rural social capital – as fragile as our topsoils – is in places being chopped to pieces by turbine blades.
We need to start by calling a spade a spade. These turbines are not ‘farming’. That is Orwellian nonsense. This is industrial scale power production in green clothing. These are major commercial developments and should be considered in the same way as any major development.
A decade ago wind turbines were almost human in scale. But the turbines which some of the Boorowa farmers will have built near their homes (the closest will be just over a 1000 metres away) are truly gargantuan. If one of these turbines was standing on Sydney Harbour, its blades would be well clear of the top of the Harbour Bridge.
I warrant that should a neighbour decide to build a two storey extension overlooking the backyard of one of these Sydney bureaucrats there would be an immediate cry of “you can’t destroy my amenity and land value like that!”
And yet when a farming community raises concerns about mega turbines they are labelled ‘nimbys’ (not in my backyard).
Local decision making must be put back into prime place. At present it is hopelessly biased towards the developer. The state government boasts that large wind developments are considered ‘critical infrastructure’ and given the red carpet treatment with a guaranteed four month approval processes.
Communities are provided just 30 days to digest and provide comment before the Minister gives the project a tick. Better still the states should all revisit the National Wind Code which the Howard Government proposed in 2006 and which they rejected.
The code would have seen legislation eventually produced right around the country better protecting local community rights.
Wherever large wind generation projects arrive the plot is predictable. A wind company identifies an area with good wind resources and reasonably close to the national grid. They begin quiet negotiations with landowners.
In my view, these power companies preying on landholders who in most case have had no cash-flow as a result of nine years of heartbreaking drought. Well down the track others in the community find out.
Those who have done the deals face bitterness and anger. Those who missed out feel betrayed and angry. Sydney based bureaucrats need to understand the impact this has in small rural communities.
There is precious little interaction when you live on a property an hour or more from your rural centre – perhaps just at special events or football or cricket matches. Wind turbine money in my electorate has poisoned those relationships.
Families stop talking to each other. Animosity and bitterness run deep. Whole rural farming communities are fractured and it lasts for years. The NSW Industry Department’s website says that whilst planned or operating wind power installations in NSW will deliver 960 megawatts at present there is potential to grow that to 3000 megawatts (a 300 per cent increase)!
The implication of that for rural communities in Hume, and elsewhere, are truly frightening unless we give local communities far more say over whether or not they want wind turbines of this scale in their area.
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