Wind farm proposals are popping up like mushrooms all over the NSW tablelands and beyond, pitching many communities into turmoil and splitting them between supporters and opponents.
For every farmer willing to host wind turbines on his property and reap the financial rewards there appears to be another fearful of the impact on property values, the environment, the visual outlook and even their health.
The NSW Government has approved 12 wind farms, not counting a handful previously approved by local government, and another 18 applications are under consideration.
And since first drafting this story another one has appeared on the NSW Department of Planning website, for 330 turbines proposed by Uungula Wind Farm Pty Ltd 20 kilometres east of Wellington.
If all applications go ahead more than 3300 giant turbines up to 150 metres high (to the top of a vertical blade) will be scattered along the ranges from Cooma to Glen Innes and further inland.
The largest proposal is for a staggering 598 turbines (in two stages) along the ranges on Western Division leasehold land around Silverton, west of Broken Hill.
Second to that is 550 turbines for a Liverpool Ranges proposal, followed by Uungula, then by 195 turbines near Yass and 178 for the proposed Sapphire wind farm near Glen Innes.
The main driver of the wind farm spree is the NSW Government’s target of achieving 20 per cent use of renewable energy by 2020, combined with more streamlined assessment of wind farm applications.
Wind farm developers have leapt on board and farmers in many communities are suddenly finding themselves facing the prospect of dozens of turbines on ridge lines near them, usually the result of agreements with co-operating landholders that require the farmer not to divulge the agreement to neighbours.
The situation has spawned a number of local “landscape guardian” groups dedicated to opposing wind farms.
However, supporters of wind farms say these people represent just a vocal minority.
Parallel with all this a debate is raging about claimed health impacts on people living close to turbines.
Apart from audible noise, there is a body of international medical opinion that infrasound – sound generated by the turbines at a pitch below the level of human hearing – is negatively affecting the health of nearby residents.
The so-called “wind farm syndrome”, a term coined by US pediatrician, Dr Nina Pierpont, includes symptoms such as elevated blood pressure, insomnia, headaches, tinnitus, vertigo and nausea.
But its existence is not universally accepted and critics suggest the reported impacts are psychological rather than physiological, and more likely among people predisposed to be anti-wind farms.
Notably not all opponents of particular wind farm developments disagree with the need for renewable energy alternatives to greenhouse gas-producing sources such as coal.
Their problem is mainly with the proximity of proposed turbines to their homes.
Charlie Arnott who runs a 2000-hectare biodynamic beef operation on “Hanaminno” near Boorowa is worried at the impact the proposed Suzlon Energy wind farm for 90 turbines, the nearest of which will be 1.3 kilometres from his house.
Mr Arnott, regarded locally as a “green” farmer, said he was not opposed to wind farms provided they were in appropriate areas, and his was not suitable.
Neighbour, Joe McGuiness, “Willowmere”, Boorowa, fears the presence of batteries of huge towers could mean access to aerial agriculture and aerial firefighting services will be severely limited.
He said aerial agriculture operators had already told him the wind farm area would be a “no-fly” zone with pilots avoiding going any closer than one kilometre to a tower.
The Aerial Agriculture Association of Australia’s wind farm policy states it opposes all windfarm developments in areas of agricultural production or elevated bushfire risk, but it leaves decisions about “no-fly” zones to individual operators.
Joe’s son, Sam, finds wind turbines “quite a majestic piece of equipment” but doesn’t want them too close to his house.
He suggested wind farms might be better placed away from settled areas in national parks (but that would create a whole new set of political problems for the government).
For about 13 land owners in the Crookwell district the issue has become intensely personal.
The developer of the proposed Gullen Range wind farm, Epuron Pty Ltd, in line with a Land and Environment Court decision last year, has offered to buy properties the court deemed likely to be adversely affected by any of the 73 turbines in the scheme.
The court gave Epuron the choice of reducing the number of turbines or buying affected properties, and the company chose the latter.
The court also specifically chose not to endorse a suggested two kilometre buffer zone between a wind tower and any residence on a non-host property.
For the farmers concerned it is tantamount to forced acquisition, according to spokesman for Friends of Crookwell and local grazier, Humphrey Price-Jones, who says many of those approached had no plans or desire to leave their properties.
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