More than 200 people filled the auditorium at the Yass Soldiers Club for a wind farm information meeting on Saturday that at times saw passions overflow.
The meeting was captured by a crew from the ABC program Four Corners, who are preparing a wind farm special to be screened in the near future.
Organiser Mike Inkster, a Yass resident and member of the Boorowa District Landscape Guardians, said at the beginning that he hoped for “mature, honest and open communication.
“The main outcome of today is to provide info so that people can make their own decisions about wind farms,” Mr Inkster said.
However, the tone of the meeting was set from the outset by a short film Mr Inkster screened showing the negative impacts of wind turbines.
The speakers included well-known Crookwell campaigner Humphrey Price-Jones, Dr Sarah Laurie from the Waubra Foundation, who has been coordinating research into the health effects of wind farms, Carl Stepnell, a Victorian farmer who says he and his family have been forced to leave his property in Waubra due to ill-effects from wind farms, Burrinjuck MP Katrina Hodgkinson and Hume MP Alby Schultz.
None of the speakers were supportive of wind farms. Mr Inkster defended this imbalance by saying he had invited representatives of three wind farm development companies (Wind Prospect, Wind Lab/Suzlon Energy and Epuron) to attend, but two had declined and one had not responded.
A representative from Suzlon, Dominique LaFontaine, contacted the Tribune on Friday to complain that they had been invited to attend but not to speak. Mr Inkster said if they had asked they could have had a speaking slot.
Mr Schultz continued his call for a moratorium on wind farms.
“I’m concerned about where they are sited, and the effect they can have on people’s livelihoods,” he told the Tribune.
“I am a voice for the people who feel they have been disenfranchised by these monoliths,” he added.
He publicly rebuked Ms Hodgkinson for the failure of the state government not to introduce retrospective legislation that would put a halt to wind farms that have applications in train but are not yet built.
“The issue is centred on turbines that have been approved by the previous state government but not built yet.”
Mr Schultz said Ms Hodgkinson came with a well-prepared speech, “but I speak from the heart”.
He accused her of attempting to pass blame to the federal government.
Ms Hodgkinson found herself on the back foot several times in an emotion-filled meeting that ran for over three hours.
“It is gross stupidity on the part of this new [state] government,” Mr Price-Jones said with feeling. “They are allowing turbines to still be built with small setbacks, creating a problem they will have to deal with in the future.”
Ms Hodgkinson said the problem was fundamentally being caused by the Renewable Energy Targets that had been set by the federal government.
“If the targets weren’t there, the push wouldn’t be on to build all these wind farms,” Ms Hodgkinson said.
She defended her government’s decision not to introduce retrospective legislation. “Contracts have been signed and it would undermine the credibility of the government to now go back and say that they aren’t valid,” Ms Hodgkinson said.
She added that all new applications, since the Coalition was elected, will be dealt with under a new set of guidelines.
“These new guidelines will be the most stringent in the country,” Ms Hodgkinson promised.
Mr Inkster said he was quite pleased with the turn out although he would have liked to have seen more people from Yass at the meeting.
“We had over 200 people but I understand that less than 30 per cent were from Yass. Whether they don’t know or don’t care, I’m not sure. Perhaps people in Yass don’t yet realise how much this can affect the town.”
Yass Valley Greens councillor Chris McKenzie-McHarg attended the meeting and was disappointed with the lack of divergent views.
“I was disappointed that climate change wasn’t mentioned at all. People need to look at the whole big picture.
“There are a lot of positives of wind farms – the big one is reducing carbon.”
Another Yass local, Bob O’Neill, was also disappointed with the meeting.
“I came here thinking that I was getting an honest debate. Instead it has been very anti. It has been a platform for local politicians to pursue their own agendas, and bickering in the process,” he said.
Yass Valley mayor Nic Carmody also attended the meeting.
“I’ve come to listen and learn,” Cr Carmody said. “Council don’t have a position.
“It’s an extremely divisive issue – driving a wedge between communities.”
Mr Inkster said he intended to organise further meetings, including one for host landholders only.
“It will be non-confronational,” he said.
“I am still willing to be convinced that wind farms are safe. But my major concern is the health of my family and the value of my land.”
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