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O’Farrell’s comments fan flames of wind farm debate

The NSW Premier’s comments outlining a personal opposition to wind farm development have sparked a state wide debate on renewable energy.

Barry O’Farrell told the Macquarie Network “As I’m told, no new (wind farm) applications have been lodged, we haven’t approved any applications and, if I had my way, we wouldn’t.”

When Local MP, Nationals Party member John Williams, was asked about Premier O’Farrell’s statement, he said it was probably in response to an opinion more widely held in the metropolitan areas of NSW.

“I think that the majority of the population in some of those highly developed coastal areas are starting to protest and when you’ve got the majority of the people saying that they don’t want a wind farm there, it becomes very difficult for a government to make a decision to support that application.”

Mr Williams maintains the Premier’s recent comments are not indicative of an anti-renewable energy stance from the coalition government.

“I think it’s more about the situation (of) where they want to locate these wind farms, more than anything.

“We certainly don’t have the same problem out west,” he said.

“People are encouraging the development of (The Silverton Wind Farm) and I’m sure that at some point in time, when they actually decide to proceed with this, it’ll have the support of the government because the majority of the population supports the construction of this wind farm.”

Despite this support, Deputy Premier and leader of the NSW National Party, Andrew Stoner, recently tweeted his belief that wind farms are a burden to people in regional areas.

“City greens luv (wind farms),” he said, “but country people have to live with them.”

Silverton Wind Farm

The Silverton Wind Farm Project Manager, Donna Bolton, was disappointed by the comments and says the Premier and Deputy Premier’s personal opinions are out of line with NSW Coalition policy.

“I’m not surprised that they have those opinions, but I am surprised that, in their current positions, they might actually express them, especially where they so clearly do not correspond to their stated policy.

“We’re talking about really large scale investment in NSW, and we’re talking about people in regions like Broken Hill who are really hoping the wind farm will move to construction and I just don’t think it’s at all helpful.”

The Silverton Wind Farm development is continuing, Ms Bolton says, and the company is seeking to attract investors to the project.

“We’re talking with parties about that investment, obviously it’s a huge investment, and we’re proceeding as far as we can in the current investment climate to move that project forward.”

Ultimately, she says, the relatively new Premier’s comments were unhelpful and out of line with both popular opinion and party policy.

“I’m sure that as he beds into his role he’ll have a chance to re-read his own Liberal/National plan for an affordable sustainable energy industry and look through all of the benefits and all of the promises made there.”

Green reaction

Pepe Clarke is CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and he says community support for wind farms is often very strong.

“It was great to hear your local member talk about the majority support for wind farm development near Silverton, and that majority support is actually reflected across the state.”

Mr Clarke feels the widespread support of renewable energy, shown through governmental and independent polling, indicates the strength of the emerging industry.

“Wind power provides large scale clean energy, it’s cost effective and it’s one of the best ways of meeting the government’s own renewable energy target on time and in a cost effective way.”

Mr Clarke recognises some people do have concerns regarding wind farms and says they are justified in those worries.

“There are legitimate concerns with any power infrastructure development, whether it be a coal fired power station, a gas fired power station or a wind farm.

“People have a legitimate interest in being consulted and having their views taken into account when decisions about the site and design of that infrastructure are made, we don’t dispute that for a second.

“What we need to see here is for the government to adopt a responsible approach to wind farm development, where community consultation is given its proper place, where there are guidelines in place.”

Mr Clarke says wind farms are currently economically viable, without government subsidies or a carbon price, and NSW needs to embrace the technology as quickly as possible.

“We currently have more than $10.4 billion worth of wind farm proposals awaiting planning approval here in NSW.

“Those wind farms, if they were approved, would generate enough power for more than 2.3 million homes.

“The NSW Government really needs to get on with the job of making its policy settings clear and reaching reasonable decisions on wind farm development here in NSW instead of adopting some kneejerk blanket reaction to wind energy.”