The state government has paid $50,000 for a 60-metre wind mast – to measure the strength of wind for possible wind turbines – in an area banned for wind farms by the planning minister.
The government said it wanted the money back, but the Woodend Integrated Sustainable Energy group, which plans to build the wind mast south of Woodend next week, said it had no intention of handing it back.
While the original funding agreement was made under the Brumby government, final contract negotiations for the wind mast were approved by the present government on August 19 – 10 days before Planning Minister Matthew Guy announced Australia’s most restrictive wind farm regulations, which make the Macedon Ranges a ”no-go zone” for wind farms.
Woodend residents had planned to power the town with renewable energy with three wind turbines to be built in a pine forest six kilometres south of the town.
Now the town will have a government-funded wind mast, which will show how much power the wind turbines could generate. Barry Mann, of the Woodend Sustainable Energy Group, said the wind mast would relay its readings to an advertising display screen in the local newsagents to make residents aware of the amount of energy a wind farm in the area could produce.
”The display will be updated every hour, with information coming from the wind mast, how much energy the wind park would have produced, average wind speeds, the value of that energy,” he said. He said he was ”gobsmacked” by the new wind farm planning rules that prevented the Woodend proposal.
He said the group received the money for the wind mast three days before the wind farm planning changes, and would not be handing the money back.
”We’ve spent it,” Mr Mann said. ”I’ve bought the mast, I’ve paid the installer, I’ve paid for the instrumentation.”
He said spending $50,000 on the wind mast in an area now banned for wind turbines was not a waste of money.
”This government is not going to be in forever,” he said. ”We are determined to proceed to show people the potential benefits of a project like this, and we would hope in the future common sense prevails and these restrictions are lifted.”
Newsagent Darren Cahill said he did not have an opinion on the wind farm proposal but was happy to help in providing information to the public. ”It is just information,” he said. ”See what comes of it. Can’t do any harm, people can make their own minds up.”
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Ryan Smith, said the grant was provided by the previous government last year.
”The previous government created a legally binding contract between the proponent and Sustainability Victoria,” she said.
She said the minister had now asked his department to see if the money could be retrieved.
Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said the government’s wind farm policy was a mess.
”This government stuff-up rubs salt into the wound of this community,” he said.
It exposed the blinkered opposition to wind energy, which would stop local communities ”who just want to help the environment”.
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