Rural property values face turbulent times as billions of dollars of wind turbines blow into rural communities, their would-be neighbours say.
Richard Paltridge and his family milk 700 cows on prime dairy land at Eight Mile Creek and Allendale, in South Australia’s southeast corner. Born and bred in the area, they saw a bright future for their dairy operation until a $175 million, 46-turbine wind farm threatened to move in next door.
“We’ve just invested in a robotic dairy which was very expensive. We want to be able to pass this land on to future generations, but with a wind farm on the doorstep, the land value drops by up to 40 per cent, impacting future investment and our ability to expand,” Paltridge says.
The family also owns four rental properties within 2km of the proposed wind farm and say its presence will make them less desirable.
“People may be supportive of wind farms, but surveys have shown that 93 per cent wouldn’t want to live near one.”
At a recent auction, he says, a dairy property with land worth about $3000 an acre received a bid of just $800. He blames Spanish Energy giant Acciona’s proposed wind farm as a major detractor, despite claims by some that wind turbines can be lucrative for landholders.
Landholder agreements are largely confidential, but annual payments can reach about $10,000 per turbine.
Absentee landholders can collect such payments without “having to live among the turbines like their neighbours”, Paltridge says.
Paltridge’s son Tom and wife Lou say they were offered “a significant sum” to host wind turbines and other structures, including offers by the company to plant trees to block out their view.
“It’s quite insulting: the turbines are as tall as 45-storey buildings – I didn’t think trees grew that high,” Tom Paltridge says.
“The fact is, we aren’t here to make a quick buck out of this land. We choose to live and work in the country 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we enjoy our sunsets and our life just as much as city people, and like them we don’t want these turbines in our back yard.”
Richard Paltridge says the family maintains the environment, seeing itself as a caretaker of the land.
“We try to run our dairy 100 per cent on rain water and use organic fertiliser as much as possible, but there is good evidence to suggest wind farms cause increased evaporation and drying of the land, which would lead to increased irrigation and more water use.”
He says the wind farm will “ringbark” the tiny town of Allendale, home to about 500 people.
“Under the guidelines, a turbine is not allowed within 2km of a built-up area. The proposed wind farm would prohibit the town’s ability to expand, which would lead to a decline in housing values – if people are even able to sell at all.”
It’s a view that regional newcomer Jackie Lowe agrees with.
“We built here 12 months ago after moving from the city. The open countryside near the ocean and the peaceful surroundings were an instant attraction and we paid a premium to buy a part of that, not to live alongside 120m tall towers with flashing lights and a constant low-frequency noise,” Lowe says.
“If we want to move, I doubt we’d be able to sell in a hurry as no one I know would choose to live near a wind farm. I doubt we’d ever recover the value we paid for, either, as the attraction of a natural landscape is lost.”
There is debate on whether wind farms affect property values, but Elders national sales manager Shane McIntyre made headlines earlier this year when an email he sent to anti-wind farm group, Landscape Guardians, was made public.
McIntyre said there was “no doubt” that land near wind-farm towers “falls significantly in value” and could lead to a decline of 30-50 per cent in value.
In his 30-year experience in rural and regional real estate, McIntyre said, when a possible buyer “becomes aware of the presence of wind towers, or the possibility of wind towers, in the immediate district of a property advertised for sale, the fall-out of buyers is major”.
“Very few go on to inspect the property and even fewer consider a purchase. On the remote chance they wish to purchase, they seek a significant reduction in price.”
McIntyre later said the email was intended for the personal use of the recipient, was made public without his consent and did not represent Elders’ view on wind farms.
Earlier this year, the Paltridge family decided to mount their own wind-farm resistance, lodging an appeal against the decision by the local council’s independent planning assessors to approve the project in the state’s Environment Resources and Development Court. They won a landmark ruling based on visual amenity.
Paltridge argued that constant noise, lighting and shadow flicker would affect his family’s health as a result of the turbine’s close proximity to their home – with one turbine proposed to be located only 500m away.
He also argued about the impact to his dairy cattle, land value and losses to the visual amenity of the pristine coastal region.
Handing down his decision, judge Jack Costello rejected Paltridge’s health concerns, but set a precedent by upholding the argument that turbines would detract from the region’s character and amenity.
The company proposing to build the wind farm, Acciona, has since appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.
In response to the ruling, outgoing South Australian premier Mike Rann made changes to wind turbine regulations in a bid to limit the ability of communities, and third parties such as Paltridge, to challenge current and future developments.
Paltridge says that legislation is a violation “of human rights”.
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