A prominent state Liberal MP is facing a parliamentary grilling after he threatened to lobby against a wind farm project unless the energy company bought his family’s south-west farm.
Upper House member for Western Victoria Simon Ramsay made the demands in an October letter to wind energy company Acciona over the company’s plan to erect 116 turbines at Birregurra near Colac as part of its Mount Gellibrand wind project.
Mr Ramsay confirmed that he spoke to planning minister Matthew Guy about the Mt Gellibrand project. He also admitted lobbying the department of planning for changes, including the re-siting of turbines away from his property. Mr Ramsay’s campaign appears to have fallen on deaf ears with both Acciona and the government.
Acciona resisted the demands and Mr Guy and his department last month signed off on the detailed plan for the company’s turbines. Work is set to commence soon.
Yesterday Mr Ramsay said that if anything, his position as a Coalition MP had worked against him.
“I can assure you I got no more favourable treatment than anyone else; I haven’t won any concessions,” he said.
However, his lobbying has triggered allegations that he sought to use his political access for personal gain and failed to adequately notify Parliament of his interest during key debates on new wind farm rules last year.
“The opposition will leave no stone unturned to get a full public investigation by referring Mr Ramsay to the privileges committee, moving to set up a parliamentary committee or referring his behaviour to any other body that may have jurisdiction,” opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said yesterday.
Mr Ramsay’s letter, obtained by The Age from a government source, followed months of negotiations involving Mr Ramsay and the Spanish-based Acciona.
The discussions occurred over a period when State Parliament was dealing with the Coalition’s plan to ban wind farms in some areas and to give individual residents veto over turbines within two kilometres of any dwelling in the state.
In the letter, the MP insists the wind turbines would damage amenity at his family farm and interrupt his “iconic views” to the Otway Ranges.
The letter demands a string of concessions including that the company pay him $66,000 to grow trees as a noise and visual screen, scrap all turbines within two kilometres of his home, and pay for works including the sealing of the local gravel road.
Writing on a personal letterhead, Mr Ramsay also requests that the company “enter into bona fide discussions to purchase my property at current market value” by December 31.
He then notes that he intends to “make representations” to the department of planning to press for changes to the final detailed plans for the wind farm, including scaling back the number or turbines and their re-siting.
Yesterday, Mr Ramsay’s confirmed he did in fact lobby an officer of the planning department seeking changes to the Mt Gellibrand wind farm plan. He also confirmed that he had spoken in general terms to Planning Minister Matthew Guy about Mt Gellibrand but denied he had asked the minister to intervene on his behalf.
Mr Ramsay insisted he had made the necessary declarations to Parliament acknowledging his interest in being a neighbour to a wind farm.
But Greens wind spokesman Greg Barber said revelation of Mr Ramsay’s lobbying throughout last year, including the letter to Acciona, raised serious questions about whether he had adequately declared his interest ahead of voting on the Coalition’s new rules.
“He never disclosed to the Parliament that he was in negotiations with the wind farm developer over money or to buy his property. If he had, I would have moved that he was ineligible to vote under the Parliament’s rules.”
Nor has Mr Ramsay’s handling of the Mt Gellibrand matter been well received by all his neighbours.
In the mid-2000s, then farmer Ramsay was a champion of wind farms. At the time his property had been earmarked for about eight turbines under the same planning permit he is now campaigning against.
The change of heart coincided with him selling the parcel of land – with the turbine permits – to a neighbour, making him a neighbour to a wind farm rather than a wind farmer. Since his early enthusiasm for wind farms he sold a parcel of land to neighbouring property owner Duncan Barber. Now he is seeking to have the same turbines moved.
Yesterday, Mr Barber (no relation to the Greens MP) said he paid a premium for the property because of the turbines for which he will be paid about $7000 each a year.
“At the beginning he (Ramsay) was very pro the wind farm,” Mr Barber said. “He was going to do everything in his power to get the government behind it; to support it.”
Mr Ramsay defended his change of attitude to the Mt Gellibrand wind farm as a result of increased knowledge about the health and visual impacts of wind farms.
“We didn’t know a lot about wind farming eight years ago,” Mr Ramsay said.
“We were all pretty raw about it. It was all pretty new.”
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