August 14, 2012

Caught in the wind storm

By Louise Thrower | Goulburn Post | 8 August 2012

The Hume electorate could be hosting nearly one fifth of the wind turbines needed to meet the federal government’s renewable energy target.

With 1266 turbines either proposed, approved or under construction in an area targeted for its strong winds, the number is set to grow, says Liberal candidate Angus Taylor.

“What we know is that nationwide we need 6000 to 7000 turbines to meet the renewable energy target,” he told the Post.

“A good portion of this target will be in this area, so I expect a seven to tenfold increase. I can’t think of any other industry that has to grow at this rate.”

With much of the onus on wind farms to meet the target, Mr Taylor says it’s creating huge tensions in rural communities.

That’s not news to communities themselves but there’s a groundswell of opposition to the way wind farm companies are going about their business. Co-founder of insolvency specialist Ferrier Hodgson and Collector resident, Tony Hodgson has called for a moratorium on the developments and dubbed consultation sessions a waste of time. (See story below).

He and NSW Landscape Guardians president Humphrey Price-Jones are calling for far more rigour from companies in preparing environmental assessments and from the NSW Department of Planning in its analysis.

Mr Taylor has other concerns.

With each turbine attracting a $250 – $500,000 subsidy from electricity consumers annually, or “$325 to $650 million a year across the region,” he says the money is going into energy companies’ revenues, “essentially to support an otherwise uneconomic industry.”

“I always worry about building a whole new industry on the back of a subsidy, particularly when the subsidy is paid out of the hard cash of some of the least well off, via electricity prices,” Mr Taylor said.

“It is also clear that there are much cheaper ways to reduce carbon emissions, so the logic of the whole program is seriously questionable.”

He told the Post the government had to get the economics of renewable energy right first and questioned whether wind power was the best method of achieving the target.

While most development applications have decommissioning plans, Mr Taylor wonders about companies’ capacity to pay.

“The balance sheets and financial positions of some of these companies are very weak,” he said.

“For instance, Infigen (which was salvaged from the old Babcock and Brown empire) has a share price which has dropped from around $1.50 three years ago to 23 cents today.

“The capital markets don’t believe the renewable energy fairy tale any more, because the economic foundations are flimsy, and so they are not supporting the companies that rely on these subsidies.”

Mr Price-Jones points out that decommissioning is an enormous task and only works if the company has enough money.

“The other thing is that some suggest there is need to remove the thousands of tonnes of cement and steel footings. To say there will be no impact on the environment in the future is ludicrous,” he said.

Mr Price-Jones is also concerned by Planning Department admissions to him that they don’t have enough officers to police consent conditions.

Right now he’s calling for greater scrutiny of the Gullen Range wind farm and a letter the company sent to landholders flagging an increase in the size of turbines.

Mr Price-Jones said this would generate more noise and the change should be the subject of a modified development application. “If the Gullen range turbines are built, everyone within 2km and indeed, beyond, will experience sleep deprivation,” he said.

“It’s happening at Crookwell I and at Cullerin. It’s well documented and well known. Twenty-two families have left properties in Waubra, Victoria due to the wind farm development.”

With more wind farms blowing Upper Lachlan Shire’s way, Mr Price Jones says the Department of Planning must apply more rigour to assessments and properly police what it approves.

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