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Setbacks to stall wind farm growth

The future of new wind farms proposed for South Australia is in question following a month of setbacks for developers.

Last week, AGL Energy Limited announced it would no longer pursue a 33-turbine proposal east of Hallett and would instead look to develop a new proposal incorporating “more economic wind turbine technology”.

Called Hallett Stage 3, it was to be the final proposal in a five-stage wind farm.

It was put on hold late last year after local diesel mechanic Bill Quinn successfully appealed to the SA Supreme Court over an Environment, Resources and Development Court decision.

Mr Quinn based his argument on amenity and noise problems associated with Hallett Stage 2 – a wind farm operating 10.5 kilometres south of Hallett.

Earlier in August, another proposal was struck down after the Regional Council of Goydor’s Development Assessment Panel refused planning approval for TRUenergy’s $300 million wind farm proposed for Stony Gap, near Burra, at a council meeting.

The panel, which is comprised of three members and a chairman all independently appointed by the council, cited health concerns.

“It is considered that the nature of the proposed wind farm development will adversely and unreasonably impact on the health and amenity of the locality through noise and vibration caused by the operation and the hours or operation of the proposed wind farm development,” the panel stated in council minutes.

It would have included 41 turbines up to 85 metres high and, according to TRUenergy, injected about $15.5m into the Mid North economy along with a new income stream for farmers. TRUenergy will appeal the decision in the ERDC.

Goydor Council’s DAP assessed the farm under the State Government’s interim Development Planning Amendment rules – which have been in effect since November last year while its proposed Statewide Wind Farms DPA remains open for a 12-month consultation period.

The reform includes a minimum separation distance of 1km between turbines and isolated dwellings and 2km from townships. It strips the ability of third parties to lodge an appeal against wind farm developments.

Opposition Planning Minister David Ridgway said he hoped the latest decision by Goydor Council would change the government’s proposal.

“There are an increasing number of people that are concerned with vibration and low level noise,” he said.

“But after going to Burra I found there were very few people, if any, who said they didn’t want the wind farms at all – they just don’t want them too close to their homes.

“The government’s separation distance of 1km has spooked people and I would hope it actually listens to the community and revises its DPA.”

Former Premier Mike Rann launched the Ministerial DPA after Eight Mile Creek dairyfarmer Richard Paltridge successfully won an appeal in the ERDC against the District Council of Grant in June last year, which approved a 46-turbine farm near his property in the South East.

His appeal was upheld on character and amenity grounds and the government worked quickly to prevent other third parties from doing the same – arguing the laws would give SA a competitive edge over the eastern states where separation distances are larger and residential rights remain.

Mr Ridgway said the rules should be consistent across southern Australia and SA should adopt Victoria’s buffer laws of 2km from dwellings and 5km from towns.

But SAFF vice president Alexander MacLachlan said if laws were made too stringent there would never be any wind farms.

“A decent set of guidelines initially would have made this process a lot easier for everyone,” he said.

“The rules can change every five minutes because the general public don’t like this and they don’t like that.

“But if they want development in this state they can’t make it too hard. We’re very good at not doing things rather than doing things.”

*Full report in Stock Journal, August 30 issue, 2012.