A proposed wind farm for Seymour’s outskirts looks likely to be decided on by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The deadline for Mitchell Shire Council to decide on the $100million Cherry Tree project is September 22, which is 60 days after the application was lodged with it.
With public submissions officially closing last Friday – though these can still be lodged with council – it would be extremely unlikely the council could consider it before the cut-off date, with just one meeting scheduled on September 10. Council goes into caretaker mode on September 25, meaning it cannot make any big decisions until the new council is sworn in after next month’s elections.
Infigen Energy, the project’s proponent, would then have the option of asking VCAT to adjudicate on the matter.
Residents opposing the project indicated at a public meeting last week that they would look at asking Planning Minister Matthew Guy to rule on the project, which would see about 16 turbines, up to 160m high, on the range between Whiteheads Creek and Trawool.
Last week’s meeting at Trawool attracted about 100 people, including local residents, others from Seymour and Avenel, Mitchell Shire councillors Robert Parker and Trevor Tobias – neither of whom are standing for re-election and are unlikely to vote on the issue – and Infigen representatives Jonathan Upson and project manager Laura Dunphy.
The mood of the meeting was largely opposed to the project and they heard from Noel Dean and Donald Thomas, two farmers at Waubra, near Ballarat, who outlined health problems they had suffered since a wind farm was built nearby, anti-wind farm campaigner Max Rheese of the Australian Environment Foundation and Steve Campbell, chief-of-staff to Senator John Madigan, who has taken up the battle for some opponents of wind farms.
Mr Dean said he suffered balance-related problems which he believed were caused by low frequency sound waves generated by turbulence created by wind coming into the turbines.
He had suffered head pains, tinnitus and muscle spasms. He had sold most of his land ‘‘and got the hell out of there’’.
‘‘The problem here is you’re putting in 60m blades with no clue as to the effects,’’ he said.
‘‘I hope other people don’t have to go through what we’ve gone through.’’
Mr Thomas said he initially was keen on the wind farm but had also suffered severe headaches.
‘‘If we knew what we were in for there would be a lot of broken wind turbines around,’’ he said.
Noises varied from the sound of a jet engine to a stone dropping down a well ‘‘but some of the worst noises are on days you wouldn’t even know they (turbines) were going’’.
‘‘The most inconvenient thing with wind farms is health problems are very, very real.’’
Mr Campbell said the concerns were around health, the environment and economic issues. There were no definitive studies to say wind farms didn’t cause health problems.
‘‘John (Madigan) is not against renewable energy, he’ll back that to the hilt,’’ Mr Campbell said.
‘‘He will not back something that is a danger to the local community. If they prove once and for all there’s no health issues, then no problem. The health issue is massive.’’
Mr Rheese said his organisation, which has attracted the ire of other environmental groups, was driven by ‘‘facts and evidence, not ideology’’.
‘‘What you’re going to have here is some of the biggest turbines in the world that will produce effects no-one’s ever seen,’’ he claimed.
Mr Rheese said wind farms produced electricity that was more than twice as expensive as gas ($120 a KWhr compared to $54) and more than three times more than coal ($38).
‘‘Why would the grid operator buy this very expensive power … because the government makes them,’’ he said.
‘‘Most people would be prepared to pay a 10, 20, 25 per cent premium for renewable energy, not 100 to 200 per cent. Yet that’s what we’re being asked to pay for wind.’’
He pointed to South Australia and Denmark as places with high penetration rates of wind energy, but also high power prices. Mr Rheese also claimed the grid became unstable when wind energy made up more than five per cent of that generated, and also quoted extensively from wind farm operator Origin Energy’s boss Grant King to back up his figures.
‘‘Wind farms are nothing more than a means to transfer wealth from consumers to customers in a market that is distorted by (renewable energy certificates),’’ Mr Rheese said.
‘‘They can only survive in a market distorted for political and financial gain.’’
In response to a question from Cr Parker on what a wind farm might do to property values in the area, Mr Rheese quoted an Elders Real Estate representative who said they could drop 30 to 50 per cent in areas where they were installed.
When challenged on South Australian figures by a member of the audience, Mr Rheese said he had to cut short his talk to meet time limits and hadn’t been able to expand on them, and agreed greenhouse gas emissions had reduced there but ‘‘there’s not a lot of progress for the money that’s been poured into it’’.
Ms Dunphy said the ‘‘100-200 per cent premium’’ was incorrect.
‘‘The actual figures, from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal in NSW which regulates electricity prices there, is that large scale renewable energy projects, like wind farms, increase consumer’s electricity bills by less than two per cent – about $3/household/month,’’ she said.
‘‘Victoria has an unregulated retail electricity market, so the ESC does not publish a similar analysis, but as the Renewable Energy Target scheme is a national scheme, the cost will be very similar in Victoria.’’
The five per cent figure for grid stability ‘‘would be interesting news to the people of South Australia where 26 per cent of their electricity comes from wind without any grid stability issues,’’ Ms Dunphy said.
Origin Energy operated just one wind farm and had far greater interests in gas-fired generation.
Mr Upson said Infigen wanted to ask the speakers questions and answer any others.
‘‘It’s a shame that the people who came to this meeting only had the opportunity to hear one side of the story,’’ he said.
‘‘We weren’t only not allowed to make a presentation, they didn’t allow us to ask any questions.’’