Disagreements over Australia’s potentially largest wind farm could split communities on the Yorke Peninsula , local residents say.
The $1.3 billion 199-turbine Ceres wind farm project is expected to cover 18,000ha west of Black Point.
It would be linked to Adelaide by an undersea cable between Port Julia and St Kilda.
Port Julia Progress Association president Kevin Ising said it was dividing opinion among the 100 residents of his town, located about 2.1 km from the nearest turbine.
It’s broken the community in places, It’s a shame to see it,” he said.
Sections of the surrounding community are keen for it to go ahead, including the 36 landowners who would host turbines and earn tens of thousands of dollar in payments from developer, REpower.
John McFarlane said the construction and maintenance of the Ceres wind farm would provide local jobs and help keep young people on the land.
“It provides another income and brings high-skilled jobs here and is an alternative to mining,” he said.
Mr McFarlane, one of the original landowners to invite REpower to look at the Ceres project, also highlighted other benefits such as the early arrival of the National Broadband Network.
Others are concerned the 600MW wind farm would scar the local landscape.
They are sceptical about new jobs, despite estimates construction would require more than 500 workers, with 50 more permanent jobs created.
“It’s the rape of the rural environment,” Port Julia resident Brian Cherry, 71, said. “It completely changes the whole environment over here that my wife and I retired to.”
REpower has submitted a 1600-page development application to the State Government ahead of a series of public forums to begin this weekend.
Opposition planning spokesman David Ridgway warned the state risked “rushing headlong into a $1.3 billion decision with little idea of the consequences”.
“We could end up with much more expensive power even as middle-income South Australians struggle to pay their electricity bills and low-income South Australians, who can’t pay them at all, are having their electricity disconnected,” he said.
Premier Jay Weatherill said it had the potential to deliver “a massive competitive edge for SA”. “This is something I strongly support,” he said.
THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST
A local boon to benefit all
REPOWER’S new Ceres wind farm on the Yorke Peninsula will bring a whole host of different benefits, with local farmers the biggest winners.
We have just been through a year of extreme weather conditions, from wild storms and bushfires to heatwaves, cold snaps and everything in between.
The Bureau of Meteorology says that 2013 may be even more unpredictable. The upshot is that life on the land is getting tougher.
Like other wind farms, the Ceres project will pay farmers tens of thousands of dollars of much-needed income to host wind turbines on their land. On other projects, these funds have helped farmers weather droughts and floods and purchase vital feedstock for sheep and cows.
At times this has been the difference between people staying on the land and being forced to sell.
Beyond the farm, the jobs and investment generated by wind farms in South Australia have already been substantial, and the $1.3 billion Ceres project will boost that still further.
It will have flow-on benefits for local contractors, shops, hotels and other businesses.
An independent study commissioned by the Clean Energy Council last year showed a typical 50-megawatt wind farm (a 12th the size of Ceres) pays host farmers some $250,000 per year, is constructed by workers who spend up to $1.2 million locally and contributes up to $80,000 annually to community projects.
One of the biggest furphies about wind power in South Australia is that it is somehow to blame for the power price spikes of the past few years. Local power bills have always been high compared with the rest of the country, even before a single wind turbine was built.
Analysis from independent analysts ROAM Consulting and others has shown that wind power contributes only 2 per cent to the average South Australian power bill – not bad for a renewable technology that now provides more than 20 per cent of the state’s energy needs.
And last year the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics found wind power would be the cheapest energy source within 10 to 20 years.
Finally, wind power has helped cut South Australia’s carbon emissions from electricity by 27.4 per cent over the past five years. The two local coal plants now only operate seasonally.
While opponents often claim that wind farms cause health problems, the biggest health risk has been from anti-wind farm groups running fear campaigns.
There have been about 17 reviews of the research associated with wind farms around the globe, all of which have given wind turbines a clean bill of health. Compared with other forms of power generation, wind farms are among the safest and cleanest.
The Ceres wind farm will be subject to tough approval processes. It will provide the Yorke Peninsula with jobs, investment and a boost to the local community.
Russell Marsh is the Clean Energy Council’s policy director
Health effects still a worry
THE news this week of a proposal for Australia’s biggest wind farm to be built on the Yorke Peninsula will be cause for alarm for residents located in the vicinity of the 199-turbine facility.
This alarm will be driven by the knowledge that neither the federal nor state government has yet determined the degree of adverse health effects from large, new-generation wind turbines, such as will be used in this project.
This is despite an extensive senate inquiry that tabled recommendations in 2011 calling for urgent medical and acoustical studies.
The Australian Environment Foundation has consistently called for a moratorium on further construction of wind farms until the question of adverse health effects is addressed.
The senate recommendations for health studies were publicly supported by the Clean Energy Council, environment groups, state governments, the National Health and Medical Research Council and affected residents.
Unsurprisingly, despite rapidly mounting evidence, the wind industry denies there are any ill-effects to people from the audible and inaudible low frequency wind-turbine noise.
Residents in South Australia and Victoria who have abandoned their homes due to chronic sleep deprivation, which in turn led to a range of other debilitating health impacts, beg to differ.
It is acknowledged the degree of health impacts from wind turbine operation is contested and this is the subject of the current NHMRC review. What is not contested is the need for acoustical and health studies to determine the issue.
Also not contested is the fact that wind turbines emit a range of low-frequency noise.
Nor is it contested that low-frequency noise, whatever its origin, can have an impact on human health and well-being, which is why other industrial noise is well regulated.
The combined effects of the unusual pulsing characteristics of wind turbine noise, their location in quiet rural areas with low background noise levels and the ability of larger modern turbines taller than Sydney Harbour Bridge to emit even lower frequency noise than older wind turbines are poorly understood.
This poor technical understanding of wind turbine noise has led to the adoption of noise guidelines for the industry that have no evidential basis for the protection of human health. Governments and the wind industry are making it up as they go along.
A key principle of good governance when considering action on any issue is to “do no harm”.
Policies and wind industry development that drive people to abandon their homes and others to a life of misery for the “greater good”, without the acoustical and medical evidence to establish that state-sanctioned harm is not occurring, is unforgivable.
Max Rheese is executive director of the Australian Environment Foundation
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