Aggrieved farmers from NSW’s central west are gearing up for the mother of all legal battles, fighting an enemy that has ripped apart their communities and pitted neighbours against each other.
Their targets – wind farms.
As the federal government fumbles over its proposed report on the health implications of wind farms, and the state government continues to waver on its position on the renewable energy source, farmers dotted between Mudgee and Wellington are already at war.
It’s a bitter dispute that has changed the fabric of once-selfless, community-minded towns, ended friendships that have carried on for generations, and caused divisions in local pubs and even the volunteer Rural Fire Service. And at the core of the fallout is money.
Four major wind farms are proposed in the farming communities around Mudgee and Wellington. The biggest is proposed for Uungula, courtesy of Wind Prospect, which seeks to build 250 turbines, some as high as 194m with a blade length of 65m.
Some farmers will be squeezed between two adjacent wind farms, Uungula and Bodangora, proposed to be built on land their neighbours have offered to the wind farm companies for upwards of $15,000 per turbine annually.
Upset farmers say their neighbours are selling out on them, gobbling up the cash and leaving their farms surrounded by wind turbines within 2km of their homes – potentially devaluing their properties by an estimated 30 per cent.
Noise is a major concern – opponents says the persistent whirring and thumping of the turbines can lead to stress and sleep loss. And massive roadworks, earthworks and blasting will be required to produce foundations the size of Olympic swimming pools.
It is war – and destined for class action if the proposed wind farms are approved. Lyn Jarvis, whose elevated property will stare directly into a wind farm, feels she is “pushing shit uphill”, given she feels government departments are against their cause.
She cites a meeting to be held in Yass next Thursday where farmers who will host wind turbines on their property will meet to discuss their fight. It is a meeting hosted by the Department of Environment and Heritage.
“Legal action will be the only recourse we will have left,” she said.
Farmer Terry Conn said the breakdown in relationships between neighbours had been the hardest thing for the community to digest. “I can certainly say it’s been catastrophic, what’s happened to the communities and relationships. People who have been friends and neighbours for generations now don’t talk to one another,” he said.
Families that once had Christmas together, who gathered in each other’s homes every Friday night for a drink, who cried on each other’s shoulders through droughts, now despise each other.
Goolma sheep farmer Ross Conn said the issue had ended his close friendship with one neighbour. “It’s pretty devastating,” he said.
“My wife and his wife used to talk to each other on the phone all the time. That doesn’t happen any more. We used to celebrate milestone birthdays together.”
One prominent wool farmer, who has won extensive awards for the quality of his produce, is frightened the imminent arrival of wind turbines within 2km of their homestead will chase them off the land.
“To think this is all about money,” said the farmer, who did not want his name published for fear of reprisals.
Farmer Michael Lyons said the division in Goolma had forced him to restructure his Rural Fire Service rosters. He now has to pair host farmers up with other host farmers on patrol. It has got that personal.