Wind farms are becoming a feature of the Australian landscape particularly in the areas surrounding Canberra and the Southern Tablelands. If you were to take a drive from Canberra to Goulburn, Yass, Crookwell or even Bungendore at some point along the way, you would be certain to notice the numerous wind turbines lining the hills. Large energy companies are frequently investing billions of dollars in the planning, construction and operation of large wind farms across the country. However, the construction of wind farms and the shift towards the production and use of wind power as a new source of renewable energy is not always supported by the local communities in which they are built.
Wind energy is currently the cheapest source of renewable energy and areas where strong and consistent winds prevail, like in Southern Australia, are the most suitable locations. As of the beginning of this year there were currently 59 operating wind farms in Australia, twenty of which are either operating or proposed within two hours drive of Canberra.
Many local communities have begun to protest against the prominence of wind farms; barracking against their local councils and politicians. Those opposed claim that wind turbines are noisy, pose a threat to wildlife and are not economically viable in the long term. The Hume electorate covers much of the area surrounding the ACT and as such have become a prime target for wind energy companies. Hume Liberal Candidate, Angus Taylor, feels there are problems with relying on wind farms as the primary resource of renewable energy in this region.
“The real concern I have with wind farms is that we spend, as electricity consumers, about $400,000 a year on every turbine more, than other ways of reducing emissions, so it’s a very expensive way of reducing emissions,” he said.
Upper Lachlan Shire Mayor, John Shaw is also concerned about the increasing number of wind turbines in this region and the negative impact this could have on the local community. The Upper Lachlan Shire covers the area surrounding Crookwell and Gunning and has eleven wind farms currently proposed or already operational.
“We’ve got all the assets they need, we’ve got the wind… Council have said for a long time now that we don’t want a wind farm or a wind tower on every hill. The question remains when is enough enough and I think with eleven wind farms that is enough,” Mr Shaw said.
Not only are local politicians concerned about the accumulating wind turbines in the area, so too are the traditional owners of the land. Ngambri elder, Shane Mortimer, whose ancestors lived in and around Canberra, has begun fighting wind energy companies and seeking recognition of Native Title. He has been supporting protests undertaken regarding the Cullerin, Capital and Crookwell 1 wind farm constructions but, his latest battle was the Gullen Range Wind farm, 25 kilometres North West of Goulburn. Last September, Mr Mortimer took the energy company, Goldwind, responsible for the proposed 87 turbines, to the Supreme Court.
“I wanted to know why they had not done due diligence on Native Title,” he said.
Mr Mortimer lost the case and the Gullen Range wind farm has since been approved and construction is expected to finish by the end of this year. However, Mr Mortimer has not given up the fight.
“I’ll not only take on any other proposed development but, I have called for the Capital Wind Farm to be decommissioned.”
Mr Mortimer and local community protestor’s claim that the Capital Wind Farm, near Bungendore which is the largest wind farm in NSW, is noisy and could have flora and fauna impacts. Although tests have shown that the wind turbines are within the permissible noise limits, Mr Mortimer still argues that Native Title law was ignored and that animals, especially birds, are being adversely affected by wind turbines.
Although, the development of wind farms across the country have come under close scrutiny and caused tension within local communities, the emission figures do not lie. In 2012, estimated wind energy generation saved Australia 7, 386, 400 tonnes of carbon dioxide which is the equivalent of removing 1, 641,000 cars from our roads. Australia has some of the world’s best wind resources and is committed to the Government’s Renewable Energy Target that 20% of Australia’s electricity supply will come from renewable energy sources by 2020.
With many strong opinions regarding renewable energy dividing communities the future of wind farms in the Canberra region is far from certain.