King Island residents can vote on a feasibility study into a 200-megawatt wind farm proposed for the island from Friday.
The project TasWind has been put forward by the state owned company Hydro Tasmania and if approved would see between 195-250 turbines on the island making it the largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere.
The proposal has thrown the tiny island of just 1500 residents into a spin with farmers saying there is now a division in the community which was previously not there.
Donald Graham, the deputy chair for the No TasWind Farm Group said there were several reasons why the group did not want the project to go ahead including health, foreign investment and land value concerns.
Mr Graham does not believe King Island is a suitable home for wind turbines and said they will detract tourists from visiting the island.
The group have formed a petition against the project with more than 400 signatures.
In April the No TasWind Group decided it needed external assistance from a public relations firm to help run its campaign.
Sydney based PR firm Wells Haslem Strategic Public Affairs were selected.
Mr Graham said the campaign was a genuine and grassroots involving locals.
“We are dealing with Hydro Tasmania who are a professional company and we therefore need professional advice on how to deal with the situation,” Mr Graham said.
But others can see benefits behind the project.
Cattle and sheep farmer Robbie Payne will vote yes to the feasibility study because he believes the project will create upgrades to the Port.
Mr Payne is on the King Island advisory board for TasPorts, a government owned company responsible for the operations and management of all port in Tasmania, and said one of the huge benefits to the TasWind project would be the creation of a new breakwater at the Port.
Mr Payne said infrastructure improvements would mean there would no longer be a limited capacity on the length of vessel coming in to the port.
“There are currently limitations for ships coming into the Port of King Island and due to this limitation it’s hard to bring in any bulk products, such as fertiliser,” he said.
“Building a new breakwater is a huge project which isn’t going to happen without something like TasWind.”
The project could also result in better shipping options for King Islanders and reduced shipping costs.
It currently cost about $110-$120 a head for farmers to ship livestock from the island.
From the beginning, Hydro Tasmania said the feasibility study into the TasWind project would not go ahead unless the King Island community approved.
In a bid to work with the community the TasWind Consultative Community Committee was formed and incorporates King Island residents who act as a liaison between Hydro Tasmania and the community.
Committee president John Brewster organised for an independent survey to be conducted into the economic viability of the island with and without the wind farm.
This came at the request of the community and the study was funded by Hydro Tasmania and conducted by the consultancy firm CH2M HILL Australia.
The findings of the survey were presented to the community at a recent meeting and found that if approved the TasWind proposal would undermine tourism growth and cost the local economy up to $50 million.
Hydro Tasmania chief executive Roy Adair said while Hydro Tasmania welcomed informed contributions to the ongoing community debate about building a wind farm on King Island, it was concerned that the report by CH2MHill significantly overplayed the potential economic benefits to the community without TasWind being built.
Mr Adair said the report painted a picture that TasWind was somehow bad for the King Island economy when it clearly showed TasWind would bring significant benefits to the island, particularly over the first 10 years of its life.
“Some of the report’s longer-term assumptions are simply crystal ball-gazing and, in our opinion, overly optimistic,” Mr Adair said.
“Hydro Tasmania has deliberately not over-cooked the potential long-term benefits of the project to win support because we don’t want to make promises we can’t keep.
“In our opinion the latest report includes figures that don’t appear to stack up. It also has some incorrect assumptions about TasWind and some very optimistic forecasts.”
The postal survey will be sent out to King Island residents from Friday by the independent company Tasmanian market researchers EMRS.
The results will be scrutinised by the King Island Mayor Greg Barrett and local businessman Jerry Perry.
The survey will ask the question – do you want the TasWind project to proceed to the feasibility study phase? – and will also ask various other questions about the project.
EMRS will publish the results on its website on June 24.
And while the results on the community’s decision over the feasibility study will be known in a matter of weeks some are concerned that the division created in the community will take longer to heal.
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