Hydro Tasmania has defended its decision to continue plans to create the southern hemisphere’s largest windfarm on King Island, after a survey of residents narrowly failed to reach a target of 60% of community support.
A postal survey sent out to 1,500 King Island residents revealed that 516 out of 878 respondents want a feasibility study into the proposed 200-turbine windfarm.
This translates to 58.7% support for the study. Hydro Tasmania previously said it would not push ahead with plans for the windfarm if 60% or more of the community did not back the idea, prompting a furious response from anti-wind activists.
“Today’s decision by Hydro Tasmania will only create further division in an already divided community,” said Jim Benn, a King Island resident and head of the No TasWind Farm Group.
“Near enough is not good enough. 60 is 60, not 58.77.
“How can King Islanders ever trust Hydro Tasmania again? There is no way Hydro Tasmania can proceed to a feasibility study when 362 people or more than 40% of the King Island community has said no.”
Benn said that the windfarm plans should be scrapped in favour of a planned golf course.
“The No TasWind Farm Group calls on Hydro Tasmania to keep to its word and abandon its feasibility study,” he said.
“This whole debacle has unnecessarily divided our small community. It’s time for healing so we can focus on a bright future built on golfing tourism, a future that would have been ruined by turning our home into a giant wind energy factory for Victoria.”
However, Hydro Tasmania director of corporate services, Andrew Catchpole, insisted that it had the support to continue with the feasibility study, pointing out that the renewable energy company would create an annual community fund of around $1m for King Island.
Proponents of the windfarm, which would cover around 15% of the Bass Strait island, said the project would create around 500 direct and indirect jobs and between $7m and $9m of additional economic benefit for the island.
“I know some have implied that the figure of 60 is a number that will determine if the project goes ahead or not. However, we have always said that 60% would be a good indication of broad community support. We got 59% and that is a very good result,” Catchpole said.
Catchpole said that further measurements on impacts would be made and that the King Island community would “have another chance to have its say” before any development application is lodged.
“From our consultation process we understand that the principal concern of the community is the visual impact of the wind farm, closely followed by the noise and health impact concerns,” he said.
“Consequently, we will focus as a matter of priority on resolving the elements of windfarm feasibility that have the most impact on these concerns, especially location, so that we can address these areas of concern.
“While we believe the project if it proceeds to construction will have a significant and positive impact on the island’s economy there is a long way to go before that happens. I can only repeat that this project will not proceed without ongoing broad community support.”
The establishment of new wind-powered energy has become an increasingly contentious topic, with around 150 people attending a “wind power fraud rally” in Canberra last week.
Maurice Newman, the man slated to be Tony Abbott’s top business adviser, has also taken a firm anti-wind stance and is among a group of landholders who are threatening to sue a neighbouring farmer for agreeing to allow wind turbines on his property.
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