A controversial $200 million wind farm that divided a local community and drew opposition from a nearby maximum security jail has secured planning approval to proceed.
Infigen Energy’s 33 turbine wind farm planned for Bodangora, near Dubbo in central NSW, was approved by the state’s Planning Assessment Commission late last week with the ruling only made public on Monday.
In a potential setback to opposition at other proposed wind farm sites, the commission dismissed community concerns that noise from the turbines would affect their health.
The commission said NSW Health “was very clear in its advice” that “there is no published scientific evidence to link wind turbines with adverse health effects”.
While NSW Health found that noise from the turbines “may cause some disturbance” to those living within 700 metres of the towers, it found the planned two-kilometre buffer zone to be “highly conservative” and “a very precautionary approach”.
The commission’s findings are “an important precedent” for the state, said Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney. They add to almost 20 other official reports, such as from the Victorian government in May, that examined wind farms and health, he said.
“All of them are consistent in saying that there is no good evidence that wind turbines directly cause health effects,” Professor Chapman said.
The NSW government has been considering draft guidelines for wind farms for about two years, including rules for a two-kilometre setback. Such a range is applied in Victoria and claimed by the wind energy industry to be among the toughest anywhere.
Frank Boland, Infigen’s senior development manager for the 100-megawatt project, welcomed the commission’s ruling for the Bodangora site.
“It not only gives us comfort but also should give comfort to anyone who did have health concerns about the project,” Mr Boland said. “We don’t see any causal link between wind turbines and health, full stop.”
The NSW Health statement “is relevant to other states as well”, Mr Boland said, adding that its ruling could help secure planning approval for a similar-sized wind farm planned by Infigen at Flyers Creek, south of Orange, and for projects elsewhere.
The Bodangora wind farm reportedly divided the local community, pitting farmers willing to host the turbines against neighbours. At a public meeting in July prison officers from the maximum security Wellington Correctional Centre, located about 10 kilometres from the wind farm, raised concerns about the health risks to staff and inmates.
“We were really surprised by that. It was the first time they’d raised any concern,” Mr Boland said. “They can’t see it; they can’t hear it.”
Infigen is confident the community divide will narrow once people see property prices hold up, revenue and jobs flow to the area, and there are no health impacts. Host farms will receive about $10,000 a year from each turbine, while the company will also contribute about 2 per cent of the revenue from one turbine and $85,000 to the local community.
“Towns like Wellington are just dying for a project like this to come in,” Mr Boland said.
The site’s attraction included a strong wind resource but also access to two major power lines that traverse the area.
Infigen will now seek to secure a customer for the power, with the aim of starting construction on the wind farm by mid to late 2014, Mr Boland said.
Lyn Jarvis, a member of the Bodangora Wind Turbine Awareness Group, said her community group remains opposed to the wind farm despite the NSW Health and Planning Assessment Commission’s findings.
Ms Jarvis said the commission had ignored an independent environmental assessment by Steven Cooper, an acoustics technician that found the wind turbines would be harmful.
“It’s fallen on deaf ears,” she said. “We had 94 per cent of the submissions against the development.”
The group is pinning its hopes on the election of Liberal candidate for Hume, Angus Taylor, to help lead a pushback against renewable energy, particularly wind farms.
“Hopefully, he will pull the renewable energy credits and it won’t get built – or any wind farms won’t get built in inappropriate places,” Ms Jarvis said.
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