Prominent businessman Maurice Newman says he has been “disinvited” from a community consultative committee for a proposed wind farm in the state’s southern highlands because of his objections to government support for the project.
Thomas Mitchell, legal manager for Union Fenosa, developer of the $100 million project, said Mr Newman had “engaged in activities outside the committee to influence decisions”, in particular contacting then premier Barry O’Farrell to bar Office of Environment and Heritage staff from attending committee meetings.
Mr Newman denied he had sought to conceal his connections with Mr O’Farrell and then Environment Minister Robyn Parker, which included contact in person and by letter.
“I didn’t see why, as taxpayers, we should be funding the cost of staff from the Office of Environment and Heritage to travel to Goulburn…and (act) as advocates of the wind industry.”
“Clearly the former premier and former minister agreed with me,” Mr Newman said, noting such visits by OEH staff had ceased after his approach.
The company removed Mr Newman from the consultative group on July 9, days after Fairfax Media reported Mr O’Farrell had intervened in the process following lobbying by Mr Newman.
“The decision to step Maurice down was prompted by the recent SMH article, but it was the last straw in a pattern of behaviour that includes his threatening legal letters to our project stakeholders, and his ongoing involvement with an anti-wind lobby that seeds conflict and division in communities that have this wind energy opportunity,” Mr Mitchell said.
Mr Mitchell denied the company had expelled Mr Newman from the committee to gag debate, adding that a fellow anti-wind farm campaigner, Humphrey Price-Jones of the Crookwell Landscape Guardians, had been invited to replace him.
“Convincing Mr Newman of the merits of the project was a battle that could not be won,” Mr Mitchell said.
The Crookwell 3 wind farm, with its 25-30 turbines, is yet to be approved. The company’s Crookwell 2 project, worth about $200 million, has been approved but uncertainty over the Abbott government’s plans for the Renewable Energy Target has all but frozen new investment in large-scale wind and solar energy projects.
Mr Newman owns a pastoral property – which is worth as much as $5.5 million – that is within 2.5 kilometres of Crookwell 3.
“It means a lot of money to me, apart from the health effects (of wind farms) that are becoming increasingly clear,” Mr Newman said.
The government of Mr O’Farrell’s successor, Mike Baird, has taken a more positive stance on renewable energy since taking over in April.
On Tuesday, new Environment Minister Rob Stokes revealed he had asked the Environment Protection Authority to treat wind energy noise as it would other mining and resource projects, a move welcomed by the wind energy industry.
NSW has also backed the retention of the RET at its current settings – requiring the provision of 41,000 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy annually by 2020 – putting it at odds with the submissions of other Coalition states to a federal panel now reviewing the target. Mr Abbott, too, has indicated his opposition to the RET as it now stands.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding