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Rye Park wind farm developers offer cash grants to neighbours to get project back on track

The developers of the Rye Park wind farm near Yass are extending the largesse beyond landowners hosting turbines to offer cash grants to neighbours, in an effort to get their project back on track.

Trustpower wind development manager Rontheo Van Zyl said about 25 landowners whose homes were within two kilometres of a turbine were being offered $2500 a year for the life of the wind farm.

In return, they must agree not to plant trees taller than six metres or build other structure above height limits within 500 metres of the turbines.

Mr Van Zyl is in Canberra and the Yass and Rye Park area this week as part of a two-month consultation blitz with the community before Trustpower lodges a revised proposal to the NSW government for planning approval for the 327-megawatt wind farm.

The project ran into significant opposition from the local community under developers Epuron​ last year, with more than 100 submissions to the NSW government, overwhelmingly opposed to the wind farm.

New Zealand electricity company Trustpower, which was to be the eventual owner of the wind farm, took over development from Epuron late in 2014 to keep closer control on planning and consultation.

It has now put together a revised project, which it is taking to the community. Mr Van Zyl said turbine numbers had been cut from 126 to 109, taking account of concerns about the impact on native vegetation and migratory birds.

Forty-two landowners would host infrastructure, including turbines on their properties. Mr Van Zyl would not disclose the payments to those landowners, but $10,000 a year is a typically quoted price.

The new offer of cash grants to landowners within two kilometres of a turbine (but not hosting them) was in response to an issue raised consistently during consultation – that only host landowners were paid. The grant to neighbours was considered “a more fair arrangement”, Mr Van Zyl said. The money would come from a proposed community benefit fund, which Trustpower was proposing to split, half for community grants and half for the neighbour cash payments.

The Rye Park wind farm was one of four flagship Australian projects, but was unlikely to be put forward in the current ACT auction, Mr Van Zyl said.

The ACT government has called for bids for 200 megawatts of wind turbine capacity, with two or three wind farms to win 20-year contracts paying a guaranteed price for the electricity they feed into the grid.

Trustpower was one of a several companies to put forward Canberra region projects in the last ACT auction, but missed out, with the winning deals going to projects in Victoria and South Australia.

Mr Van Zyl said Trustpower, like others, had overestimated the importance of being located in the Canberra region, and the lesson from the last auction was that NSW projects would struggle to get funded in competition with projects from the windier states, which could bid cheaper prices. In the current auction, Trustpower was likely to put forward a project from interstate.

Mr Van Zyl welcomed the federal decision on a renewable energy target, which while low would provide certainty for the industry and provide the necessary incentives for electricity retailers to enter contracts with renewable generators including wind farms.

Trustpower runs the Snowtown wind farm, the biggest in South Australia, at 370 megawatts.