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NSW health minister says concerned about impact of wind farms

Despite reassuring noises about large-scale renewable energy coming out of the new-look federal Coalition, and an increasing number of sympathetic state governments, the Australian wind industry is far from out of the woods.

Last Friday, while federal environment minister Greg Hunt was announcing the appointment of a National Wind Farm Commissioner, the NSW minister for mental health (and deputy minister for health), Pru Goward, was speaking at a meeting at the Yass Memorial Hall, about the future of wind energy projects around the Hume electorate.

According to a report from the Yass Tribune, of the approximate 150 people who attended the meeting, the majority were against the establishment of wind farms, and Goward was one of them.

“Increasingly, I am on the view that there is some validity on the health effects,” she told the meeting, whose main focus was Trustpower’s proposed 109 turbine ind farm in nearby Rye Park.

“There are a number of people with health problems … it is clearly not psychosomatic,” Goward said. “They impact upon the landscape and have an immediate effect upon land value.

“I am with this community and plan on putting pressure on the state government.

“I want to look after the health, prosperity and look of this beautiful area. We have to make sure not to let these wind farms divide us.”

She also called for further land value and environmental reports to be done.

Goward, as we have reported here before, has form in Australia’s anti-wind movement. She has tried to prevent the ACT government from funding wind farms in the region, and in her role as NSW planning minister, acted to force Chinese project developer Goldwind to move 9 turbines at its Gullen Range wind farm near Crookwell.

The ACT government is now holding another auction of wind capacity, with 1,100MW of proposals competing for 200MW of contracts, including some wind farms in the surrounding region.

Trustpower, the NZ company that operates the Snowtown I and II wind farms in SA, last year won a tender for the purchase of the NSW government’s renewable energy assets for a total of $72.2 million, including 80% of the 4.2MW Crookwell wind farm. It has more than 2000MW of wind projects in the pipeline in Australia.

In June, Trustpower CEO Vince Hawksworth, invited former PM Tony Abbott to visit Snowtown to get up close and personal with the technology and see if he still found it “visually awful”.

But wind energy has had a particularly bad run in the NSW seat of Hume. Its former federal member, Alby Schultz, went on to become the first “patron” of high profile Australian anti-wind group, the Waubra Foundation.

And the current federal member, Angus Taylor, is also known to attend the odd anti-wind rally – he was at the Yass meeting on Friday – although he is on the record as being pro-solar, and usually qualifies his opposition to wind farms as being aimed at the subsidies.

At the Yass meeting, Taylor – who has also gone to pains to let the record know he is not a climate sceptic – reserved his judgement of the Trustpower proposal.

“Unfortunately with these topics you will never get a 100 per cent agreement,” he said, “but you have to figure out what you want and come together to have your voice heard.”

Trustpower, meanwhile, is doing its part to address community concerns. According to an ABC News report from August, the company has been reviewing almost 120 public submissions on the Rye Park Wind Farm near Boorowa and is finalising its formal response.

Already, it has changed the project’s layout to ensure it would not negatively impact on landholders, and reduced the number of turbines from 126 to 109.

“We’ve also included an additional connection option for the wind farm, so that we could introduce flexibility for potential staging of the project depending on the market availability,” said Trustpower spokesman Rontheo Van Zyl.

Van Zyl said the company would also be holding talks with landholders to gauge their interest in receiving compensation to offset the impacts.

“In fact we’re focusing on meeting anybody and everybody within, say, three kilometres of the wind farm in the next few months to consult and ensure they’re aware of the project, the changes we’ve made.”

“But as part of that we’ll also be visiting any of the eligible dwellings with the proposal, to see if there’s any interest in taking up the offer and, yes, there will be a voluntary planning agreement.”