The Upper Lachlan Shire is touted by some as the wind farm capital of Australia, but not everyone is happy with the proliferation of turbines on the southern tablelands of New South Wales.
The shire is home to nine large-scale wind farms, and one more is awaiting approval.
Although some of these projects have been operating for almost two decades, wind energy is still a divisive issue in the community.
As he finishes feeding his cattle, Crookwell grazier John Carter gazes out across his farm, which sits on the Great Dividing Range, to view eight wind turbines looming in the distance.
They are part of eastern Australia’s first wind farm – Crookwell One.
The Carter family has owned this property for 138 years and the prospect of a new, much bigger wind farm nearby – Crookwell Two – is making Mr Carter uneasy.
“It will completely alter the Wollondilly Valley, it will all get out of proportion,” Mr Carter said.
“The old landmarks, Mount Wayo, Pigments Hill, the Monument, will no longer be the dominant feature. The turbine towers will be the dominant feature, and that’s what really hurts.”
Mr Carter said 19 years on, he had yet to warm to the presence of wind turbines.
“It’s taken a big toll on my wife, in that she looks as though she’s having a stroke when the wind comes from a certain direction, she gets dreadful headaches,” he said.
Bigger, newer local wind farm unfazes sheep farmer
A 25 kilometre drive west of the Carter property is the Gullen Range Wind Farm, which until recently was the biggest wind project in NSW.
Flocks of sheep graze beneath its turbines which are almost as high as the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
This land belongs to fourth-generation farmer Carl Banfield, who said it was business as usual for him.
“I’ve got crossbred ewes lambing in and around the turbines.
“They use the turbines as shelter when it’s a bit windy and cold, they get in behind them and shelter from the wind,” Mr Banfield said.
Mr Banfield considered the money he received from allowing the turbines on his property as a form of insurance for when farming faced tough times.
“The property as you can see, it’s not overly grazed, we’ve got plenty of feed,” he said.
“We’ve been able to cut back on our numbers just because we’ve got that extra income and haven’t had to push the farm as we did before.
“We’re actually looking after the environment and the land by having the wind farm on the property.”
Concerns land values will ‘plummet’
But Mr Carter said that was a short-sighted attitude, and that the extra income from the turbines was short term gain for long term pain.
“Land values certainly plummet, because this was proven with the sale of the land on which Crookwell One is,” he said.
“It sold last month, it’s magnificent soil and it sold for, well, at least 30 per cent less than what most people thought it was worth.”
Wind is such an abundant resource on the southern tablelands, there are already about 200 wind turbines dotted throughout the Upper Lachlan Shire.
But because they still divided public opinion, the council has drawn up strict guidelines for considering any future projects.
The acting general manager Andrew Croke said consultation and strategic planning was key.
“In relation to further wind farm developments, whilst we can see there’s a strong possibility because of our geographical location, our wind patterns and so on, we’d really like to be consulted early, I suppose if there are to be any further developments,” Mr Croke said.
More energy sources in the mix for Upper Lachlan Shire
There were already other energy projects on the cards.
Plans have been unveiled for what would be the state’s largest solar farm, in the southern end of the shire.
There is also a push for a $1.5 billion gas-fired power station, but both the local council and MPs have voiced their objections to the project.
As the Federal Government continues to grapple with whether to set a clean energy target, Crookwell sheep farmer Carl Banfield had a message for the politicians.
“They need to pull their finger out and start letting a few more of these projects get off the ground,” Mr Banfield said.
“There’s just been too much to-ing and fro-ing as far as renewables and there’s no guarantees there for people to move ahead and move into these projects.”
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