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Turbines put the wind up Hawkesdale locals

It could be the wind farm capital of Australia, but the residents of Hawkesdale don’t see the appeal in the potential tourist attraction rising on their doorstep.

Just 300km west of Melbourne, the township of 400 is grappling with the prospect that five wind farms – with almost 500 turbines generating 1500 megawatts – could soon go up and effectively encircle their town.

Three approved projects at Hawkesdale, Woolsthorpe and Ryan Corner, will border the town to the east and the south, and two proposed large-scale farms at Penshurst and Willatook will sit to its north and west.

Locals who are nervous that the noise could drive residents and farmers away say they’ve been overlooked by a state government chasing an aggressive renewables target.

Energy experts say the township is an example of why more must be done nationally to co-ordinate wind farm development so that single towns don’t shoulder the burden. “There needs to be more oversight than we’re seeing at the moment to make sure we don’t end up with this excessive concentration of wind farms in one area,” Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood said.

“The land owner might get paid, but as a community, they don’t see as much benefit from having these close by. There needs to be more consultation.’’

Hawkesdale’s proximity to high-voltage transmission lines owned by Alcoa, which connect western Victoria to the Latrobe Valley, have made it a natural choice for wind farm developers looking for a cheaper way to link the farms back to the grid.

At a protest rally in the town on Friday, the National Wind Farm Commission’s Andrew Dyer backed Mr Wood’s calls, saying state governments must assess the cumulative impact of wind farms on a region, rather than on an individual basis.

He also said states must consider prioritising projects that are least likely to affect residents and communities.

Victoria has the second highest number of wind farms in the country, but is set to overtake South Australia and lead the country on a turbine count in the next five years, with 1210 turbines proposed across 25 approved wind farms.

Changes to planning policy for wind farms by the Andrews government have also put residents on edge that proposals to expand wind farms that have already been approved will be rubber-stamped, with little regard to fears regions are at saturation point.

Janet Collins with parents Robert and Margaret McCosh on their farm near Hawkesdale. Picture: Aaron Francis

The McCosh family is able to see two wind farms from Banuke, their family farm, with turbines rising as high as city skyscrapers.

“The region has always been generally supportive of these developments, but we’re at the point where they’re now planned for just 1km from town and the turbines are getting bigger with bigger impacts in terms of noise and visibility,” daughter Janet Collins said yesterday.