RES Australia has scrapped plans to develop a nearly 800MW wind farm south of Penshurst in south-western Victoria, in what appears to be a concession to local community resistance, as large-scale renewable energy development starts to boom across the state.
The company – whose Australian portfolio includes the the 68MW Emerald Solar Park in Queensland, and the 240MW Ararat Wind Farm in Victoria – said in a statement on Wednesday that, upon detailed review, the project was no longer an ongoing development opportunity.
According to department of planning documents dating back to 2011, RES Australia first proposed to construct and operate the Penshurst Wind Farm at a capacity of 758.2MW – which would have made it the nation’s largest, at that time, by some measure.
And according to RES, it has been working on the 223 turbine proposal since 2008, including making significant efforts to win community support for the wind farm from the nearby township of Penshurst.
The project was to have injected more than $7 million into the region and created more than 1200 construction jobs and, by completion in 2018, to have generated enough capacity to supply 15 per cent of Victoria’s homes, according to RES.
“Since 2008, RES has a invested significant amount of effort, time and money in the Penshurst project and supported various local community events and groups over a number of years,” a company spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.
“After a detailed review of the site we no longer consider this project to be an ongoing development opportunity and we intend to focus on other sites in our expanding portfolio,” the statement said.
The statement offers little in the way of detailed explanation about why the project has been dumped, and also pays tribute to its “many supporters in the Penshurst area and a loyal group of landowners.”
But reports in the local press suggest a growing tide of community resistance in the region, located about an hour’s drive north-west of Warrnambool, which has become a sweet spot for wind farm development, including AGL’s Macarthur wind farm; smaller adjacent farms at Codrington and Yambuk; and the Mortons Lane Wind Farm.
Another two projects – Union Fenosa’s 134MW Ryan Corner wind farm, and Woolsthorpe (55-68MW) are approved for development, and a third – the 98 turbine Willatook Wind Farm, by Wind Prospect – is at the proposal stage.
A Warrnambool Standard story published in January 2015 reported that the Southern Grampians branch of the anti-wind group Landscape Guardians, had threatened to sue any landholders who agreed to have turbines for the proposed Penshurst wind farm on their properties. The report suggested that “no more than 10 property holders” had signed agreements with RES to have turbines on their land.
At the time, RES said the threat of legal action had not persuaded any landholders to withdraw from their agreements, and said any legal case would be a long one, as the claim of “nuisance” would be difficult to prove. Landowners with a stake in the wind farm were to have been paid around $65 million, according to reports.
In 2012, the Standard reported that the same anti-wind group had opposed the wind farm over concerns it would threaten local brolga population and geopark. RES had already prepared an effects statement on the impact the wind farm would have on the the southern bent-wing bat population and the volcanic plain natural grassland.
Since 2015, documented local opposition to Penshurst appeared to quiet down. But a more recent report in The Australian – which does love an anti-wind yarn – noted that a protest rally against further wind farm development in the broader Moyne Shire region had been held in Hawkesburn in September, amid growing concern that wind turbines would soon “effectively encircle their town.”
The report cited Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood, who said there needed 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.
“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.’’
As for RES, the company says it has a development pipeline of more than 2500MW of new wind, solar and energy storage projects across a number of Australian states.
This includes the 429MW Murra Warra Wind Farm, also in Victoria, which was approved in November 2016, and stands to be one of the largest in the southern hemisphere, next to the 800MW project proposed for Victoria’s Golden Plains Shire by German-backed outfit WestWind Energy.
Last month, the company also began construction on the 68MW Emerald Solar Park in the heart of Queensland’s coal country after the project reached financial close.
As we reported at the time, Emerald is significant for Australia’s solar industry, as the first independently owned project to strike a power purchase agreement with a major Australian corporate.
Telstra signed a long term contract for the output of Emerald, which it says will be the first of many investments in large scale solar to help offset the high cost of its energy consumption, which accounts for nearly 1 per cent of Australia’s total demand.
(RenewEconomy contacted the Moyne Shire for comment about why the Penshurst was scrapped. Councillor Vicki Askew-Thornton, in charge of major projects liaison and economic development for Moyne Shire Council, declined to comment, and referred us to the RES Australia statement.)
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