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Wind farms: Farmers making a noise of their own

Hawkesdale farmer Paul Lewis says noise from Macarthur wind farm, five kilometres from his home, wakes him up at night.

Despite complaining to wind farm operator AGL and his local council “nobody will do anything about it”, he says.

“No one can do anything to really address the problems with existing wind farms. Moyne (shire council) have wiped their hands of it and don’t take responsibility, and the State Government isn’t doing anything,” Mr Lewis said.

His neighbour, Anthony Nagorcka, says he also has trouble sleeping when the rumble of the turbines is heard in his home.

These farmers recently formed an action group, along with 18 others, to protest another major wind farm, proposed for the Willatook region.

“They are going to saturate the area with wind farms and that is my biggest concern: we will have them surrounding us,” Mr Lewis said.

A Moyne Shire Council spokesman said council had determined the Macarthur project had met its permit’s noise standards, and added that the council was advocating for local residents to contact the State Government.

“The Minister for Planning determines if a planning permit is issued for wind farms, not council,” the spokesman said.

“Council has been strongly advocating to the State Government that compliance for noise from wind farms should be an Environment and Protection Authority responsibility.

“In presenting to planning panels on amendment applications for wind farms council has been advocating on behalf of the community that consideration must be given to cumulative impacts (of multiple wind farm projects in the one region).”

A Moyne shire councillor, Woolsthorpe farmer Colin Ryan, has cast doubt on the ability of councils to properly monitor wind farms to ensure they complied with permit conditions.

Cr Ryan said the state government needed to “regulate and take ownership” and “enforce some standards” regarding wind farm noise.

“The State Government is in control of permits and setting standards but then they are saying to us (councils) you enforce them,” Cr Ryan said.

“Well hang on, we haven’t got the resources to do that. You make the regulations, you enforce them.

“The state government has not worked out what the most effective way of making these laws and making them stick is. It is incumbent on them to do so.”

These concerns and many others about noise pollution, enforcement and responsibility have been conveyed to the National Wind Farm Commissioner Andrew Dyer.

Mr Dyer is now calling on the Victorian Government to tighten and enforce wind farm permit conditions, including noise standards.

His office has received 139 formal complaints nationally, 74 from Victoria in two years. Noise was the primary complaint.

Mr Dyer’s call comes as the Victorian Parliament recently legislated the Victorian Renewable Energy Target.

The VRET sets a goal of 25 per cent renewables powering the state’s energy needs by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025 and is expected to renew momentum for wind farm and solar projects.

Currently, depending on where and when a wind farm was built, the authority responsible for overseeing compliance with permit conditions varies, according to the Commissioner.

It may be a local council, the Victorian Planning Minister or the Environmental Planning Authority.

One of the findings of the commissioner’s report was that local communities were often unclear about who to complain to if they had concerns, such as noise issues. And, enforcement of standards and permit conditions varied by jurisdiction.

The report said there were no regular, mandated audits to check wind farms operated as they should, and communities were often unsure about where to direct complaints about alleged breeches of permit conditions, the commissioner found.

This week, Mr Dyer told The Weekly Times compliance was the most urgent issue the Victorian Government needed to address.

Nationally, Victoria is home to the largest number of proposed new wind farms.

Although it is not yet clear how wind farms, and their capacity to deliver power over time, will be considered under the VRET, the setting of the target is widely expected to produce renewed momentum for wind farm developers.

Australian Wind Alliance spokesman Andrew Bray agreed more “clarity is needed for local communities around who is responsible for compliance issues”.

“We believe the EPA should be made the responsible authority for post-construction ­assessments to ensure compliance with permit conditions,” Mr Bray said.

“The process must be clear and transparent to local communities so they have confidence in the results.”

Victoria’s Renewable Energy Advocate Simon Corbell said compliance concerns were a “reasonable issue” for the commissioner to raise.

A spokesman for Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the Government “welcomed” Mr Dyer’s views and was considering them “carefully”.

“The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning has formed a working group to analyse the way wind farm noise compliance is managed,” the spokesman said.

AGL did not respond by deadline.