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Wind divisions hit ‘Hills of Gold’ hard

Wind energy projects are dividing communities across the state, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the small villages of Hanging Rock and Nundle.

At the top of a ridge at an elevation of about 1750 metres Nundle can be seen several kilometres away and a small crowd of about 30 people has gathered.

They believe wind energy proponents Wind Energy Partners deserve a fair go.

They have gathered because they believe their voices are unheard, lost to a chorus formed in Nundle determined to shout the proposed 98-turbine project down.

Most of the people on the ridge are from Hanging Rock, population 195 or thereabouts. Jim Robinson owns most of the land the proposed WEP wind project would occupy at Hanging Rock and stands to make a lot of money from it.

He first bought land in the area 29 years ago and has been buying ever since, reckoning he’s now bought about seven farms in the area. When the wind farm project first became public, Mr Robinson offered to donate $100,000 a year to Nundle from his own earnings if the project goes ahead.

He’s now withdrawn that offer, since bitterness descended on his community.

He says even the idea of the project has divided the small community, with supporters regularly slated online, and he reckons Facebook is the worst thing ever invented.

Laughing, he details the changes he’s seen in Nundle in the decades he’s known it. “Two shipping containers,” he says, “that’s all the change I’ve seen in the place”. He said the owner of one shipping container sold coffee and the owner of the other sold soaps.

Mr Robinson said most tourists to Nundle were retired and self contained, driving into town towing caravans. He thinks families need more attractions to keep them coming back and the people of Nundle deserve better amenities, which the wind installation could pay for. He said Nundle stood to earn $240,000 a year, from contributions to a Community Enhancement Fund by WEP.

With such guaranteed income, the community could borrow money for major projects, he said.

Gerry Chan, born and bred in Papua New Guinea, educated in Australia and of Chinese ethnicity, knows well the value of a good friendship and maintenance of it.

He sighs when he says he believes he will lose good friends as a result of the wind project, whether it gets up or not.

A high school school teacher, Mr Chan feels compromised when speaking with his students about renewable energy, because of the local push against it.

“We’re not practising what we preach,” he said, “it’s all hot air”.

Proprietor of the award-winning Arc-en-Ciel Trout Farm, Russell Sydenham, could also potentially host six turbines on his 200-hectare holding on the eastern fall of the ridge line, which feeds the Barnard River, part of the Manning River catchment.

He says everyone has a right to object to the project but, as a former president of six years of the Nundle Business Tourism and Marketing Group, he thinks the group, of which he remains a member, has overstepped the mark in taking a stance against the project on a split vote.

Mr Sydenham said his farm produced 12 to 15 tonnes of trout a year and he would not be letting wind developers affect that.

*This story was originally published in The Land