A proposed wind farm near the Cobden airport will not go ahead due to safety concerns and its potential to harm the habitat of the critically endangered southern bent-winged bat.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled on June 3 that no permit would be granted for the Naroghid wind farm following an eight-day hearing.
Developer Alinta Energy had planned for a 12 turbine wind farm on farmland north-west of Cobden, the latest in a string of wind farm proposals for the site since 2006. But pilots feared a collision with the 180-metre high turbines, some proposed to be just 2.5 kilometres from the airfield's northern runway, amid concerns the Corangamite Shire Council-owned site facing closure if the development went ahead.
The tribunal found the development's impact on the airfield and nearby roosting sites for the southern bent-wing bat outweighed the project's "favourable" clean energy qualities.
Corangamite Shire Council mayor Neil Trotter applauded the decision, but said the dispute was drawn out and costly for the council.
"We were concerned we would have to look for a new site if the wind farm went ahead," Cr Trotter said. "It means the council had to spend quite a bit of money to take this to VCAT, and it's money on the face of it that we probably wouldn't have had to spend if common sense had prevailed." Alinta spokeswoman Megan Taylor said an appeal might be on the cards.
"Alinta Energy notes the decision from VCAT and will take time to review the determination and assess whether a modified proposal might be feasible," Ms Taylor said.
"We will always work to develop projects in collaboration with local communities and with safety as the highest priory."
However Duncan Morris, a spokesperson for the Cobden Aero Club leading the charge against the development, said the applicant "refused' to communicate with the club.
"If they do try to appeal or start again with a fresh application we hope they would try to work with us, because they refused to deal with us at any point," he said.
"This decision is really good for the town, there are plenty of places to build these things that don't affect existing community assets.
"These towers would have been 180 metres high, with the closest one about 1.4 nautical miles directly in front of the airstrip which would seriously impede a takeoff towards it and also the landing if you had to come around it or over it.
"It was in the middle of our flight path."
The $100 million project would have placed 12, 180-metre-high turbines that would produce between 43.2-48 megawatts across an 835 hectare area, which would have powered around 14,000 households according to Climate Council estimates.
Planning Minister Richard Wynne said he would have refused the application for two reasons.
"The significant concern about the effect of the wind farm turbines on the safety and efficiency of the Cobden airfield … and the impact on the critically endangered southern bent-wing bat," he said.
Opponents to the wind farm development also cited the vital role that the Cobden Airport played in fighting the St Patrick's Day fires and peat fires, and feared the impact on emergency service accessibility if the airstrip was to cease operation as a result of the turbines.
"Not only is the airport great for the community and great for the people that use it, it's also very important to have that available for emergency services such as air ambulance and aviation rescue fire fighters," Aero Club president Don Mackinnon said.
"It would have made it nearly unusable."
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority said turbulence is possible for a distance of 16 times the rotor of a turbine.
"CASA advises that the proposed wind farm will create an unnacceptable risk to the safety of aircraft operations at Cobden Aerodrome," the aviation authority said in a statement to VCAT.
Shadow Minister for Aviation Gordon Rich-Phillips welcomed the news.
"Congratulations to the Cobden Aero Club and Cobden community more generally which has fought this ill conceived proposal for several years," he wrote on Facebook.
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