Renewable energy advocates have been left disappointed after a proposed wind farm on the NSW Southern Tablelands was rejected because of the visual impact on residents.
The 23-turbine project near Crookwell, known as Crookwell 3, would have added to the nearly 300 turbines already in the area.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment rejected the proposal in May, citing concerns about the turbines’ proximity to eight nearby properties.
The Independent Planning Commission has upheld the decision, stating the “visual impacts of the project are unacceptable given the significant visual impacts on multiple residences.”
The Commission said the site of the proposed wind farm, where turbines would be up to 157 metres in height and within two kilometres of houses, is not suitable because of their proximity to residences and the community.
Wind farm advocates have questioned the IPC’s decision.
“The visual impact of wind turbines is overstated in NSW laws,” the national coordinator of the Australia Wind Alliance, Andrew Bray said.
“The way wind farms look on the horizon is very much a subjective thing.”
“At a time when we really need to be building as much clean energy capacity [as possible] to replace our ageing coal plants, there’s too much emphasis on the visual impact of turbines.”
The company behind the Crookwell 3 project, Global Power Generation, had scaled the proposal back from 29 to 23 turbines, and had offered to reduce the number to 17.
The company would not comment on the decision, with the possibility of an appeal to the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Cattle producer John Carter has been fighting wind farms around Crookwell for the past 22 years, and welcomed the decision to reject Crookwell 3.
As a long-standing opponent to turbines, and a sceptic of man-made climate change, Mr Carter wrote a submission to the Independent Planning Commission calling wind turbines ‘scenic vandalism.’
He has questioned how much energy they produce, and he claimed they impact on health and property values.
“It’s affecting a beautiful rural scene turning it into an industrial site, totally out of proportion to the landscape,” Mr Carter said.
“The noise of the turbines affects people’s health, people can’t sleep, people suffer severe headaches, all the while the energy produced from wind farms are [sic] minimal.”
Mr Carter said renewable energy coming from wind farms was still less than two per cent of the total energy produced in the world.
“Wind farms are going nowhere, people will look back on this wind farm side show in thirty years time and say that the people went quite mad.”
Mr Carter, who has called for a Royal Commission into wind farms, believed wind turbines could also impact on the ability to battle bushfires.
“If we have a fire breakout here, there’s no way aerial support can be given to firefighters because of the turbines being there.”
Farmers benefit financially
Landholders can receive annual payments from wind farm companies for having turbines on their properties, potentially totalling thousands of dollars.
Sheep grazier at Crookwell Charlie Prell has 11 turbines on his property.
“They’ve changed my life, we’re getting a passive income from them allowing us to improve production levels on our farm,” he said.
“We are in drought, but with that income it means we have been able to reduce our stocking rate by 70 per cent allowing for improved grass cover when it does rain.”
Mr Prell is urging the state government to develop a renewable energy plan to encourage more rural communities to embrace wind power.
“There has to be a rational debate about it, particularly in NSW because there’s virtually no renewable energy infrastructure in this state.”
“We’ve had some bizarre rulings around renewable energy recently that are in contrast to previous determinations.”
In September, the Independent Planning Commission rejected plans for a multi-million dollar coal mine to be built in the Bylong Valley, due to concerns over the environmental, agricultural and heritage impacts.
South Korean company Kepco was behind the project and said it would inject more than $300 million into the state economy.
The NSW Government was critical of the decision to reject the mine, and is putting together legislation to prevent global greenhouse gas emissions from coal exports to be used as a reason for rejecting a proposed coal mine.
Future of renewables
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency said at the end of 2018 there were 94 wind farms in Australia, generating enough electricity to meet seven per cent of the country’s electricity demand.
The Federal Government has given $1 billion to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to invest in technologies that help to maintain Australia’s electricity grid.
International energy analyst Tim Buckley said despite the ruling against the wind farm in Crookwell, the NSW government is accepting more renewable energy into the electricity grid.
“There are more than $20 billion of renewable energy investment projects in the planning scheme,” said Mr Buckley.
“There’s plenty of incentive to transition away from coal.”
“The trouble is that in NSW the thermal coal industry is very much the driver of the NSW royalty system so NSW is very dependent on coal royalties from exports.”
Mr Buckley said other states and territories were working towards 100 per cent renewable targets at a faster rate than NSW.
“If NSW speeds up the transition into renewable energy with solar, wind and hydro, it could halve electricity prices within five years.
“Rural communities are the ones that get left high and dry when coal mines shut, all of the focus should be on providing clean renewable energy for these towns.”
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