Robert Smith is more at home with farming his property on the edge of Stanley, on Tasmania’s north-west corner, than protesting.
But a proposal to build a 12-turbine wind farm on a nearby beef property prompted him to come into town on his tractor to join this week’s anti-wind farm rally.
“I’ve got nothing against wind turbines. This is just in the wrong place,” Mr Smith said.
He joined about 100 people, including farmers, fishers and tourism operators with placards voicing their concerns – and he thinks there are more in the community that are worried.
“There’s a lot of people who probably are against it but they are too frightened to come and say we don’t want it in case they offend their other friend,” Mr Smith said.
Local hotelier Kerry Houston is leading the charge and knows it’s a tough gig in a small village like Stanley.
“There’s relationships and families that go back five generations and we don’t want this to split the town,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful community and we all want to work together, even though we are fighting an issue that’s quite difficult.”
The wind farm will be built four kilometres away from the historic township of Stanley.
About 50 megawatts of power will be transported via an underground cable to the existing substation at Port Latta.
Ms Houston said people were worried about noise and about the visual impact of the turbines.
“We don’t trust the height of the towers, we don’t trust the noise issues,” Ms Houston said.
‘Take them somewhere else’
Local fisherman Mick Murphy fears the turbines will deter tourists – a vital market for his daily catch.
“Take them somewhere else, take them down the west coast of Tassie or somewhere,” he said.
“You’ve got miles and miles of land, windswept, nice and flat, they can put thousands of them there if they want to do the world a favour carbon-wise.
“Put them down there, have as many as you want.”
The Stanley proposal is renewable energy company Epuron’s first venture in Tasmania.
“This part site has very good wind resource … this is the best wind resource I’ve been involved in measuring, it’s very, very strong and consistent wind, there’s also somewhere the project can connect into the Tasmanian system at Port Latta,” Epuron’s executive director Martin Poole said.
After working on the project for five years, the company has been surprised by this week’s protest.
“Until recently, we believed the community was understanding and accepting, I think it could be an indication of the level of activity we’re seeing in renewables and in electricity in general,” he added.
Mayor Daryl Quilliam agrees.
“Up until now, we haven’t seen too many people against the wind farm, I suspect there’s been a few talking to their friends,” Cr Quilliam said.
“As far as council goes, we’ve got to keep a balanced view on it and we just got to find out as much information we can and see why people are doing what they are doing.”
It’s likely to be another 12 months before the project goes before the local council.
Noise ‘very rarely audible’, company says
The company said the project was still in the planning stage.
“There’s about a dozen subjects that need to be studied from traffic and transport to avian ecology … those studies are done and we’re in the process of writing them up into an environmental impact statement,” Mr Poole said.
Epuron has also done maps showing what it describes as a “low visual impact” on the town and is trying to allay the community’s concerns about noise.
“It will be very rarely, if ever, audible in town, because it’s simply too far away,” Mr Poole said.
Epuron is far from the only renewable energy developer to come under fierce public scrutiny.
The nearby Robbins Island wind farm project has also faced opposition – as questions are raised about what benefits Tasmanians get from these projects.
“Not in my backyard”, according to the Stanley protesters.
“[I] absolutely agree the world needs renewable energy, I don’t agree this is a good spot for it,” Ms Houston said.