The company behind the controversial Hills of Gold wind farm near Nundle has complained that opponents of the project unfairly obstructed locals from hearing their side of the story.
Engie's General Manager for asset development for Australia and New Zealand, Andrew Kerley, said the French multinational energy company remains strongly committed to the scheme on a visit to Tamworth this week.
Mr Kerley accused the Hills of Gold Preservation Inc of getting in the way of residents who wanted to learn more about the project by parking a branded truck across the road from an information hub during consultation.
"To try and hinder other people from attending the information hub and being able to learn about the project is unfortunate," he said.
"We should have every right to be able to do that in an open, honest and respectful way with everyone. I don't think it's fair that people try and stop us from doing that.
"They may not agree with the project and they can come and tell us that they don't agree with the project or tell us what their concerns are, we're more than happy to to have those conversations, but don't get in other people's way of making up their mind about the project."
Hills of Gold Preservation Inc executive member Megan Trousdale said "in no way was access obstructed" by the legally-parked truck, which bore a slogan declaring that the community opposed the project.
"The main reason why that was done is because Engie fails to acknowledge that the local majority opposes the wind farm," she said.
"Engie continues to point to the minority support for the wind farm. Even at the information hubs was conducting surveys which they then manipulate the data into samples that benefit the wind farm."
About 50 people visited the hub and another 25 attended an Engie BBQ in Hanging Rock, the company said, most of them supportive of the project.
Engie also conducted a poll of businesses which showed 67 per cent of businesses that have a shopfront in Nundle or Hanging Rock support the project.
Mr Kerley said the opposition group "boycotted" the consultation.
"Despite being criticised for a lack of engagement a few months ago, we've done as much as I feel that we can on the engagement front, and then they've completely sort of ignored, actually boycotted [our efforts]," he said.
Ms Trousdale said the best poll of all was the published public submissions about the public, which were overwhelmingly in opposition.
The group will wait until they have the company's response to submissions before engaging in consultation, so they have all available information, she said.
Mr Kerley said the company was still committed to building the scheme in the same location. Concerns like visual impact, biodiversity or constructability were all "manageable", he said, and he would be happy to have a wind farm built near his own home.
He spent much of Wednesday in talks with Tamworth Regional Council with an eye to convincing the local government of the merits of the project.
The council opposed the scheme in its submission through the planning process last year.
Mr Kerley said the company is working with the council to address its explicit list of concerns and he's hopeful they are closer to an agreement.
"We've been very focused on Tamworth council, they're a major stakeholder," he said.
"They had an explicit list of concerns in their submissions. We've been working with them to get them comfortable with a revised version of the project."
The majority of residents who had a say on the scheme opposed it and the company hopes to win them over.
"I'm not going to sit here say that we will have everyone supporting the project," he said.
"We know that no matter what the project looks like people will continue to oppose it for their own reasons.
"We're focused on ongoing engagement, and giving people as much factual information as possible to allow people to form their view of the project."
The company plans to release its response to largely negative submissions on January 10. The response has been repeatedly delayed.
Assuming everything from now goes smoothly, the company hopes to have the project under construction by late 2022, with the first watt of power to be generated in 2024.
Engie announced they had purchased the project in early November last year. The company plans to build as many as 70 turbines on the Hills of Gold about 5km south of Hanging Rock, near Nundle. If approved and built the project would produce as much as 420 megawatts of battery-firmed clean power, enough electricity to juice 185,000 homes.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding