Yesterday the Legislative Council Government Business Scrutiny Committee exposed potentially misleading conduct of wind farm developer Epuron.
Epuron, a Sydney based renewables developer, is known for getting wind farm developments approved, then on-selling development approvals.
Epuron has come under increasing pressure from the communities of Stanley and St Patricks Plains in the Central Highlands. These communities speak of poor community engagement and insensitive and inappropriate choice of location. They say Epuron ignores biodiversity, scenic landscapes and proximity to Stanley, as well as the iconic landscape of The Nut and historic area of Steppes.
Yesterday The Legislative Business Scrutiny committee chaired by Hon Ruth Forrest MLC raised some uncomfortable questions for Hon. Guy Barnett MHA and TasNetworks, ultimately highlighting questionable conduct of developer Epuron.
With Tasmania lagging behind other states in regulating windfarm development, Guy Barnett is under increasing scrutiny for failing to pin down a date for release of the ‘Renewable Energy Coordination Framework.’, Barnett sidestepped questions about whether the government would legislate requiring developers in Tasmanian to consider social license and visual impact, saying that government would do “what is best for the state.”
Given that Barnett’s plan for 200% renewable energy plan was announced in 2020, the failure to implement legislative and regulatory frameworks is simply not good enough.
This lack of legislative framework has opened the door for developers to call the shots, in Tasmania’s largely unregulated renewable energy environment.
Epuron have left option agreements for the transfer of power easements with landowners for them to consider. These documents make multiple specific references to TasNetworks as a beneficiary of those easements. By signing the document, the landholder appoints TasNetworks as power of attorney, and allows TasNetworks to establish an easement covenant for the sole benefit of TasNetworks over their land.
Ruth Forrest stated these documents have TasNetworks named “almost as a proponent” to which TasNetworks CEO Sean McGoldrick responded “I am aware that in various notices that they give out to landowners we were named. That was not something that had to do with an agreement. There is no agreement, we have not reached any agreement.”
Members of the Stanley community have expressed concern that Epuron could give the impression that they are acting as an agent for TasNetworks, thereby implying to landholders that TasNetworks will compulsorily acquire their land if they do not sign the Options Agreement.
Ruth Forrest further pressed Guy Barnett, asking if he will “take any action then, in terms of further communication with Epuron to say this potentially has been misleading? In terms of the community’s social licence that you said you respect and you have encouraged them to participate in.” Guy Barnett has conceded he is “absolutely willing to look into it.”
Members of the Stanley community are worried about what they see as Epuron’s potentially misleading conduct and will ask Hon Guy Barnett what the government intends to do about it.
In the meantime, introducing a legislative framework requiring ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ zones and social license would be a very good start. Stanley hopes that Guy Barnett will consider this in the best interests of the community and the State.
The introduction of legislative requirements may be uncomfortable for Guy Barnett as it potentially interrupts the unimpeded roll out of wind turbines throughout the state. But this is not nearly as uncomfortable as the wrath of a multitude of small and large communities who harbour genuine concerns about renewables roll out without regulation. Minister Barnett’s approach to regulated ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ areas will test his assertion that he has the interests of Tasmania at the forefront of his considerations.