By energy reporter Daniel Mercer | ABC News | www.abc.net.au
One of Australia’s biggest renewable energy investors says a court’s decision to uphold complaints against a Victorian wind farm could have “dramatic” and chilling effects on the country’s transition away from fossil fuels.
Alinta boss Jeff Dimery, whose company is one of Australia’s biggest private energy providers, said the ruling by Victoria’s Supreme Court would be a “shock” to companies planning to invest billions of dollars in new wind farms.
In its decision, the court backed claims brought against the 106MW Bald Hills wind farm in the south east of the state by neighbours who argued they were unable to sleep because of noise from the project.
Justice Melinda Richards ordered the project’s operators to switch off parts of the wind farm at night until the noise levels could be reduced to an acceptable level.
She also told the operators to pay aggrieved neighbours more than a quarter of a million dollars in costs and damages.
Mr Dimery said the decision would send “ripples” of doubt through the renewable energy industry across the country given the potential precedent it sets for other wind farms.
He said the longer-term implications were potentially significant, noting the ruling could scare away developers by making wind farms harder to build and less financially attractive.
“It’s a disaster,” Mr Dimery said.
“This is a pretty dramatic outcome, I have to say.
“This court decision certainly changes the risk appetite for investors.
“I think there’ll be some fairly serious ramifications off the back of this.”
Net-zero goals ‘just got harder’
According to Mr Dimery, Australia was already facing a difficult tasking in building the amount of renewable energy needed to meet the country’s plans to become carbon neutral by 2050.
He said the Bald Hills decision was likely to make the job even harder and highlighted the need for governments and energy providers to ensure they get affected communities onside.
“You can set targets and say they’re achievable from an academic or technical point of view,” he said.
“But then we all live in the real world.
“In the real world for instance, a couple of weeks back there were a whole lot of tractors parked up in Spring Street in Melbourne in front of Parliament House, with farmers protesting about transmission lines being built in the west of Victoria to facilitate renewable energy zones.
“We ourselves had a couple onshore wind projects on the east coast of Australia that were commercially feasible but unfortunately didn’t have community support to advance.
“And so we spent millions of dollars developing those projects and we had to walk away from them.
“What this Bald Hills decision highlights to me is the difficulty of the actual transition that we’re undertaking to reduce carbon emission from the stationary energy sector in Australia.”
Costs, bills inevitably to rise
For Mr Dimery, the ruling also underscored the cost pressures that would emerge as Australia accelerated its push away from coal- and gas-fired power plants towards renewable energy.
He said although wind and solar farms provided cheap electricity while they were producing, they were available less often than conventional plants.
On top of this, he said major and expensive upgrades to the national grid would be required to handle the extra renewable energy needed to meet Australia’s emissions targets.
Noting “there are not enough sites on land on the east coast to replace coal-fired generation” with wind farms, Mr Dimery said offshore wind projects were one of the only viable replacement options.
However, he said offshore wind farms were typically three times more expensive than onshore projects and this would eventually filter through to energy bills.
“I think the magnitude of what needs to be achieved has absolutely been underestimated,” he said.
“The narrative around what can be done and how it can be done, in my opinion, is being oversimplified to the community.
“There’s a misconception that bringing more and more renewable energy into the market will reduce power prices over time.”
Infrastructure Capital Group, which owns Bald Hills, said it was “absorbing the judgement and its implications”.
Nicholas Aberle from the Clean Energy Council said the industry took turbine noise “very seriously”.
Dr Aberle also noted that a new set of laws and guidelines had been developed to regulate wind farm noise following consultation with the Victorian government.
“This case shows the importance of wind farms being proactive in dealing with noise complaints,” Dr Aberle said.
URL to article: https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2022/03/25/alinta-says-court-wind-farm-ruling-will-have-dramatic-and-chilling-effect-on-renewable-energy-investment/