Moyne Shire councillors have voted unanimously to write to the state planning minister objecting to the proposed Willatook Wind Farm.
The decision came as both councillors and council officers sharpened their rhetoric at the August monthly meeting about the Victorian government’s approach to renewable energy infrastructure.
Cr Damian Gleeson said the Willatook example was an opportunity for the council stick up for itself and face down developers and the state government.
“We need… to use the Willatook application as our line in the sand,” he said.
Cr Gleeson said he had listened to many ratepayers and believed Moyne was getting the short end of the stick from wind farm projects.
“The community benefits are pathetic to say the least,” he said.
“The big businesses come into town, they build, they sell off the power, and they move on.”
Managing director of Wind Prospect Ben Purcell, the developer for the Willatook project, spoke at the meeting to address the various concerns.
“We’ve actively sought to work collaboratively with Moyne Shire at the community,” he said. “We know how important it is to respond to community concerns.”
“Over the years we’ve undertaken a variety of different (engagement) activities including door-knocking every dwelling within 6km,” Mr Purcell said, adding there had been many community information sessions, “numerous newsletters” and at least 20 meetings of the project’s community engagement committee.
Mr Purcell argued the site was well suited to wind farm development, having “a low density of houses and a lot of open space”, good wind energy and close access to major electrical infrastructure.
He said the $800 million project would provide enough renewable electricity to power 200,000 Victorian homes and nearly $1 million would go back into the local community every year.
In the council’s recent community consultation for the application, 59 of 62 submissions opposed the project, citing environmental, visual and noise concerns.
Three affected landholders addressed the council meeting. Robert Baulch said his family had farmed the district for 130 years and while he was “for wind farms” generally, he believed the Willatook project would “degrade” the amenity of the area.
“The shire has a responsibility to the local people, who can’t employ the experts… to defend their amenity,” he said.
Farmer Jeff Glare said individuals felt powerless to stop the projects.
“There is a huge power imbalance between local ratepayers and often large multi-national companies,” he said.
“There needs to be some form of local advocacy and support.”
Even the most pro-renewables councillors agreed. Cr Karen Foster said she found “any discussion to do with wind farms difficult” because she was passionate about fighting climate change. “This is the one issue I’ve seen split the community apart,” she said.
“Here’s our chance to show strong leadership.”
The council has no power to approve or reject wind farm applications, they can only make submissions to the planning minister.
Cr Gleeson said it was “ridiculous” the council didn’t have a “voice at the table” where wind farm projects were decided.
Acting economic development and planning director Darby Lee said council officers were heavily involved in the application process for the Willatook project and were “advocating for the people of Moyne”.
In voting to object to the project, councillors also asked to present at any planning panel convened to decide on the application.
Mayor Ian Smith advised those who made submissions to also write to the minister “and request to be heard at a panel so they can share their views with the people who will be making the decision”.
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