A group of residents’ final bid to stop a wind farm near Hawkesdale in south-west Victoria has been rejected by the Victorian Court of Appeal.
The People of the Small Town of Hawkesdale Incorporated had sought to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision last August to dismiss its legal challenge to the extension of the project’s planning permit.
The proposal outlined the construction of up to 26 wind turbines with a total output of 97 megawatts, up to a height of 180 metres.
The residents’ group had concerns about noise and visual impacts, saying it feared the project would cause people to move away from the town.
“The soul of our community will be destroyed. It will be the death of our town,” group president John Bos said.
This morning three Supreme Court judges determined the permit condition was valid with no errors, and refused the leave to appeal.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) said the decision meant “the amended permit is valid and the project can proceed.”
Big project, tiny town
Located between Hamilton and Warrnambool, Hawkesdale is home to around 311 people according to the latest Census data.
In 2008, Victorian Planning Minster Richard Wynne approved a planning permit for energy company Global Power Generation (GPG) Australia to build the wind farm around 5 kilometres from the town.
Spanning 2,280 hectares, the wind farm was designed to displace 333,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, according to the GPG website.
An application to extend the planning permit for the project to 2023 was granted in 2020.
This extension was the basis for the residents’ group to launch a legal battle last year, arguing the planning minister’s decision was “invalid” because no valid request to extend the permit had been made.
On August 20 2021, Supreme Court judge Melinda Richards dismissed the proceeding, concluding the group did not have the standing to bring the proceeding and the permit extension was valid.
This decision was appealed by the group, and went before the Court of Appeal in May for hearing.
In a statement, a GPG spokesperson said the company welcomed today’s outcome.
“GPG is pleased with the decision of the Court of Appeal. We will continue to work with the community and stakeholders on this exciting project,” they said.
Mr Bos said he was saddened by today’s outcome.
“I’m bitterly disappointed,” he said.
“This morning’s decision about the court case was not in our favour.
“It’s too early to take in all the reasons for the loss. Our solicitor indicated she will discuss with the QC probably over the next few days the ramifications of this verdict and what, if anything, can be done.”
The group had raised just over $1,500 for legal costs through a crowd-funding campaign, describing the Supreme Court fight as “a David and Goliath Battle”.
Bigger wind farm proposed
The decision on the Hawkesdale Wind Farm came just days after public submissions closed on plans for another wind farm located around 22km north of Port Fairy, in the Moyne Shire.
The Willatook Wind Farm Project would see 59 wind turbines constructed with a maximum height of 170m, along with a substation, a battery energy storage system, underground cables, above-ground transmission lines, and access tracks.
This project would have an expected operational life of 25 years, according to the Victorian government’s planning website.
A directions hearing for the project will be held in September, ahead of a public hearing in October.
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