Garvoc residents criticise wind farm application as developer defends process
Credit: By Ben Silvester | May 14 2023 | standard.net.au ~~
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The developer of a proposed Garvoc wind farm has blamed anti–wind-farm activists for a lack of community consultation as neighbours say they have been “disrespected” by the lack of engagement.
Wind energy company RE Future submitted a planning application to the state Planning Minister for the six-turbine, 40 megawatt Swansons Lane Wind Farm on farm land outside Garvoc that would straddle Moyne and Corangamite shires, but didn’t engage with the councils or local community before making the application.
Corangamite Shire mayor Ruth Gstrein said she agreed with her Moyne Shire counterpart Karen Foster that the lack of consultation was “poor form”. “I think it just shows such a lack of respect for everyone who will be affected by it,” Cr Gstrein said. “I always say to developers that you need to speak to the community, particularly those directly involved.”
Cr Gstrein said she always advised developers to “give the community more information than they need”, because it put them beyond reproach. “Where there’s silence from the developer it gets filled with suspicion and mistrust,” she said.
Garvoc dairy farmer Joseph Conheady said he also felt disrespected by the lack of engagement. “We feel concerned that a legal process has already begun that may heavily impact us, yet we have had no visibility of its existence, let alone how we can involve or protect ourselves,” he said.
Project director Severin Staalesen said the decision to lodge the planning application before engaging with councils or locals was a change from their previous process, but that anti–wind-farm activists had forced the company’s hand.
“We acknowledge that in the past we and other wind farm proponents used to notify local councils earlier in the development process, but lately certain members of the community have sought to stymie renewable energy projects by gaming the planning system in this early phase of the development process,” he said. “As a result it’s no longer feasible for us to notify councils as early as we used to.”
The Standard understands in some previous projects activists have contacted neighbours of proposed projects and advised them to submit planning applications for worker accommodation that would complicate impending wind farm applications, costing the developers tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mr Staalesen said in a recent project the company was also criticised for starting community consultation “too early”, before the details of the application had been finalised. “Frankly, we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t,” he said.
While Crs Foster and Gstrein said they had only been told about the wind farm on Thursday or Friday, Mr Staalesen said both councils had been notified “approximately two weeks ago” when RE Future submitted the planning application.
Mr Staalesen said the company always intended to engage in a detailed consultation process with everyone living within 5 kilometres of the site, with information packs mailed out earlier in the week. “At around the same time the information package lands in people’s letterboxes we’ll start our first round of face-to-face house visits, during which we give local residents an opportunity to talk directly with a company representative about the project,” he said.
“The planning process for this wind farm will take many months, if not years, meaning there will be plenty of time for local residents to become acquainted with the proposal and prepare an informed submission in response to it.”
Mr Staalesen said the company had drafted a community benefits scheme for the project that would reimburse residents living near the wind farm and was “one of the more generous community benefit schemes in the industry”. He said there would also be close consultation with locals to fine tune the scheme.
But Mr Conheady said he worried about the damage a wind farm could do to future food production in highly concentrated prime agricultural land like Garvoc. Mr Conheady’s land lies adjacent to the proposed site and 85 per cent of his key productive land would be affected by the 1 kilometre development overlays applying to all land around the border of the wind farm.
“In highly productive dairy farming areas like Garvoc where farms are geographically smaller an entire farm can be affected by a 1 kilometre development overlay,” he said. “I think there’s a critical discussion to be had nationally about our strategic land planning. Our most naturally fertile regions are our best mode of growing climate-efficient food. Climate action policies should protect and prioritise necessary development of food production in these key regions as part of its goal for a greener future.”
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