A planning application to build a 13-turbine renewable energy project on Victoria’s southern coastline is set to be lodged with the state’s planning minister within weeks.
Synergy Wind is understood to be finalising its proposal to the state government for the Gelliondale Wind Farm, located seven kilometres south-west of Yarram and three kilometres west of Alberton.
The project is expected to create 50 jobs during construction, 10 ongoing jobs and generate 300,000-megawatt hours of renewable energy a year or enough electricity to power about 37,000 homes.
However, farmers and landowners in the district are divided, with some raising environmental and planning concerns, while others – who could host the turbines on their properties – say the benefits of the project are endless.
Synergy Wind said the proposed 13 turbines would be located on 1500 hectares of cleared agricultural farmland and span 210 metres at the highest point of the turbine’s blade. Dairy farmers Peter and Lisa Vening were one of the 11 landowners approached in the Gelliondale/Hedley district to host a turbine on their property. The Venings are no stranger to renewable energy projects, owning 80 hectares at Toora where three turbines are located as part of the Toora Wind Farm.
“We’re not against them, we think they’re a great thing,” Mrs Vening said. “If you can have a guaranteed income, at least you have something to put food on your table at the end of the day.”
The family milks a mixed-dairy herd of up to 550 cattle and recently completed construction of a robotic dairy, marking 100 years since the Venings started farming at Hedley.
“We’re made out to be really bad people because we’re willing to host turbines,” Mrs Vening said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t want to be named that support the wind farm. “We have our three boys at home, we’re there for the long haul and we’re not going anywhere so this is a sensible decision for us.”
Mrs Vening said turbines on her farm at Toora “don’t upset the cattle” and added “we don’t have issues with the noise”.
Guardians of Nooramunga Coastal Communities secretary and Hedley beef farmer Maree Avery opposes the project and labelled it “very divisive”.
“These wind farm companies approach landowner by landowner and they never hold a joint community meeting,” she said. “They pick people out and get them to sign up and that’s how they leverage other people to sign up.”
However, Synergy Wind managing director Adam Gray disputed these claims and said host landowners where turbines would be located had “all chosen to participate”.
“It is a personal and commercial decision they have made, with no coercion or leveraging,” he said. Mr Gray said the wind farm operated a public information centre in Yarram each Thursday for five hours. “This is staffed by senior company executives who are also available to meet with community members by appointment at a time and place convenient to the community member,” he said.
The coastal communities group is made up of 40 members, and Ms Avery said the group opposed the project because of potential environmental risks. “It’s too close to the remnant vegetation which adjoins the Nooramunga Marine & Coastal Park,” Ms Avery said. “We honestly believe some of the assessments they’ve done are poorly done and we believe they haven’t got a correct capture of the flora or fauna of this area. “However, the wind farms feel very confident because they have the government in their pocket.”
Synergy Wind said the project was about 3.5 kilometres from the coastal park. “The closest proposed wind turbine to any part of the park or the boundary of the Ramsar wetlands is in the east of the project area and sits about 1.9km away from the lower reach of the Albert River and the coastal environs,” Mr Gray said. “There have been multiple targeted flora and fauna surveys and detailed assessments undertaken to assess the impacts of the proposal on the surrounding environment; the layout and arrangement of the project has been modified in response to every opportunity to avoid impacting native vegetation or wildlife during its development.”
It is not the first time Synergy Wind has attempted to establish a wind farm in the district. In 2020, local residents, including Ms Avery, had a planning permit overturned by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal after it ruled the proponent, Synergy Wind, had breached planning guidelines in its application. As a result, VCAT dismissed the then-planning minister’s decision who had given the green light for the wind farm to be constructed.
Ms Avery said the proposed wind farm would be located 2.5km away from her partner Kevin Opray’s farm. “These turbines have since got bigger, these are twice the size of the turbines at Toora,” Ms Avery said. “The community is anxious.”
Retired beef farmer Rod Pearson moved to the district in 1961 and between himself and his son, own 400 hectares across four properties between Hedley and Alberton. Mr Pearson said he was approached to host two turbines on his property, should the project go ahead. “The vast majority of our community seem to be in favour of the project,” he said. “There might be half a dozen people who make a lot of noise and are in the paper, but I speak to the people who are doing the project and they say it’s the least amount of bad publicity they’ve been involved with. “For me, it’s a benefit to me because I’m at retirement age so it is guaranteed income (to host a turbine), but this will be a huge benefit for our local community too because it will generate jobs.”
Since 1995, Gelliondale residents Graeme and Valerie James have progressively restored the historic Gelliondale Hotel which was built in 1891. The impressive building was closed to the public in 1970, but Mr and Mrs James had planned to reopen the former watering hole as a bed and breakfast. Mr James said renovations stopped when a wind farm was first proposed for the area a decade ago. “We stopped because our building will have no value if the turbines go ahead,” he said. “We’re not as bad as some people, but the closest turbine will be about 1.4km away.” Mr James said he supported renewable energy projects, but has called for a reduction in the number of turbines for a “best-case scenario”. “The land that is allocated for the wind farm is only about 20 metres from our boundary,” he said. “Under new planning rules, if we want to build additional buildings, we need to seek the approval of the owners of the wind farm before we go ahead. “I feel as if we’ve been stripped of our own right to live in our own house.”
Amendment VC212 gazetted in October 2021 in the Victorian Planning Provisions introduced a requirement that a planning permit would be required from a council to build accommodation, including a house, in a farming zone within one kilometre of land where a wind farm is proposed. The state government said this did not prohibit development. “This gives council the discretion to consider whether new housing or additional buildings are appropriate less than 1 kilometre from land where a wind farm is proposed,” a government spokesperson said.
Mr Gray said affiliated Synergy Wind companies owned three properties of about 100 hectares in total in the area and some of this land would be used to host one of the proposed turbines and other associated access tracks and underground cabling. He said no new overhead powerlines were proposed for the project, with all power connections to be located underground to a substation site where connection would be made to the existing 66 kilovolt transmission line.
“Major projects can polarise opinion, and Gelliondale is no exception,” he said. “There are some vocal opponents and many supporters who generally remain silent. “Our polling, conducted through a public opinion survey in the communities around the project site, indicates over a third of respondents are supportive of the project, while less than half of respondents are opposed. “The public opinion survey is still available for people to complete at the project website, and we continue to receive submissions.” Fifty people responded to the survey.
A Victorian government spokeswoman said Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny was aware of a proposal for the wind farm. “But no planning permit application has been made at this stage,” the spokeswoman said.
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