A confidential proposal to build one of Australia’s biggest wind farms on the Western Downs has been knocked back by several landholders due to concerns over decommissioning.
Danish company Vestas is proposing to develop a 1200MW, 167-turbine wind farm south of Tara, with the aim to start construction by 2027.
For comparison, Acciona Energia’s 1026MW, 180-turbine MacIntyre Wind Farm near Warwick will be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere when finished in 2024.
The Vestas Tara Wind Farm Project brochure given to landholders says “the decommissioning of a wind farm at the end of project life is the responsibility of the wind farm owner”. While there are no documented decommissioning examples in Australia, some plans have calculated costs between $400,000 – $600,000 per turbine, according to the Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner.
The AEIC says most planning permits require decommissioning responsibilities to rest with the project owner, however, in the event of default by the project owner, the liability for decommissioning ultimately may rest with the landholder.
Tara farmer Kieran Cook, who has been approached by Vestas to host wind turbines, said it was too risky. “There is a very high risk that we will be left with the cleanup cost of the wind farm and at $600,000 or more per turbine, it is a risk we are not prepared to take,” Mr Cook said.
Cam Benjamin owns a grazing property within the proposed Tara wind farm as well as property to the west. At the end of 2022, he hosted a meeting of 15 landholders at his property to consider the proposal in his area.
“A unanimous decision was reached to reject the wind farm proposal primarily because of the decommissioning risk,” Mr Benjamin said. “I believe that developers are selling their proposals in the early stages of development and their reluctance to provide security up front for decommissioning is a clear indication that they fully understand the cost of that process. They are therefore exposing landholders to this risk. This risk is unaffordable and makes future planning extremely difficult.”
Brett Wilson runs a broad scale farming operation and his properties adjoin stage one and are also included in the proposed stage two area. He has joined with his neighbours to refuse to host wind turbines, saying it is likely that the wind farm will be traded to an entity that is not equipped to decommission a wind farm of this scale.
Vestas was contacted for comment but did not respond by deadline.
On Monday, Nationals leader and Federal Member for Maranoa David Littleproud told the Rural Queensland Today podcast he had a “big issue” with the uncertainty of wind turbine decommissioning. “I’ve … got a big issue about what happens at end of life and I’m really concerned about farmers getting left with this,” Mr Littleproud said. “They all go, ‘oh, we’ve got a tight contract’, but who’s the contract with at the end in 20 years time? … it’ll be a shell company that has no assets and in fact you’re left with these big turbines you have to decommission.”
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