Latest wind farms likely to produce a stormy reaction

The Shaker
Thu 02 Apr

ON June 30, 2010, in my first column for the Herald Sun, I wrote of rural Victoria’s division over wind farms.

Almost five years later, not much has changed.

The wind farm landscape is pretty much the same and so too is much of the community attitude.A Victorian Coalition government that placed an almost impossible two-kilometre buffer zone between new wind farms and homes for the past four years effectively put paid to that.But that may be about to change — and quickly.

The Weekly Times this week reveals there are 854 wind turbines waiting to be built on 13 wind farms across western Victoria.They have been approved by local councils and, having had the buffer zone slashed to a single kilometre by the Andrews Government, are now waiting for the Federal Government to fire the starter’s gun for the soil to be turned on each project.

At issue is the Federal Government’s attempt to come up with a new Renewable Energy Target. The RET is a trading system under which power companies gain certificates or points depending on the amount of renewable energy they produce. In effect, you and I pay more on our power bills to subsidise high-cost renewable energy generators to compete with low-cost “dirty-energy” sources, such as brown coal.

When the new target is agreed upon, expect a whirlwind of activity around cities and towns such as Mortlake, Ballarat, Ararat, Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Ballan, Colac and St Arnaud.Within 18 months we could see the number of wind turbines almost triple, from the current 500 turbines to 1354 turbines across 27 wind farms. The enormity of what is proposed and the dollars involved are staggering.

Almost $5 billion is tied up in these new projects. The Municipal Association of Victoria says it will be the single biggest investment in rural Victoria.Imagine what that money, and the jobs it could bring, will mean to a small cash-strapped council struggling to hold on to a population to pay its rates.Ararat Rural City, for instance, has a series of wind farm projects worth $1.68 billion ready to begin in the shire.

Of course, not all of rural Victoria is salivating at the prospect of 60-metre towers with 30-metre blades suddenly appearing on the skyline and slowly rotating day and night.

The shires themselves acknowledge the damage to local roads as the turbines are carted into sites.And then there is the potential impact on property values, with claims the price of farms can plummet the moment a wind farm is proposed for next door.But the issue that catches the most attention is the perceived health problems caused by wind farms.

I write “perceived” because this is a contentious issue that has not been proven one way or the other, despite studies that claim to have produced the definitive result.There is one camp that says a silent sonic “thump” causes severe headaches for those living near a wind farm. And then there is another camp that says the only pain felt is the anguish of missing out on the rent energy companies pay to erect their turbines on farm land. It is an issue that has split communities and even led to residents of one town — Waubra, near Ballarat — accusing an anti-wind farm group, The Waubra Foundation, of hijacking its name. It’s the sort of animosity wind farms can create in small communities.

And it means that although the resulting energy from wind farms is green and friendly, it could possibly be created by an ill-wind. 

Ed Gannon is editor of The Weekly Times