Tuesday, 12 April 2011

NSW eyes ACT borders for wind turbines

Canberra Times
2 April 2011, Page: 12

The ACT could become surrounded by wind turbines up to 160m tall as the NSW Government targets its borders for renewable energy production. The NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water suggests the area around Yass, Goulburn and Cooma could soon become the "wind farming hub of NSW" due to its high altitude, consistent westerly winds and north south oriented ridge lines.

There are already four wind farms operating in the area and applications to install another 400 turbines across Boorowa. This is without counting applications for another five wind farms in the Vass Valley and two more near Cooma. Renewable energy precincts coordinator Andy Hughes said it could soon get to the point where the giant electricity generators would be visible for up to 25% of motorists' journeys around the outskirts of the ACT.

"The most high profile farm is Collector where there'll be 89 turbines at 150m tall each. That's the height of the water to the top of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney", he said. "If you look at the map, that farm will join Crookwell to Bungendore, so in terms of visual impact if you drove [between the two towns], you'd be in line of sight of wind farms up to half of your journey".

Mr Hughes said Crookwell, west of Goulburn, was one of the first in NSW to trial wind farms, in the late 1990s. There, the turbines, at 45m tall with a capacity to produce 5 MW per hour, can generate enough power to run 3500 homes. Those numbers have since grown to include 120 turbines at four wind farms including Crookwell (west of Goulburn), Cullerin Range (12km east of Gunning), Capital (near Bungendore) and at Gunning/Walwa (15km north east of Gunning). Between them, these farms have a total capacity of 221 MW and can power at least 48,500 homes.

Ms Hughes said there were at least five more wind farms planned at Yass and two at Cooma, though companies were submitting applications and selling the projects to other companies at such a fast rate it was hard to keep count. Such plans have drawn vocal opposition from a number of community groups, including the Friends of Crookwell. Those opposing the wind farms claim the turbines are a bushfire risk, increase rates of bird strike, decrease land value, can cause migraines and cancer as well as affect unborn babies.

The wind farms have split some communities, particularly as a state regulation referred to as Part 3A allows companies to gain state permission to develop the farms without permission from local councils. But Mr Hughes said community consultation, particularly with landholders, was a key requirement of each company's application and millions of dollars of profits were donated back to the community for local community based projects.