Friday, 30 September 2011

Libs sweep wind from turbine sails

The Saturday Age
24 Sep 2011, Page: 7

NEARLY four years ago, a small group of Woodend residents hatched a plan to power the historic town entirely on renewable energy. Three wind turbines would be built in a pine forest 6 km south of the town to generate enough energy to run not only Woodend, but also nearby Macedon, Mount Macedon and Newham. Wind speeds were modelled to determine the best location, community forums held, more than 500 signatures collected in support, and initial steps taken to start raising the $14 million needed. A smaller number of people expressed objections.

As of last month, the project is on hold, possibly dead, after the Baillieu government introduced Australia's most restrictive wind farm regulations. Under the changes, households have a right of veto over a turbine being built within two km of their home and wind farm exclusion zones were introduced across the state. The updated list of banned areas includes the entire Macedon Ranges shire.

Peter Hansford, a spokesman for WISE (Woodend Integrated Sustainability Energy), said project organisers were "surprised, disappointed and deflated" by the announcement. He said they had left a June meeting with Planning Minister Matthew Guy under the impression a decision over exclusion zones would be left to local councils, not dictated from Spring Street.

"All we were trying to do was to help the community take responsibility for its carbon and energy future. We're not sure why that power has been taken away", he says. "We are aware their are sensitivities around the development of wind farms in the Macedon Ranges shire, which is why we chose this site. We believe it ticks all the boxes in terms of location issues and economic benefits to the community" The Woodend proposal is one of four community wind farms blocked by the new regulations.

Others were planned for Castlemaine, the Surf Coast and under the Westgate Bridge. An analysis by environment group Friends of the Earth suggests that, once commercial developments are factored in, the regulation changes have already stalled or prevented the development of planned wind farms worth up to $955 million. Spokesman Can Walker said at least nine farms promising up to 580 construction and 57 permanent jobs were affected.

The government says the changes return "certainty and fairness" to local communities in areas where wind farms have been proposed, and that permits have been granted for about 1100 turbines that are yet to be built. Supporters of community wind power have called on Mr Guy to change the regulations to help small projects. Mount Alexander Shire Council recently passed a motion calling on the government to review the ban on wind farms east of the Calder Freeway near Castlemaine a site considered suitable for community-scale projects only.

The council asked the government to consider the potential economic benefit to the area. A two-turbine farm near Daylesford is estimated to have brought $7 million into the area during construction, offered permanent work to four locals, and generated power to run 2000 homes. Mr Guy said he had met with the group behind the Woodend proposal, and understood it faced other hurdles beyond the new regulations before it could have been built, including lacking permission to build on Crown land. He said he was yet to receive correspondence from Mount Alexander Shire Council about the Castlemaine proposal.