Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Push to back wind power

6 Nov 2012

Wind farming advocates turned out in force to the official launch of the Victorian Wind Alliance at Portland last week. The newly-formed group was founded two weeks ago to provide a voice for people in support of the wind farms. The launch, which was held at the Keppel Prince wind tower manufacturing facility in south-west Victoria last Thursday, saw about 80 wind workers and community members sign the alliance's statement of support. To date, the group has about 600 supporters.

Keppel Prince Engineering managing director Steve Garner-who is also a member of the alliance-admitted his interests were aligned with wind farming but added one of the understated benefits of the issue was jobs. "One the wind turbines alone, we employ about 100 people", he said. The business has been making wind towers for about 12 years. "The work has been very patchy", Mr Garner said. "We've been working on getting political support on both sides of the government to retain the renewable energy target and it looks as though it will stay now, which means more jobs".

Apart from providing clean energy, he said it provided "green" jobs. "People feel good about what they are doing, because they know they are contributing to a sustainable future", he said. "And you've really got to ask yourself how many carbon emissions a coal-fired power station emits and whether you want a sustainable energy future or not".

The Federal Government has set a goal to provide 20% of the country's energy through renewable energy by 2020, and the alliance say Victoria needs to act quickly to jump on the opportunities wind farms provide. Mr Garner added that one of the biggest obstacles to wind power development in Australia had been the amended planning zones, which have put big restrictions on new developments. Now wind farms can not be built within 2km of homes.

Mr Garner said the restrictions had brought the wind power sector to a standstill. However, he hoped the Victorian Wind Alliance would be a platform to the lobby the State Government. "We want to government to see the positive side of wind farms, such as the ability to switch to renewable energy and the potential of job creation", he said. "We want the current planning laws to be restricted or loosened. It's bad policy". He also said community opposition was another big obstacle. "There are a lot of myths about wind turbines, about noise and ill health, which haven't been proven", he said. "The community have been misinformed and we want to set the record straight".

The launch of the Victorian Wind Alliance occurred on the same day the Mitchell Shire Council unanimously rejected an application for a proposed 16 turbine wind farm, to be built south east of Seymour in central Victoria. Infigen Energy were planning to erect the $100 million 'Cherry Tree Wind Farm' that would see 160 metre towers constructed on the Trawool Valley. But the plans were rejected last week by councillors at a meeting that attracted more than 100 people.

"The council decided to oppose the plans, after hearing 117 individual objections, one group objection and five letters of support", a council spokesperson said. The mains concerns were location but some community members raised the topic of health effects and noise levels from the wind turbines. The spokesperson added many of the objectors were not opposed to wind or renewable energy but rather their impacts. "They don't want this on their backdoor", he said.

Australian Environment Foundation executive director Max Rheese, who spoke at an earlier meeting regarding the Cherry Tree Wind Farm meeting in August, said there was strong community opposition to the plans. "We don't see any economic benefits to wind power given it is subsidised by electricity providers and tax payers", he said. "And there is growing evidence that wind farms are making some people sick". He said the AEF wanted a moratorium on new wind farms being built, until health effects had been investigated. The proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm will now be decided by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) later this month.