Local group takes row over Golden Plains site to Supreme Court.
1 Oct 2019
by Chad Van Estrop-Geelong Advertiser.
A wind farm crucial to Victoria’s target to source half of its electricity from renewables, and planned to be among the largest in the southern hemisphere, will be challenged in the Supreme Court later this month.
A group, including affected farmers, will take on planning minister Richard Wynne and the project’s proponent West-wind Energy at trial after the $1.5 billion Golden Plains wind farm northwest of Geelong was ticked off by the state and federal governments.
Objector Hamish Cumming, and Rokewood farmers Adam Walton and Kellie Walton, who are also behind the challenge, say the number of turbines included in the project should be reduced from 228 to about 130 to protect the brolga bird that breed in the area.
In court documents, the group says when approving the project last year the planning minister did not:
ADEQUATELY apply the standard used to determine the buffer zone needed around the brolgas’ breeding ground; and
PROPERLY apply the law because mandatory noise assessment reports were not initially required as part of the projects permit.
The Golden Plains wind farm is set to be built across 16,500 hectares near Rokewood and is expected to generate enough to power more than 500,000 homes.
It is predicted the wind farm will prevent more than three million tonnes of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere each year.
The project’s 228 turbines are each expected to have a maximum blade tip height of 230m above ground level and a rotor diameter of up to 150m.
Landowners around Rokewood who house turbines on their properties stand to gain about $15,000 per year per turbine, sources say.
A State Government spokesperson said: “As the matter is currently before courts it would be inappropriate to comment.”
A “rigorous” environmental effects statement (EES) and an assessment by an expert panel was produced before the minister approved the project last year.
An EES — which rules on factors including the impact to flora, fauna, vegetation, groundwater, visual amenity and noise — is considered the most transparent assessment framework available.
The State Government is moving to source 40 per cent of the state’s electricity needs from renewables by 2025, and 50 per cent by 2030. Documents lodged with the court by Westwind’s solicitor states the project could contribute about half of the 2025 target.
Source: The Courier-Rokewood, population about 200, may soon have one of the southern hemisphere’s largest wind farms on its doorstep.
The trio argue planning guidelines should be applied equally across the proposed Golden Plains wind farm, especially regarding protected brolga habitats and noise modelling.
One of the farmers who brought the case, Adam Walton, said he had brolgas nesting near his property, and wanted to know they were included in the environmental effect statement.
He will have no turbines on his farm, but the closest – which could be 230 metres tall – will be 1.3 kilometres from his house – almost on his boundary, he said, and the buffer zone required would prevent him building on his own property.
“I’m a farmer, I’m all for the environment being better tomorrow, and I’m not against renewables or wind farms,” he said.
“We want to make sure the government (is) absolutely sure this is the way they want to go.”
The action was filed on December 18, he said, three days before the Planning Minister Richard Wynne issued his recommendations – the size of the project should be reduced to protect brolga breeding habitats.
The state government approved the planning permit for the project, with amendments, on Friday, but the federal government still needs to approve it.
A full environment effect statement was required prior to planning permit approval being granted.
The federal government will carry out its own environmental assessment, including technical information assembled by the proponent.
The state government and project proponent WestWind said they were unable to comment on matters currently before the court.
In Rokewood, residents appeared mainly in favour of the project.
The idea of hundreds of workers in the town, buying houses and helping small businesses, was met with cautious optimism, as was the promise of free electricity and a $228,000 community fund.
Some were against the proposal, asking why it had to be built so close to the town, and whether the benefits would be delivered if the project was sold, as other wind farms have been.
The $1.5 billion Golden Plains proposal involves building 228 230 metre tall turbines across 39 properties around Rokewood, with a potential capacity of 800 to 1000 megawatts.
WestWind was not able to comment on the model of turbine that would be used, but there are 230m turbines in use in Europe.