24th November, 2019
By Clarissa Bye – Daily Telegraph – www.dailytelegraph.com.au
A giant Chinese-owned wind farm being built in the Southern Tablelands has deeply divided a town and raised the spectre of national security risks.
Beijing-based Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co, part-owned by the Chinese Communist government, plans to build 75 wind turbines in the Yass Valley through its Australian arm, Coppabella Wind Farm Pty Ltd.
Neighbours are up in arms about environmental hazards and visual pollution, but the project has planning approvals. Affected residents also say the issue has become divisive in local Bookham and Binalong, with the company handing out $287,500 a year in community grants, which they slam as “bribes”.
And experts have raised fears about companies linked to the Chinese government owning any part of the electricity infrastructure.
The Coppabella turbine blades will reach 171m high and the 70m blades will turn at the outer tips at speeds surpassing 300km/h.
Neighbour Noeleen Hazel, who with husband Bruce has lived for almost 60 years at their farm Kia Ora in Bookham, next door to one of the sites, says the situation is “devastating”.
“It will deface the unique landscape of the Coppabella Hills and cause environmental carnage,” she says.
“We’ve been fighting this for years. We can’t believe it was approved. It’s split the communities – any project needing to pay ongoing bribes to receive support obviously lacks authenticity.”
Among others who oppose the project, local John McGrath raised concerns about the changing air pressure on birds, asking: “If city people want this stuff, why don’t they put it on Bondi Beach?”
China expert Professor Clive Hamilton said Australia’s electricity industry should be regarded as “critical infrastructure”. “Ownership of any part of the electricity industry by a company linked to the Chinese government is a risk to national security,” he said.
“Chinese law requires every Chinese company to assist China’s intelligence services if asked. The Treasurer should prevent any state-linked Chinese company from having a role in Australia’s electricity supply.”
In 2017, the Independent Planning Commission received 100 submissions on the project, including 82 objections and five in support. Goldwind has agreements from the owners of 25 nonassociated residences near the project, where landowners accept the visual impacts.
Goldwind Australia managing director John Tichen said once completed it would deliver enough power to supply the equivalent of 173,000 NSW homes each year.
“The project is expected to employ more than 200 people during construction and have up to 10-15 permanent maintenance staff when fully operational,” he said, adding potential social and environmental impacts had been “comprehensively assessed”.