18th July 2020
By Chad VanEstrop, geelongadvertiser.com.au
Source: Geelong Advertiser
As the state government ploughs towards having half our energy produced from renewable sources, sleepy rural towns – as targets for wind farms – face massive wind falls and job bonanzas. But one farmer says rules are being bent to allow the juggernaut to roll on.
A DAVID-and-Goliath battle waged via renewable energy is under way.
In one corner is farmer and mechanical engineer Hamish Cumming.
For a decade he’s been unrelenting, digging through bureaucracy to call out fault and hold authority to account.
In the other corner are the state government and clean energy juggernauts pumping billions into the plains of western Victoria, starting at Geelong’s rural fringes.
Seven wind farms already spin in southwestern Victoria and 26 across the state, with more planned near Inverleigh and Ballarat.
Mr Cumming, who for more than three decades has tracked the threatened brolga, is willing to fight to the nation’s highest court. He’s fought 12 wind farms in his time and is going again.
Now, he’s locked in a Victorian Supreme Court skirmish centred on the $1.5 billion Golden Plains wind farm planned for 17,000ha at Rokewood.
This battle matters because it has potential to derail the government’s set course of renewable energy production — 25 per cent this year, 40 per cent by 2025 and 50 per cent by 2030.
The Golden Plains wind farm, expected to contain more than 200 turbines, could contribute up to half the 2025 target. Overall, the renewable energy target could add 24,400 jobs and $5.8 billion to Victoria’s economy, the government says.
But the battle for Mr Cumming, a crusader wanting accepted buffer zones around brolga habitat adhered to, is waged on a single front.
He says the zones, developed between industry and government experts, meant to put up to 5km between the threatened species and wind turbines are being eroded to just 700m by cashed-up wind farm proponents hellbent on lining their pockets.
More concerning, he says is that brolgas are not breeding within 5km of wind farms in Victoria.
Mr Cumming says a PhD completed by a government employee tracking brolga movements was improperly used to develop buffer zones.
He says more than 80,000 data sets tracking 20 brolgas over 2 years, collated by the employee completing a PhD were whittled down to 18,000.
Of those, mainly data from fledgling birds was used to develop buffer zones for brolgas.
“A walking chick is no risk to a turbine. As soon as they fly, that’s when the risk is,” Mr Cumming says.
“(The blades) look slow, but they are doing over 300km/hr running at 17 revs per minute — 90 per cent of the data is being ignored to the benefit of permit approvals for wind farms.”
Mr Cumming says not all data used to develop wind farm buffer zones has been released.
Of current wind farm buffer zones Mr Cumming says. “This is so wrong and so obviously wrong that it’s got to be stopped. If someone doesn’t stand up to stop it, it will just continue on and on and on with whatever is next.’
Just 250 Southern brolga breeding pairs are left in the wild, Mr Cumming says.
And the government, he says, is unwilling to look hard enough at the plight of the pure-blood species of western Victoria because closer inspection may further increase accepted buffer zones of 3.2km from breeding sites and 5km from flocking areas. “If they apply the 5km rule to Golden Plains (wind farm at Rokewood), there will be 10 turbines left.” Mr Cumming says.
Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio says wind farm proponents can request buffer zone reduction, under “interim” guidelines in place for years, if criteria is met to protect brolga habitat.
Under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, the brolga is a threatened species requiring action to protect it.
Ms D’Ambrosio says revised guidelines for wind farm impacts will be put up for public comment this year before new standards are set.
Ms D’Ambrosia who did not directly respond to questions about data being omitted during the development of brolga buffer zones, says the guidelines will be informed by “diverse” data.
At Rokewood, old buffer zones are being challenged via Supreme Court action by Mr Cumming and local farmer Adam Walton, who face a legal bill beyond $350,000 if they lose.
The stakes are also high for Rokewood landowners with turbines on their properties.
They stand to gain about $15,000 a year per turbine. Even a lesser offer of $5000 per megawatt produced per turbine per year is an appealing carrot against the vagaries of farming.
Money may also be in the pipeline for landowners within 2km of turbines and the wind farm proponent has committed to funding improvements around the town if the project is built.
With construction of the wind farm will come a 700-strong workforce increasing Rokewood’s population fourfold.
If completed, the Golden Plains wind farm is expected to generate enough power for more than 500,000 homes, and prevent more than 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere each year.
Since late last year, the project has been caught up in a legal fight that argues it should be reduced from more than 200 turbines to about 130.
Mr Cumming knows the stakes are high for all involved and that’s why he will continue to fight.
|LOCAL WIND FARMS|
|Lal Lal south of Ballarat|
|Salt Creek near Mortlake|
|Chepstowe west of Ballarat|
|Berrybank southwest of Ballarat|
|Stockyard Hill west of Ballarat|
|Moorabool southeast of Ballarat|
|Dundonnell northeast of Mortlake|
|Mt Fyans north of Mortlake|
|Golden Plains at Rokewood|
|Hawkesdale north of Port Fairy|
|Hexham northeast of Warrnambool|
|Woolsthorpe northwest of Warrnambool|
Link to Map of Wind Farms in Victoria:
Link to Victoria Planning Department: