Brolga Backer-Hamish Cumming

Brolga backer eyes new wind farm case

14th August, 2021

By Chad Van Estrop, Geelong Advertiser

Farmer Hamish Cumming at a brolga flocking site near his property in Darlington, and (far left) brolgas, which he says will be impacted by the proposed Golden Plains wind farm. Pictures: David Geraghty, Aaron Francis

A LONG-TIME opponent of a mega wind farm – planned for northwest of Geelong – whose legal challenge failed in the High Court, is eyeing a fresh case if permit changes are approved by the state government.

For three years, farmer and mechanical engineer Hamish Cumming has fought the Golden Plains wind farm, approved at Rokewood and slated to be one of the southern hemisphere’s largest, because of its potential impact on the endangered southern brolga.

Mr Cumming faces a legal bill of about $500,000 after challenges in the High Court and Victoria’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.

But he is considering a new legal challenge because of data he says shows buffer zones of at least 5km are needed where brolgas flock and breed near wind farms, including some sections of the 17,000ha Golden Plains site.

The government is currently considering the size of buffer zones.

“The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is currently considering submissions made during the consultation and the standards are expected to be finalised later this year,” a spokeswoman said.

She said the DELWP proposed a 900m brolga buffer and “movement corridors” between “suitable” breeding wetlands within 2000m of each other in its draft standard.

If completed, the Golden Plains wind farm could contribute more than half Victoria’s legislated renewable energy production target of 40 per cent by 2025, court documents reveal. It has potential to provide electricity to power more than 400,000 households and save the equivalent of 3.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

Mr Cumming said data showed the brolga draft buffer standards needed to change.

“The wind farms should buffer 5km from the home range of the brolgas and they’ll never hear from me again,” he said.

“We’ve got enough evidence to show that there’s no successful nesting within 5km of a turbine.”

He said the existing buffer standard had seen 46 brolga active breeding nest sites abandoned because turbines were in the “wrong place.”

“There’s plenty of room for the turbines. They don’t have to jam it up the brolgas’ nose,” he said.

Mr Cumming said just 200 breeding pairs of the southern brolga remained in Victoria.

Since January, Planning Minister Richard Wynne has been considering an application from Golden Plains wind farm developer Westwind to allow the project to proceed with 215 turbines and increase each turbine rotor diameter from 150m to 165m.

Mr Cumming said the project must be reduced from 215 to 150 turbines to meet its current permit conditions.

“If the government tries to ram it through (with 215 turbines) as a minister’s decision that will be challenged,” he said.

A Westwind spokesman said the permit conditions meant it had “to provide new breeding habitat” for brolgas “to achieve a zero-net impact” on the local population.

Westwind’s application to amend project conditions states its request for 215 turbines comes after “extensive detailed surveys of flora and fauna across the project site”. Westwind said advancements in wind turbine technology meant turbines could now produce electricity across a wider range of wind speeds.

“Increasing the allowable rotor diameter from 150 to 165m will allow the project to produce more electricity with fewer turbines,” it said.

Mr Cumming said the proposed layout of 215 turbines did not meet conditions of the wind farm permit.

“In effect (what they are proposing is) a different project,” he said.

Mr Cumming said he had data showing 54 brolgas in North America were repeatedly displaced 5km from their habitat due to wind turbines year after year, and data relied upon to approve the 80-turbine Dundonnell wind farm, north of Camperdown, set the wrong precedent for brolga buffers.

It is unclear when the Planning Minister will rule on the proposed changes.


Update on Draft Brolga Standards.

See: https://engage.vic.gov.au/draft-brolga-assessment-and-mitigation-standards


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