New court twist in turbine saga
19th January, 2022
By Chad Van Estrop, Geelong Advertiser
The legal challenge against the state government and the project’s developer, Westwind Energy, comes after the Planning Minister approved the project with 215 turbines last year.
The $2bn Golden Plains wind farm is planned for 16,000ha about 70km from Geelong. It’s key to the state government’s legislated renewable energy production target of 40 per cent by 2025.
The Supreme Court legal challenge lodged last week claims the state didn’t properly assess environmental impacts of its decision to approve the 215-turbine wind farm.
The challenge – headed by mechanical engineer and brolga enthusiast Hamish Cumming, and supported by other farmers – will argue the project be scrapped or proceed with no more than 181 turbines.
Mr Cumming’s solicitor Dominica Tannock said the decision to approve 215 turbines had not followed proper planning process.
“This is a fundamentally different project (to the 228-turbine project previously proposed). The environmental effects of this project have not been assessed,” Ms Tannock said.
A government spokesman said the minister had acted lawfully. “The application to amend the Golden Plains wind farm (to 215 turbines) was considered … in line with relevant planning policy and legislation,” the spokesman said.
“It is not appropriate to comment further on this matter as it is subject to legal proceedings.”
Previously the state government said the project was exempt from going to a planning panel because its turbine number had not increased.
The wind farm was first approved with up to 228 turbines but a Court of Appeal ruling found its turbine number needed to be reduced because of brolga habitat buffer zones.
Ms Tannock said environmentally modelling of the 228turbine proposal showed 47 were due to built in brolga buffer zones, which meant project needed to be reduced to 181.
She argued by approving the project with 215 turbines the minister effectively increased, by 19 per cent, the number of turbines allowed within the wind farm.
Under the Golden Plains Shire planning scheme if turbines within a wind farm are increased by more than 15 per cent, the project must be assessed by an independent planning panel. The state and Westwind will have to tell the Supreme Court if they intend to contest the matter by the end of next week.