The winds of change
Proposed development near Seymour
The Cherry Tree Wind Farm, located about 15km east of Seymour, is in the early stages of development. The plan (not yet submitted to council) is to install 12-16 turbines to generate about 40-50MW, sufficient to power about 22,000 'normal' homes. The size of the project is limited mainly by the capacity of the nearby transmission lines. Infigen Energy (an Australian company) have held a couple of information sessions late last year in from people about the proposal along with an independent acoustic expert to answer questions. Unfortunately we didn't make it to the sessions. There has been quite a reaction about the proposed development's impact in the local newspapers since, most of which is quite outrageous.
The company was a late addition to the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo where they displayed some photo montages of what the windfarm could look like from various locations and to explain to people where the project was and what was intended (see below), as well as answer questions. The staff there also invited people to vote on whether they supported the project or not, and to the surprise of many, there was overwhelming (93%) support at the end of the event (177 votes for and 14 against). I saw staff count some of the votes and didn't see a 'no' vote, though I saw quite a few votes that included personal details, but didn't actually vote. I think that this indicates that there is a small group of people who object in a loud way.
The results from Infigen's own poll is supported by CSRIO research regarding community acceptance of rural wind farms. The CSIRO's preliminary study produced four key findings:
- There is strong community support for the development of wind farms.
- Many of the benefits can be shared or communicated in ways that would enhance community support for the development of wind farms in a region.
- Existing regulatory approaches provide an appropriate framework for negotiating wind farm developments, but there is scope for improving outcomes.
- The emerging notion of a ‘Social Licence to Operate’ provides a useful framework for wind farm developers to engage local communities in ways that could enhance transparency and local support.
|Cherry Tree Wind Farm propsed location along with photomontage locations
|View of proposed wind farm from Fairview Road
|View of proposed wind farm from Kobyboyn Road
|View of proposed wind farm from Chetwynd Road
|View of proposed wind farm from Telegraph Road
|View from Trawool Valley Resort
Infigen invited local residents to a tour of the Hepburn Community Wind Farm with independent renewable energy expert Craig Memery from the ATA, in order to address some of the concerns raised and give people an experience of a Wind Farm development - though considerably smaller than the proposed one at Cherry Tree Hill. We decided to make a family outing of the opportunity so that we could see first hand this exciting project near Daylesford, initiated by local people to generate community power (enough to power Daylesford and surrounds), making the whole area more self reliant. About 24 people from around Seymour attended to see first hand the scale of the towers, get a sense of their impact and hear the noise they generate.
Stopping for a quick lunch in Daylesford we could see the turbines in the distance, some 10km south - quite small on the horizon. We stopped about 3km away from the towers to see if we could hear them, meeting (by chance) a local artist who lived there, who told us that he'd never been able to hear them - and we certainly couldn't.
My immediate impression as we arrived was how huge and elegant they were, like gentle giants. Standing right beneath them it was quite easy to hear our hosts Martin and Tracy talk about the project. The air conditioner inside the tower (to cool electronics) made more noise than the turbine itself from where we were standing. There was a faint whistling noise and the swish of blades as they cut through the air, some 20m above.
One of the people who joined us on the tour (in his own car) turn out to be a provocateur (in my opinion) who caused quite a bit of angst. I got quite agitated and asked him to give other people a go, and he quietened down somewhat - enjoying a smoke when asked not to as a condition of entry. There was quite a few other concerns that were raised, and responded to, mainly by ATA guest Craig.
Impacts of a Wind Farm development
There is no doubt that there are local impacts from a development of this scale. I think that it's important to note that while this development seems quite large, it's on the smaller side of a modern wind farms, with 52 in Australia over 100MW (Cherry Tree being less than half of that). Wind energy currently contributes to 2% of the grid in Australia, whilst we currently aim for 20% renewables by 2020.
Some of the perceived impacts:
- one question that comes that came out during the tour was about the Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR). Craig gave the example that maintenance workers on the towers are exposed to more EMRs by their mobile phones than by the turbines that they are working on.
- he pointed out that there are no proven health impacts from wind turbines, saying that people are affected by stress - caused by the aversion to the wind farm project. There are plenty of example of health impacts from fossil fuel alternative like coal and nuclear.
- one of the ongoing environmental impacts of having the turbines is that it is expected that each turbine will cause the death of one bird per year. In a poorly placed development this number could be much higher. To put this in perspective though, a single transport truck can kill more birds in a year than the whole proposed development. For threatened bird and bat species nearby this could be a significant issue that may need to be addressed.
- the high embodied energy in the infrastructure, which is apparently recovered by energy produced in around 3-6 months of operation.
- the damage to the environment during construction i.e. the construction of roads and clearing of the site (if necessary) which are site specific and can often be addressed as part of the building permit.
- while major studies have found that there has been "no statistical evidence that wind farms reduce property values"
I sensed that there was a scepticism about corporations in general by the group, which is fair enough from my experience. Big business had in the past attempted to pull the wool over our eyes (tobacco smoking, thalidomide). This is becoming more difficult for corporations in the information age, as was the case for Nike and slave labour.
The staff from Infigen that I met came across as passionate about their work, open, transparent and up-front about what they wanted to do. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that the company is looking into forming a Wind Co-op, in which it was proposed that one of the turbines could be owned by the Co-op. The big advantage in this scenario is that, with the economies of scale, the Co-op turbine and tower could be installed and maintained at minimal cost. This concept was supported by the Hepburn Wind representatives.
The Hepburn Wind model shows that the development can (if this model were adopted) have a positive impact on the community, local economic climate and make a significant contribution to local community groups. This has given me the feeling that the community could benefit greatly from working with, rather than against, this particular corporation. The potential is there.