Standing up for renewables
The proverb for this principle "don't think you are on the right track just because it is a well-beaten path" seemed appropriate for this post.
As a committee member of BEAM I helped write our submission to council with regards to the planning permit for the Cherry Tree Wind Farm. In our submission we raised some concerns that we felt needed to be addressed, but felt that, in balance "the overall benefits of the project outweigh the negative impacts", and were supportive of the proposal.
At a Special Council Meeting held last night, just 2 days before the conclusion of the council elections (held by postal vote), BEAM was invited along with other people who made submissions to present their case to council. The extraordinary meeting was called as Infigen (the developer) had put their case to VCAT because council had not made a decision on the development with the 60 day time period. I assume that council was forced by VCAT to take a position before the issue is presented to the tribunal early next month.
In the Agenda I discovered that there were 117 objections and just five letters of support. I heard that there were going to be over 40 presentations to council, each with a time limit of just three minutes. I suspected that BEAM would be the only ones who would be supportive of the development.
I helped prepare the speech and agreed to present it, being the only one in a position to do so. I had been concerned about presenting our position in front of a hostile crowd in the lead up to the meeting. Peter Lockyer was with me for support. I had never spoken in a formal setting such as this before and it wasn't until 36 negative presentations were made, many applauded before a group of well over a hundred supporters, that Mitchell Environment Advisory Committee (MSEAC) presented. In their speech they did not oppose the development and made suggestions on how to address some concerns about flora and fauna, which was detailed in their submission. This presentation was heckled briefly.
I was up next, and managed to read my presentation through without interruption or faltering, with just a few seconds to spare, to my own relief. My speech is reproduced below:
Immediately as I sat down a woman behind me asked me aggressively "Where do you live?", and the feeling in the room was hostile to say the least. A few more opposing presentations followed before the session ended. One man interjected and insisted that he be heard, which was denied (the session ran overtime), he later approached me and spoke told me in an unfriendly tone that I "didn't mention the people". Meanwhile two Infigen representatives were being abused by another woman. I got out of there and caught up the Infigen and MSEAC reps at a fish and chip shop for a drink to quench my dry throat, while we waited for the council meeting to be held soon after.BEAM Mitchell Environment GroupStatement on Cherry Tree Wind FarmRead to Mitchell Shire Council on 25th October 2012by Richard Telford, BEAM Publicity Officer
BEAM Mitchell Environment Group supports the development of wind farms in areas that have already been cleared of native vegetation and that have minimal overall impact on existing native flora and fauna.
We believe the Mitchell Shire Council should support the development of the Cherry Tree Wind Farm, in line with the vision for a sustainable future outlined in the recent Mitchell 2020 Community plan. The key Council vision statement, developed with community input, acknowledges both climate change and peak oil as significant challenges for our communities in the next decade and beyond.
Climate change will cause severe if not disastrous consequences for many people across the world, including Australia and here in Mitchell Shire. The evidence that this is caused by our use of fossil fuels is overwhelming. We have both moral and practical reasons to move away from a highly polluting coal industry towards renewable energy production.
Council’s role in responding to the challenges of climate change and peak oil is clearly articulated in the various sections of the Mitchell 2020 Community Plan. The role of council includes providing leadership and wisely using its planning powers.
Here is a key opportunity to provide leadership on a key challenge for our time, in line with the many shire residents who provided input to the development of this plan.
Renewable energy will come from a wide diversity of technologies that will balance the day-to-day variations in input from the sun, wind, tides etc. Wind power is one valuable source of renewable energy and is already a significant part of the mix of renewable energy sources across the world and in other parts of Australia. For example, in 2011-12, approximately one quarter of South Australia’s energy production was from wind power.
Any concerns about the location or building of wind farms should be considered alongside the benefits of reducing carbon emissions locally and compared with the negative impacts associated with fossil fuel power generation. We do not see why the bar for wind farms should be so much higher than for other developments.
We have some concerns in relation to the Cherry Tree Wind Farm, regarding the impact on native vegetation and wildlife, and these are fully outlined in our written submission. BEAM believes these issues can be adequately addressed within the planning permit process.
We feel that the benefits of the proposal outweigh the negative impacts, as it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a real need to transition to renewable energy sources, in response to declining resource availability and climate change. The wind farm appears to us to be well sited, is on already cleared land and we see opportunities to get good outcomes for the land and biodiversity of the area.
I watched four of the councilors present their positions on the development before walking out exasperated. All of them caved in to the pressure of the group before them, some were clearly supportive of wind energy, but "not in my backyard" (NIMBY). There was also an amazing conversion of councilors, along with objectors, to 'concern for wildlife' and a general support for renewables - people would just rather that it was somewhere else. Interesting how these people didn't listen to the ways in which issues regarding wildlife could be addressed by local, respected environmental representatives.
There was huge concern by local residents about possible health implications, I believe largely fed by the Australian Landscape Guardians and their relatives the Australian Environment Foundation and Waubra Foundation. I discovered an investigative article entitled "The ugly Landscape of the Guardians" about these groups recently that exposes them for who they really are. They have whipped up residents of the immediate area into a frenzy of worry, feeding on fears of the unknown. I believe that health fears are largely exaggerated, as Simon Chapman illustrates in his talk on ABC's Science Show: Curious distribution for wind turbine sickness.
I was asked why I supported the wind farm and have been thinking about it since. We (modern humans) depend heavily on energy for our way of life. I believe that 'we' are headed for a long period of energy descent, as the peaking of oil supplies and climate change events converge while economic conditions continue to deteriorate. We have a limited opportunity to use the currently available energy to build the infrastructure that can help glide us down the path towards a low energy future. The alternatives are not that attractive, collapse being one of them. For more about these "future scenarios" check out David Holmgren's essay of the same name. I see permaculture thinking as the only way out of the mess that we have created for ourselves.
I'm glad I stood up for what I believe in, even if I wasn't heard.
JUST IN: Have your say on the Renewable Energy Target that energy companies want to reduce. Let's set our own target.