IT’S all about to happen. Developers of the $300 million Bald Hills Wind Farm project are gearing up for the most intensive phase of the construction process. From next month, until July 2014, there will be up to 150 workers on site at Tarwin Lower initially constructing access tracks to each of the 52-turbine locations and then preparing those sites for concrete pouring which is expected to commence in the next few months.
That work must be completed by July next year at which time the turbine towers and three-pronged turbine blades, measuring a combined height of 100 metres, will have arrived to be erected. General manager of Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Mitsui Australia, Matthew Croome, confirmed this week that it’s all systems go. “We are gearing up for a marked increase in activity in the next month or so,” Mr Croome said. “We will be going out to the households with that information in the next few weeks, circulating 10,000 households in South Gippsland and part of Bass Coast with an update on activities over the next few months.
“We will then be issuing more regular updates every few weeks or so. “We have already finalised our detailed design plans and the activity on site starts to ramp up from here.”
The project’s principal contractor is REpower Australia, the leading wind farm construction firm in Australia with more than 3000 turbines installed worldwide. Their five projects in Victoria include wind farms at Hepburn, Portland, Mt Mercer, Oaklands Hill and Wonthaggi. The Portland project alone involves 98 turbines. Mr Croome said REpower was responsible for engaging contractors and additional construction workers and, where possible, these would be recruited from the local area or as close as possible to the South Gippsland area.
“Their head office is in Melbourne, so they will be able to commute from there but they will be using other subcontractors and providing the construction labour as required. “I imagine they will also be using some local contractors as well.” Mr Croome said there would be between 100 and 150 people working on site at Tarwin Lower between November 2013 and July 2014.
‘It’s a risk’ say opponents
As disappointed as local opponents of the project are to news that construction work is commencing, they say the fight isn’t over. In expectation that work would begin, they have circulated a petition, already signed by 100 local landowners, calling on the South Gippsland Shire Council to properly monitor and then to enforce compliance standards if any local property owners are affected by excessive noise levels. Local farmer Don Fairbrother claims Mitsui is taking a huge risk. “They are going to go ahead and erect 11 non-complying turbines and it is our understanding that if Clean Energy Australia rules that any one of those turbines doesn’t comply, they won’t get the subsidy from the Commonwealth Government,” Mr Fairbrother said. “We believe that several of these turbines cannot comply with noise standards and yet they are still going ahead and building it. We think they are taking a huge risk and we’ll be making sure that action is taken when they don’t comply.”
The petition calls on the South Gippsland Shire Council to immediately notify the State Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, of a non-compliance issue, requesting that he insist on compliance with noise standards.
In the event of non-compliance, they’ll request the Minister to make a decision in 30 days and if not, take the matter to VCAT for decision. In the event that any of the turbines can’t comply, the council should advise the Commonwealth Government which can suspend accreditation and therefore the subsidy payments to the wind farm company. “Without those payments it wouldn’t be viable and I can assure you we will be pushing as hard as we can to see that the site is monitored properly.”
Turbines sites confirmed
Mr Croome said there could be no alteration to the turbine sites. “The exact location of the turbines is part of our permit conditions and aside from some micro-positioning during construction, to avoid things like native vegetation and wet areas etc, there can be no change to that.” Mr Croome said he had kept the South Gippsland Shire Council regularly updated on the progress of the $300 million project which he said would provide a boost to the local economy. But Mr Fairbrother said any claims about a jobs boost were a furphy. “It’s not going to be a generator of jobs. Talk of 150-plus jobs is just rubbish. There’s no lasting benefit for the local area,” he said.