Tarwin Lower district residents, including, from left, Andrew Kilsby, Don Fairbroter, Noel Uren and Bart Harrold, say the State Planning Minister Matthew Guy should listen to the advice of his own department and not allow non-compliant turbines to be constructed on the Bald Hills in the background.
OPPONENTS of the $300 million Bald Hills Wind Farm say they have finally found the smoking gun.
As a result of a Freedom of Information request, they have documentation which they say proves that Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd is about to start construction on a 52-turbine facility near Tarwin Lower in the knowledge that 11 of the turbines will be unable to comply with the relevant noise standards.
In other words, noise levels at several nearby houses will exceed 40dB, even if the turbines are operated in ‘noise optimised mode’.
And they are calling on the Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, to step in and stop the project before it starts.
Bald Hills, they say, isn’t on its own.
During an adjournment debate in The Senate on Tuesday, December 10, 2013, Victorian Senator John Madigan used some of the FOI material to claim that “Victoria’s wind industry is churning out multiple millions of dollars’ worth of renewable energy certificates it is not entitled to and is being allowed to rort the REC and LRET systems” because its Planning Minister is refusing to tackle the non-compliance issues.
“Banks and superannuation funds are lending billions of dollars for the construction of wind farms, exposed to serious risk arising from the planning permit non-compliance being orchestrated by the wind industry and its public servant, Minister Matthew Guy…”
Locals fearful of the noise impacts say Bald Hills is the next cab off the rank.
Among the documents which have come to hand is a letter from a senior officer in the Minister’s own department which identifies 11 turbines on an attached plan for Ball Hills, which “in the department’s view… are not able to achieve operational compliance with the relevant noise standards based on the information submitted”.
Three houses in particular, and a further four private house sites near the wind farm site, are identified as being adversely impacted in the letter from David Hodge, Executive Director State Planning Services, to Bald Hills Wind Farm General Manager Matthew Croome.
Asked about the letter this week and its claims, Mr Croome did not refute Mr Hodge’s assessment.
“I am aware of the letter but I am not commenting directly on its contents except to say that there are strict requirements relating to the operation of the facility under the planning permit and we have an obligation to comply with the permit,” Mr Croome said.
“One of those conditions relates to noise and we must comply with that. In the event of non-compliance, the planning permit also sets out what action can be taken.”
According to the planning permit, where noise levels are found to have been breached, “the Minister for Planning shall notify the wind energy facility operator, with a request that steps be taken to ascertain the relevant meteorological circumstances at the time of the breach and to noise optimise the operation of the relevant turbine or turbines in such circumstances.
“If there is a breach in similar circumstances, the Minister for Planning shall notify the wind energy facility operator, with a request to noise selectively shut down the operation of the relevant turbine or turbines in those circumstances.
“In circumstances where optimisation or selective shutdown routines have been requested but not reasonably implemented, or have been implemented but have not prevented further instances of recorded breach, the relevant turbine or turbines will be required to be decommissioned and removed.”
Mr Croome said he was well aware of that condition and reiterated that his firm would not be erecting any non-compliant turbines, nor would the facility be allowed to operate outside the conditions on the permit.
He did confirm however that the locations of the turbines in question had not changed since that letter was written.
Locals concerned about the expert advice from the Minister’s own department aren’t confident that they’ll be protected by the conditions of the planning permit because they claim the Minister has refused insist on compliance elsewhere.
Several of them met at the home of Don Fairbrother, on Buffalo-Waratah Road last week, a vantage point from which Mr Fairbrother and his family will be able to see 29 of the 52 turbines at close range.
“The nearest of the turbines is 1.7km away and unfortunately, we’re on the wrong side for the prevailing winds,” Mr Fairbrother said last week.
“I’m not against renewable energy. I’m simply against them being allowed to operate outside the conditions of the permit and when Minister has it, on good advice from his own department, that at least 11 of these turbines ‘are not able to achieve operational compliance’ he should step in.”
Mr Fairbrother also noted that the planning department’s advice was written before the Minister agreed to taller and higher output turbines at Bald Hills.
“It’s simply irresponsible for the Minister not to face up to it… if he called out one wind farm for non-compliance, it would put them all on notice.”
Mr Fairbrother said that, at the moment, wind energy facility developers and investors were able to operate their plants with impunity, under the impression that they could build and operate non-compliant facilities because no one was going to call them on it.
In the end, he agreed that legal action might be the only option left open to locals who were in the line of fire.
“We’ve been fighting it for a long time. They’re trying to wear us down until we give up but we’re not going to give up,” he declared.
Construction ramps up
Meanwhile, just down the road at the main construction site, work is ramping up after the Christmas-New Year break with the first of the turbine foundations expected to be poured within the next two months.
Mr Croome said up to 150 people would be employed on the site at the height of construction and several local contractors were also being engaged on the project.