Bald Hills Wind Farm opponent, Cheryl Wragg, blows the whistle on developers who have admitted to changing the location of 20 of their 52 turbines, some of them up to 250 metres away from their original locations. Ms Wragg address her remarks to the shire’s manager for planning and environmental health, Bryan Sword, right, and the South Gippsland Shire Councillors last week. Tarwin Lower farmer, Don Jelbart, supported the landowners’ submission.
OPPONENTS of the Bald Hills Wind Farm are crying foul again.
Having recently accused the developers of the $400 million project of killing koalas and destroying endangered floral species, while clearing native vegetation for their power lines, they have now come out with even more serious accusations.
Last Wednesday, September 17, a spokesperson for the affected local landowners, Cheryl Wragg, used a public briefing session for the South Gippsland Shire Council to accuse the developers, Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd, of shifting the location of several of the 52 turbines in breach of their planning conditions.
Ms Wragg said such moves were “a big deal as it changes the acoustic profile of the whole project”, something that was exhaustively scrutinised during the approval process.
But far from rejecting the claims, General Manager of the firm, Matthew Croome, has confirmed that some turbines have indeed been “microsited” as much as 250 metres away from their original locations.
He has however denied the more extreme claims made by Ms Wragg last week that some turbines have been moved “300 metres or more” away from the locations set out in approved plans.
“No, there are no turbines constructed 300 to 400 metres away from the sites approved on the planning permit,” Mr Croome said this week.
“The Planning Permit allows for micrositing of wind turbines. In accordance with the our planning permit, a total of 20 wind turbines have been microsited to locate them in better ground conditions for construction.
“Of these, six have moved less than 10 metres, a further 12 less than 100 metres and only two have moved between 100 metres and 250 metres.
“Although the permit contained no specific restriction on the distance allowed for micrositing, we are seeking secondary consent from the Minister for Planning for the two turbines that have moved more than 100 metres.”
Mr Croome also dismissed claims that some turbines had been moved from the southern development site, across Walkerville Road, to the north.
“No turbines have been moved from approved locations in the south to the north,” he said.
He also took the opportunity to rebuff claims “that koalas are being killed as a direct result of contractors clear felling trees in which they are located”.
“We are aware of three koalas being killed as a direct result of the powerline vegetation clearance and the number may well be more,” Ms Wragg said in a recent communique to the shire’s manager for planning and environmental health, Bryan Sword.
She also claimed that EPBC Act listed endangered floral species including Eastern fragrant spider orchids near the Tarwin Lower Cemetery were in the direct line of clearance activities.
“Bald Hills Wind Farm is complying with the strict guidelines for native flora and fauna management in Victoria. This includes using fauna spotters and zoologists to thoroughly inspect the area prior to clearing vegetation and ensuring any animals found are carefully relocated nearby,” Mr Croome said.
“No koalas or signs of koalas were observed along the powerline alignment by fauna spotters during the operations. No koalas have been killed or injured during the vegetation removal,” he said.
“Minimising the impact on the environment including flora and fauna was a key focus during the process of selecting the powerline route for Bald Hills Wind Farm and remains a top priority throughout the installation phase.”
He also dismissed any suggestion that protected vegetation near the Tarwin Lower Cemetery was being disturbed.
“The powerlines will follow the alignment of the existing powerline that currently runs in front of the cemetery. Both lines will be carried on the same poles,” he said.
But local farmers say Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsui and Co (Australia), has a serious case to answer in relation to both the environmental impact and the location of turbines and they have criticised the shire, as the responsible authority, for failing to enforce the conditions of the planning permit.
They also claim that the firm has breached the hours of operation conditions and traffic management guidelines.
Ms Wragg said a request had been on the council’s table since February to go out and measure the location of the turbines and to bring the matter to the notice of the Minister.
She said the shire could be leaving itself exposed to litigation for failing to act.
Mr Sword confirmed that an application had been made for secondary consent and it was up to the Minister to say if the changes were within the definition of micrositing or not.
He said that while the shire had been alerted to changes to the turbine locations as early as February this year it was still very early in the construction phase.
Following more recent complaints, the shire had made one of its regular visits to the site and checked the GPS locations of three of the turbines but found none of them to be in breach.
“It’s not correct to say we did nothing. We have been in constant contact with the proponent and the department which is why they ultimately applied for secondary consent.
“If the Minister says the changes are within the definition of micrositing, they may not have an issue.”
Local landowner Don Jelbart said the shire should have acted on the complaint as soon as it was received and the project closed down until the matter was resolved.
Ms Wragg said it was the local landowners who caught the developers out.
“We brought it to the notice of the council, not the proponent.”
She said the proponent was playing on the lack of definition for micrositing but claimed anything more than 20 metres could not be considered as micrositing.
Ms Wragg said the actual siting was exhaustively studied at the time the application was made.
“We question the integrity of a process that relies on information provided solely by the developer,” Ms Wragg said.