Coastal Guardians spokesman Tim Le Roy, left, and Walkerville farmer Don Fairbrother check on the location of one of the rogue turbines near Mr Fairbrother’s home. Bald Hills Wind Farm P/L may challenge the decision of the former Planning Minister following a change of government.
THE change of government has been good for Mitsui and Co (Australia) Limited, the firm that owns the $300 million Bald Hills Wind Farm project near Tarwin Lower.
Having received the pronouncement of the last Planning Minister, Matthew Guy, on October 31, that two of the 20 ‘micro-sited’ turbines would have to be relocated to their endorsed locations, one of them as far as 250 metres away… they did nothing.
And on Monday, December 1, immediately after the State Election, they have announced their intention to appeal Mr Guy’s decision at VCAT, where the arrival of a new government, and a new attitude to wind energy, can only help.
It’s a convenient set of circumstances that could save the company millions of dollars. And leave the turbines exactly where they are!
General Manager of Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd, Matthew Croome, foreshadowed to the Sentinel-Times last week that an appeal was being considered but this week he confirmed it.
Not only that, but he has also admitted to relocating a major piece of infrastructure, a $10 million substation, already completed and ready to operate on the northern part of the wind farm site.
“Further to our discussions last week and specifically your questions regarding the location of the substation, I can confirm that it is our intention to lodge an application for approval by the Minister under the secondary consent provisions for the substation’s current location,” Mr Croome said.
It is understood that the substation has been built on a different title to the one approved in the Planning Permit, without the knowledge of the responsible authority, the South Gippsland shire.
“The substation was moved approximately 150 metres from the location identified in the Development Plans due to constructability issues which were subsequently identified during the detailed construction survey and design phase,” he said.
“Last week Bald Hills Wind Farm also lodged an appeal application with VCAT appealing the Minister’s decision to disallow the relocation of two turbines.
“Although not directly involved in the appeal process, the South Gippsland Shire Council has also received notification of our appeal to VCAT.
“We are not certain at this stage regarding the timing for resolution of this matter, but we are hoping to have a clearer picture in the coming weeks.”
It was on Friday, October 31, just prior to the commencement of the Caretaker Period on Tuesday, November 4, that the responsible authority, the South Gippsland Shire Council, was advised by the Minister that a ‘Secondary Consent’ application from Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd had been approved for 18 relocated turbines.
He ruled that because their locations had been ‘micro-sited’ by less than 85 metres away, they could remain where they were.
But two of the turbines, Number 17 and Number 33, which had been moved up to 250 metres away from their endorsed locations, would have to be moved back, according to the Minister.
Coastal Guardians spokesman Tim Le Roy said this week that it didn’t surprise him “that Mitsui wasn’t prepared to accept the umpire’s decision”.
“Someone has obviously told them they can get a better yield by changing the site. They had already done all the soil and location testing, so there was no reason to relocate them.”
Local landowner, Don Fairbrother, believes there is a more worrying explanation.
“We have seen a copy of the civil design plans and they don’t marry up with the endorsed plans, meaning they always intended for them to be in different locations.
“One of them is right in front of our house.
“We could see it being constructed in the wrong location and we told the shire about it but they did nothing.
“The roads on the site and the underground cabling are also in the wrong location.
“Imagine if an ordinary citizen did something like that. You’d be in serious trouble.”
But Mr Fairbrother didn’t hold out a lot of hope that the previous Planning Minister’s decision would be upheld.
“There’s actually no definition on the distance allowed for micro-siting in Victoria. It was an arbitrary decision taken by the Minister.”
Mr Fairbrother was the one who dropped the bombshell last week about Bald Hills putting its substation in the wrong location, a fact that has now been confirmed by Mr Croome.
As part of the conditions of its permit, Bald Hills P/L has also started monitoring background noise levels near the wind farm, to be used as a baseline when the turbines start generating power.
“As discussed acoustic consultant Marshall Day has recently commenced background noise monitoring at various locations around the wind farm site. Over the next one to two months, prior to operation start up, background noise monitoring will be conducted at a range of sites surrounding the wind farm site.”
Mr Fairbrother is expecting problems.
“Mitsui knows that 11 of the turbines will not comply with existing noise standards but they went ahead and built them anyway.
“They were warned by David Hodge (former Executive Director State Planning Services and Urban Development, Department of Planning and Community Development) that there would be a problem for people living in the area but VCAT said they could go ahead and fix it later.”
He’s not hopeful now that the operators will respond in a timely manner when the turbines are making an unacceptable amount of noise.