sick-decision-or-winds-of-changeBald Hills Wind Farms’ 52 turbines are ready to start generating electricity but far from quieting opponents, the start to operations could kick off a new round of protests. m064514

OPPONENTS of the $300m Bald Hills Wind Farm project have hotly criticised a decision last week, by the new State Government, to overturn a pronouncement by the previous planning minister, Matthew Guy, in relation to two incorrectly sited turbines.
They have also claimed that the decision, signed off by the Acting Minister for Planning, the Hon Robin Scott, may even have been an administrative error, made in the absence of the recently appointed Planning Minister, the Hon Richard Wynne.
Mr Wynne is on sick leave and is expected back at work soon.
But a spokesperson for the Minister denies any mistake was made with the latest decision, claiming it was all the previous Minister’s doing.
(See comment below)
But it was the development company, Bald Hills Wind Farm (BHWF) Pty Ltd, and not the government which made the announcement of the Acting Minister’s decision on Monday, January 19.
“Bald Hills Wind Farm received notification late last week that acting Minister for Planning the Hon Robin Scott has allowed the new location of its substation, within the site, which was moved from the original location due to constructability issues and to better protect the local environment,” said the communique from BHWF Pty Ltd.
Bald Hills Wind Farm general manager Matthew Croome also advised that its VCAT appeal against the decision to disallow the movement of two wind turbines, shifted between 100 and 250 metres away from their endorsed locations, has been successfully settled by consent order agreed at a VCAT mediation last week.
The decisions will save BHWF Pty Ltd hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars, but they have been widely condemned by local residents and wind farm opponents for lack of process.
“It’s absolutely outrageous that an acting minister could make a decision like that to overturn the decision of the previous minister,” said local farmer, Don Jelbart.
“It’s just another example of how this company has blatantly flouted the planning laws when going ahead with this project.
“They re-sited some of their turbines as far as 250 metres away from their endorsed locations, they’ve moved the sub-station on to another title, they’ve carried out illegal quarrying and worked outside their approved hours.
“And then they go and ask the acting minister to give them a clean slate.
“If it was anyone else that wanted to put up a garage or an extension to their house outside the planning rules, the shire would come down on them like a tonne of bricks,” Mr Jelbart said.
“But what has the council done? They’ve just stood by and done nothing despite repeated requests that they take action.
“It makes you wonder what’s going on.
“What we have here are two sets of standards; one for the bigger companies who can just do what they like and one for everybody else.
“Regardless of your attitude to wind turbines, it’s just not right. It’s about process and abiding by the laws and they’re just not being followed.
“It’s also about being prepared to abide by and to uphold a previous minister’s decision.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful.”
So what are the local opponents of the wind farm project going to do now?
“Watch this space,” said Mr Jelbart.
“There is something afoot but we’ll just wait and see what comes of that.”
However, the horse may have bolted when it comes to getting BHWF Pty Ltd to change the location of any of its 52 turbines with the first generation of electricity likely in early February, according to Mr Croome.
“Bald Hills Wind Farm expects that the first generation of electricity from the wind farm will occur in early February 2015 and that the wind farm will be fully operational by the end June 2015.
“The Bald Hills Wind Farm will consist of 52 wind turbines, each with an electricity generating capacity of 2.05 megawatts (MW) giving the project a total capacity of 106.6MW.
“The Bald Hills Wind Farm will be connected to the national electricity grid at Leongatha South.”
BHWF Pty Ltd has already conducted performance tests on many of the turbines and appear ready to meet their early February generation date.
But the firm may not be out of the woodwork yet.
A new report on Pacific Hydro’s Cape Bridgewater wind farm, which includes noise measurements of both audible sounds and infrasound, indicates a correlation between the infrasound and health issues for nearby residents.
Opponents say testing of infrasound wasn’t included in the Victorian Policy and Planning Guidelines for Wind Energy Facilities used by Bald Hills and may yet present a problem for the developers, not to mention nearby residents.
Opponents also claim that up to a dozen of the turbines will contravene existing noise standards and may have to be shut down soon after going into operation.
They also say that adjoining landowners should have been consulted before turbines were re-sited and this could still be actionable.

Government response

From a Victorian government spokeswoman:
“Former planning minister Matthew Guy acted against his own department’s advice in relation to the relocation of two turbines at bald hills. The wind farm operator had brought VCAT proceedings against his decision.
“The former Liberal government had an illogical policy on wind farms that all but killed off the industry in Victoria.
“The Andrews Labor Government wind farm policy is about finding the right balance between protecting affected individual’s rights and supporting jobs in emerging industries.
“The decision to allow the relocation of these two turbines is in line with government policy and the department’s comprehensive assessment, and brings the VCAT proceedings to an end.”

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They’re picking up bad vibrations

LOCAL residents concerned about the close proximity of their houses to the Bald Hills Wind Farm have pointed to a new study which has attempted to record the infrasound and low frequency vibrations associated with the Cape Bridgewater Wind Farm near Portland.
The Cape Bridgewater project is relevant to Bald Hills, they say, because the applicants heavily referenced the Portland project and used the Victorian Policy and Planning Guidelines for Wind Energy Facilities, which came out of that project, in their own planning application.
An important part of the new study was the participation of six residents who agreed to keep observation diaries in which they were asked to record their awareness levels of noise, vibration and a new concept of ‘sensation’.
The report found that there is a trend between the existence of these infrasound frequencies and the higher severity levels of ‘sensation’ as recorded by the residents in their observation diaries.
And while it was noted that the study found no correlation for noise or vibration with respect to the operation of the wind farm and residents’ observations, it found correlation of the noise with the wind speed and recommended the expansion of noise testing to include low frequency vibrations and infrasound.
The report has been sent to a range of stakeholders, including government departments, Members of Parliament, environmental organisations and health bodies.
The report is available at www.pacifichydro.com.au