by Michael Giles
TONY Abbott is an easy target and the Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne lined up this week to have a whack.
But oh dear, he could have picked a better subject to bash the PM around the head with than wind turbines, given the litany of planning failures that have plagued, and continue to plague, the Bald Hills Wind Farm.
It’s hard to know where to start, really. There have been so many stuff ups along the way.
Here’s a couple that come to mind:
• The bat and bird impact studies ruled as unacceptable by the planning panel were never redone.
• The turbines were increased by 25% in height without further noise and environmental assessment being required.
• The farm tenant plans for affected neighbours were not drawn up as required by the permit, effectively stripping landowners of their rights.
• Twenty (20) turbines, a large substation and 27km of roads were moved from their approved locations without impact studies being carried out, including their impact on indigenous heritage sites. One of the turbines was moved more than 300 metres. These were however signed off by the State Government.
• Five turbines were moved closer to non-host houses without written consent from the adjoining owners as required by the permit. The closest turbine is 892m to the nearest non-host house and only 505m to the nearest property.
• The South Gippsland Shire Council was put in charge of all aspects of planning compliance (except noise) without the funding or resources to manage the responsibility and has acted accordingly.
• The Minister’s own department is allegedly in charge of noise complaints (but doesn’t know it) and has no mechanism for dealing with such complaints.
• It’s the Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd itself which “manages the complaints service” and apart from keeping a register of complaints, it deals with complaints independently of government. We’re told it will act to “rectify the situation” if noise complaints can be validated but so far, after 12 such complaints, no remedial action has been taken.
In recent times, Minister Wynne has also agreed to reduce the setback from wind turbines from 2km to 1km (or less), as part of the government’s “streamlining” efforts, without any science to back up the change in policy as revealed at a hearing last week of the Senate Select Committee on Wind Turbines.
But all’s not lost.
Perhaps it’s a good thing Mr Wynne has raised the issue of wind turbines, and as he has suggested to Mr Abbott, he might himself like to show some “leadership” on the issue.
As an exercise, the Minister might like to start by making a few phone calls to try and find out how he would go about making a complaint about wind turbine noise if, like his local constituents, he lived next door to a wind energy facility, and found they were keeping him awake at night.
What’s the number of the complaint line, Mr Minister?
The people who are making those complaints are all reputable members of the community and their fears, that the noise might force them out of their homes, should be listened to.
He also notes in a media statement that “investment in wind farms just makes tremendous sense in terms of employment outcomes for regional communities” claiming further that the 19 proposed wind farms in the pipeline would “support as many as 2,638 jobs throughout regional Victoria”.
That’s certainly not our experience with Bald Hills where the construction workforce was largely floated in from outside the region and few locals gained employment or contracts. And there are very few locals employed now that the facility is operational.
But now that the Minister has weighed into the wind turbine debate, we’d like to see him do two things:
1. Make sure the neighbours of wind farms aren’t driven out of their homes, and
2. Ensure that these projects actually do generate local jobs by making it a condition of the planning permits.