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RES drops 758MW wind farm proposal, amid Victoria boom

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Wind_AGL-Brand-Image_112RES Australia has scrapped plans to develop a nearly 800MW wind farm south of Penshurst in south-western Victoria, as large-scale renewable energy development starts to boom across the state.*

The company – whose Australian portfolio includes the the 68MW Emerald Solar Park in Queensland, and the 240MW Ararat Wind Farm in Victoria – said in a statement on Wednesday that, upon detailed review, the project was no longer an ongoing development opportunity.

According to department of planning documents dating back to 2011, RES Australia first proposed to construct and operate the Penshurst Wind Farm at a capacity of 758.2MW – which would have made it the nation’s largest, at that time, by some measure.

And according to RES, it has been working on the 223 turbine proposal since 2008, including making significant efforts to win community support for the wind farm from the nearby township of Penshurst.

The project was to have injected more than $7 million into the region and created more than 1200 construction jobs and, by completion in 2018, to have generated enough capacity to supply 15 per cent of Victoria’s homes, according to RES.

“Since 2008, RES has a invested significant amount of effort, time and money in the Penshurst project and supported various local community events and groups over a number of years,” a company spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday.

“After a detailed review of the site we no longer consider this project to be an ongoing development opportunity and we intend to focus on other sites in our expanding portfolio,” the statement said.

The statement offers little in the way of detailed explanation about why the project has been dumped, and also pays tribute to its “many supporters in the Penshurst area and a loyal group of landowners.”

But reports in the local press report community resistance in the region, located about an hour’s drive north-west of Warrnambool, which has become a sweet spot for wind farm development, including AGL’s Macarthur wind farm; smaller adjacent farms at Codrington and Yambuk; and the Mortons Lane Wind Farm.

Another two projects – Union Fenosa’s 134MW Ryan Corner wind farm, and Woolsthorpe (55-68MW) are approved for development, and a third – the 98 turbine Willatook Wind Farm, by Wind Prospect – is at the proposal stage.

A Warrnambool Standard story published in January 2015 reported that the Southern Grampians branch of the anti-wind group Landscape Guardians, had threatened to sue any landholders who agreed to have turbines for the proposed Penshurst wind farm on their properties. The report suggested that “no more than 10 property holders” had signed agreements with RES to have turbines on their land.

At the time, RES said the threat of legal action had not persuaded any landholders to withdraw from their agreements, and said any legal case would be a long one, as the claim of “nuisance” would be difficult to prove. Landowners with a stake in the wind farm were to have been paid around $65 million, according to reports.

In 2012, the Standard reported that the same anti-wind group had opposed the wind farm over concerns it would threaten local brolga population and geopark. RES had already prepared an effects statement on the impact the wind farm would have on the the southern bent-wing bat population and the volcanic plain natural grassland.

Since 2015, documented local opposition to Penshurst appeared to quiet down. But a more recent report in The Australian – which does love an anti-wind yarn – noted that a protest rally against further wind farm development in the broader Moyne Shire region had been held in Hawkesdale* in September, amid growing concern that wind turbines would soon “effectively encircle their town.”

The report cited Grattan Institute ­energy director Tony Wood, who said there needed to be “more oversight than we’re seeing at the moment to make sure we don’t end up with this excessive concentration of wind farms in one area.

“The land owner might get paid, but as a community, they don’t see as much benefit from having these close by. There needs to be more consultation.’’

As for RES, the company says it has a development pipeline of more than 2500MW of new wind, solar and energy storage projects across a number of Australian states.

This includes the 429MW Murra Warra Wind Farm, also in Victoria, which was approved in November 2016, and stands to be one of the largest in the southern hemisphere, next to the 800MW project proposed for Victoria’s Golden Plains Shire by German-backed outfit WestWind Energy.

Last month, the company also began construction on the 68MW Emerald Solar Park in the heart of Queensland’s coal country after the project reached financial close.

As we reported at the time, Emerald is significant for Australia’s solar industry, as the first independently owned project to strike a power purchase agreement with a major Australian corporate.

Telstra signed a long term contract for the output of Emerald, which it says will be the first of many investments in large scale solar to help offset the high cost of its energy consumption, which accounts for nearly 1 per cent of Australia’s total demand.

(RenewEconomy contacted the Moyne Shire for comment about why the Penshurst was scrapped. Vicki Askew-Thornton, in charge of major projects liaison and economic development for Moyne Shire Council, declined to comment, and referred us to the RES Australia statement.)

*An earlier version of this article said the Penshurst Wind Farm had been dropped due, in part, to local community resistance. While there was resistance from some parts of the community throughout the project’s history, RES Australia has clarified that it had nothing to do with its decision to drop the project.

**It also incorrectly said a protest rally had taken place in Hawkesburn. The rally was in Hawkesdale.   

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  • Cooma Doug

    If you want a bit of a laugh and one of those WT hell moments….go to “Stop These Things”. Dont correct any of their crazy posts. They will troll you for 10 years.

    • Peter Campbell

      Don’t. It’s just depressing.

  • Peter Campbell

    If there is a good wind resource in that local, I guess a new proposal will come along in a few years, anticipating resistance and find very little. Sometime an idea has to be put up a few times before it takes hold.

  • Joe

    Those two Wind Turbine Fanboys, not, the Abbott and the Hockey will be smiling.

  • Farmer Dave

    Given that there is obviously a good wind resource in the district and that willing landowners have been found, this might be an opportunity for a local cooperative to be formed to build a smaller wind farm. A much smaller, locally owned farm may find more local support.

    • Mike Shackleton

      I think wading in with a 758 MW wind farm was a mistake – better to put a small farm in initially to show reluctant locals that their fears are unfounded and scale it up later.

    • Monty

      A fair distance from suitable grid and 500kV at that very expensive connection costs for a small project.

  • Gabi Gerrie

    Think about it… putting wind farms in clusters is like putting all your eggs in one basket. We need a national plan to distribute solar and wind across the country to take advantage of the climate diversity. Not just plonk them too close to people because it is a cheap option for the developer.

    We don’t just build airports anywhere, but wind farm developers can…

    • Mike Shackleton

      Putting them close to people is exactly what we should be doing. We need to leverage the existing network to deliver the electricity to consumers. The further you put them away from population centres, the more you lose in transmission of that power. Not to mention, wind farms need to go where consistent reliable wind is. They aren’t just plonking them anywhere.

      Your airport comparison is illogical – we build those close to population centres because they need to be where people are!

    • Brian Tehan

      Wind farms must be put into places with the best wind resources – which are limited, especially inland. That’s why wind farms are in clusters. they also need to be close to HV electricity transmission, which can be very expensive to install from scratch. It’s science and engineering at the end of the day.

  • Gabi Gerrie

    Are you aware that wind farm developers like Union Fenosa and Infigen and others have dozens of approved wind farms that are just languishing. Why I wonder?

  • Vox

    Wind farms are complex beasts with a lot of failure points in it’s development process. There is a need to balance environmental risks (brolgas and volcanic landforms), land risks (a large amount of landowners for the wind farm, and more for the grid connection), against potential energy output and economies of scale.

    When you do the balance, sometime the results is negative. Other times, it just sits low in the merit order of a portfolio, and of other competing projects.
    As Gabi Gerrie says, many developers know their projects don’t stack up, know they sit at the back of the queue, yet string landowners along with the hope that some naive company will buy it off their hands.

    RES has taken a different approach, reaching the conclusion that the project simply doesn’t stack up, and letting the landowners off their agreements. This is seldom heard in the market, and they should be lauded for being honest with themselves and with the landowners.

  • Chris Marshalk

    We need more wind turbines, it’s as simple as that. Ignore the dopey LNP & their blind followers. Do the right thing for this planet.

  • mick

    its the same kind of nimby bull s–t going on in palmer

  • Joe

    Did anyone catch / read Terry ‘Crackers’ McCrann’s article in The Daily Telegraph ( 2/11 ) commenting…no, that is too kind….’unhinged meltdown’ in his takedown of this now discontinued Windfarm. That the dude is 100 % anti RE, 100 % pro Coaler, 100% climate change denier is all no secret. That’s why Rupert pays for Crackers gig. But this latest piece takes it up to another level. Here are some gems from ‘Crackers’ in his piece in unloading on RE and on Penshurst Windfarm…”a first step back to national sanity”….”the snouts- in- the- trough dollars are so big”…..” the first step towards the fulfilment of the dream…..that one day we will live in a nation where we start tearing down those useless towers and blades”. But he wants to keep one tower with one blade …”to turn lazily and even more uselessly in the occasional breeze”. ….as a sort of monument like fragments of The Berlin Wall. Where’s a doctor when you need one ?

  • Michael Murray

    Ah NIMBY. This morning (4/11) Vic is drawing 620 MW of wind power from SA but I guess that is OK.

  • Malcolm M

    Not a great loss. The Penshurst area isn’t raised much above the surrounding landscape, and it is adjacent to Australia’s largest but least productive wind farm – MacArthur at 420 MW. To compensate for a mediocre site RES needed economies of scale to make it work financially, which in turn made it too large for a single investment. It had limited scalability because of high connection costs to the 500 kV network.

    Its best exposure is to westerlies, but that’s when most other wind farms such as MacArthur are producing, contributing to a strong wind correlation penalty. The best sites such as Hornsdale have exposure to both westerlies and easterlies. There are much better wind sites on promenances further west between Coleraine and Casterton.