A 55 turbine wind farm is set to be built near the township of Collector, north of the ACT, after getting the all-clear from the NSW planning department.
The RATCH Australia project – originally proposed at 63 turbines – was granted development approval by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission on the condition that eight turbines be removed to reduce the visual impact of the wind farm as seen from Collector village.
The project, which was referred to the Planning Assessment Commission in late September, has been dogged by controversy – most of it whipped up by Tony Hodgson, a businessman who co-founded insolvency specialist Ferrier Hodgson, and whose rural getaway happens to be about 2km from the Collector Wind Farm site.
As part of his effort to block the project’s development, Hodgson founded the group Friends of Collector, of which he is president. He is also a board member of the national anti-wind group, Waubra Foundation.
More recently, though, he stepped up his campaign by threatening to sue his Collector neighbours should they become turbine hosts.
In October, the Canberra Times reported that lawyers acting for Hodgson sent a letter to eight local landholders who were considered likely host a turbine, claiming precedent for legal action due to the anticipation “that the operation of the wind farm will have substantial and actionable adverse affects [sic] upon our Client”.
“By leasing your land to accommodate wind turbines, you authorise the nuisance that is likely to result from the noise emitted by the operation of those turbines and you can be held liable in respect of the entirety of the damage sustained by those affected by the nuisance, including any personal injury that materialises,” the letter said.
Hodgson, who once described Genghis Khan as “a bit of a piker”, said then he would take his lawyers’ advice should the wind farm be approved, but would not comment on any possible legal action against its Thai-Australian operator, RATCH Australia.
Beyond Hodgson, broader community concerns were also raised at a public meeting held in October, including the potential for health and noise problems to affect local residents, due to the wind farm’s proximity to the town.
But according to the Planning Assessment Commission’s determination report, concerns about noise levels were considered, and the Commission was satisfied that the wind farm would comply with appropriate standards.
The report also notes that the commission has acknowledged the community’s concern about the potential health impacts. However, it says, “given the relatively low noise levels to be produced, the two-kilometre set-back distance between the turbines and non-associated dwellings and the advice from NSW Health, the commission is satisfied the noise from the wind turbines will not adversely impact on human health.”
RATCH Australia, meanwhile, is looking forward to moving on to the construction phase, which the company says should start towards the end of 2014, and could take around two years.
The company says that, while pared back in size, the wind farm should remain commercially viable, with the potential to generate up to 550GWh of electricity a year when in full production – enough to power up to 70,000 homes.
“We remain committed to the Community Enhancement Fund derived from wind farm income, which will help fund local initiatives,” said Ratch Australia project director Anthony Yeates, adding that an area of the site would be set aside and protected from clearing or grazing, to preserve and maintain critical fauna habitats.
Other conditions of the approval involved bushfire safety issues and a commitment to deliver of an Annual Environmental Management Report.