French company shelves NSW wind project, citing Covid uncertainty

A 132MW wind farm project proposed for the Brown Mountain region in south-east New South Wales has been put on ice by its France-based developers, due to “extreme financial pressures” wrought by the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Akuo Energy said in an emailed statement this week that it was no longer “actively pursuing” the Granite Hills wind farm, as a consequence of the increased business uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, which is currently having a second wave throughout Europe.

“Akuo Energy is headquartered in France, where the pandemic has been particularly severe and as a result impacted global operations,” the statement said.

Stuart Macfarlane, CEO Australia, added that was “currently not actively pursuing the Granite Hills Wind Farm Project,” and had communicated notice of this decision to the NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment.

“Should we reactivate the project, we would seek agreement to recommence the development,” Macfarlane said.

The decision to shelve the state significant project comes as a surprise, following Akuo’s efforts in May to amend its plans to include fewer – but taller – turbines, ahead of seeking environmental approval by the state government.

The Granite Hills wind farm, proposed for 12km south-east of Nimmitabel, was first put to locals back in 2017, and was being developed in partnership with a small local outfit called Willy Willy, whose founders live within a few hundred metres of the proposed site.

Akuo said in May that the changes to the project plan had been influenced by feedback from neighbours and community members, as well as other “crucial advisors.”

It said that the reduction of total turbine numbers allowed the project to be moved further away from neighbouring residences, as well as a nearby communications tower owned by Broadcast Australia.

At that time, Akuo Energy Pacific business developer Shane Quinnell had told the Bega District News that Granite Hills, which had faced some minor delays due to Covid-19, was preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for review by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

The EIS was expected to be finalised near the end of 2020 and the submission made available for public feedback around mid-2021. If approved, project construction is currently estimated to begin in Q3 2021.

The local newspaper has since reported that the decision by Akuo has been welcomed by residents, who had been campaigning against the development for more than three years.

“We just want to get on with our lives,” David Williams, a spokesman for the Brown Mountain Residents Group said. “It’s been a trying experience and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.”

According to the Bega District News, residents had concerns about the location of the project at Steeple Flat, including the risk it posed to sensitive biodiversity on and around the site and to Aboriginal artefacts recorded on the site.

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