Plans to build a 97MW wind farm just outside the Victorian Western District town of Hawkesdale will be challenged in the Supreme Court next week by a group of locals hoping to have the planning permit for the project revoked, just as construction is about to begin.
A group made up of about 25 community members filed legal proceedings against developer Global Power Generation and Victoria’s minister for planning Richard Wynne in February – and has also put in an injunction to stop works on the Hawkesdale wind farm until the court case, due to be heard on Monday and Tuesday next week.
The case will be argued around the legality of the planning minister’s decisions to amend GPG’s planning permit in late 2017 and extend it in November of last year. According to local reports, the state government first issued a permit for the site in 2011 and has since extended it four times.
But the real beef of the local group – which has called itself The People of the Small Town of Hawkesdale Incorporated – centres around the proximity of some of the project’s turbines to the border of the small town.
The current design of the 23-turbine project puts the nearest 180-metre tall turbine 1.6km from the boundary of the town, which is described on a GoFundMe page set up to help finance the legal proceedings as “a typical small Aussie town in rural Victoria, footy and netball on a Saturday, a pool for the summer hols, a shop, a country pub and wonderful school.”
The plaintiffs argue that there should be at least a 5km buffer between the project’s nearest turbines and the town’s border, to ensure that the town can continue to grow.
“I’m not anti-wind farms but I am against wind farms that are inappropriately located,” said The People of the Small Town of Hawkesdale Incorporated member John Bos, in comments to the local paper.
”At one-or-so kilometres from the nearest town it’s disgusting what they’re doing.
“It will decimate the town because they’re proposing to not allow people to build on land between 1.5 to two kilometres away.
“If you can’t allow a town to build it will become static and people will start to move away. It will impact us socially and economically if no-one wants to come into town and invest.”
On the GoFundMe page for which Bos is listed as organiser, the group’s position is a little more strongly worded.
“We need a hand to SAVE OUR TOWN from the horrors of a Wind Farm being built next-door,” it says.
“With this monster wind farm as our neighbour, people will leave, the school will lose numbers, the soul of our community will be destroyed, it will be the death of our town,” it says.
“This is a David and Goliath battle, but we are determined to win the fight!! …We ask if you could please chip in to help us STOP THIS HORROR Wind Farm!”
The court case is no doubt a blow for the long-delayed wind farm and for its developer Global Power Generation, a joint venture majority-owned by Spain-based Naturgy Energy Group, previously known as Union Fenosa.
After years of trying to get the project up, GPG had only in December of 2020 announced it had locked in a power purchase deal for Hawkesdale with US online retail giant Amazon and signed up Danish giant Vestas as the project’s turbine supplier and EPC partner.
And just last month it was revealed that Hawkesdale alongside GPG’s Ryan Corner and Berrybank 2 projects would be backed by a “landmark” payment deferral facility led by Vestas and offering vital short-term financial support at the riskiest part of a renewable energy project – construction.
That said, community concerns about the close proximity of the turbines to the town have clearly not been allayed, and were potentially exacerbated by GPG’s most recent amendment the project that dropped three turbines from its design in November of last year, but not the turbines closest to the town.
In February, the local Moyne Shire Council strongly urged GPG to review which turbines would be removed in the planning amendment of November 2020 in order to address local community concerns.
“Council is disappointed that the three turbines GPG are proposing to remove from the Hawkesdale Wind Farm are for operational reasons and not in response to community concerns,” Moyne Shire mayor Daniel Meade said.
“Any change or amendment to the planning permit should see removal of the turbines closest to the township of Hawkesdale to increase the buffer between the town and the wind farm.
“The three turbines that GPG are applying to remove are not near Hawkesdale – if the company are reducing the number of turbines, they should be first removing the ones closest to the town.”
In comments to the local paper on Monday, Meade said the council had “no involvement” in the court case and no official role in the issuing of a development permit, but would like to see the turbines pushed back further from the township.
“We wrote an advocacy letter expressing this to Minister Wynne and the company, both with replies saying we were basically too late,” he said.
For GPG, this is not the first time the company has been called on to trim a project’s turbine numbers in Australia. The Crookwell 3 wind farm, set to be built in the heart of federal energy minister Angus Taylor’s NSW electorate, was given the green light in October of last year after the NSW Land and Environment Court overturned a planning rejection issued by the NSW Independent Planning Commission, after a process of conciliation saw the project’s size reduced from an initial 23 turbines, to 17, and then finally to 16.