Plans to build a massive 400MW wind farm on a ridge outside the former gold-mining town of Nundle, 50km south of Tamworth, have hit rocky ground after they failed to win the support of the local council and even inspired a new anti-renewables acronym: NINE, or “Not in Nundle, Ever!”
The Hills of Gold wind farm is being proposed for development by Engie, which bought the project from Wind Energy Partners in September of last year and submitted an Environmental Impact Statement to the state planning department a month later, in November.
According to the DPIE planning portal, the department is currently in the process of collating submissions on the state significant development, which, as of this week, will include a nine-pager from the Tamworth Regional Council, detailing why it “finds itself unable to support” the wind farm in its current form.
“Tamworth Regional Council is usually supportive of renewable energy initiatives,” says the submission, the delivery of which was supported by a unanimous vote on Tuesday. “However council wishes to raise some significant concerns regarding this specific proposal.”
The lengthy and measured submission goes on to detail these concerns, which include the suitability of the location for the project, potential environmental and social impacts, and a lack of detail around construction, maintenance and ongoing operations.
“It is for these reasons that the Tamworth Regional Council can not support the approval of the Hills of Gold Wind farm proposal in its current form,” the submission concludes.
What bearing this will have on the DPIE’s decision remains to be seen. On the face of the submission, and in the opinion of the renewable energy advocacy group RE-Alliance, none of the issues raised by the council should necessarily be “show-stoppers.”
“For instance, their questions around the size of the Community Enhancement Fund and its administrative arrangements should be easy to answer and you would expect they would be as the developer responds to the range of submissions from the public and relevant bodies,” RE-Alliance’s national director, Andrew Bray, told RenewEconomy.
“This is the first wind farm proposal Tamworth Council has considered, so a cautious approach on their part isn’t surprising,” Bray added.
“After noting the significant economic benefits for their community, Council raised a number of questions they want further information on. They took the reasonable position that they can’t support the proposal until they are satisfied by the responses from the developer.”
But according to the local press, the sentiment of some of the local councillors and neighbours to the project has been not quite as measured or reasonable.
For example, the local take on the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) slogan – “Not In Nundle, Ever!, or NINE – was reportedly coined by TRC Councillor Glenn Inglis, who slammed Engie for its “lack of meaningful important detail …lack of scrutiny and a lack of clarity.”
Another Councillor, Russell Webb was quoted in the Northern Daily Leader as saying he’s not a supporter of wind farms in general.
“I don’t think it’s a good way to spend money and generate energy – but in this particular case my objection to this wind farm has nothing to do with that,” he said. “I think this is a terrible location for any such development.”
As RenewEconomy reported last year, local opponents to the wind farm, including local activist group Hills of Gold Preservation Society, argue that scores of turbines on Nundle’s horizon will ruin the “historic” township’s aesthetic and drive away tourists.
But there are local supporters, too. In a letter to the editor of the local Northern Daily Leader published in May of last year, local of 31 years Jim Robinson explained why he wants a wind farm on his land, and in his town.
Robinson, whose Hanging Rock land encompasses the ridge that would hold the majority of the project’s 78 turbines (reduced from an earlier number of 97), said he was won over to the idea of what wind farms could do for regional communities after watching a program about it around 12 years ago.
“This proposal was never about myself, it was what it would do for all of us in this community. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the village of Hanging Rock and the town of Nundle to thrive,” Robinson’s letter said.
“The people that are against the wind farm say it will destroy tourism, but most of the people that visit our town are the older generation that drive here in their 4×4 and caravan and have already filled up their car with fuel and fridge with food and beer from Tamworth. They stay at the caravan park for a couple of days but spend very little money in our town.
“There is nothing here for our children and very little for the older generation. If the Wind Farm went ahead, the money from the Community Enhancement fund and also donations from the landholder hosts could do a lot for the area,” he wrote.