After some six years in the pipeline, a wind farm proposed for Yass Valley in NSW has been recommended for approval by the state’s Department of Planning and Environment – but only for a drastically scaled down, 79-turbine version of the project.
Epuron, the privately owned Australian renewables company behind the wind farm, said the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission is now in a position to make its final determination about the project, originally proposed at 150, but scaled back to 124 after consultation with the community.
The positive recommendation comes almost one year to the day after the NSW planning department rejected the proposed wind farm, in what was described as a “scathing assessment” of the company’s failure to factor in potential impact on the nearby radar equipment for local airstrips and Canberra Airport.
Reports at the time said Epuron had failed to secure agreement with five landowners, five years after its environmental impact study was originally exhibited, but wanted to include the five properties in the development application.
In response to this week’s decision, the company said it was yet to review the basis of the department’s “significant reduction in scale of the project”, but added that the decision was “difficult to accept” given the local support the wind farm had received.
Essentially, the department’s recommendation limits approval of the project to the western side of the proposed site, while the majority of turbines which would have been installed on the eastern aspect would not be installed.
Epuron executive director Martin Poole said there had been a handful of objections to the project from locals living on the eastern side of the proposed site, but that this did not seem to warrant such a major down-scaling of the plans.
“Epuron has carried out detailed environmental assessments of this project over a number of years,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Independent experts have assessed the project and found the impacts acceptable. The project was received well by the local community on the two occasions that the environmental assessment was exhibited. All concerns raised during the consultation process have been addressed.”
Despite the recommendation to limit approval of the project to the Coppabella Precinct alone, Epuron said it was pleased that the Yass Valley Wind Farm wold contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation in NSW.
“It’s time to deliver on the NSW Renewable Energy Action Plan,” Poole said in a media statement. “We are keen to contribute to NSW capturing the important jobs and investment from large-scale renewable energy projects which have mainly been secured by other states.
“It is important that NSW demonstrates its commitment to maximising the local jobs and expertise that flow from the transition to a cleaner electricity sector.”
The project is also expected to provide economic benefits to the Yass Valley community, including via a community fund of $2,500 per wind turbine – more than $300,000 per annum if all turbines were built.
In an interview with RenewEconomy, Poole said his company’s plan now was to work with the PAC and the community to secure a positive determination as soon as possible.
The difficulty once that is achieved will most likely be in securing a power purchase agreement for the off-take of the renewable wind energy the farm will generate.
“The market for finance (in Australia) is really good,” Poole told RE. “I think there is a lot of quality people looking at the market.
“The finance is ready, there’s just nobody who wants to buy the power.
“As soon as it became apparent that Tony Abbott was going to win the 2013 election, the real motivation to continue investing disappeared.”
But Poole said that while there was cause for some optimism that this was now reversing – with the change in Prime Minister and the locking in of a renewable energy target – a shift in market sentiment hadn’t really kicked off yet.
“I think the (energy) retailers are just at the point where they’re thinking of dipping their toes in the water,” he told RE. “(They) need some time to get their renewables acquisition policies back on track.”