Police called in as Latrobe Valley wind farm site vandalised | RenewEconomy

Police called in as Latrobe Valley wind farm site vandalised

A mesh-metal tower used to measure wind conditions at the proposed Delburn wind farm in Victoria has been toppled in an incident being investigated by police.

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Image: Supplied

Police are investigating an incident at the proposed Delburn wind farm in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, after a meteorological mast installed at the site was vandalised, causing it to collapse.

The roughly 160 metre-tall mesh-metal tower was installed at the site of the proposed 200MW project by developers OSMI Australia in October of 2019 to measure wind conditions.

In a statement to RenewEconomy, OSMI confirmed that the “met-mast” was vandalised last week and, as a result of that vandalism, had “collapsed in an uncontrolled manner” (see image above).

“This incident is now subject to an ongoing police investigation,” the statement said.

In a separate statement issued via OSMI’s Facebook page, the company urged anyone in the community with concerns or objections to the proposed project  to “get in touch.”

“It is disappointing that people have chosen to express themselves in this manner, however it is also fortunate that whoever did this has not been seriously injured or worse through their actions,” the statement said.

“We request that people get in touch with us to discuss [any] concerns further, and we also note that there is opportunity for community members to make formal submissions through the planning process.”

OSMI Australia director, Peter Marriott – a wind energy veteran whose previous work with Goldwind included overseeing the final stages of development of the massive Stockyard Hill wind farm – said he had not seen this sort of thing happen at a wind farm site since the early 2000s.

While wind farm vandalism happened occasionally early on in Australia’s development history, including at early projects like Waubra and Bald Hills, Marriott said it had become increasingly rare due to better community engagement from developers – and due to the understanding that it did little to stop projects from going ahead.

Apart from being extremely dangerous, Marriott said the toppling of the met-mast at Delburn had resulted in a “bit of a headache” and an insurance claim for OSMI. Otherwise, it was business as usual for the project team.

“OSMI is continuing with our plans to progress the project through the planning process, and if/when OSMI is to install a replacement mast we will inform the community in advance of this taking place,” a statement said.

As RenewEconomy has reported, OSMI’s Delburn wind farm was originally proposed at 300MW, but has since been trimmed in size to 180–200 MW, with turbines ranging between 5.5 – 6.0MW.

Like the massive Forest Wind project in Queensland and Neoen Australia’s planned 900MW wind and battery hub in western Victoria, the Delburn wind farm is proposed for pine forest plantation land, overlooking the now partially demolished Hazelwood coal-fired power station.

And, like almost all projects of this sort of scale, there has been some community push-back against the Delburn wind farm, which is currently preparing to lodge a development application with state in the next couple of months.

One group of “concerned residents and family members” called the Strzelecki Community Alliance claims to represent more than 300 local households, totalling more than 1000 individuals within the 3km radius of the wind farm.

The Alliance, which stresses on its website that it is not opposed to renewable energy, per se, argues that OSMI’s plans place wind turbines “too close to homes, too close to communities” and in a bushfire-prone area of the recently hard-hit Gippsland region.

According to WIN News reports at the time, the erection of the met-mast at the project – stretching the approximate height of the proposed turbine nacelles – site stirred up local opposition to the project, as a symbol of what was to come.

(In comments to the Latrobe Valley Express last week, Alliance’s member Tash Blake said she did not think anyone in the group would vandalise the mast, and suggested it could have been the wind’s doing. “In the SCA we are all for sustainable energy, just in the right place and the right way,” she said.)

Marriott – a wind energy veteran whose previous work with Goldwind included overseeing the final stages of development of the massive 530MW Stockyard Hill wind farm – says he understands the community’s concerns.

The Latrobe Valley community, in particular, has little experience with wind energy projects and is at the same time grappling with being, quite literally, at the coal face of the energy market’s transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

Marriott said OSMI had been undergoing an “enormously extensive” community consultation process, and was currently undertaking separate noise assessments, peer reviews, and noise audits to help put community members’ minds at ease.

A community benefits scheme is also being established by OSMI, which will offer neighbouring home-owners a share of $500,000 in profits from the wind farm a year, and establish a Community Development Fund worth around $150,000 a year.

Meanwhile, the project has its share of community support, too. Another local group, called Strzelecki Sustainable Futures, condemned the vandalism of the met-mast in its own Facebook post last week, describing it as “a totally inappropriate way to express disagreement.”

“The SSF supports the Delburn Wind farm, and we want to see it done well. We are engaged in getting the best outcome for the project and want the design to be the best that it can be for the local environment and we encourage all parties to engage respectfully in this dialogue,” the group said.

“We acknowledge that there is some opposition to the proposal but across the Latrobe Valley there is strong support for the transition to renewables.

“There will be further opportunity for the community to express any concerns about the project in the near future when the government planning committee will be taking community submissions on the project — we encourage community members to engage with this process. This is the appropriate way to express opinions about the proposal.

“Unfortunately, this incident demonstrates that anti-wind misinformation and scaremongering can have potentially dangerous consequences,” the group said.

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