Vic wind power marches on: One farm switched on, one in the works | RenewEconomy

Vic wind power marches on: One farm switched on, one in the works

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State switches on one of its biggest wind farms, and plans for another forge ahead, despite boasting some of Australia’s most prohibitive development laws.

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One of Victoria’s biggest wind farms has started producing electrical power, after some of the 64 wind turbines began spinning this week at Mt Mercer wind farm, 30km south of Ballarat.

The 131MW wind farm, owned by Meridian Energy Australia, is expected to generate enough renewable electricity to power the whole city of Ballarat.

Meridian, in partnership with AGL, is also behind Victoria’s 140-turbine Macarthur wind farm – currently the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere – which has been operational since the start of this year.

Also in Victoria, renewable energy company RES has revealed plans to develop a 100-turbine wind farm by 2019 in the town of Murra Warra in the state’s western district.

The Wimmera Mail-Times reports that the company is currently undertaking ecological and transport studies at the proposed 32-square-kilometre site, just north of Horsham, having installed wind monitoring towers at the site in 2010.

Development project manager Kevin Garthwaite said Murra Warra’s strong winds, transport links and grid connection made it a prime wind farm location.

“Winds are good enough to make a viable wind farm,” he told the paper, adding that RES still had “a whole host of environmental studies to do so I would not be expecting a planning permit to be put to council until mid-2015”.

RES also said that 22 local landowners had expressed interest in the $450 million project.

RES is currently building a wind farm north-east of Ararat – the same town whose council was one of the first to approve the construction of a wind farm in Victoria.

Now celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Challicum Hills Wind Farm was built through Pacific Hydro along with help from the Federal Renewable Energy Target and at its inception, in 2003, was the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere.

Ararat Councillor Gwenda Allgood spoke to ABC Radio about the positive impact the wind farm has had on her community and highlighted the importance of transparency with all involved parties.

“Ararat embraces the idea of wind energy,” said Councillor Allgood. “Always has and, hopefully, always will.”

Allgood said that the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the wind farm was partly attributable to the upfront approach of Pacific Hydro and council, saying that when they put out the planning permit, they didn’t have a single objection from anybody, despite being completely honest and up front about the project.

“When we first started talking about wind farms, Pacific Hydro came and they held a lot of public consultation. First of all, they spoke to the aboriginal communities, they spoke to the farmers, and they spoke to businesses,” Allgood said.

“They walked up and down the street and they held open public meetings where everyone was invited and explained what they wanted to achieve and fortunately for Ararat my community absolutely embraced the idea.”

Allgood also highlighted the ongoing benefits of having a large company within the council area. “[Pacific Hydro] are one of the biggest rate payers we do have and they also provide a $50,000 community fund. They contribute to the farms, they basically drought proof the farms once you’ve got a wind tower on it…they provide roads which are very valuable for fire fighting exercises”.

Allgood also addressed the issue of noise pollution saying that “some of the wind towers are very close to houses but we don’t have that problem with noise. It just hasn’t come up as an issue with the community”.

The attitude of the Ararat council and community to wind farms appears to be at odds with the current state government’s, which under former leader Ted Baillieu, pushed through a number of policies that have hobbled wind farm development in the state.

The strict policies surrounding wind farms in Victoria, previously reported by RenewEconomy, were highlighted in the case of Cherry tree Range wind farm.

Despite meeting the world’s strictest wind farm planning laws and laying outside the multitude of state government mandated no-go zones, the proposed wind farm has been consistently thwarted by anti-wind groups on the basis of noise pollution concerns as a major threat to the community.

The new Victorian Premier, Denis Napthine, despite hosting approximately two-thirds of the state’s operating wind farms in his electorate, has said that there will be no change to the prohibitive laws.

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