Victoria wind farm rejected by VCAT over proximity to airstrip

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Alinta Energy wind farm unlikely to go ahead, after Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled it a threat to endangered bats and to the safe operation of Cobden Airfield.

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An up to 48MW wind project proposed for near Cobden in Victoria’s south-west is unlikely to go ahead, after its application for a development permit was refused by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The 12-turbine Naroghid Wind Farm, which was acquired by Alinta Energy in 2017, has had a rocky history since it was first conceived in 2004, including falling foul of the controversial 2km setback rule introduced by the former state Coalition government.

But it was snapped up by Alinta after the Labor government in 2015 repealed the setback rule, changing it to 1km, and then in 2016 announced the VRET, setting large-scale renewables targets of 25 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent (later revised up to 50%) by 2025.

Unfortunately for Alinta, this does not seem to have sweetened the deal for locals, who have long opposed the wind farm for its proximity to – and threat to ongoing the operations of – the local air-strip. Opponents have also cited its potential impact on the critically endangered southern bent-winged bat.

There was little support from state government, either. Naroghid went to VCAT after Victorian planning minister Rcihard Wynne failed to make a decision within the required time. Wynne then recommended that VCAT refuse the application for the protection of the bats, and “significant concern” about the effect of the turbines on the safety and efficiency of the Cobden airfield.

The tribunal took that advice, ruling in the first week of July that the wind farm’s impact on the Cobden Airport and nearby roosting sites for the bat outweighed the project’s “favourable” clean energy qualities.

“We acknowledge that there are aspects of the proposal which weigh in its favour, including the delivery of renewable energy and its minimisation of amenity impacts on nearby properties,” said the VCAT ruling handed down by members Ian Potts and Michelle Blackburn, an quoted here.

“However we do not consider these benefits to outweigh … the material impact that we have found the proposal will have on the safety of the current aviation operations at the Cobden airfield.

“Measures needed to address these safety impacts will have an impact on the efficient use of the Cobden airfield, and give rise to a new land use conflict between aircraft operations and the amenity of Cobden residents,” it said.

“While it may be possible for the proposal to be altered to address our concerns about the airfield and for further field surveys to satisfactorily address the likely risk to the Southern Bent-wing Bat, these are not matters which can be addressed by simple modifications to the proposal or by allowing a short period for further information to be provided under an interim decision.

“As a result, we have refused to grant a permit for the proposal.”

Alinta said the company would review the VCAT ruling, and weigh up whether it was worth continuing the fight for the $100 million project.

“Alinta Energy notes the decision from VCAT and will take time to review the determination and assess whether a modified proposal might be feasible,” said company spokesperson Megan Taylor.

“We will always work to develop projects in collaboration with local communities and with safety as the highest priory.”

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