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Minister blows wind, not smoke

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WestWind Commercial Operations Manager, Marla Brauer looks over the plans with Member for Buninyong Geoff Howard. Photo – Damien Wieland
WestWind Commercial Operations Manager, Marla Brauer looks over the plans with Member for Buninyong Geoff Howard. Photo – Damien Wieland

By Kate Taylor

It came with the headline ‘new jobs breeze into the Ballarat region with wind farm approval’ – but the media release on West Wind Energy’s Lal Lal wind farm approval, and the decision itself, immediately attracted criticism.

“Minister for Planning Richard Wynne approved changes to an original permit approved by the former Labor Government in 2009,” Mr Howard said.

And while there will be fewer turbines, 60 now – they will also each now be the height of a 54-storey building, at 161m.

“Not only will this project deliver a massive boost to our renewable energy supply, but it is expected to create 641 direct and indirect jobs during construction, and another 49 ongoing positions once complete,” Mr Howard said.

The announcement also came with comment from West Wind Energy Managing Director Tobi Geiger, who welcomed the Victorian Planning Minister’s decision to approve changes to the permitted Lal Lal Wind Farm.

“This is a very positive step in the right direction. It means that we can now get on with constructing this wind farm,’’ Mr Geiger said.

“We are extremely pleased that the Planning Minister has seen the value in the amendments and has proceeded to give us the green light to move towards constructing what will be a more efficient wind farm.

Mr Geiger also referenced the panel hearings held into the proposed permit amendment last year, which saw many community members and residents voice concerns about the project.

“We’d also like to acknowledge the community that took the time to make submissions to the planning panel and attend the hearing. We appreciate the time and effort they made so that the panel members could gain a better understanding of the project and the community that surrounds it.”

West Wind Energy will establish a Lal Lal Wind Farm Community Fund Program, which will provide $60,000 each year for a range of local initiatives, projects and events that benefit the local community.

Central Ward Councillor Paul Tatchell, who presented at the panel hearing on behalf of the Ballan Chamber of Commerce, was not happy with the decision.

“I’m not anti-wind farm; regardless of the science, regardless of the ongoing debate of health and wind farms, is it reasonable that we accept there are people under a lot of duress in terms of this lack of consultation by one of the ministers, who in fact has never been to the wind farm site? If you don’t understand the people, and you don’t take the time to listen to their concerns, how the hell do you make a decision like this?” Cr Tatchell said.

John McMahon, who led the group lobbying against the changes, declined to comment on the announcement until he has seen a copy of the amended permit.

That could take a while.

As Cr Tatchell pointed out, the full permit has not been seen by anyone other than the government and West Wind – adding that the government must have meant to notify Moorabool Shire Council of the decision via the Ballarat Courier because as yet no notification has been sent to council on the decision.

“The issue that I have is that while the premier and the minister may not know where Moorabool is because they only drive through it, you would think at the very least one of the many politicians in Ballarat would pick up the phone, send an email, or use a bloody carrier pigeon to let us know on a decision that’s been made by the right honourable Member for City-centric Politics, the planning minister, without even sending through the results from the panel, who has rubber stamped an ongoing liability to the ratepayers of the Moorabool Shire,” Cr Tatchell said.

He added that the benefits of local jobs would not be so local.

“The reality is, the number of people that are properly trained in the installation of wind farms can fit into the back of a Goggomobil, so I suggest they’ll be coming from other places and it’ll be outsourced.”

He also pointed out that council will be stuck managing the policy, and planning implications and restrictions flowing onto surrounding properties – as well as damage to roads.

“Ultimately anybody who saw the million-dollar bill that was left to the Macarthur township… we’ll have to deal with this with no compensation from the state government in terms of managing these roads, and revenue raised from the wind farms will never cover the depreciation of our road networks.”