Wind farm hinges on VCAT

08 Feb, 2013 04:00 AM
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The proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm project near Seymour will be decided when a VCAT hearing finishes next week.
The proposed Cherry Tree Wind Farm project near Seymour will be decided when a VCAT hearing finishes next week.

A VICTORIAN Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) hearing this week will ascertain whether a $100 million wind farm will get the go-ahead in central Victoria.

Infigen Energy first intended to develop Cherry Tree Wind Farm outside of Seymour in the Trawool Valley, a project that would see 16 turbines generate up to 40 megawatts of power.

But the proposal was unanimously rejected by the Mitchell Shire in late 2012, despite planning officers giving their tick of approval.

The Shire said there were 118 letters of objection citing location, noise and health effects that influenced their decision - and only five letters of support.

The 12-day VCAT hearing is expected to conclude next week, with Infigen Energy calling on expert witnesses in the fields of noise, landscape and visual effects and ecology.

Their project has been slightly altered, with the removal of some turbines.

Apart from the Mitchell Shire, the company are up against stiff opposition, including the Trawool Valley Whiteheads Creek Landscape Guardians Inc.

Maxine Coulson, who operates an 800-hectare sheep and cattle farm at Whiteheads Creek with her husband Allan, is a member of the umbrella group.

On Wednesday the primary producer stood up in front of the tribunal to be cross-examined, while the group's barrister Peter Quinn also conveyed Landscape Guardians' list of objections.

"I've lived in the area for years and we feel the turbines will present adverse noise and health risks," she said.

If the plan goes ahead as is, she will be able to see up to eight of the 16 turbines from her property.

"There's no doubt it's going to have a big visual impact," Mrs Coulson said.

"But the biggest thing for us is noise. We've spoken to residents near Waubra, who can no longer live in their houses.

"We've been told the acceptable noise level of the wind turbines is the same as a busy road in the city and that's a big change for us in a country area."

Mrs Coulson was also concerned the value of her farm would be diminished.

Landscape Guardians has raised about $100,000 to fund a barrister for the VCAT hearing.

"It's not that we are against renewable and clean energy, but it needs to be put in an appropriate place," she said.

However, the BEAM-Mitchell Environment group say the wind farm proposal near Seymour could have far-reaching advantages.

President Caroline Morris says the group - which has about 65 families as members - has always supported the Cherry Tree Wind Farm.

But she says VCAT representatives told the group they were unable to put their case forward at the hearing, due to the fact they were not opponents.

Mrs Morris said they opted to put forward a written application instead.

The project will assist the region in decreasing the impact of climate change, as well as creating jobs, she said.

"Our group has been operating in the Mitchell Shire for about 24 years - dealing with a range of broad, environmental issues," she said.

"We see sustainability, including the development of renewable energy, as a key way of dealing with climate change. I think a lot of people are waking up the fact we need to change the way we live to deal with this problem."

She says about 40 local residents openly signed a group letter of support for the wind farm project.

"There was strong opposition to the project - so some people did feel intimidated to put their name on it," Mrs Morris said.

She says BEAM, together with Friends of the Earth (FOE), recently developed a referenced brochure to address some "myths" surrounding the effects of wind turbines that will be posted out to residents this week.

The brochure highlights the fact there are 17 independent and peer-reviewed studies that have shown turbines do not affect health, including humans and animals, while the National Health and Medical Research Council has stated there is no proven link between turbines and ill health.

Mrs Morris added that in 2009, the NSW Valuer General assessed 45 property sales within a 10km radius of eight wind farm sites in the State and found property values had not been negatively impacted.

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