Saturday, June 4, 2011

Victoria’s wind power becalmed?

2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the Codrington wind farm in Victoria’s southwest, the state’s first. On May 18, Planning minister Matthew Guy announced approval for the latest, the three-turbine Chepstowe wind farm, near Ballarat.
Wind turbine at Cape Bridgewater, Victoria

But Victoria’s wind industry is threatened with a becalmed future due to the policies of the state’s new Liberal government.

The government came to power with promises to ensure no-go zones for wind farms in the Macedon ranges, Bellarine and Mornington peninsulas, and the Great Ocean Road. These are some of the best areas in the state for wind farms.

They promised to give residents within 2km of proposed wind farms the right of veto over development, and they promised to put planning applications into the hands of local councils.

Friends of the Earth spokesperson Cam Walker expressed his concerns after the Chepstowe approval. “There are several other larger wind farm developments soon to go through the approvals process.

“The future of these proposals still hangs in the balance because the State Government is only half way through implementing their new wind farm policy, which is expected to impose extra restrictions on future wind farms.”

While the Liberals explain their policy in terms of empowering local communities, it is not the case that local councils are all enthusiastic: the ABC has reported that “Several councils have voiced concerns that they cannot afford to comply with the changes to wind farm planning guidelines.”

Friends of the Earth is“happy to support the primary decision making powers going back to Councils on the proviso that they can opt out and refer an application to the Minister, and that there are time limits decisions,” Walker said.

“Without a set timeline, a Council could chose to sit on a proposal indefinitely and delay to the point the project is no longer viable,“ he said.

Coal: full steam ahead

While wind power developments are facing restrictions, coal mining is not under any such threat.

If you stand on Fraser Avenue at the back of Anglesea, on Victoria’s surf coast, you can’t see the coal mine a few hundred metres to your north. It’s behind the low coastal scrublands and of course, a big hole in the ground is hard to notice until you stumble right upon it. But it’s undeniably there.

The Anglesea coal mine has been there since 1961, and while owner Alcoa is entitled under the original lease to a 50 year extension of the mine’s operation , they are now also seeking an extension of the mine.

Cam Walker said that in Anglesea “most people aren’t too keen on the idea and are certainly grumpy when you explain that if it was a single wind turbine they would have a right of veto, yet the 2,000 residents that live within 2 km of the Alcoa coal mine don’t have this right.”

Two kilometres away is on the other side of the coal mine, and while there is no established health hazard from wind turbines, dust from open cut coal mining has well established and serious health hazards, and the residents appear to have no say in the matter.

In the Latrobe Valley, Environment Victoria points out that HRL’s recently approved coal-burning power station is to be sited within 2km of hundreds of houses in Morwell.

Two recent news items really put these coal and wind developments into proper perspective.

Firstly, information from the International Energy Institute shows that 2010 had the highest carbon emissions in human history. Now policy makers are finally admitting that their (already too dangerous) target of 2°C global warming is looking beyond the reach of their myopic vision.

But on a more positive note, the energy costings relied on by governments and electricity planners are “overestimated by as much as 50 percent when compared to international forecasts” according to climate think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

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