The Central West community remains divided over the construction of the $195 million Flyers Creek wind farm, which could start next year due to the government’s revised Renewable Energy Target (RET).
Planning of the large scale renewable project, which was expected to generate enough energy to power Orange, Blayney and Bathurst, had been slow to progress due to uncertainty surrounding the future of the RET.
Industry and Environment ministers Ian Macfarlane and Greg Hunt recently announced the new objective to cut the amount of energy to be generated from renewable sources by 2020, from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt hours.
The decision marks the end to ten years of bipartisanship on the issue and will likely unlock investment in Australia’s renewable sector.
Director of the Central West NSW Renewable Energy Cooperative (CENREC) Rachel Young said the community will receive significant financial benefits through investment in the Flyers Creek wind farm.
“The investment in the wind farm is about $300 million. That money will come into the region, there’ll be a number of short terms jobs that will be created while the wind farm is being constructed – so that’s over about an 18 month period – and then in the long term you end up with maintenance jobs being associated with that wind farm,” Ms Young explained.
CENREC is planning on purchasing one of the 43 wind turbines at the farm to increase community return.
Former Greens member for Bathurst Tracey Carpenter who also sits on the CENREC board believes the move is a vital step towards the Central West accepting renewable energy as the way of the future.
“If this project doesn’t go ahead – we’ve got a dying coal sector, we’re losing our markets, losing our jobs, mines are closing, coal stations are closing – all of these opportunities for jobs in renewables will be lost in this region.
The wind farm has been the centre of controversy since the community became aware of its proposal in November 2010.
Strongly opposing it is the Flyers Creek Wind Turbine Awareness Group, which consists of locals residing in the surrounding area who believe there has been insufficient community consultation surrounding the project.
“It was not a question ‘What do you think?’ it was ‘Here is the development that we are building’,” Chair of the group Patina Schneider expressed.
“In fact I believe even many of the hosts were ill informed of what would happen on their properties and originally signed never understanding the magnitude of this development. There was never any opportunity for the local community to veto such an inappropriate development, and the planning system in NSW supports these developments regardless of their lack of merit or integrity or communities concerns and complaints,” she continued.
The ‘concerns’ Ms Schneider referred to include “the structural integrity and placement [of the wind farm], the health and social problems and the efficiency and economics behind it all”.
Ms Young was adamant that there are no scientific health risks associated with wind farms, claiming the Federal Government has conducted 17 inquiries investigating this issue and that “none of these inquiries have found any solid evidence that there are any directly scientific health impacts”.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recently reviewed a body of research into ‘wind turbine sickness’ and concluded there is no direct evidence that exposure to wind farm noise affects physical or mental health.
However, it also set aside $500 000 in funding grants for further research, asserting that many of these studies were not scientifically rigorous and that people living near wind farms continue to claim it makes them sick.
Both Ms Young and Mc Carpenter stressed that majority of residents support the proposal of the Flyers Creek Wind Farm and welcome its associated benefits for the community and the environment.
The NSW Planning Assessment Commission has approved the construction of the Flyers Creek Wind Farm, set to commence next year once Infigen Energy accepts consent conditions.
NSW Farmers have shifted their policy to recognise the impact of climate change on agriculture and urged politicians to act.
In the past, a section of the NSW Farmer’s Policy dictated that the organisation should not embark on climate change action with fears that foreign investment would be driven away with no visible financial gain.
The Policy now acknowledges that primary producers are on the front lines of seasonal variability exacerbated by a changing climate, urging its members playing an active role in the issue.
Mullaley farmer Angela Martin, a former NSW Farmers board member, said the change sends a clear signal to governments that climate change is an issue farmers deal with every day.
“Primary producers are on the front lines of seasonal variability, rising temperatures and more extreme weather, exacerbated by a changing climate,” she said on the final day of the group’s conference in Sydney.
In March this year, delegations of farmers called on the Abbott government to maintain the renewable energy target and reduce carbon emissions.
The 2015 NSW budget showed spreading drought and preparations for future climate change was expected to cost the government close to $100 million in the new financial year.
Drought assistance alone will cost $63 million in the 2015-16 year, up from an estimated $45 million in the current year.
Longer terms concerns related to climate change will attract $26 million spending in the coming year, up from $19.2 million this year, to help local councils develop and implement management plans to “restore and protect the state’s coastline and estuaries”.
NSW Farmers Public Affairs Director Veneta Chapple says discussions around implementing renewable energy strategies will be tabled in future NSW agriculture meetings.
“They decided that they wanted to move our policy forward and make it more reflective of the current mood of farmers and the fact that farmers are at the front line when it comes to managing seasonal variability.”
According to the updated policy, transitions towards renewable energy sources in rural, remote and regional areas should take place where an operation can benefit surrounding farming communities.
Ms Chapple says the association has encouraged an energy team to “reduce their energy costs”.
“We’ve gone out into the regions and talked to farmers trying to help them convert to solar where there is a net benefit for them.”
With the upcoming Climate Treaty discussions taking place in Paris at the end of the year, Ms Chapple says there are a lot of opportunities for the Abbott Government to utilize renewable energies that could assist communities experiencing drought.
Welcome to the Climate Change in the Central West major project! This website serves as a hub for all the stories completed over six weeks to create a more genuine multimedia experience.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change defines climate change as:
“A change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”
This major project aims to explore various aspects of climate change and it’s effect on the Central Western region of NSW. It will aim to question government action on supporting renewable energy and present stories highlighting the importance of tackling climate change in the 21st Century.