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.