Companies face uncertainty over wind farm rules

April 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

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April 11, 2013

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Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam

Carbon economy editor

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The San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm

Under threat: Investment in wind farms. Photo: Bill Clark

As much as $3 billion in wind farm investments may be diverted elsewhere as the state government dithers over guidelines and reporting procedures, developers and suppliers say.

Companies have been waiting since December 2011 for Premier Barry O’Farrell to settle on rules, such as how close to houses turbines can be installed and acceptable noise levels.

”They are introducing a complexity that no other market around the world requires.” 

Investors were cheered by last month’s federal government decision to leave existing settings in place for the renewable energy target, with the aim of generating 45,000 gigawatt-hours a year by 2020. Industry specialists ROAM Consulting calculate the state’s wind generation capacity could soar fifteenfold over the rest of the decade, given the quality of the wind resource and the existing infrastructure.

Finalising guidelines: NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard.

Finalising guidelines: NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard. Photo: Brockwell Perks

Director of government relations Ken McAlpine at Vestas Wind Systems – the world’s largest maker of turbines – said his company remains optimistic the state government will strike the right balance. The lengthy consideration, though, adds to uncertainty, as does the possibility of stringent noise standards being set.

”They are introducing a complexity that no other market around the world requires [and] not anywhere else in Australia,” Mr McAlpine said.

A spokesman for Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said the guidelines ”are being finalised”.

Vestas’ global chief executive Ditlev Engel said the industry hopes to be treated the same as builders of other infrastructure assets.

”If you live next to a highway … it’s damn noisy and that seems to be all right,” Mr Engel said. ”The highway is going to be much, much noisier than the wind farm is ever going to be.”

While the state’s guidelines aim for turbines to be two kilometres from houses, other countries require much less.

”Denmark has 15 times more wind energy than NSW,” Jonathan Upson, a senior manager at wind farm developer Infigen, said. ”For them, 600 metres is an adequate set-back.”

Repeated requests for extra submissions and responses for Infigen’s wind farm proposals for Bodangora and Flyers Creek are also adding costs and delays, he said.

‘Tinfoil hats’

Greens NSW MP John Kaye said the guidelines delay was putting at risk about 4000 new jobs and the chance to cut 17 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

“No other industry would be deliberately exposed to this level of uncertainty by a government that claims to be interested in creating jobs and investment opportunities,” Mr Kaye said.

The uncertainty included the prospect of compulsory referral of some wind farms to the Department of Health.

“As the Treasurer gears up to sell the state’s electricity generators, the Coalition is keen to suppress any competition to coal and gas,” he said. “The O’Farrell government is rapidly becoming part of the tinfoil hat brigade of conspiracy kooks promulgating laughable myths about the health impacts of wind farms.”


Vestas’s Mr Engel will join the opening of the 420-megawatt Macarthur Wind Farm, near Portland in western Victoria, this week. The wind farm, a joint venture between AGL and Meridian Energy, is dubbed the largest in the southern hemisphere.

To meet the renewable energy target, the power sector is expected to add wind turbines twice the equivalent of Macarthur each year for the rest of the decade.

Mr Engel said his dream is for spreadsheets to take full account of the cost of fossil fuels – not just the greenhouse gas emissions produced but other health impacts, as well as the cost of decommissioning and cleaning up.

He also said Australia was the envy of many other countries in terms of renewable energy sources. ”You have a lot of coal in the ground, which you take for granted … but you also have a lot of wind,” he said.


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