South Gippsland
Victoria, Australia




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On 17 October 2006, Wellington Shire Council rejected the development of the nine-turbine windfarm proposed by Synergy Wind Pty Ltd for Devon North, South Gippsland, Victoria. The application was rejected six votes to one, with one councillor absent, and another with a declared interest.  

The proposal by Synergy Wind went to the Wellington Shire in July 2006, and was evaluated by the Planning Department. Resident neighbours of the proposed site were notified and given extended time to prepare any objections, or support. Those who objected were notified in writing by the shire that a round-table mediation conference would be convened by the shire, bringing together Synergy Wind and the neighbours. This was not done and it was later revealed that such a conference was not mandatory under these circumstances. No objecting neighbour has yet to meet with Christian Spitzner, the Project Manager of Synergy Wind. 

Wellington Shire planning evealuated the applicatioin under the guidelines of local and state planning acts. The State government under Premier Steve Bracks has a mandate to reduce grenhouse gases and they have indicated that wind energy is the way to go. Shire planning approved the application strictly according to the acts and guidelines. 

The procedure was then for the recommendation of town planning to go before the elected council. The State government has decreed that any windfarm proposal of capacity less than 30 megawatts be a local shire government decision. Over this capacity, the shire would abrogate responsibility to the state. The proposal for nine turbines makes it about 18 megawatts total. 

The nine  councillors, elected by the residents and ratepayers to represent their individual and community concerns, have the responsibility to consider the issues raised by planning, et al, and vote accordingly, taking into account the relevent federal, state and local government acts. They must have the interests of the community at heart and vote for the betterment of the community. They have the authority to permit or prevent applications as per state and local government law. They rejected the application. 

The following is a general report prepared by Peter Stone, of Yarram.

It was a remarkable evening. All the councillor who spoke did so with authority and knowledge. It is not just the decision they made that has made us so pleased, but the professional and considerate way the councillors conducted themsleves through their speaches. There was an overwhelming consideration for the rights and concerns of the residents. 

It was Councillor Geoff Amos who led the motion to reject the application - his speach as nothing short of brilliant. He was suported by Councillors Galt, McCubbin, O'Neil and Wenger who all spoke against the establishment of the windfarm. Councillor Ripper voted for the windafrm and also had some relevant points to make. Cr. Cleary was absent. Cr. Garlick declared interest, due a relative involved in the wind industry. Mayor Hole did not speak on the motion but voted against the windfarm. 

The key issue was not wind energy but where the proposed windfarm was to be located. Councillours recognised that it would be too disruptive to too many residents without significants gains to the greater community. The windfarm location was inappropriate.

All councillors showed that they were most concerned about the environment and the need to reduce greenhouse gases but they also recognised the genuine concerns and lifestyles of the neighbouring residents. They recognised the difficulty of balancing this, but through their excellent presentation, demonstrated that there were significant disadvantages to the neighbours. The usual issues were raised - sound, noise, property devaluation, infrastructure,
flora and fauna, electromagnetic disruption etc. 

It does not by any means set a precedent for other possible windfarms in the shire, but it does demonstrate that the councillors are prepared to listen and act and consider the rights of the residents. It was made clear that although on present guidelines the planning department had little choice but to recommend the approval, which they did, there were too many unanswered questions is respect to information not forthcoming from Synergy Wind, and suspicion on the claims and veracity of some of the information provided. Overall, it affected too many residents for
such little overall gain.

Councillor Jeff Amos, who led the motion not to approved the application, spoke eloquently and determinedly on the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and indicated his concern for the environment and the reduction of greenhouse gases. But he also recognised the rights of the individual residents who would be so significantly affected by the establishment of the windfarm, mentioning noise, flicker and property devaluation amongst other issues. He recognised the guidelines laid down in local and state planning acts and guidelines, but, in essence, said that disruption to quiet living and reduced amenity of the twenty or so immediate neighbours was also of prime concern. Councillor Amos said he was not satisfied that Synergy Wind could keep beneath what is defind as acceptable limits of noise and flicker. He stressed he was not against wind energy per se, but the applicants proposal placed the windfarm in a most inappropraite location - it being so close to so many homes. He recognised the little benefit to the greater community that a nine turbine wind farm would have, at the expense of the neighbours. 

Councillor O'Neil, who is well known for her intelligent support on environmental issues, commenced her address on the issue with the words, "It is with a heavy heart," that she supports the rejection of the proposed windfarm, on the grounds that its location is totally inappropriate. This courageous decision went against her strong support for green energy, yet she intelligently weighted up the issues, and apparently saw that it was just too intrusive on the community. We applaud her selfless decision. 

It was a wonderful result for us, and a very appreciative one as it showed that our councillors were listening to our concerns, and had the initiative and intelligence to establish for themselves the criteria of the situation.

The project manager Christian Spitzner was present in the gallery. He said nothing. We are yet to meet him - he left the meeting promptly. At one stage there was a look of utmost horror on his face when he realised that the
numbers were against him. Synergy Wind's PR man from Traralgon, Bill Barber, spoke briefly from the floor, on a matter of a study of Bats and Birds. Ten concerned neighbours spoke against the windfarm, and I must say the
concise and relevant speaches were superb, with just enough emotion to show our concern. We recognised that nothing much of what we could say would sway a councillors decision at this late stage. We respected this and kept our brief presentations under the three minutes each were allotted. Indeed, we would have been disappointed at any council changing their mind at the last minute when there was ample time and material to study before the evening. 

The decision has by no means set a precedent for future windfarm applications in the Wellington Shire. It has demonstrated that council has the wisdom to evaluate each application on its own merits. There may well be other suitable sites where the turbines are distant enough not to disturb residents. The decision does not mean the end of windfarms in Gippsland. It does show however that the council will listen to, and evaluate the councerns of the residents, never forgetting the greater benefit to th community. The individual does count. 

Council listened - evaluated - and decided. We can ask for no more.

Whereto from here? Probablyt VCAT. We are ready for this. There is a possibility that Synergy Wind will move on to another site - Willung has been mentioned, and Carrajung, but I am not sure if these concern Synergy. I doubt that they will simply pack up and go back to Germany.

This has been a victory not just for the appropriate placement of windfarms in Gippsland, but for the local government democratic process, of considering the concerns of local residents and balancing these with those of the greater community. The council must be congratulated on how professionlly and considerately they evaluated the issues.

The following is the brief presentation presented by Peter Stone.

My name is Peter Stone and I live on Ingles Road, Devon North. I am the nearest neighbour to the windfarm owners residence. I moved there with my wife seven years ago soon after my son Sam was born, and have spent thousands of dollars on renovations. As a photo-journalist I travelled extensively through Australia and the Pacific, and I chose Yarram and Devon North as I could find no finer place to live. I never thought that one day I would have to defend my right to live peacefully with my family in Gippsland.

Initially I had no issue with windfarms, but over the past fifteen months or so have made a study of wind energy. I do not claim to be an expert, but I do understand the issues. I now have serious doubts about the general viability of wind-energy, and yet in certain regions, they are a most acceptable form of electricity generation. But this is not the issue here. 

What I am concerned about is the appropriate location of windfarms, and in particular, that proposed for Devon North, where the nearest turbine to my property will be 530 metres, and even less than that to another neighbour. The proposal is for this commercial entity of a wind-turbine complex to be built within a rural residential area, with some twenty homes within a kilometre radius. It is not open farmland with few residences. This industrial complex is proposed next to a residential strip. 

You have read my concerns - I hope - and those of other neighbours. You know of our concerns for noise, flicker, property devaluation, traffic, electro-magnetic disturbance, fire hazards, and the concern that it is to be built on a recognised fault line.  I wont go into detail on any of these. Other speakers may choose to do so. 

To this very moment, neither I not any of my neighbours who have submitted an objection, have formally met with any executive or employee of the German company Synergy Wind. Mr Christian  Spitzner has indeed refused point blank to speak to us even on a direct request to meet at his office, at his convenience. This contempt for the community is not appreciated, and is in direct contradiction to the guidelines laid down by the federal and  state goverments, and by AusWEA, the wind energy lobby. On this alone the permit application should be rejected. 

Neither I, my wife, nor my neighbours are opposed to wind energy. I want a better life for my son and I will do all I can to ensure that. I support practical initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases. I  may have doubts about the financial viability of windfarms, and the environmental claims made by the wind energy companies, but this is not the issue. It is the inappropriate location of this particular wind farm at Devon North that is in question. There are a lot of people hurting because of this proposal. There are alternative sites. The end of the Devon North proposal does not mean  the end of wind energy in Gippsland. If the Bracks government has a mandate on wind energy then it is appreciated that the Wellington Shire planning department needs to consider this mandate. But again I reiterate that (Premier) Bracks, (Minister) Hulls and even (Minister) Theophanous speak of "appropriate location". It is up to Council to interpret this with professional skill and consideration for its ratepayers.  If the planning department cannot do it, perhaps because of state government pressure, or whatever, then so be it. It is then up to our elected councillors to consider the reality of the issue, and take into account the concerns of the residents who put them in office as our representatives. We do not have an environmental issue here - we have a quality of life issue, a human-rights issue if you like. The proposed windfarm is in an inapproprite location and will affect too many lives. If the future of our environment comes into th equation, there are alternatives. Elected councillors are not representives of the government. They are not in office to rubber-stamp government mandates. They are here to represent the people, and whereas councillors must take into account the directives of state and local government, they must at all times give priority to the concerns of the residents and ratepayers, and where a conflict of direction occurs between the wishes of the people and that of the governments, it is the councillors who must stand up and seek the necessary change. Local government can rarely instigate a change against state government directives.We have elected councillors to represent the people, to oppose undesirable issues, and to instigate change when required. Councillors have the intelligence and community concern to make a difference. I for one have faith in you. Please, with consideration for our families and the broader community, reject this insidious inappropriate proposal and let us all get back to our life. 
Thankyou for your time.

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