YARRAM - PORT ALBERT
DEVON NORTH near YARRAM
|THE DOLLAR WINDFARM REPORT
The Dollar Windfarm is a proposed 48 turbine Wind Energy Facility located near Foster in South Gippsland located on approximately 2000 ha north of the South Gippsland Highway. A Panel Hearing, conducted under the auspices of the Minister for Planning was conducted over seven week from the end of March to the beginning of May with the report completed July 2005. This report was not released at the time. In October 2006, the operator of the proposed windfarm, energy giant AGL, requested the then Minister of Planning Robert Hulls to suspend the project. The Panel hearing report had still not been released, and, technically (perhaps in reality) AGL did not know its contents and thus would not have been aware if a permit was to be granted. On 15 August 2007, over two years after the report was written, and after numerous requests to the Minister of Planning Hulls, then Madden, and through FOI procedures, the opponents of the Dollar windfarm ran out of patience, and took the matter to VCAT to have the report released. Five minutes before the start of the hearing, a representative from AGL handed out a brief letter announcing that the Dollar windfarm would not proceed due to ‘economic considerations'. Needless to say the opponents were overjoyed. The VCAT hearing did not proceed (for technical reasons) but it was later realised that the report should still be released - after all, a great deal of public and private money was expended, and thousands of man-hours. Minister Justin Madden was asked to release the report but refused. Peter Ryan MLA Nationals sought its released through FOI, and speculation started as to what did the government have to hide. On 5 September, Jon Faine announced on ABC Radio that he had a leaked copy (which I subsequently obtained, as is on the ABC Radio 774 website).
Mr Faine interviewed Minister Madden on the program that day.
JF.Are you embarrassed by the release of this report now.
JM. No, not at all Jon. As I said to you last time you interviewed me there is no conspiracy here. It is a document which had no status once the project was withdrawn.
JF. Why didn't you just release it.
JM. Well, we're, look, we are happy to be open and accountable on the decisions that we make, it was no decision here, there was no decision that needed to be made, (it) was a document that would have serve no useful purpose other than to provide speculation on both sides of the argument as in some ways it did in anyway. The project was not going ahead so there was no point in having a document out there that speculated on a project that was never going to exist.
JF. Why isn't the project going ahead. This report recommends it goes ahead and gives it the green light.
JM. Well, I think you would have to ask the proponent Jon because at the end of the day ....
JF. Have you asked them?
JM. No I haven't. It's not my duty nor an obligation of mine to ask why the project doesn't go ahead if somebody has put in a proposal.
JF. You are put through the ringer, you are put through the mill, your government is dragged through the courts, you've got this hot political potato and at the last minute and at the last minute they pull out and you don't even ask them why?
JM. No Jon, its about process...... we'll be open and accountable but where there is no decision needed then its all speculation - there is no point in us adding to that speculation.
JF. There was nothing open or accountable in refusing to releasing this report, in particular I don't understand why you made such a fuss about not releasing it when there is nothing I can find in my quick reading overnight that is particularly damning anyway?
JM. I didn't make a fuss about not not releasing it Jon - it was not - it did not have the status to release. It was more....
JF. That's a concoction minister, with absolute respect, I mean that's playing with words in order to justify a silly decision.
JM. As I said in our last interview, there is due process, planning has a very formal status, it has a very formal process and I must adhere to that, now this document did not fit within that status because the project did not exist. There is no point in releasing these things if there is no project to proceed with.
Jon Faine asked the minister if the Dollar report could be placed on (the ABC Radio) website. Minister Madden huffed and puffed and said he could not say yes or no. The report was loaded later that day.
Jon Faine's questions hit the mark. Minister Madden's answers begs several questions. Madden indicates that the report was not released because it was on "a project that was never going to exist". What information was he hiding? Considering that AGL only publicly announced that they would not go ahead with the project on 15 August 2007, his excuse does not hold weight: why therefore was the report not released sometime in the previous twelve months? Did the Victorian government know that the Dollar windfarm would not proceed? If so, why did they not say so? And why did AGL not make such an announcement. On the other hand, if AGL decided to pull out on or just prior to 15 August 2007, then Minister Madden is either somewhat confused (as he frequently seems to be) or is lying. Then of course it is reasonable to ask, why did AGL announce their withdrawal from the project just five minutes before the VCAT meeting? Were they coerced into doing so by the Victorian Government: I can only imagine this would be so as to prevent the release of the report.
As Jon Faine said in the preamble to interviewing Minister Madden, there is nothing in the report that would embarrass the government, or seriously damage the wind industry. The report shows favourable bias toward the government's mandate on renewable energy, and recommends the approval for AGL to go ahead with the Dollar windfarm subject to a small number of conditions. Perhaps the most important of these is that four turbines were required to be eliminated or relocated. These four turbines were within seven hundred metres of a residence. Perhaps it is this one condition that the government did not want announced, as it would, conceivably, set precedent for future windfarms. If so, it would wipe out the proposed Devon North seven-turbine windfarm entirely (not that I suggest that Minister Madden is even aware of this small windfarm proposal.) The government obviously wants to avoid setting clear precedent guidelines as it may compromise future windfarm decisions. It is a matter of law now as to whether the Dollar Windfarm report can be used as precedent, as the report has still not been officially released.
The whole thing stinks to put it bluntly. Either the Victorian Government or AGL have kept quiet on issues relating to the Panel hearing; or perhaps there has been collusion between the two to keep it quiet. This would be disgraceful, completely contrary to democracy and open government, and acceptable business practice. The people of Foster and district have been kept in limbo for two years. Prior Minister Rob Hulls, and now Justin Madden should be disgraced for their abysmal attitude, and suitable restitution made to the patient opponents, or to the community as a whole. The situation is disgraceful.
AGL doesn't come out of this too sweetly either. Why did they not persue the release of the report throughout 2007 and this year.Surely they would have wanted the report released. Or did they indeed have a copy and was well aware of the tentative government approval. Remember they temporarily pulled out of the application procedure in October 2006; if AGL knew that the project was approved, and yet they were in doubts as to whether to go ahead and construct the windfarm, they would have had no insentive to insist on public release of the Dollar Report. And one wonders why th have pulled out anyway. Is not a 48 (or 44) turbine windfarm economical? Sure, they other major projects to consider, at Macarthur for example, so if they didn't want to go ahead at Dollar, why not find a buyer? Perhaps Synergy Wind would have been interested and got off our backs!!!! Perhaps they did try and find a buyer, and perhaps th whole project is uneconomical. Perhaps they did not have the required number of MRETs (renewable energy certificates) to make it economical. If not, why not. And if 48 turbines are uneconomical, where does Synergy Wind's miserable seven turbines stand? Mr Dimery said that AGL had not made a financial loss (on the application for the Dollar Windfarm) except for 'some deals already conducted with landowners'. It is speculated that these 'deals' refer to options and agreements for selected landowners to allow turbines to be constructed on their land.
How does this relate to the Devon North windfarm proposal? The arguments on noise and loss of visual amenity, and significant reduction of property values, seem to hold little weight, so perhaps we may not have pursued these so vigorously. On the other hand, the precedent of the "no turbines within seven hundred metres" may have eliminated all the uncertainly and anxiety of these past four years, and the next six weeks till a VCAT decision is made, and perhaps for the next twenty years if the damn things are built. It is important that future operators of windfarms are provided with clearer guidelines, such guidelines being more equitable with the use of rural land, particularly in pristine areas, and more considerate of retaining rural residents' amenities. We can learn much from the Dollar report - but perhaps it is too late.
A FEW MORE THOUGHTS...........
I have been advised that the reason the VCAT tribunal, to release the
Dollar Report, did no go ahead was because the legal argument for and against
the release of the report was based on whether it was contrary to the local
public interest or otherwise. Once the project had been withdrawn there
was no longer a public interest as
The Panel certainly expressed sympathy to the opponents, but made it quite clear that it had to interpret government policy to the letter, and could not enter into interpretations of the Policy and Planning Guidelines for Wind Energy Facilities that were outside the realm of the Governments intentions. The following extract, page 31 last two paragraphs of the Dollar Report is however most significant.
"The Panel considers that although titled 'Guidelines’, the document is a statement of Government policy and it is not open to the Panel to interpret this without regard to the specific words and intent. Nonetheless, the Panel notes that while it is not desirable for guidelines to be tightly prescriptive, the PPG-WEF lacks clarity in a number of areas. This has resulted in wide interpretations being presented to the Panel. For such reasons the Panel believes that a review of the PPG-WEF is needed at an early stage to clarify and facilitate the understanding of issues and decision making processes associated with WEFs. Notwithstanding the above comments, the PPG-WEF provides a critical foundation for the assessment by the Panel of this proposal, and is so employed in this report."
In other words, the Panel is recommending a review of the PPG-WEF - and it should happen, as it was drafted and released in 2003. Much had happened since then, and much to be learnt from practical experiences through established windfarms in Australia, nothing more of importance than the rights of the individual to a quiet existence. Thus the main issues of concern for all neighbours to an established windfarm - issues such as noise, flicker, visual degradation, property devaluation - must be reconsidered in a more realistic and equitable light. In so doing, the guidelines would be, hopefully, more specific, thus being of greater benefit to the windfarm developers, potential windfarm landowners and neighbours, councils and town planners, real estate agents, and the general public, especially those planning for a 'tree change'. Uncertainty, in all walks of life, leads to anxiety and lack of purpose. The public, and indeed the developers, deserve more appropriate guidelines.
AGL announced a hold on proceeding with the Dollar windfarm not long after they acquired the project as part of the broader acquisition of Southern Hydro. The reason could well have been that the site was too controversial for AGL's liking, they being mindful, perhaps, of their public image and the need to avoid any potential negative publicity. The comment that the Dollar site is 'uneconomical' is not a strict interpretation of AGL's reason for pulling out. It may indeed be uneconomical in terms of AGL objectives, with larger windfarms and other renewable energy projects in mind, but it may still be economical for a smaller energy company to take it over. Why AGL did not seek a buyer is anyone's guess.
If a large company like AGL are concerned about their image, as any
company should be, I wonder how Stanwell feel now about the Toora windfarm.
Notwithstanding the constant significant downtime on at least two turbines
at any one time (due I understand in greater part to the unavailability
of spare parts), Stanwell may well be fed-up with the constant criticism
of the windfarm, and may well regret that the site chosen was too close
to houses and the town. But as we all appreciate, once these towers are
up, it will be many decades before they come down. That is why it so important
for the operators, the governments (at all levels), and the landowners
to make the right decisions from the start. One cannot simply close the
doors on a windfarm and walk away. The scar on the landscape, and on the
commiunity, will remain.