Winds of change at Kojonup

Brian Oliver and Kate MatthewsCountryman

Construction of a 30-turbine wind farm near Kojonup has been given the green light by the local council despite calls for a moratorium by concerned neighbours.

The Shire of Kojonup council approved stage one of Moonies Hill Energy Pty Ltd's Flat Rock Wind Farm during a marathon five-hour meeting on Wednesday last week.

The resolution comes after an exhaustive 12-month community consultation process which resulted in a 1000-page plus agenda booklet and unprecedented turnout by community members at the council meeting, most of whom opposed the wind farm.

The council approved a maximum of 30 turbines, not exceeding a height of 150m, to be constructed in existing cleared areas and "substantially commenced" within four years of approval.

The wind farm, 35km south-east of town on farmland, will include an electrical substation and other associated infrastructure as part of stage one.

Moonies Hill director Sarah Rankin said that during construction the project would inject $10 million into the local economy and create up to 100 jobs.

It is estimated a further $35 million will be generated during the project's 20 to 25-year operating life.

Dr Rankin said that the project would provide 40 to 60 megawatts of carbon dioxide-free, renewable electricity - enough to power 30,000 homes.

He said it would displace 150,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, improve grid stability by accessing southerly winds ahead of northern wind farms, especially during peak demand periods.

Despite some opposition, Dr Rankin said they were committed to the project and the community.

"It's a small number, mostly neighbours, who have raised concerns but I think the majority of the community think it's a fantastic opportunity for the shire and the benefits it's going to bring," he said.

Dr Rankin said wind farms had been in WA for 24 years and there had been no cases of ill effects in that time.

Kojonup farmer Geoff Thorn, who will host up to 15 turbines on his property, believes they will provide a good source of extra income.

Running a mixed farm enterprise, he says turbines will help diversify his business with the annual lease a reliable source of income.

"There is no evidence of detrimental effects of wind farms and without evidence, logic would tell me that anyway," he said.

Moonies Hill will now embark on raising $150 million in capital for stage one, secure the technology and sign up power procurement contracts before construction begins in 2013 and the wind farm becomes operational in 2014.

In the interim, the company will wait for the Shire of Broomehill/Tambellup to amend the town planning scheme prohibiting electricity generation before submitting a development application for stage two, and 44 turbines.

Shire of Kojonup president Jane Trethowan said that while approval had been given for the wind farm, it was not the end of the process.

Ms Trethowan said opponents to the wind farm, to whom she spoke after the Wednesday meeting, felt their submissions had been "a waste of time".

"Their submissions were instrumental in helping us identify the issues and formulating the conditions (for the wind farm)," she said.

Ms Trethowan said the council had given the decision the required time to consider what she described as a big development for Kojonup.

Disgruntled neighbours say they are disappointed by the Shire's decision and will continue to fight for a moratorium on wind farm development.

"We thought we had put a very strong case for there to be a moratorium until the issues around safety, siting turbines, health and property values had been resolved," Roger Bilney, of the Kojonup Windfarm Stakeholders Group, said.

"Once those issues are resolved and we know how far turbines need to be from where people live and property lines, these projects could go ahead without the upheaval they are causing," he said.

The group has launched its website, kojonupwindfarmstakeholders.com, and will continue to lobby for a moratorium, saying there are still issues to be resolved, including future dwellings, buffer zones and noise guidelines.

"Round two has begun and we will not go away. We will continue to pursue this," Mr Bilney said.

The Shire received 59 submissions on the project, including 41 against and 11 in support of the wind farm.

Moonies Hill has pledged to establish a sustainable community fund, with details of how it will be established and implemented yet to be decided.

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