Wind farm approval fans anger

Daniel MercerThe West Australian

A contentious proposal to build one of Australia's biggest wind farms near a Wheatbelt town has moved a significant step closer after getting the nod from a State planning watchdog.

The Great Southern development assessment panel - which vets all major projects in the region - has given the green light to plans by Moonies Hill Energy to build a 150MW wind farm near Kojonup, south-east of Perth.

The decision, which overturned the panel's previous objection to the proposal, paves the way for 74 turbines up to 160m high on farmland in a project costing up to $500 million.

While Moonies Hill expressed its delight at the approval, local opponents said they were disappointed the panel had seemingly gone back on its previous decision despite a lack of evidence to support the change.

Moonies Hill director Sarah Rankin said development approval was a major regulatory hurdle to clear and meant the company was much more likely to have the first 40MW stage of the project online by 2016.

Amid slow demand for new energy sources in WA's electricity system, Dr Rankin acknowledged the wind farm still needed to secure an off-take agreement so the company could sell its power.

She said talks were continuing with a prospective customer but declined to discuss any details, citing commercial confidentiality. "We have got development approval, so that's fantastic - it means we're allowed to build it," Dr Rankin said.

"This is going to be a great project for the region. There are a lot of benefits to come. This is going to be one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the Great Southern and we may never see anything like it again."

However, Roger Bilney, who owns property near the proposed site, said apart from health concerns about the effect of wind farms the project would lower the value of people's land.

Mr Bilney said the area's primary purpose was broad-scale farming but the turbines would restrict or prevent the ability of farmers to use planes to aerially spray their crops.

He said he would not appeal against the panel's decision and hoped Moonies Hill would honour its funding and jobs commitments to the local community.

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