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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
28/03/2011
Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR —I welcome representatives of Moyne Shire Council, Glenelg Shire Council and Pyrenees Shire Council. I understand that each of you have been given information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence. If you need a refresher course, we have more on hand. As local government officers, you will not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy, although this does not preclude us asking you questions for explanations of policy or factual questions about when and how policies were formed.

We have submissions from the various organisations—169, 364 and 646 respectively. I would like to ask each of the organisations to make a brief statement if you want to, and then we will ask you some questions.

Mr Guest —I have had a long reflection on the opportunity of what to say at this hearing, and the shire is quite happy to have the opportunity because of the significance of the issue of wind farms. Moyne has about 40 per cent of the proposed wind energy facilities in Victoria. To date we have two very small ones built on the coast, one of which was the first in Victoria and one that started construction at Macarthur, which is about $1 billion and 140 towers. There are about another 12. One of the attachments, a map, has a list of all of the farms, where they are, and who is proposing them, et cetera. There are a few more coming that are not yet public. One thing we did with this—and it is on some of the other maps we have as attachments—was we drew a two kilometre setback as best we could from the neighbouring houses. If you are interested in what a two kilometre setback does, it is instructive.

I would like to concentrate on the fact that there are three parts to a planning process: before you make the application, when you make the application, and afterwards. There are also two things that you need to do during that process: one is you have to have the expertise available; and the other is that you have to have the money to do it. In terms of costs, you would be aware that the state government has just put the responsibility for all wind farms back onto councils. The minister has made it plain that we could call it back in but that is a sham; I am not sure whether it makes a huge difference. Moyne shire has been left in the position to date where—except for four small wind farms that are under 30 megawatts, all the others have been state government proposed—we have never seen a fee for it. Even if that was significant, for a $500 million wind farm which would appear to be about 60 to 80 towers, one per cent of that is $5 million and 0.1 per cent is $500,000; the maximum fee for a wind farm is $16,000. We might get rates when they are built but until they are built, we get nothing. It would not cover the cost of one peer review of one report, and that is part of the problem.

The second thing with the interaction is that the process is back to front. People go to the EPBC people in Canberra, which is generally where we first find out about things, and then they apply to the state government for environmental effects clearance. That is generally before they have done most of the studies that find out if there is anything there. If the studies subsequently find out there is something there, it is a bit late, and that is causing some angst to us.

The second thing with what is done beforehand is the level of information you get, and it varies. Some proponents are very good; some are not. The best way to extract the appropriate information in Victoria is to have an environmental effects process followed, because that sets up a technical reference group which puts all of the agencies and the proponent in the room until they sort out what information is required, and then produce it. If you do not do it that way, and you treat it as a normal application, you get what you are given. We have been given things ranging from a proponent downloading the environment effects statement information from the EPBC site for a neighbouring farm and using that as the sole basis of their environmental application. We have people who do not do traffic reports. We have people who do not carry out the information requirements that are mandated by the current policy. So that is one issue.

As to the second issue of what happens when there is an application, all the reports are made, there is an advertising period. The people who do not like it do not like it; the people who do think they are wonderful, and it goes off generally to a panel appointed by the minister or, presumably in the future, one appointed by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. That fight is a blood bath. It is a waste of time and resources on many things. I have just been listening to the previous witnesses, and a lot of them raised the question, ‘What about landscape?’ At the moment there is nothing that indicates what part of western Victoria plains is of good enough landscape significance that it would prevent a proposal from being supported. There is nothing saying that if you are in an area in Moyne shire and 10 per cent of your view involved the wind farm, that that was appropriate. If that went until you got three more wind farms so that170 degrees of your view was obstructed, is that not appropriate? We have had long discussions with even proponents and some of them in the industry about what landscape values mean, and there is not an answer yet. So, to some extent, my view would be that someone should bite the bullet and say, ‘The landscape will stop nothing; do not bother wasting your money; put it on the stuff that counts.’

The two things that count to us as a shire are the lack of a road network and what happens to it, the flora and fauna that is associated with that, and the environmental management plan. We are, of course, interested in the community, but in the way that it is structured. When the minister runs permits we get to comment on mainly those two issues. When we run them, we get to comment on everything.

Just to summarise the last part on what happens afterwards, it has been mentioned about who does enforcement and who does monitoring. I will leave that to my colleagues down the end because they are the leaders of the charge on that. We believe that it has to be done by an appropriately resourced agency. It cannot be done by a council. We simply do not have the expertise or the money to have people to do it.

Turning to the two last factors, the expertise factor and the cost, if we wanted to do a noise survey and get the environmental protection agency involved, the EPA representative at a meeting on this subject two weeks ago which I and the others here attended said there was one person in the EPA in Victoria who could probably do it. The level of expertise is minor. That spreads into the flora and fauna people. If we wanted an independent review, who does it? There is no one left that is not working for the proponents. Who does the traffic engineering? There is no one left that is not working for the proponents.

I am not sure how much the senators follow the intricacies of planning, but there is a thing called secondary consents. When a permit is issued for a wind farm, it will state that you must prepare a plan and that must be endorsed and approved. That can be done three or four years after the event. We have had a case where the traffic management plan for one of our wind farms was endorsed and approved, but the people who did that did not read it and did not consider it, but sent it to us and our traffic engineers made 31 detailed comments. It took them a week of hard work. The 31 detailed comments were totally and utterly ignored. As a result, I said to the panel considering the next application, ‘Tell me who in the department of planning has a traffic engineering qualification.’ The answer is nobody. But, they are assessing the traffic engineering applications.

Lastly on the fees and the costs, there are two elements to that. One is simply the cost of running these processes is phenomenal to the people involved. It is no doubt expensive to the industry. As I said, the fee is one per cent. Let us assume that one per cent is $5 million. A former premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, once said that if you do not have five per cent up front, you are not serious about your proposal. If they cannot find $5 million to do the research properly, then are they serious?

Finally, council refused an application for one of the smaller wind farms it was responsible for on noise and cumulative impact grounds. The proponents exercised their right, and I have no problem with that, of taking a legal challenge to the Supreme Court on whether he did it legally or not.

The legal challenge was basically that at that time the New Zealand noise standards of 1998, I think, were used. The 2010 standards were not used. Therefore, they said we should not have used the 2010 standards to say it was too noisy. When that happens, the council is the first defendant and has to come up with the Supreme Court costs. The tribunal does not; the state government does not. The second, third, fourth and fifth defendants are the people that objected. It did not go to a hearing because our legal advice was that the challenge was accurate. The farce of all of this is that, as of 14 March, the 2010 guidelines are the ones that apply in the state of Victoria. So, when it goes back to VCAT for rehearing on 9 June, they will be the ones that will be used. The entire thing is a waste of everyone’s time and money. It caused immense grief to the community, some of whom are here, and it cost a lot of time and money for months.

That is an introduction, but in my submission and in other things, we have tried to come up with ways of doing the process better. We have been doing it for eight or nine years, and there is nothing that has been said today or that you would have heard over the last few days, or will hear, that the various panels and submissions have not said for four or five years, but nothing much has happened about it.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Ms Kelsey —First of all I would like to thank you for the opportunity for Glenelg shire to provide information in relation to its submission. Perhaps I will start by saying that Glenelg shire, for those who may not be aware, is located in that far south-west corner of Victoria. We consider ourselves an important part of the green triangle economic region, with partnerships not only with our council partners in Victoria but also with council partners in South Australia.

There are a number of key aspects regarding wind farms in our shire. One of the most compelling is that it is a complex issue for which local government feels that it does not have significant resources in relation to managing the complexities, particularly as it becomes the relevant authority. While our shire does have a number of wind farms, we have not been the relevant authority in relation to those planning aspects. As a result, in matters that have arisen in relation to those it has been largely up to council to find the resources to manage the ongoing monitoring and enforcement aspects.

Those parts aside, in relation to wind farms, we are a key manufacturing site, with Pacific Hydro located within the Glenelg shire. They not only provide a source of employment for our local community but also are considered one of the key stakeholders in our industries, coupled with the Port of Portland which provides a key locale for the export of the manufactured equipment. As a key source of employment, it means that it is not just direct in relation to Pacific Hydro but of course a run-on effect in relation to our local businesses and our local community. This means that we are essentially a microcosm of some of the challenges that you will face as a committee grappling with competing interests. Certainly Glenelg shire has a number of those that it continues to grapple with.

As we said, we have some major industry stakeholders. We have the Portland Wind Energy Project that has been developed by Pacific Hydro. It has basically been constructed in four stages. The first three stages have been completed. With the completion of all four stages, these wind farms will generate a total of up to 670 gigawatt hours per annum or the equivalent of powering 120,000 households each year.

In relation to the economic impacts of wind farms, there is obviously a rating component relative to the shire’s annual revenue. That amount aside, as I said, it still means that we have to grapple with our resources to deal with a range of complexities for which council may not have and, in fact, in some instances does not have, the required expertise on which to be able to provide informed independent views.

The economic benefits are both direct and indirect, from engineers through to tradespeople working on site, through to businesses supplying products and services, or even through to local cafes making lunches for workers. A number of jobs have been created as a direct result of the wind farm manufacturing presence within our shire. This is, again, a run-on effect as to rental payments for landholders hosting turbines, although the committee would be aware that there has been some potentially compelling commentary in relation to what benefit that may provide.

Whilst council has not been the relevant authority, this meant that if there have been considerable complaints in relation to the health impacts within Glenelg shire, it is unlikely that they would have been received by council. Indeed, it is more likely that they would have been received by Pacific Hydro. Notwithstanding that, council’s complaints register does indicate that there have been five complaints against wind farms within our shire area. Four of those have been lodged by one family and relatives, and generally they relate to noise, low frequency noise and oil leaks. The additional complaint was in relation to noise from the wind turbines.

Council has supported the construction of wind farms in the shire and considers that they make an important contribution to the shire’s economy and community through the rate revenue and community grants that are offered by the manufacturers. In addition, council also acknowledges that turbines can impact adversely on neighbouring residents, and is of the view that careful planning is needed to ensure these adverse impacts for future developments are absolutely minimised. Council also advises that it is not the responsible authority for the determination of major wind farm planning applications and, as such, does not necessarily hold the data relating to the impacts of wind farms. As I have indicated, this data is held by the state government’s Department of Planning and Community Development. That is all we would like to say at the moment, thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you very much.

Mr Clark —If I could just make a couple of opening comments. We are a council that has been supportive of the developments, although we do have issues with certain parts of the guidelines around that. Very much our role in this as council is as a planning authority. We have one approved and built wind farm, Waubra, which you saw today. We have three approved, one in planning, and another two in prospective stage at this time. So we have a significant number of developments. Our submission will concentrate on that, and I will pass to Chris Hall to make some comments about some of the specific things that we see the planning system needs to address.

Mr Hall —Thank you for the opportunity to present before this particular hearing. The Pyrenees shire believes that the current Victorian guidelines, the policy and planning guidelines for the development of wind energy facilities in Victoria—which were again recently revised this month—are not currently robust enough in a number of specific areas to protect the amenity impacts of adjoining non-stakeholder residents and fail to provide adequate direction on the assessment requirements in specific areas.

Council would like to see the following issues addressed through an amendment to these guidelines, and we have been actively working along with our fellow councillors at the table here and other councils in the region through the MAV wind farm working group to lobby the state government for action on these particular matters. We have been pushing for a requirement to be included within the guidelines for the siting of wind towers to be at least two kilometres from non-stakeholder residents. However, we do acknowledge that this may need to be increased to even greater distances if very large capacity turbines are proposed, or if there are large clumps of turbines and the atmospheric and geographic impacts are such that they may warrant a greater setback. A number of studies that have been done, both federally and interstate previously, have recommended two kilometres as an arbitrary setback, and we believe that that should be adopted in Victoria for the majority of turbines.

We have also suggested both through the MAV working group and at the Stockyard Hill wind farm panel hearing to which we submitted that there should be at least a minimum of a 400-metre setback of turbines from any non-stakeholder property boundaries for the purpose of providing a safety buffer in the unlikely event of a blade sheer, and to protect the adjoining landholder’s property rights.

We have suggested that no aviation lighting be required on wind turbines unless in close proximity to an airport or specifically required by CASA. We have a situation with the Waubra wind farm where initially the panel, in assessing that application, recommended that no aviation lighting be included on those turbines, but, subsequent to the permit being issued, the minister at the time actually granted a secondary consent amendment to the permit, without any consultation with the adjoining ratepayers, to add 57 aviation lights for those turbines. This has had a major impact on the amenity of that surrounding area. The bright red lights, flashing on and off, can be seen for up to 30 to 40 kilometres away. It does have a big impact. We understand that there is an application before DPCD at present to have those lights removed. Those sorts of considerations need to be addressed, and we are strongly pushing for no aviation lighting to be required unless it is required by CASA.

We need projects to include details of all infrastructure such as electricity grid connections. At the moment, often we get piecemeal applications submitted both to council and the DPCD when the 30-megawatt demarcation existed. Often things like the electricity grid connection and native vegetation removal components would be missing and would be submitted at a later date for consideration. We suggest that the wind industry needs to get its act together and ensure that all of those elements of their project are in order and ready to be submitted for consideration as a complete package.

We have lobbied for the appointment of a department project manager from within DPCD to oversee the assessment of each wind energy facility project. Obviously given the recent decision this month to hand responsibility back to local government it is probably unlikely that that will occur within the short term, but we believe that given the capacity constraints within local government that should occur. It has also been recommended by both a number of regional councils and the Environment and Natural Resources Committee inquiry into the approvals process for rural energy projects in Victoria that came out in 2010 that a technical reference group be established and integrated into the assessment process for wind farm applications. That would be a committee comprised of technical experts with experience in areas such as flora, fauna and noise, where local government does not have the capacity or the resources internally, and we understand that DPCD does not, to properly assess these matters. They are the ones that are causing the significant impacts on the ratepayers, so we are suggesting a technical committee needs to be established within DPCD that local government can draw on to get the expertise we need to make proper decisions. We believe there is a need for greater policy guidance to assist with the assessment of cumulative impacts. That is currently lacking within the policy document, which we basically need to rely on to make decisions.

The Waubra wind farm is currently the largest operating wind farm in the state of Victoria. It is the only operating wind farm within the Pyrenees shire. We have 109 turbines within our shire boundary; the remaining 28 are within the city of Ballarat. We have received significant complaints regarding noise and health amenity impact issues since that wind farm first came into operation, or since the first turbines were commissioned, which I think was around July 2009. We have 32 complaints registered on our records. The vast majority of the audible noise complaints are from residents within 1.5 kilometres of turbines. There are a number less than 1,000 metres from turbines, which is really way too close. We are talking large clumps of turbines. I have actually visited some of these properties personally, and the audible noise impacts are quite noticeable, even on days where the background noise levels are fairly high.

If I was to put any consistency around the periods when the complaints seemed to emanate it would be generally of a night time, when you have more stable atmospheric conditions, with high windshear coefficients occurring with low wind speeds at ground level but enough wind up at turbine height to make the things work, so the sound can be head in people’s homes when they are trying to sleep. Naturally, background noise levels are lower anyway over those periods. There are reports of modulation noise and mechanical noise associated with the particular design of the turbines. We have not been made fully privy to any of the details relating to this particular project, even though we have been advised by the department that we are supposed to be responsible for enforcement at various times. I have put a few dot points together here on the issues where we feel the noise reports and the assessment has let down the community and caused a number of these complaints to occur.

There was a lack of independent review undertaken in the initial noise assessment provide by Marshall Day at the time of assessing the wind farm development. I do not believe that the panel requested that. When I looked at the report, there were a number of properties at 38 or 39 dB(A) based on the noise power output predictions that were provided. That is one or two dB(A) over the acceptable standard. There should have been an independent peer review done at that stage. We have had a lot of setbacks where, for instance, we had two or three property owners bought out who lived less than one kilometre from turbines. That just highlights the case we put earlier about the need for a minimum setback.

There has been a lack of detail within the New Zealand standard NZ6808:1998 which applied at the time on how to assess special audible characteristics. There is further detail within the now adopted 2010 version of that standard. We believe that that has led to a number of properties that probably do meet the criteria for the special or characteristic five dB(A) penalty not being applied. That is currently being investigated.

There were also a number of potential inaccuracies in the background noise testing data that have been provided post compliance by the proponents’ noise testing company, Marshall Day. Significantly, changes were made also to the turbine design and an increase in the hub height which was done post the permit being issued and was signed off by the minister under secondary consent. We have been provided no evidence that a new noise report was provided at that time. If it was, it certainly was not tested or checked internally, and there was no independent testing of that report done by anyone with any experience or the appropriate qualifications to do so. That just highlights what can happen under the current system, and it will continue to happen unless some changes are made. We have put forward a number of these recommendations to the state government for action.

I will touch briefly on the issuing of enforcements. The current position of the state government in its policy guidelines is that councils are responsible for enforcing and administering all planning permits regardless of the 30-megawatt demarcation or whether or not they were called in under the section 96 call-in powers under the Planning and Environment Act. We have had legal opinions—one from a QC and the other from a well-respected planning lawyer—to the contrary, that unequivocally back the council position that, in situations where those applications are called in, the minister actually becomes the responsible authority for administering and enforcing the permit.

It is our strong view, backed by each of the councils here at the table, that we lack the technical skills and resources needed to take on this role. Pyrenees council is basically a single-planner council plus an administrative officer as well as some strategic back-up. We would need one or two staff nearly full time to be dealing with this, not to mention the legal burden we would have to take on. If we were to take on a major wind farm company at VCAT, if we wanted background noise testing done we would need to order the shutdown of turbines to get that data. To run a case at VCAT we would be looking at well over $100,000. Just to get the noise reports done would be well over $50,000, $60,000, $70,000 before we even entered VCAT action. We would be exposed legally if we were found to be wrong in any of our case arguments. It is really something that is way beyond the capacity of local government. You just need to look at the example of the coal fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley. They are not administered by the local council. They are dealt with by the state government, which has the technical resources and the abilities to deal with a significant development of that scale.

I will touch on amendment VC78 which the Baillieu government just introduced this month. Local government is now responsible for assessing all wind farm applications regardless of capacity. Again, that will create huge challenges for the local government sector, given our limited ability to find technically qualified staff to do the job. It was disappointing that this action was undertaken without any formal consultation with the sector. While it was released as a policy position pre the election, there was no actual formal discussion and engagement with local government on how this was going to work practically before it was announced and implemented in legislation.

With respect to post-commissioning noise compliance monitoring of developments, under the condition requirements of many permits, there has not been a requirement for testing data to be provided until 12 months after the commissioning of the last turbine. That is resulting in 20-plus month delays in the data being made available to the public and obviously in the department being able to investigate any breaches, such as in the Waubra situation. We had to wait over 14 months before we could find out some of the issues that have arisen there. I have not been privy to that data, but the verbal advice that was given to me by the officers who have looked at it is that properties are in non-compliance with the 98 standard, and they are being investigated at the moment as to the appropriate action to be taken to rectify the situation.

Senator BOYCE —Who has that information? You say you have not been provided with the information?

Mr Hall —I have been provided with the information verbally from a representative of the department. There is currently a need for DSE to review and formally adopt for use in Victoria the draft guidelines for the assessment on the potential impacts on brolgas. Any standard adopted we say should include an absolute minimum setback from identified nesting sites; that should be non-negotiable. There was a lot of debate and variation at a recent hearing I was involved in where the setback specified in the draft standard was actually significantly eroded. A DSE officer put forward evidence contrary to what was stated in the draft guideline and supported a setback of 750 metres when the guidelines talk about a three-kilometre setback. So I think there needs to be further work around solidifying that document and formally adopting it for use so that industry and the community have a solid position on the matter.

I will sum up by saying that we strongly support the need to adopt a nationally consistent approach along a range of key issues. Noise would be one of them. Noise is not sufficiently covered in the national standard that has been released. It is put back on the state government to adopt appropriate standards, but it is our strong view that a nationally consistent standard should be adopted and that a panel of acoustic experts in the industry should be appointed to investigate all the standards currently in use within Australia with a view to adopting the standard that will provide the best amenity protection for all nearby residents. For example, the current South Australian EPA noise guidelines recommend a level of 35 dB(A) in all rural areas. Evidence presented at the recent New South Wales Legislative Council rural wind farm inquiry adopted and supported this standard as providing adequate protection for the amenity of nearby dwellings. That level is five dB(A) lower than the limit allowed for in the New Zealand standard. I am not saying that is necessarily the standard that should be adopted, but that is an example of one of the other standards currently in use which I think should be looked at.

CHAIR —I am a bit concerned that we are going to run out of time for questions. We are running on a really tight time frame. Could you wrap it up?

Mr Hall —Yes, I have just a couple of more lines. We have received a number of complaints with respect to health effects, and we would strongly support an investigation by the federal government into health effects. If it is possible, we could adopt a standard that can properly assess subaudible noise across the full range of the noise spectrums. The current New Zealand standard does not provide for the assessment of subaudible noise outside of the dB(A) range. We believe that a full investigation by a Senate inquiry in conjunction with the EPA and other relevant government authorities would be appropriate in that regard.

One other thing to look at would be financial contribution options for abutting landowners. At the moment in Victoria it is only the benefiting landowner who receives the financial contribution. We believe that that potentially should be extended to landowners within two kilometres of wind farms. I believe that has been done in other countries such as Canada. Do not quote me on that, but I have heard that that is the case. It has been looked at by DPCD in Victoria as well. That is just one option to put on the table that may alleviate some of the concerns of adjoining residents. I will leave it there.

Senator FIELDING —The local planning authority is in a very tricky spot. I served on a council for a year, and it is a very tricky thing but you have a lot of power. This is a very important committee. I know that the rest of Australia probably does not think so, but I can tell you that this is the chance to actually have a lot of these issues looked at and to have a reasonable approach to them. I understand that maybe one council benefits from a lot of the workforce, so it is a bit different in that one, but the other two that are left grappling with a lot of community concerns would be finding it difficult. I really appreciate your councils allowing you to put a submission in and to present here. Mr Hall, I really appreciated your comments in detail. They show that you have really thought this thing through, and I really appreciate it. It is very easy to state problems without coming up with some possible ways of addressing them. I really appreciate that. It takes a lot of courage, so thank you.

Mr Guest, in your submission, page 3 states:

Experience is showing that the current approvals process defaults to accepting a lot of expert evidence on face value and deferring the hard decisions to a secondary consent phase of endorsing management plans.

It is a bit of a leading question, so I have to be careful with this, but how difficult is that for local councils? Does that mean that the councils are more likely to approve wind farm projects or wind turbines because they do not have the resources to determine whether or not the community concerns about projects are genuine?

Mr Guest —I will answer the second part first. No, my council will not approve anything if it does not believe that it has the appropriate information to make a judgment. That is one of its major concerns with the entire process. Secondary consents are the biggest bugbear of the actual thing. I will give one very succinct example. We are having Macarthur wind farm built at the moment. It is big. It is 140 turbines. The proponents have given the development rights to Leighton construction, who have to build it. Of course, they were not involved in anything until six months ago, so they have had to learn from zero what is going on. One of the issues is school bus routes. The traffic management plan and the permit issued basically say that you will not operate your trucks bringing material to the site when the school bus is operating.

The actual wording of the management plan, ‘as approved by the state government’, does not quite go that far. It allows people to take measures or consider what they are going to do if school buses are operating. This means that if their truck sees a school bus, it will stop. To some extent, the council cannot do anything about it because the plans are signed and approved by the state government. The community is outraged. The council and the proponents are having meetings next week with the community about this. We have had quite a lot of meetings. To be fair, it is a moving feast because four years ago when the permit was issued, it could have been 10 kids picked up in the area—at the moment there are none; next year there could be two. It depends on circumstances. What we do know at the moment is that we believe there are no school buses that pick up anywhere near the access routes inside the area of the wind farm, but a couple drive through it. So what do you do? That is one of the minor issues.

The biggest secondary consent issue is that the permits provide that the minister to date will consult council on traffic management, that it will consult the DSE on this. My concerns—and I think those of Department of Sustainability and Environment in Victoria are the same—are that if they provide advice that this should not happen, that this is a rare and threatened species and needs further work then the minimum we expect is that is done. At the moment nothing happens, and we are almost at the stage of taking out enforcement orders on the state government planning authority to get them to comply with their own permits.

Senator FIELDING —That leads me into the second question. On page 9 of your submission, it says that a number of projects fail the noise requirements of their permits. How do you know that, and are there any repercussions of it at all?

Mr Guest —How do we know? We believe that the state government, or those parts of it that are trying very hard to assess the issues appropriately—and there are people that are doing that—have actually measured the noise issues and had them assessed. Waubra was the first one. We believe that so far of the four or five they have done, none of them totally comply. The problem with that is: how do you expect someone to spend $10 million to build a tower and then measure the noise and, when they find out it does not work, volunteer to remove the $10 million tower? It is too late. If you are going to have noise assessment criteria, it should be before they are built, not after they are built. That has been the problem. If you had a little wind farm pointing out into the countryside and that was it, you could possibly deal with that by saying you will have setbacks. But we have wind farms that are two kilometres from the border with 80 towers, and another wind farm is proposed with 100 towers pointing the other way. The people in the middle are outside the normal setbacks, but they are stuffed. There is nowhere to go.

Senator ADAMS —I was just looking at the problem with your 500 kV line. Who will be responsible for building a bigger line, and where is the money coming from for that?

Mr Guest —The lines are owned by SP AusNet and AEMO, the Australian Energy Management Operator. They operate the market and the grid. My understanding, given that we have just had the Mortlake power station connect to it, which is a gas-fired power station in the Moyne shire about to commission, is that it costs about $50 to $70 million to get onto the grid. It is not a small exercise.

We have two further comments on that. That line at the moment is the only line in south-west Victoria that has enough capacity to put a decent sized farm on, but it does not have enough capacity to put the proposals on all of the ones in Moyne, let alone all of the others. If then you are going to spend another $2 or $3 billion to try to make the system work, God knows where the money is coming from.

We are actually having discussions for the first time on Thursday morning with SP AusNet, AEMO and others about the concept that they have gone public with, which is hubs. These would reinforce the western Victorian power situation to cope with all of these additional facilities by having hubs at the site of the three gas-fired power stations, all of which are in Moyne. If you have a hub built here at the gas-fired power station and you have half-a-dozen wind farms within 50 kilometres, you have to run them all to there. That has its own issues: in as much as it was news to the people that built it, it is news to all of the neighbours and it is news to the council. But how else you do it, I do not know. We have had a couple of tiddler wind farms of 20 towers in the north of the shire, where there was not even objection to one of them, that have spent five years trying to negotiate to get onto what is the Powercor grid, which is the smaller stuff. Powercor’s view is: you can get onto our grid. You build the substation, you build the connection, you upgrade the grid, and when you have done that, you give it to us. That just is not working.

Senator ADAMS —No. Where will these power lines go?

Mr Guest —We do not know.

Senator ADAMS —Are the additional power lines going through neighbours’ places?

Mr Guest —There is a huge easement for the Portland power line through there. I do not know if they can hang another wire off and not go outside the current easement. I do not know if they need current easements. At the moment one of the problems with wind farm applications is that, in Victoria, the application is basically the site where the towers are. Where you connect to the grid could be 20 or 30 kilometres away. The distance in between could be covered with rare and threatened species, native vegetation, you name it, but it is not considered part of the application. The guidelines that were released two weeks ago state that you should be able to come up with the route you will use to get to the grid, how you get to the grid, and all of that, but to date, it has not been included.

Going back to Senator Fielding’s question about the consent: three years after you have issued the permit, six months before you start building it, we are still issuing native vegetation permits to get to the grid. We are still having discussions on Thursday with the proponents at Macarthur as to the actual design of the substation et cetera under the grid where they are connecting to it. They have been told by SP AusNet that they need an eight-hectare site to allow for further expansion, not two—that is another six hectares of native vegetation that will be offset. All those are the permits that council deals with, not the state government. It is an interesting question.

Our point of view is different from some of the other councils. We are not saying that Moyne shire says yes or no to wind farms as a general theory. We have to deal with the cumulative impacts of the two belts—we have two belts 70 kilometres long and 20 kilometres wide with 400 or 500 towers in each. They all have to go somewhere if they build. If 50 per cent of them are not built, that is 50 per cent of the money, the grief, everything that is just being wasted on something that will not happen. In that case, first in, best dressed is not good enough. The best in should get up, and there has to be a better way of sorting that out. That answers the question: we have no idea how the grid is going to work.

CHAIR —In Western Australia, when you put in a development proposal—for example, for a mine—you put the development proposal for the mine and a power source. There is a famous one in the south-west where there was a big fight over it cutting through a forest. But it was done at the same time as the application went in for the mining. Is that not the case for other developments here?

Mr Guest —In Victoria, the policy that was issued I think was to facilitate the development of the wind energy facility, not to assess it. It excluded consideration of the offsite effects. In fact, Macarthur is almost unique in that the proponents volunteered to tell us how they were getting onto the grid. We have the same size wind farms where we have no idea once it is getting off the site how they intend getting onto the grid or where. It is ridiculous.

Mr Clark —The law in Victoria does not require a planning permit for a connection to the power grid. Effectively that is legislated by the state, but they do need permits for the vegetation that they remove. In our three approved projects, only one of those has an approved line. With the other two, we have a wind farm but we do not know where the cables are going.

Senator ADAMS —The way that these wind farms are expanding, and with the planning issues that are arising, especially with that power—and in Western Australia we have a similar problem—a lot of communities feel that they are being imposed upon by these developers. As shires, do you feel that your communities are being imposed upon? Your councils are elected by the people; how do you feel? I would like a comment from each council.

Mr Guest —Our shire has, to date, managed to get a refusal for a wind farm through VCAT and it is being challenged. Our shire also has supported wind farms, and some of them have been built. If you were being realistic and honest with the community—Moyne tries to and it has a lot of community engagement—they are nearly unstoppable. With the resources involved, it is not a level playing field. People were sitting here earlier saying they had spent 15 days at a panel and, believe me, that is an experience you can do without. You are up against QCs and multiple consultants. You have no capacity to challenge it. One of the things that I find heartening about this is our local community has not buckled. There are people on either side of the argument that get on with life and deal with it.

With respect to the brolgas, I can remember someone sitting there for the entire process up to the hearing not mentioning a word, but when the hearing started and they had their chance to say something, they said, ‘I have a biological science degree from Melbourne University. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Victorian government had a brolga recovery group. I was the president of that.’ She had just been listening to the consultant for the proponents basically calling her an ignorant twit. If that is the attitude which should be stopped, that is why you need expertise. But yes, they are imposed upon. I have been doing planning for 30 years and Sid has too, but we barely understand everything of the ins and outs of all this and can follow it. The average citizen has Buckleys of following what is going on. What is the difference between an EES being done and not being done, this being done and that not being done—they have no capacity to understand it. If they try very hard, they will build it up, but why should they?

Ms Kelsey —Certainly people from the community will come at a perspective on wind farms based on their particular interaction with the wind farm—whether it be on a residential basis or in an employment arrangement. For Glenelg shire, as I mentioned earlier, often there are competing interests. Certainly from a council perspective and from the feedback that the community has provided council, they do support wind farms. As I said, the main issue is that yes, we certainly have manufacturing and employment interests, and that is a significant interest in relation to our community, and the run-on financial benefits. Notwithstanding that, as I have mentioned, council does grapple with the complaints. We have had only five, but certainly they do provide compelling circumstances that council is mindful of. It is trying to balance a range of interests. To some extent, local government is between a rock and a hard place.

Mr Deam —Before the government handed back the powers to local government, there should have been some strategic work done. There has been a wind farm atlas produced that looks at where the prospective winds are. The Victorian government should have looked at where the areas are that can be developed. It should have worked better with the community to prepare that plan that gives us direction when we receive applications. We have all just heard that we are under-resourced. It would have certainly assisted us in determining applications.

Mr Clark —These are a legitimate land use and so they should. I try to characterise it when I am dealing with people and say, ‘Let’s talk about it as if it is a chicken farm’ or something to try to get away from the heat of the argument. The reality is that the community relies on us to interpret the rules and the guidelines. If you get poor guidelines and poor rules—and in this case it is our view that we have a special set of rules, especially for an industry, that are designed to aid an industry to go forward, and we have talked about the weaknesses—you will get a poor result. It is very much beholden on us as the policy people to have the rules right to provide protection to the community. That is really what it comes back to.

Senator BOYCE —We have had a number of people talk about the potential for property to be devalued by wind farms nearby. Can any of the councillors give evidence either way on that topic?

Mr Guest —Theoretically, value is a property and not a planning consideration, which is all well to say so, but we have heard the arguments in all directions. We do not have an answer.

Senator BOYCE —Have any of you changed the rateable value of any property apropos of wind farms?

Mr Guest —No, we have not, because we have not had enough of them built. There is also another issue. The people who participate in the wind farm lease it to the company. The companies do not buy them. They are buying out objectors, but normally all of our wind farms are lease agreements with 20, 30, 40 landowners. Those landowners count the cash.

Senator BOYCE —Well, they have an income stream, but we are talking about the near neighbours and the like?

Mr Guest —The near neighbours are out of it. We have no idea whether that is impacting totally or not because the two we have had built are right down on the coast. There are not many property sales down there, which is when we find out. It is very hard to say because these things are 10 kilometres long and eight kilometres wide; you will sell some that are still viable and some that are not. If you were doing a gas power station, you have a little corner to square and you can cope with it.

Ms Kelsey —We have no evidence in relation to a change in rateable value.

Mr Clark —We did a revaluation in early 2010, so six months after Waubra wind farm was operating. We did not see an effect on commercial agricultural land. It had moved up and our belief is there were other factors driving the price of that. We did not see an effect on the nearby township of Waubra. Prices again had moved up in the case of that township, which is about 1.2 to 1.5 kilometres away.

Members of the audience interjecting—

Mr Clark —I can only give you what our valuer told us. Where we have seen an impact—and there appears there is an impact in the very, very isolated properties—is where properties are in the middle of the wind farm where the house has been cut off on 10 acres and the rest of the land has been sold to the adjoining farmer. So properties actually in the wind farm proper, as opposed to those on the outsides, are certainly where we have seen impacts on values.

Senator FIELDING —A very quick follow-up question, because I know how the valuations work. If you just valued those properties within four or five kilometres of a wind farm, I think you would find a change, but if you average them over the whole area, or even subsections, you would not find the result.

CHAIR —Maybe you could take that on notice to see if you are able to provide us any further information on that.

Senator BOYCE —A bit more detail. Some submitters, including the Country Fire Authority, have suggested that there are bushfire hazards posed by wind turbines. Can I have a comment from each of the councils on that?

Mr Guest —Half of the Moyne shire’s wind farms are on what is known as ‘lava flow country’, which is the consequence of volcanoes heading down to the sea. If there were a fire in the area, and there was one a couple of years ago and plenty before, the CFA do not put people on the ground in that country because you cannot see what is happening. It is bumpy and rough, and you could be standing here and two metres away there is a two-metre tall lava flow and you cannot see anything on the other side of it. If they fight it, they either wait until it comes out on to the highway or they water bomb it. The issue that we understand, and we have heard arguments by proponents, by opposition, by the agriculture industry people as well, is whether you can actually use or not use helicopters on those things.

We have enough issues with putting them on lava flows. The fire safety issue on a lava flow is a quantum jump from open paddocks where, if nothing else, there are 90 kilometres of better tracks than there were before. Those tracks are not safe when you have geographic visibility problems. That is my understanding of where we are at.

Ms Kelsey —Given that I mentioned before that we have fewer than 100 turbines actually completed within our council area, we have no evidence in relation to an increase of bushfire risk.

Mr Clark —The CFA has raised no issue with us. My personal view is there would be standard risk in a rural area. There is a whole range of risks in that area that they are commensurate with.

Mr Hall —There would be very minor risk of a turbine fire potentially starting a fire. It is extremely low risk, and we have no evidence of any such event occurring at all within our shire. All of our turbines are on open alluvial land within the Waubra region, and the same with Stockyard Hill and most of the other developments. The chance of it triggering a fire event would be very minimal.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for coming in and giving us evidence. There is a little bit of extra documentation that you said you would provide. If you could provide that to the secretariat at some stage, that would be much appreciated. Thank you.

[5.02 pm]