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Social and economic impact of rural wind farms

CHAIR —We have submissions from SkyFarming, which is submission number 620—we have a lot of submissions. I invite each of you to make a brief opening statement because we will have lots of questions and we only have an hour.

Mr Rosser —West Hills Farm is placing five wind turbines on its farm to help reduce its electricity load and to embrace a sustainable path using renewable electricity in the production of carrots. West Hills Farm produces around a thousand tonnes of carrots a week and has an electricity bill of around about $1 million a year. The farm employs around 70 to 80 staff. There has been a significant rise in electricity prices recently. There is a need to try and find ways to contain costs. Implementing renewable energy into the operation has proved a viable way for it.

CHAIR —Where is West Hills Farm located?

Mr Rosser —It is near Lancelin, 70 kilometres north of Perth, and it is famous for windsurfing.

Dr Rankin —Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you for the opportunity to present today. Before I start, we have put in a submission, but there are so many you may not have received it. It was only in the last couple of days.

CHAIR —In that case, it is not on my list yet.

Dr Rankin —You can read it at your leisure later on. Moonies Hill Energy has considered the terms of the matter which was referred to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report on 20 October 2011 and note that the matter is the social and economic impacts of rural wind farms.

Moonies Hill Energy proposes to develop a wind farm in the Flat Rocks area in the shires of Kojonup, Broomehill and Tambellup known as the Flat Rocks wind farm. At this time, the project is currently at the stage of development application only. Moonies Hill has undertaken considerable research as to the likely impacts and has adopted a careful and conservative and transparent approach in its planning for the proposed project and its social and economic impacts.

There are mandated environmental and planning and developmental processes and approvals which must be followed and obtained with regard to assessing a project. Moonies Hill is following these processes as outlined under WA jurisdiction, and we intend to attain these approvals for the project. Under this process, the opponents to the Flat Rocks wind farm have considerable opportunity to air their concerns and have them assessed and dealt with.

We recognise that this committee, certainly from the proceedings we have listened to today, is looking to check the adequacy of these plans—and perhaps even make changes to them in the future—but Moonies Hill Energy, under the current system, we envisage, that our planning application will be held in the next six or eight weeks.

Moonies Hill makes this submission purely to respond to and correct the submissions which have been made by opponents to the project. This inquiry is not the forum to debate the merits of this particular project, but we felt that the record needed to be corrected. We heard many things today that were quite incorrect about our project, and I can either supply you with that information or you can ask me questions about it later. I will keep going for the purposes of moving right along.

I will just give you a bit of background, which was raised. Moonies Hill is a locally owned, renewable energy company based in Kojonup in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. The company was formed in 2008 to investigate and develop the proposed 150-megawatt wind farm project. There are four shareholders, three of which are landholders in the area and one who owns another business in Kojonup. Only two of those are directors, unlike we heard, and we have a non-exec director who is based in Perth.

Since this time, the Flat Rocks project has progressed well in terms of commercial, environmental viability and, as mentioned, we are in the final stages of our approval. To give you a little background into the project: we are very excited about it because it offers economic diversity to the Great Southern region of Western Australia, which is currently dominated by broadacre agriculture. Over the life of the project, we estimate—and of course because we have not got the project up and running yet, it is an estimation—based on literature and other projects, we see there is potential for $130 million to be injected into the local economy, $30 million during construction and $5 million as an ongoing concern during the operation of the project.

During the construction, we expect to create 150 jobs, seven to 12 of which will be ongoing during the operation and maintenance of the farm. As we have indicated, we intend to recruit as many of these from the local region, and it is pleasing to see that we have already had many inquiries from local contractors and skilled people in the community—electricians.

We are a locally run and owned company and therefore we are committed to establishing a sustainable community fund to support local groups, organisations, schools, sporting clubs—things designed to encourage sustainability in a cohesive community.

We believe wind farms are still a fascination to many people and that will add to the tourism value of the Broomehill-Tambellup, Kojonup region. We have been in discussions with a local landowner about the possibility of combining our viewing, information and operations facility with a museum to house an extensive wool harvesting and memorabilia collection.

The Moonies Hill project will provide additional income to land owners who have agreed to host turbines on their land. As you have heard many times, I am sure, that will assist in their ability to withstand seasonal variations whilst having minimal impact on their productivity.

I want to very quickly add that we want to comment on how we feel that it has impacted on the social fabric of the community, especially in light of some of the presentations that we have heard today. We believe that there is general community support for the project. Since inception, we have had regular briefings with the CEOs of both the Shire of Broomhill-Tambellup and the Shire of Kojonup and, more recently, discussions with their planning officers. It should be noted that the Kojonup planning office has overseen the development of the Mount Barker wind farm and also the Albany wind far, so there is some good experience of project review and of the implications for the area. The shires obviously have officers to advise them. Any work that is done in considering our project is done at the proponent’s expense, so it is not actually taxing the ratepayers.

We have held two local community meetings. If the opportunity arises, I would like to discuss them. They were not quite as you have heard earlier. The second of these, which was the most recent one, took place after we had proved that this was a viable project. We wanted to embark on our final impact assessments and there was an opportunity to present more detail to the community and ask about their concerns and issues so that we could plan the impact studies to reflect their concerns and assess the project on its merits. We are committed to local involvement and openness. Moonies Hill has contacted immediate neighbours and offered to meet with them and discuss the proposal. Very few have accepted this offer. In stark contrast to our open approach, inclusion of the community and honest dissemination of information about the project, we have been very disappointed at the deliberate campaign run in the local newspapers, via email and telephone, which has been based on either deliberate or reckless disregard for the facts about the Flatrocks wind farm and wind farms in general. I acknowledge that we live in a democratic society and that everyone has a right to an opinion. But this does not extend to misleading or attempting to mislead the community about significant aspects of our project and so create irrational fears and a negative attitude towards it. As a consequence of this campaign, many submissions received by the councils have expressed misplaced fears regarding residential buffer zones and potential health impacts.

I want to make one more comment. We were a bit surprised that representatives from Western Australian companies that have been operating wind farms for a long period of time were not called, especially in view of the fact that in that state there have been minimal complaints about wind farms. With 12 wind farms operating in the state, some off the grid—and we have talked about Rottnest Island, but there is also Walkaway and soon there will be the Collgar wind farm—we are unaware of any adverse health effects experienced in WA, and so we have every confidence that the planning laws in place in this state overseeing wind farm approvals should ensure that there are no adverse health effects and significant social and economic benefits to the Great Southern region. We anticipate that those benefits will be realised. Thank you.

CHAIR —I will just put on the record that Verve were invited but declined.

Mr Craib —Collgar is a 206 megawatt wind farm. It is located 25 kilometres south-east of the town of Merredin, which is about 300 kilometres east of Perth. The wind farm will consist of 111 Vestas V90 two megawatt turbines. When it is completed, it will be the largest single stage wind farm development in the southern hemisphere. The project is backed by the Retail Employee Superannuation Trust, which is a large superannuation trust based here in Australia, and the UBS International Infrastructure Fund, which invests in infrastructure assets on behalf of pension and sovereign wealth funds. Each of these investors are very long-term investors. They envisage being with the project for the 20- to 25-year life of the project. Construction commenced in March 2010 after approximately three years of studies and community consultation and negotiations. To date, construction has progressed extremely well. We have 63 fully erect turbines, which is ahead of our original schedule. When we are complete, we will take the penetration of renewable energy in the south-west interconnect system from five per cent to approximately nine per cent. This is equivalent to powering approximately 125,000 Western Australian home and to taking approximately 160,000 cars off the road annually—those are rough calculations.

We maintain a policy of very active involvement with our key stakeholders. We have great open relationships with these stakeholders—in particular, the Merredin community; Synergy; the network operator, Western Power; and the Western Australian government. We have received good support from Minister Peter Collier and the local member, Minister Grylls, who have both visited the site. If it would help the inquiry, we extend an invitation to visit the site to you. In particular, we have been extremely well supported by the local community and the land owners. The Merredin community is our largest stakeholder in the project, given that we will be there for 20 to 25 years. So we see it as critical that we retain a healthy relationship with them. We have in fact been told that the Collgar wind farm is the feature of the local Merredin show that will occur on 16 April. Financially, we are establishing a community trust for the shire and annual donations will go into this trust. This is to assist with community based projects.

The project has involved a significant boost to the local community during a very tough time for local farmers, given the recent drought and one of the driest winters in Western Australia’s history. A number of local businesses have been taken on board to perform tasks to do with the project and will continue to be involved during the life of the project. In summary, our belief is that when proper planning and consultation takes place wind farms can provide a significant boost to local communities. Thank you.

Mr Woodroffe —SkyFarming has developed and project managed the Mount Barker community wind farm, which commenced operation a couple of weeks ago. The wind farm consists of three 800 kilowatt E53 Enercon wind turbines on 72 metre towers. This is of a scale more like the Lancelin project. Collgar is about 100 times bigger. The scale of our project down at Mount Barker is small. The size of the Mount Barker project roughly matches the local load. We call it the community wind farm for a number of reasons. One is because the size matches the local load. Under that reckoning, you could argue that the wind farm is also a community wind farm. This kind of thinking is in stark contrast to that which applies to wind farms like Emu Downs, Walkaway and Collgar—and just about every other major wind farm. SkyFarming does not have a problem with these large wind farms. It is just that at the level we are talking about with Mount Barker everything is much smaller.

Regarding the ownership of the project, even though we only have 13 shareholders, 75 per cent of those shares are owned by people who work in the area or have businesses in the Great Southern region. During the six-week consultation period—and this is going back about five years now—we had 50 submissions. They were all positive. Our shire council was very positive. We got planning approval within about 10 months. For us, the Mount Barker project was quite a pleasant experience in terms of the support of the local population.

Looking at local benefits, the concrete was supplied by a plant that was less than three kilometres from the site. The electrical consultations were local; they were from Mount Barker. I would estimate that about 10 per cent of the cost of the project, which was about $8.5 million, went to the local community. Because of the size of this project, it is unmanned and we do not see any economic benefit beyond the construction. It will be serviced by the Enercon service group in Albany, who are just 50 kilometres down the road.

For us—I guess this is a philosophical thing—wind energy is an agricultural industry. We have, in the name of this inquiry, ‘Social and economic impacts of rural wind farms’. What wind farms in this country are not rural? Wind does not take up a lot of space but it needs a lot of room and that is what you have on farms. We see wind as supplementing the incomes of farmers and wherever you can have them there is this opportunity for additional income. Our landowner runs sheep and has done so for the past 50 years. The income that we supply him will help him along. It is not a huge amount—we do not have a big wind farm—but it will help.

I would like to make one last point about our understanding in terms of distance to the nearest residence. I do not think this is in legislation yet but a draft has been made about the use of noise to determine how close you can get. One of the reasons we like that is that is easy to calculate. We also like it because it takes into account the number of turbines, the location of turbines relative to the local residences and the size of the wind turbines. Our machines are 800 kilowatts; the total output of this wind farm is about the size of one modern wind turbine, so we are keen that whatever measures or policies are put in place, they do take into account the size of the machines.

Senator ADAMS —You have said that these turbines are just on one property, so how close are the neighbours?

Mr Woodroffe —The nearest turbine is 800 meters from our neighbour to the north and I believe 800 meters from our neighbour to the south.

Senator ADAMS —Is that to their house or to the boundary?

Mr Woodroffe —To the house. It is 400 meters to the boundary.

Senator ADAMS —So that is the limit for Western Australia at the moment. What would happen if they decided to change their planning rules?

Mr Woodroffe —Our planning rules are determined by the local shire, and basically, the shire planner said, ‘Tell us how many and how big, and give your support in documentation,’ but we had to nominate very early on. But, like I said, they have been very supportive and it was gazetted within 10 months.

Senator ADAMS —If those properties were sold, how would you go—with the setback, if someone buys in and then things get changed?

Mr Woodroffe —We had a gentleman’s agreement with the northern neighbour that we would be 400 meters back from their boundary. We had offered to put a turbine on their property but they said no. We did agree to that and we are 400 meters from that boundary. I think they had ideas that they might subdivide in the future, given where they are located, and where the town centre of Mount Barker is.

Senator ADAMS —How far are you from there?

Mr Woodroffe —We are three kilometres north of Mount Barker, and they are north of us.

Senator ADAMS —I have spent a lot of time in Kojonup—many years—so I think I know exactly where you are.

Dr Rankin —Senator Adams, can I just add to that question you had about the setback distances in Western Australia. The Western Australian Planning Commission’s Bulletin 67 clearly sets out the parameters you need to consider for locating your turbines in relation to existing sensitive residents. It is currently a noise-limit process, and in their document it states that this is typically around a kilometre but it is dependant on the results of the noise, from my understanding.

Mr Woodroffe —There are also parameters if they are right beside a highway.

Senator ADAMS —I was a little bit concerned about this article, in the Countryman of 10 to 16 March, about the transmission lines. What has been resolved?

Mr Craib —This is the economic regulatory authority question.

Senator ADAMS —Yes.

Mr Craib —That was taken from the West Australian. It is an unfortunate and creative piece of journalism. It is completely untrue.

Senator MOORE —I am shocked. That has never happened before!

Mr Craib —Effectively, it is a regulatory review of Western Power, being the network operator, and whether it can get an economic return on that capital. This is a draft determination, so it has to go through a process. I have just been told by Western Power that they are in the process of submitting their response to that draft determination. The determination basically said that they did not have sufficient information to justify $7 million of the $21 million spent on the substation works that Western Power need to complete to connect us to the grid. That is $21 million in the context of circa $650 million, so it is a small piece of work but a critical piece of work.

In terms of the impact on us, their works are pretty much complete. They are about 95 per cent complete at the moment. The article is, unfortunately, calling it a white elephant or a stranded asset is completely false. We have a statement on our website. We do not really see the need or have the desire to enter into a war of words with the press. If you want to jump on our website, you will see our response on there.

Senator ADAMS —We have been a little bit busy with over 1,000 submissions. I was horrified when I saw it.

Mr Craib —The frustrating thing is that we actually spent some time with the journalist to education him, but it did not help.

Senator ADAMS —Has he still got a job?

Mr Craib —I assume so.

Senator ADAMS —I would like to ask about local employment. We were at a community wind farm in Victoria the day before yesterday. They had just completed putting up their second turbine the day before we got there. They only employed two local people doing that because they are so complex to put up. They had a team of 21 and only two locals were doing bits and pieces. Would you like to comment on that?

Mr Craib —Yes, it is very technology specific. Installing turbines does require a certain skill set. We have employed an EPC contractor, who have subcontracted a lot of their work. Typically, they will subcontract to firms they know have the technical skills and ability to do the job. Having said that, on the Collgar wind farm there are a lot of works that need to be completed—for example, concreting works et cetera. Whether the workers are employed locally or from other parts of the WA community, they definitely are as much as possible sourced locally. There are other obvious flow-on effects from big construction projects such as this. The rents out in Merredin have skyrocketed and we are spending a lot of time housing people out there. Merredin is not a huge town, as you would be aware. The service station, the supermarkets and the pubs in particular are doing very well. In terms of getting the actual details on the level of direct local employment I would need to take it notice and come back to you.

Senator ADAMS —If you could, because I am interested. It was a foreign company that was doing it too. Whether they were on 457 visas, I do not know. I do not know what the story was there. There were only two locals helping with that.

Mr Craib —One of our selling points when we were negotiating with the community was that we would bring local employment. We have upheld that as far as we possibly could without compromising the ability to build the wind farm itself.

Senator ADAMS —Thank you. I am very relieved about your transmission line.

Mr Craib —So are we.

Mr Woodroffe —That is only two machines. We are talking 111 here.

Senator ADAMS —Yes, I realise that.

Mr Woodroffe —We were very fortunate in Mount Barker in that we had a local concrete supply and did have a local electrical contractor.

Senator ADAMS —I did ask why they did not have locals doing it. It was specialised work and they went into great terminology about why locals could not do it. Mr Rosser, you have built some turbines as well. Were you able to use your local people?

Mr Rosser —We have not constructed turbines yet. The foundation work is just starting. We have used local contractors for the road work. They have all been local contractors. The concrete supplier is local. All of the electrical work is local. The HV work is all specialised; there are only about two contractors in Western Australia who can handle the work. There is nothing we can really do about where they come from.

As was said, the commissioning of turbines is specialised. You have to use the people who have the tickets. There are all those safety issues associated with being appropriately ticketed and trained to work on this equipment. You do not want people endangering themselves.

Mr Craib —There are a couple of other points just on that. It is obviously economic to employ locals in the sense that you do not have to pay for their transport costs. So to the extent possible, you do look for local employment. The other thing, as you would also be aware of, is that in Western Australia we are experiencing a labour shortage. For the ongoing work, we are very much looking for locals who can take on that work and stay with the project—even to the extent of bringing people home from the mines and that type of thing.

Senator ADAMS —Are you having any success in doing that?

Mr Craib —It is mixed. Unfortunately, the mines are paying a lot.

Senator MOORE —I would like to look at confidentiality agreements. Dr Rankin, you have heard the evidence and you could give us a response to a lot of the things there. We heard a lot about confidentiality agreements and what is in them and what is not, and the difficulties that occur. I am just wondering what the policies are for each of your companies over confidentiality agreements with people who may be involved. What is included in them? Do they include issues like commercial in-confidence, talking to other people or land values? Do you have them and what is in them if you do have them?

Mr Rosser —This project really just has standard confidentiality agreements. Nothing prohibits anyone from talking in the community about wind turbines or the work that is going on. It is typically around sensitive pricing information. So there is no gagging of anyone.

Senator MOORE —Do you have confidence that the people who are signing them know what they are signing? That is a standard legal process.

Mr Rosser —I suppose, yes.

Senator MOORE —Do you offer them legal advice?

Mr Rosser —No, with the West Hills Farm I think we are talking now about landowner agreements. Is that correct?

Senator MOORE —Landowner and non-landowner.

Mr Rosser —We own our own land.

Senator MOORE —Right, so you did not have to do that?

Mr Rosser —No, but if we had to sign a landowner agreement we would read the agreement and know what we were signing.

Dr Rankin —When we originally had our roundtable meeting with an immediate group of neighbours we had done preliminary desktop modelling of where we thought there was a wind resource. There was a much smaller group and we told them we were putting up a monitoring tower. Typically you need 12 months of wind data to assess the viability of a site, the consistency of the winds and its economic value. After that time we re-ran the desktop modelling work which showed that there was a variation from the conceptual model to the actual model, which changed a potential development envelope.

It was at that point that we then contacted landowners. We had not been onto anybody’s property; it was a purely computer modelling process. We then contacted those landowners that had potential wind resources on their property and invited them to enter into a conversation with us about the potential project and what it might be. In doing that, if they said they were happy to have a meeting, we said, ‘We will be bringing a mutual confidentiality agreement with us.’ We sent that to them a week or so prior to the meeting and encouraged them to have that looked over, and if they had any questions they could ask us before we came.

The reason for that agreement was that there is a lot of competition within the wind industry. There were other companies. I did not come up with the idea just to put my kids through boarding school; they are nowhere near ready for boarding school yet. For the record, my washing frequently blows off the line and I lose a lot of socks.

We were actually approached in about 2006 by a company that chose Collgar over us. I thought, ‘Someone has come and seen us and there is the Renewable Energy Atlas available on the government’s web site, with a big red dot where we live.’ I also thought, ‘I am a researcher, so let’s look at the process of doing this; why don’t we have a look at the project ourselves?’ There is a clear planning process laid out in Western Australia. I have been reasonably methodical in the work that I have done to date, so we believed that we could do it. Back to the confidentiality agreement, it certainly was not a gagging arrangement. It was an arrangement whereby we could talk about a financial situation. When we actually went to the landowners I made a point, not for any confidentiality reason—I took along what was very much a proposal at this time, a potential layout for their property. They did not see where any other turbines would have been. People go, ‘How come they’ve got 10 and I’ve only got two.’ I didn’t want that to come into it. Every time, we said, ‘This is a very early thing. There are many things to consider: archaeological studies, heritage, environmental impacts, noise impacts, visual impacts, shadow flicker—all those things will change where these things go. This is very early on.’ The purpose of the MCA was to then see if we could come to a commercial arrangement regarding the lease payments. I had standard instructions. which I had from our legal team, just to make sure that I said the same thing to everybody. We ran through that. I probably still have that in my file, so I could offer that to you. It was purely for the length of time of the negotiation. If you said ‘yes’ then obviously there was another process that we went into with a licence and then a potential lease agreement. If you said ‘no’ then obviously that contract was null and void, because we were not having any more discussions. We said, ‘We’re having a commercial conversation about rental income. When you are trying to lease your farm, you are best not to tell all your neighbours what you are paying because it ruins the competitive nature of that arrangement. Everybody has different circumstances regarding financial constraints, what they need and what they value.’ So that was the reason for that. I guess the thing that is disappointing is that I do live next door to Roger and I have known him for a long time. I do not know why he did not pick up the phone and ask.

Senator MOORE —You were unaware of any concern—

Dr Rankin —Until I read it in an email that was sent around—not to me, of course, but to many other members of the community.

Senator MOORE —The confidentiality aspect was around the financial stuff—the business stuff? So, from your perception, there was no gag on talking about wind farms, talking about health or making disparaging comments or anything like that?

Dr Rankin —I should just add: once landowners had agreed to participate in the studies and obviously potentially place turbines on land, even though they had agreed to it the turbines may not end up being there due to the result of these studies. Once that development envelope was agreed to and landowners had signed up, which was on 27 August 2010, we then moved into September to that other community meeting where we put up the boundaries and the initial proposed layout. It was publicly available.

We had those original conversations around May, June, July leading up to August—three or four months of negotiations—with those people. I have one other quick point: we did not go back to Roger and make him an offer. He actually requested us to make him another offer, which we did. He then said, ‘No, I’m not interested,’ which was fine.

Senator MOORE —But, as far as you were concerned, there was no further confidentiality element?

Dr Rankin —No. We made it very clear to all the landholders that the project was not dependent on them being involved in it. Basically, the envelope that we have has resulted in the potential size of the project. If fewer people had signed up—there was still a project there—obviously it would have been a smaller project due to land availability.

Senator MOORE —With regard to your huge project, how were confidentiality agreements handled within your company?

Mr Craib —We have confidentiality agreements with each of our landowners, as we have with every commercial contract that we have in the project. They are standard confidentiality clauses that are designed to prevent the disclosure of confidential information that is withheld—effectively, the terms of the contract. We are mostly talking about the commercial terms of financial payments. How well those confidentiality clauses work in a small rural town such as Merridin is probably questionable, suffice to say that to pre-empt that we use a common template and pay the same compensation for each landowner to prevent the issues that Sarah was talking about.

We have had no problems with those clauses. They are certainly not gagging clauses by any stretch. They are as much to protect the landowner as they are to protect us. To the extent that there was a need to disclose, the way the clauses typically work is that, if there is a need to disclose information, the party that wishes to disclose would come to the other party and say, ‘I need to disclose this for such and such a reason; do you have a problem with this?’ et cetera. Obviously if it is required for other reasons or if it is required by law or what have you, those clauses are not enforceable. As I say, we do not see any issue with those clauses at all.

Senator MOORE —Have you had any complaints or discussion, and did you encourage or offer legal advice to people before they signed up?

Mr Craib —I personally was not around during this time, so I am not going to comment on that.

Senator MOORE —Can you take that on notice?

Mr Craib —I can, but what I can say is that landowners were definitely encouraged. It would be remiss of us to enter into it without that, and given the size of the project you do not want to get tripped up on something like this. You do not want to potentially get caught up down the track by people saying they have not received proper legal advice. There was a long discussion on the level of compensation, in fact, prior to us entering, and that was resolved. One landowner in particular had a problem with the level of compensation so all the landowners got together and got their own legal representation, so it was quite a detailed process. But at the end of the day we have a good working relationship.

Senator MOORE —How many lawyers are there in Merredin?

Mr Craib —I do not know, but they were not only using a Merredin lawyer. They were using a local lawyer and a Perth based lawyer as well.

Senator MOORE —What about Kojonup? How many lawyers are there in Kojonup?

Dr Rankin —There is one, but I do not know if he is full time, and another who is in and out. But I think they had a couple of people in Albany, which is 150 kilometres away, and Perth. There are a couple in Kojonup who are part time. A couple of landowners showed it to their accountant as well. So that was another form of professional advice that they used.

Senator MOORE —Mr Woodroffe, did you require confidentiality clauses with your three turbines?

Mr Woodroffe —We had commercial confidentiality for our shareholders. We did not really have anything in the landowner agreement or the agreement to lease to do with gagging, censorship or anything like that. But, again, it is a bit like asking somebody how much they get paid. They also had an in-house lawyer—it was a relative—but she actually did a very good job.

Senator MOORE —Was she local?

Mr Woodroffe —She was related by marriage.

Senator MOORE —So she was a local.

Mr Woodroffe —Yes. It was an interesting situation because no other wind farm developer was going to go there and we had no else to go. So it was a slightly different arrangement and I am very grateful we did not have to jump through some of the hoops the bigger projects have had to go through.

Senator ADAMS —I want to ask about community consultation. How early was it done? We have had examples of planning going for five years, but first up they did community consultation, advising the community that this was being looked at and this is where it would go. I was going to ask Dr Rankin about Kojonup because of the problems that have arisen there. If you had been able to advise the community what was going on a bit earlier, even though it was only in the planning stages, would it have helped?

Dr Rankin —I do not think it was a secret. We started talking about it, as I said, in 2008. We had a meeting with the neighbours. We had to submit a planning application to the Broomehill shire for the erection of the 80-metre mast. If you drive past our house you can see that, and certainly people in Kojonup have been talking about the project. I and the other shareholders are very active members of the community through schools, sporting groups, Rotary clubs and Apex clubs. It has been a common topic of conversation in the community for a long time.

We have actually got a consultation record that shows who we contacted, and how we did it, with fax. With Helen, I was a little confused today. We sent her a fax; when I first rang her after the fax was sent regarding the second meeting—because originally her farm was not in that original neighbourhood block—she said, ‘Oh yes, I heard about that and I hoped it wasn’t going to happen.’ I said: ‘Okay, so you’d heard about it. Well, we’re having a meeting. Would you like to come?’ And then, in a subsequent phone conversations we heard—as you have heard today—that she was not even going to attend that meeting, except that someone advised her to. I was grateful that she did come.

We have also been liaising with the local shires since 2008. It is a very expensive process, as Al would understand, especially on the scale of the studies that need to be done. If there were not some general acceptance of the project, even at a shire and a community level, then we would have been wasting our time and certainly our money. We have had support for the project through the Great Southern Development Commission. We had a grant in their first round. That was published in a media release. That would have been in 2009. We have had funding again in this most recent round, although it has been a little difficult to actually get those funds.

So it certainly has been publicly put around, and I think it is incorrect to say that nobody knew about it and it was secret. In fact, if there has been any secrecy it has been in the movement against it. We have offered to meet with them and hear their concerns. I have rung them and said, ‘Would you like to meet? Tell us your concerns.’ But we just do not get any feedback. If we do not know what their concerns are then it makes it very difficult to manage them. Even a couple of people to whom we have said, ‘We would like to put noise loggers at your house; we would like to do the visual impact,’ have said, ‘I do not want to have anything to do with this wind farm.’ It makes it very hard to ameliorate and to mitigate the effects, or even to assess those effects.

Senator ADAMS —Having lived in Kojonup, I know how all these things go round in sporting clubs and whatever. Just to get the facts out there, are you going to have a community meeting or do anything like that?

Dr Rankin —We will. And just to explain: the development application process that we have gone through—that has been planned in consultation with the shires again. We submitted that executive summary, which I believe has been submitted by some other bodies to you. The reason for that—again, in consultation with the CEOs and the planning officer—was: ‘Let’s get the concept of the project out there,’ which was after our community consultation meetings. So we had immediate feedback from those local neighbours, who were obviously going to feel the greatest impact, being the next door. We had that process open before we commissioned some of the final studies so that any community concerns could be incorporated into those studies and looked at so that the project could be assessed with a much broader consultative opportunity and direct inputs included. The final studies will be done in the next three to four weeks, and we have scheduled, as we have indicated all along, that, once that information is there, the whole project will then be presented in its entirety. I do not even know where the turbines are going to go, right now, because we are waiting on the results of a few of those studies.

Senator ADAMS —Mr Craib, how did you go about it with your first introduction to the Merredin community as to what was happening?

Mr Craib —I guess the initial works were done on trying to site a wind farm and then working out where exactly the best wind resource was, and then the discussions were initially held with the owners of the land that you envisage the turbines might be able to be situated on. Following that, obviously, community consultation is important. We had a couple of open days prior to the submission and the development approval, and those open days included visual impact studies—basically taking photos from local vantage points and then superimposing turbines and basically trying to get feedback. As a result of those consultations we did move some of the wind turbine footprint to some extent. For example, there was a landowner to the north who was concerned about the visual impact of the wind farm, so we elected not to build turbines close to where he was. Additionally, there is a local Merredin aerodrome not too far from the wind farm, so we did not extend as far west as we would have, to where some of the better wind resource is, basically to take into account some of their concerns. So I guess we tried as much as possible to be as active with the community as we could, and I think that has paid dividends.

Senator ADAMS —How about you, Mr Woodroffe?

Mr Woodroffe —We had a local supporter and we made some very early presentations to the local shire. We had a few stalls outside the IGA supermarket on a few Saturdays. We developed a few photomontages around the area, and in the one from in front of the brand-new shire offices, you look straight up the street: it is that hill, and you can see them behind the street lighting. Once we realised that, we sort of cranked it up a bit and tried to generate a bit more publicity, using mostly Plantagenet News, which is the local newsletter. Like I said, when we had this public consultation period, and got the fifty positive submissions, that was very encouraging.

Senator ADAMS —You did mention Denmark. What happened there?

Mr Woodroffe —Denmark, south-west Fremantle. In Mount Barker we are on a 50-year-old sheep farm that is about half cleared. When we were looking at the site in Mount Barker—this is going back to 2003—the grant that we had for Mount Barker was never going to be available for Denmark. That was only for projects which were off the grid—Esperance, Bremer Bay, Hopetoun, Rottnest, Denham, Coral Bay, whatever. About the time we were looing at Mount Barker they changed that to projects on the grid but that was after we started looking at Denmark. So the thinking behind it was to pick a very high-wind area. We had Albany 50 kilometres directly to the east. Western Power Corporation at the time had the whole grid to put in a wind farm. That is where they put it. So looking at that point, we had confidence that at least the wind would be good electrically for Denmark.

In Mount Barker we are on tall towers with wind class 3 machines. If we go to Denmark, we would be lucky to get a wind class 2 machine in there, and we would be looking at much shorter towers. Denmark, like Mount Barker, is a small town. It is a very politically active town and I think that location triggered a bit of opposition. Having said that, in Mount Barker we never had a committee of people meeting monthly. That never happened in Mount Barker. In Denmark they are still meeting and it has been more than seven years. So there is community commitment for that project in Denmark. It is just that there is also a very active opposition and they have been very effective. That project may yet go ahead. It is right on the coast, and the primary reason for that was to get those winds, and they were very good. I also think that two of the proponents for that project—two Denmark locals—have been very active within that community and are also active within WA on environmental issues, and I think there has been a little bit of payback involved, but I could be wrong.

Senator ADAMS —How did you go in Lancelin?

Mr Woodroffe —It is a very isolated site. The nearest neighbour is 3½ kilometres and is a keen advocate of wind turbines. The next neighbour is five kilometres and then the next is six or seven, and that community is supportive of wind turbines. We did not really have any problems and we moved reasonably quickly through the planning approval process. It was all over in about 10 weeks.

CHAIR —Earlier this morning—I do not know if you were in the room—Senator Fielding was asking about the wind atlas that Dr Rankin referred to. As far as I am aware that is a publicly available document, isn’t it?

Dr Rankin —Yes, that is correct, but I suppose that has changed.

CHAIR —Or are there two versions?

Mr Rosser —Yes.

CHAIR —Tell me about that.

Mr Rosser —It is a bit of a sore point. The federal government, the taxpayers of Australia, put in the money to develop that wind atlas. It appeared very briefly in its full form, where you could zoom in and locate areas of potential energy. It was terrific. Then suddenly it disappeared from the website. If you go back onto their website to try and find it, it has gone.

CHAIR —Whose website?

Mr Rosser —The old greenhouse office or wherever—

CHAIR —Now it is the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

Mr Rosser —Wherever it is. You go in and think: ‘I’d like to have another look.’ They have listed it as one of the grants. You zoom and it has gone; there is no link to it. Then you ring them and ask: ‘Where is it?’ and they say, ‘Oh, well, it’s no longer available. You need to talk to the people that were funded to develop it.’ Then you ring them and no; they are wind developers now. So it is no longer available. They will send you a little picture, like this, of Australia, whereas before it was an incredibly useful tool for anyone who wanted to use it.

Dr Rankin —I have not looked for it for a number of years, obviously. It has changed. I was in zooming time.

Mr Rosser —Times have changed. It is crazy.

CHAIR —We will follow that up.

Mr Rosser —It would be terrific if you could send me a full zooming version. I would be forever grateful. I think that is a bit rude.

CHAIR —Yes, we will follow that up.

Senator ADAMS —Dr Rankin, how are you going with the transmission line for your feed?

Dr Rankin —We have not done any work specifically on a transmission line itself. We are hoping that the Grange line will go ahead. That actually passes through the northern area of project. We are in discussions with Western Power.

Senator ADAMS —And with the gas coming through from Bunbury to Albany, do you think Grange will go that way?

Dr Rankin —I do not know. That is a question to ask Grange.

Senator ADAMS —That was just to clarify how it was going in that respect.

Dr Rankin —If the Grange line does not go ahead—and that is part of the reason for the size of our project—we need to be able to justify a transmission line back into the Kojonup substation which would follow that easement, which I think has got most or all of its approvals.

CHAIR —Does that mean that if the Grange line does not go ahead you would have to scale down the proposal?

Dr Rankin —No. Whether it goes all the way to Grange or just to the wind farm, ultimately user pays. We need our project to be a certain size to justify that cost.

CHAIR —So you would have to put through a separate easement if that does not go ahead. Is that what you are saying?

Dr Rankin —If their line does not go ahead, we can follow the easement that is already in place for Grange.

CHAIR —I beg your pardon. Thanks.

Senator ADAMS —You do not have to go back to all the neighbours to get permission?

Dr Rankin —Western Power will do a lot of those negotiations. We are just waiting and seeing what happens on that.

Senator ADAMS —Regarding the sale of electricity, with all these wind farms popping up are Western Power, or Synergy or whatever they are called now, going to be able to take anything you can produce?

Mr Rosser —We use our own.

Dr Rankin —We are still in offtake negotiations with a variety of companies.

Mr Craib —The basis for our investment was that they would take everything we could produce.

Mr Woodroffe —My understanding is that we are now having problems with coal.

CHAIR —With what?

Mr Woodroffe —Coal. Coal does not come down overnight. We are starting to approach that, so it is going to be interesting to see how. I think there is a lot of work being done with the IMO about this at the moment.

CHAIR —We are going to try to get them to appear.

Senator MOORE —We have had a lot of evidence about the health impacts and people being concerned about that. I wonder from each of your perspectives whether those issues are being raised and how you handle them.

Mr Rosser —West Hills Farm have an obligation to the workforce to make sure that there are no adverse impacts. We visited a number of wind farms and the turbines that were being installed. I suppose noise as was the biggest issue. We got some of reports. I think the Sonus report on infrasound was out. After seeing some of the information on the internet, we read it to satisfy ourselves. We talked with the insurers and we are comfortable that, given the location, people are not going to be infected. We have 80 people in our processing plant and that is about a kilometre away from it. And then the quarters are probably 2½ kilometres away. The turbines are quite small, too. They are much smaller than, say, the turbines that are going into the projects being discussed here. They are half the size.

Senator MOORE —And you have had no complaints?

Mr Rosser —They have not been built yet.

Senator MOORE —But in the process have you had complaints from people concerned about the health impact?

Mr Rosser —No. We have heard nothing. We have had no feedback about health issues

Dr Rankin —We have obviously had a few people raise those issues. But, like West Hills Farm, we have trawled through the literature. I have a background in epidemiology. My house will probably be a kilometre from 10 turbines. I have little kids. I am not planning on leaving. Another couple of our landowners are also within one kilometre of the turbines. That is an arbitrary buffer that we have set, but we are using the planning guidelines to set those buffers. There are rigorous environmental noise regulations in the state that protect against noise and vibration. There have been no complaints that we are aware of. As West Australians, we believe in the robustness of the planning system that we have in this state.

Mr Craib —We are probably lucky that we are in a relatively remote part of Western Australia. The nearest participating landowner is within one kilometre and the majority are two or more kilometres away. As part of the development approval, we need to conduct a number of studies such as noise and electromagnetic interference and also flicker assessments et cetera. They were prerequisites of the DA, which we have complied with. Once the wind farm is constructed, we need to do acoustic and noise emission tests to ensure that those tests are upheld. If they are not, we need to de-rotate the turbine such that the noise envelopes are adhered to. In terms of complaints, there have been none that I am aware of. As I say, we obviously try to keep an open dialogue with the landowners, but at this stage we have not received any complaints.

Mr Woodroffe —We have not had anything in terms of concerns about health or noise. As I said before, the nearest neighbour to a turbine is within 800 metres of turbine 2; and, again, to the south for turbine 1. They are within 100 metres of the Albany Highway where it crests the hill and there is a 110 kilometre speed limit. They are also just north of Mount Barker. Just south of our southern landowner is the Southern Haulage depot, and that can be quite noisy at times. We have not had anything in terms of concerns about health.

CHAIR —We have gone a bit over time, so I think we will call it quits here. Thank you very much for your time in appearing before the committee today. Some of you have a bit of homework to do. If you could get that to us within the next couple of weeks, it would be appreciated.

Committee adjourned at 5.18 pm