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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Australia's largest proposed wind farm on King Island to supply electricity to Victoria

Hydro Tasmania unveiled plans last night to a public meeting on King Island in Bass Strait for Australia's largest proposed wind farm - a 200 turbine wind farm project called TasWind. The wind farm will produce 600MW of power, enough to supply power for nearly half a million households. The project is estimated to be worth $2 billion.

The wind farm would be situated on the west of the island in the path of the roaring 40s, and most of the electricity generated exported by undersea cable to Victoria. Up to 20 percent of the island could become part of the wind farm and used concurrently with existing farming. Turbine towers would supply extra rental income for farmers plus a community dividend would be negotiated for the Island community.

A project of this size is estimated to provide perhaps 400-500 construction jobs, and 20 to 25 permanent ongoing maintenaince jobs. The seven year project would add direct economic benefits to the island and counteract the loss of the island's abattoir that ocurred in September. A feasability study would be undertaken from 2013 to 2015, followed by approvals and design process with Construction likely start in 2017 and expected completion in 2019.

The meeting on King Island last night attracted about 200 people where the proposal was put forward and questions answered. There was one question raised on likely health impacts of wind turbines, with a spokeperson saying research in this area is being closely monitored. Accounts indicate a positive community view on the development.

King Island Mayor Greg Barratt told the ABC that Hydro Tasmania is also planning a port expansion, NBN connection and a Basslink cable to Victoria's energy grid. A new high voltage direct current (DC) undersea cable, similar to Basslink, would be required to link in directly to Victoria's energy grid to market the power. "It'll provide enough electricity for a city of about 500,000," he said.

"Representatives of the proponents conducted a public meeting last night and filled the community in on the timelines for this proposed development" Greg Barratt told ABC morning radio Hobart 936, "You must understand that initially it is only an idea , a conceptual plan, they won't even proceed to a detailed feasability study until they have widespread support from the community. I believe they got of to a very good start last night. There seemed to be widespread support and a certain amount of euphoria in relation to the proposal."

Greg Barratt said the community faced a choice "We either stay as we are and slowly decline and become a little like Flinders Island with no major industries and a population of 700-800 or we go ahead with something like this."

Hydro Tasmania Chair David Crean said in a media release "It is most important that we seek the views of the King Island community," he said. "Their support is crucial for the project to go to the full feasibility stage."

"Such a project would also require extensive and detailed social, economic and environmental investigations, as well as regulatory approval at both state and federal level, before it became a reality." said David Crean.

Hydro Tasmania has committed to Consultations over the TasWind project with the island community over the next 3 months before moving to a full feasability stage in April 2013.

Victoria: Wind power imports to increase due to local anti-wind farm regulations

Mark Wakeham from Environment Victoria commented on ABC radio The World Today "Well we're currently getting 90 per cent of our electricity in Victoria from a handful of polluting and outdated coal fired power stations so we definitely need to diversify and clean up our energy supply. Unfortunately the State Government in Victoria has made it very hard to get new wind farms off the ground by introducing two kilometre barriers for new wind farms across much of the state."

The Baillieu Government in Victoria put in place draconian planning regulations for new wind farms which stifle rural development of wind farms and the slow shift to clean renewable energy produced locally within the state. A Friends of the Earth report estimated these regulations have cost Victoria $887 million in lost investment, and 2,100 jobs that will now not be created. Some of the investment in wind has shifted to South Australia where 24.2 per cent of the state’s power came from the wind in the 2011-12 financial year with wind energy peaking at providing more than half South Australia's electricity and even exporting excess via the grid to Victoria.

Yet the Baillieu Government seems intent in expanding the coal industry in Victoria, contributing to climate change and adding to environmental destruction within the state. A recent video by Environment Victoria shows Energy Australia continuing to pump contaminated water, after 5 months, from their flooded Yallourn coal mine into the Latrobe River which flows into the Gippsland Lakes.

Environmental concerns

One of the potential negative impacts of the wind farm is bird strike. King Island is home to sea eagles and on the migration route of the critically endangered orange bellied parrot which spends summer in south-west Tasmania and winters in Gippsland. Some of the risks can be reduced through consulting with stakeholders like Birdlife Tasmania for siting issues.

"We would be hoping to be one of the stakeholders in the process into the future" said Eric Woehler told ABC morning radio Hobart 936, "We need to look at what can be done to minimise potential impact. There has certainly been a lot of effort in Tasmania to reduce the impact of windfarms on birds but you still end up with a non zero component, you still have birds being killed. The real aim of the exercise is to minimise those numbers so you have the least impact associated with any development such as this."

It comes down to assessing the relative risks and concerns balancing the costs to health, environment and climate from continued carbon emissions from fossil fuels, or clean renewable power such as wind turbines.

Hydro Tasmania directly market their greenpower in Victoria through their retail subsidiary Momentum Energy.

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