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Wind break

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Lisa Taylor, Wind Community Engagement Manager with the Clean Energy Council, looks at the benefits of wind farm energy.
Wind energy is currently the cheapest form of renewable available in Australia and has a major role in achieving the 20% renewable energy target by 2020. The state of NSW has seven wind farms powering some 78,000 homes each year, with another 29 proposed, raising reach to over 2.4 million homes and creating 3,900 jobs at the same time. The Hallett wind farm in South Australia has seen some $800 million spent with $41 million specifically targeted to the local community and has seen 15 long term jobs provided after construction.

Wind farms are the greenest renewable energy source with wind farms in South Australia alone reducing carbon emissions by over 3.4 million tons in that state. Wind farms have a 25 year life span, after which time the developer and the landholder need to come to terms of agreement about its continued operation.

What is often missed about wind farms is that they do not degenerate the land where they operate - a plus for the landholder. Even on cattle and sheep farms, the wind turbines are usually sited on ridges that are not greatly used by agriculture, providing an economic benefit to less productive pastures. Indeed, at Capital wind farm it was the payments for the generators that allowed owners of one property to buy grain for their drought stricken stock, preventing them from making a forced subdivision to survive. Each turbine fetches between $3,000 and $10,000 annually and the sums involved are guaranteed for the 25 year life of the wind farm.

The wind industry could however, be better engaged with local communities to improve understanding and acceptance of wind farms. The Hepburn wind farm near Daylesford in Victoria is a case in point. Two turbines installed to power the local area were financed by local residents and investors and is an example of how community engagement can enhance renewable energy alternatives.

Another wind farm in Orange, NSW, is offering community members the ownership of a turbine, with subsequent benefits. A survey in NSW showed that 98% of people agreed that wind power was a clean energy source and that 89% of people supported wind farms, along with 85% supporting wind farms in their local region. These focus groups were randomly chosen by the company conducting the research which in part made operating a proposed wind farms a focus.

The development of a wind farm is not a covert operation. Wind masts are installed to measure the scientific data and, if the measurements stack up, there is a very lengthy process of development agreements which cover areas like noise, acoustics and other environmental impacts. Each wind farm also has a substantial community development fund which is used to reinvest in the local region. Could this be the wind break we need ?

Lisa Taylor was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Summary text by Victor Barry January 2012.
Image is of Capital Wind Farm from Suzlon Energy Australia.

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