IN April a Department of Planning investigation found that 69 of the Gullen Range wind farm’s 73 turbines had been built in the wrong location.
On Wednesday the Department recommended that just two of these be pulled down and put in the right spot.
NSW Landscape Guardians president and Kialla resident, Humphrey Price-Jones has slammed the decision.
“What has happened is nothing short of an utter disgrace,” he said.
“People’s democratic rights have been trampled on by the Department of Planning which has aided and abetted the wind farm company every step of the way…People must realise that if it can happen to Gullen Range residents, it can happen to anyone.”
Mr Price-Jones has criticised the fact that proponent, Goldwind, was allowed to lodge a modified development application after the turbines were found to be in unapproved locations.
One was up to 187 metres from the approved spot and the average variation was 42 metres.
The Department has recommended approval but referred the DA to the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission for a decision. This was to ensure it was “at arm’s length.”
The environmental assessment “closely examined the potential visual and noise impacts” of the turbines on neighbouring properties, a departmental spokesperson said.
“As a result, the Department has recommended that the BAN- 15 turbine be uprooted and moved back to its previously approved location,” the spokesperson said.
“In addition, we have recommended that the BAN-09 turbine also be moved to its original location, unless the owner of the neighbouring property agrees to be purchased by the wind farm.
“A number of other turbines have been built in locations that are inconsistent with the original project approval, but the impacts on neighbouring properties have been found to be negligible.”
Goldwind said the recommendation to move the two turbines was not “warranted”.
“GRWF (Gullen Range Wind Farm) is reviewing the DPE report and its recommended changes and has been surprised by the recommendations in respect of the two turbines,” the company said in a statement.
“The two wind turbine locations that remain disputed by the DPE are installed and were erected quite some time ago. GRWF is not convinced that the DPE recommendation to relocate the two turbines is warranted.
“This view is based on assessments provided as part of the modification application.”
The two turbines are at the Bannister end of the approximate 27km development front. The first had been moved 178 metres from its approved location and BAN- 09, 167m. BAN-09 sat within 2km of a residence and it would be difficult to screen the visual impact, the report stated.
Assessors studied the effect of changed turbine locations on 49 residences within 2km of the wind farm and concluded that for the majority, it would not cause “significant differences to the visual impact predicted by the approved site layout.”
The department has recommended additional landscape screening to mitigate the impact of these turbines.
While publicly Goldwind said the layout complied with the consent, it gave several reasons for the changed turbine locations to the Department. These included the need to reduce “wake effects and energy loss,” reducing noise impact on houses, and avoiding endangered ecological communities.”
But the Department did not agree that locations essentially complied with the original approval.
It found that: * Nine turbines had been moved more than 100m from the approved location; * 13 had been moved 50m-100m and; * 47 had been shifted less than 50m. Some deemed not to be significantly affected by the change had been shifted 160-170m from the approved spot.
The modified DA drew 176 submissions from the general public, with 63 per cent of these objections, the Department stated.
Planners said the main issues were verification of the turbines’ location, visual and noise impacts and biodiversity.
They relied on their own and the proponent’s survey, a 2010 NSW Land and Environment Court judgement and site visits in April and July.
A spokesperson said the Department was still considering compliance action against Goldwind.
But the ultimate finding rankles with Mr Price-Jones.
“What the Department recommended is unfortunately what we expected it to do – it has let itself off the hook,” he said.
“If it had been doing what it should, ensuring compliance, then this wouldn’t have happened.”
Mr Price-Jones argued that the 2010 Land and Environment Court ruling should have applied. This specified that turbines should not be relocated.
Instead, the Department’s recommendation sent an “incredibly dangerous message” that developers could build turbines where they wanted, that nobody would take notice and that a modified application would fix the problem.