IN a decisive stand against the controversial Gelliondale Wind Farm project, Coastal Ward Councillor, Gary Stephens declared his strong opposition during the third Wellington Shire Council ordinary meeting for 2023 on Tuesday, March 5.

“I have serious concerns about the state government’s view that a turbine can be placed within kilometres of residences,” Cr Stephens said.

“The Alberton township is within 3.5 kilometres of the turbines and the state government has previously stated that major towns should not be located within five kilometres.”

Unlike ‘major’ regional towns such as Sale, Traralgon, Morwell, and Bairnsdale, which are safeguarded by the state government’s Planning Guidelines for Development of Wind Energy Facilities prohibiting the construction of wind energy facilities within five kilometres, Alberton lacks this protection.

Still, Cr Stephens said the project would impact hundreds of people and it should be considered by the state government before a permit is issued for the project.

Synergy Wind’s plan for a 13-turbine wind energy facility west of Alberton has raised concerns for the environment due to sensitive flora and fauna, particularly on the delicate marine ecosystems of the Nooramunga Coastal and Marine Park and the nearby Corner Inlet Ramsar Wetland, as well as community worries about noise and visual impacts.

Additional concerns include the possibility of coastal inundation, especially for turbines located in low-lying areas and ensuring the future use of the Yarram Aerodrome remains uncompromised by turbine proximity.

At the meeting, council moved to endorse a letter to the state Minister for Planning, Sonya Kilkenny, explaining these issues and seeking assurance that the concerns raised be thoroughly investigated before a planning permit for the project is approved.

In the submission to the Minister for Planning, the Council Plan 2021-2025 outlining a strategic vision for economic growth and climate change response in the Wellington Shire was mentioned.

It highlights that measures that will simultaneously diversify the economy by generating jobs and supports the community in transitioning to a low-carbon future are positive goals council supports.

In alignment with these goals, council wrote that they are “supportive of renewable energy investments in Wellington Shire”.

Northern Ward Councillor, Carolyn Crossley spoke in favour of the letter.

She said the recent weather events in the area, such as floods and storms, are a “reflection of climate change and (that) climate change is going to impact adversely on us all”.

“It is imperative that we move swiftly to renewables to address that and mitigate the impact of climate change.”

However, she added that, “Although we’re supportive, it’s not a blank cheque of support”.

“We need to make sure the legitimate concerns of the environment and the community are addressed.”

This is the intention of the council’s letter to the Minister for Planning and thus the letter underscores the importance of considering local community views and concerns, especially those living in proximity to the project.

As such, council have emphasised the need for a meaningful two-way dialogue with the community to ensure the decision-making process to permit the project is transparent, well-balanced, and fully informed.

Coastal Ward Councillor, Gayle Maher said she lives five kilometres from the proposed site and said the council’s letter is “imperative.”

“It at least allows the community to know that we have actually engaged, and we have listened to them, and they have been heard,” she said.

The motion to endorse the submission was initially opposed by Cr Stephens and was put to a vote.

It resulted in unanimous approval from the councillors, including Cr Stephens.

Although Cr Stephens said he was not “inherently opposed” to the council’s submission, he took the opportunity to voice concerns about the project itself.

“There have been 237 notifications in relation to this project, of items that need to be dealt with, and these all need to be considered in detail before any planning permit is issued,” he said.

Synergy Energy’s proposal was put on public notice on February 6 this year, meaning the community have a chance to voice their opinions which will be considered by a planning panel who will make the decision to endorse a permit for the wind facility, or not.

If approved, the wind farm will include 13 turbines on 1500 hectares of agricultural land with additional infrastructure, such as a battery energy storage system and substation.

Given that this is a state government matter, council advise that residents submit their concerns directly to the Department of Transport and Planning, as the Minister for Planning oversees wind energy facility decisions in Victoria.