Residents React as Windfarm Developer Downplays Dangers
A Washington wildfire last month, caused by a faulty wind turbine, provides yet another example of why residents should be concerned about the fire risk from the proposed Delburn Wind Farm. Developer OSMI Australia wants approval to build 35 turbines in approximately 5,000 acres of highly combustible pine plantation owned by Hancock Victorian Pla
The siting of wind farms within pine plantations may make sense in Europe where space is limited and the climate mild. In south east Australia, it is sheer madness. The traditional owners of the local land are the Gunai-Kurnai ‘Brataualung’ people, translating as “Men from the place of fire”. Since European settlement in the area, there have been at least nine catastrophic fires. Each fire has highlighted the extremely difficult and sometimes impossible task authorities have in protecting lives and property.
The site of the proposed wind farm is covered by a bushfire management overlay in Victoria’s Planning Scheme due to the extreme bushfire risk. The purpose of the overlay is “to ensure that the development of land prioritises the protection of human life and strengthens community resilience to bushfire”. Neighbors of HVP have experienced three plantation fires in the past ten years. The worst of these was the deliberately lit Delburn Complex of Fires in 2009 when 44 homes were lost and many millions of dollars’ worth of plantation destroyed. The wind farm is proposed to be built in the very plantations that were destroyed in 2009 but that have since been regrown.
Residents neighbouring the plantations are still traumatized by the 2009 fires as well as the local fires in 2014 and 2019. Local resident Rosemary Parker said: “We have not got over the trauma of the five days of the 2009 fires which burned our fences, threatened our livestock and our own home. The CFA was unable to provide any support apart from one plane load of fire retardant dropped around our home. Each year we live in fear during the fire season. This wind farm proposal just brings it all back.”
As the recent fire in Southern Washington shows, turbines can and do catch fire and can cause wildfires. CFA’s Emergency Management Guidelines for Wind Energy Facilities state: “Where practicable, Wind Energy Facilities should be sited on open grassed areas (such as paddocks grazed by cattle or sheep)”. The aim of this recommendation is to reduce bushfire risk by reducing fuel loads near turbines.
OSMI’s webpage states only that: “plantation trees within 100m of the perimeter surrounding the base of each turbine are to be high pruned to develop a ladder fuel free fire break.” The rotors on the proposed turbines are 180 meters in diameter (swept area larger than the MCG), meaning that there will be a ring of flammable pruned pine trees below each rotor.
Both CFA and HVP’s fire-fighting policies rightly put the health and safety of their firefighters first. There are properties neighbouring the plantations that will not be defended by ground crews due to the high fire risk posed by plantations along escape routes. As stated in the Royal Commission report on the Delburn Fires 2009, “the Delburn fires were fought with a great deal of aerial support. Mr Owen told the Commission he ‘pretty well had his own air force’…… Mr Owen agreed that the plentiful supply of air resources greatly assisted in combating the fire” (p. 48).
The presence of 250-metre tall turbines will severely hamper or prevent aerial firefighting efforts, which are the only practical method of fighting plantation fires. AFAC Guidelines state that “Turbine towers, meteorological monitoring towers and power transmission infrastructure pose risks for aerial firefighting operations”. Fire-fighting pilots are permitted to fly low only if they have good visibility and clearance from tall objects.
HVP and OSMI claim that they will manage the fire risks of the proposed wind farm. They point to fire suppression technologies in turbines. What they cannot control are lightning strikes or arsonists. Graeme Wilson, a long-time resident of the area, expressed a lack of confidence in HVP’s capacity to fight fires, “HVP took over the plantations from Victorian Plantations Corporation in 2001 and subsequently sacked experienced workers in favour of contractors. For twenty years prior to the takeover, there were no major fires in the plantations; we have had three catastrophic fires since then. In my opinion, neither HVP nor OSMI will be able to stop any fire around the wind farm; putting neighbours at severe risk. With fixed wing aircraft unable to operate around the turbines, fire-fighting efforts will be impossible. This wind farm is totally inappropriate.”
Residents whose homes are affected by the wind farm proposal have formed a group called The Strzelecki Community Alliance. Spokesperson for the group, Anne-Marie Dieperink, emphasised that “the group is not anti-windfarm but opposes installations that adversely affect neighbors. Putting people’s lives at risk is not an option. No amount of management plans on paper will prevent a bushfire from occurring. The proposal is due to be submitted to the Planning Minister next year, we are concerned that this process is just a rubber-stamping exercise and our concerns will be ignored”.
Please note that these two photos are taken from almost the same viewpoint.
Anne Marie Dieperink,
Strzelecki Community Alliance Chairperson
Phone: 0428 844 298
Resident of 30 years
Phone 0428 684 267