Declaration: “I am a Boolarra resident of more than 10 years. I will not benefit in any way from this project and I have nothing to do with OSMI.”
Earlier this year a Facebook page was set up to give community members an opportunity to discuss the proposed Delburn Wind Farm. Very quickly this discussion page turned negative and eventually into a demonisation of wind farms, wind turbines and even, at times, renewable energy and climate change science. Opinions became more extreme and solidified and recently we have seen that anyone who presents information counter to the prevailing attitude often ends up being personally attacked. Fear and negativity have spread quickly (sometimes on the back of questionable evidence) and now there is an enormous amount of anxiety throughout the community. Those who object strongly to the wind farm are scared for their health, their property values and the risk of fire. Whilst many of the concerns are entirely legitimate and reasonable (and OSMI must adequately address them) not all are. But what is clear is that many people are now suffering from heightened levels of fear, anger, anxiety and stress that they may be struggling to deal with. Friendships have been broken, people have been alienated and the town has become divided.
On top of this we had the Boolarra Community Development Group (BCDG) deciding that we should have a community survey before OSMI have even finalised their proposal. Furthermore the survey did not permit residents to remain neutral about the project, to be ‘uncertain’ or require more information. Many in the community may support a wind farm but NOT as currently proposed. For instance some may want to see setbacks increased to 2km unless residents living closer agree with the turbine placement (and if this makes the project unviable then so be it). Others may feel the need to be better informed about how Boolarra might benefit from this project in terms of new businesses and money invested in to the town. Yet the survey provided no opportunity to express neutrality or uncertainty. As a result the survey risks further dividing the community into those who voted ‘Yes’ as opposed to ‘No’. If results go as some expect and the BCDG is forced to support the anti-wind farm sentiment, then it will alienate those who support or somewhat support the project. If it goes the other way or the BCDG remains neutral, then those residents who are strongly against will feel that the community doesn’t care about them or support them enough. Surely this is not the goal of the BCDG, to divide and alienate parts of the community.
This issue is no longer just about a wind farm but rather how this community deals with division, whether we can engage in constructive respectful debate and whether we can work together to ensure that, if the project does go ahead, Boolarra benefits whilst at the same time ensuring that the residents who live closest to the wind farm are not unduly effected. This will not satisfy those people at the extreme ends of the debate, however it might somewhat satisfy the majority of people in the middle. If the wind farm does not go ahead then those who strongly object will be content but others in the community will be alienated and feel that Boolarra and the Latrobe Valley may have missed an opportunity to develop and grow. It is clear that no one outcome is going to satisfy everyone however if we don’t work towards a compromise then this community will continue to fracture and divide and many of its residents will feel alienated whether or not the wind farm is ever built.