It is the responsibility of government departments to present advice to ministers that is balanced. Input must be sought from all stakeholders. Individual proposals should be analysed based on their merits. An industrial scale wind farm in a bushfire prone forest surrounded by townships and lifestyle properties is a far cry from one in a sparsely populated, broad acre farming region. Yet the State Government sees little distinction.
This is because the wind industry is running the show. After loosening regulations, the government maintains an arms-length approach to wind farm developments. Those connected to the industry write the guidelines and assess compliance with regulations. DELWP and the EPA simply lack the technical expertise, capacity and desire for effective oversight. Planning panels invariably decide in favour of the developer when independent experts challenge the findings of assessments. The State Government simply blames the industry when things go wrong.
Local people most impacted by wind farms are deliberately sidelined. Government representatives have deflected concerns about the proposed Delburn Wind Farm on the basis that no planning application has been lodged. However, the wind farm site is already appearing in DEWLP planning documents. Developers clearly have the ear of government.
OSMI, the developers behind the Delburn Wind Farm proposal, engaged Mandy Elliott to complete their EES referral. She is employed by DELWP as a senior sessional panel member and was working for DELWP at the time she was writing the referral. Mandy was previously employed by the State Government as a Policy Officer and provided advice on wind energy planning applications.
Ecology & Heritage Partners failed to correctly identify the location of the Darlimurla Forest Block, failed to survey Luxford Pond despite recognising its use by nationally significant migratory birds and failed to identify the risk of bird collisions with turbines as described in the 2019 Lumsden et al report for the Arthur Rylah Institute. The failings of Ecology & Heritage Partners reports were not limited to bird surveys. Yet these reports underpinned OSMI’s EPBC and EES referrals.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), information provided in EPBC referrals must be “complete, current and correct”. When evidence was provided that this was not the case for the Delburn Wind Farm referral, a DAWE representative wrote, “It is acceptable to include the best available information at the time of submission – this may include draft reports and incomplete studies.”
The decision by the Minister for Planning not to require an EES for Delburn Wind Farm was unsurprising. However, it did come with conditions relating to the protection of significant species, waterbodies and large, hollow bearing trees. It is highly likely that these conditions were the result of concerns raised by members of the Strzelecki Community Alliance that could not be ignored.
Given the close relationship between the wind industry and government, the dependence on guidelines developed for the industry, and the reliance on compliance testing commissioned by the industry, we must demand that local and state government representatives ensure transparency and accountability in every step of the planning process for the Delburn Wind Farm. All stakeholders deserve fair representation.