Gone with the wind

David Formby, along with Erwin and Leonie Thaller are pleased the outlook from their Keyneton properties will be unchanged with Pacific Hydro announcing last week that the 42 turbine Keyneton Wind Farm project will not proceed.

Thirteen years since the project was first conceived, global renewables developer, Pacific Hydro has confirmed the proposed Keyneton Wind Farm will not go ahead.

A recent judgement by Minister for Planning, Mr Stephan Knoll not to grant a second extension to Pacific Hydro’s planning approval has led to the company’s “regrettable” decision to abandon the project completely.

The Minister’s judgement cites the current policy framework which deems the project to now be “non-complying” because it is within the Barossa Valley Character Preservation District and not envisaged land use.

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Approximately two thirds of the previously approved turbines are located within this district.

Ms Rachel Watson, Pacific Hydro CEO said shifting policy framework within and between Federal and State Governments had created time delays, commercial uncertainty and impacted investor confidence.

“Add to that changing grid connection requirements and it has added up to the Keyneton Wind Farm not being a viable project. We are now in the process of communicating the decision with affected land holders,” she said.

Keyneton resident and member of the Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges Landscape Guardians, David Formby has been actively opposed to the wind farm since he first learned about the project in 2009.

He owns a 160 acre parcel of land “sandwiched” between the proposed north and south turbine clusters, and was overjoyed to receive a phone call from Pacific Hydro last Wednesday informing him the project would not proceed.

“I was dumbfounded. Eventually I said, well, that’s bl***y good news!” he told The Leader.

“The relief has been incredible because there was a very strong component of people around Keyneton who just did not want to have to live with it for a number of different reasons.”

The Keyneton Wind Farm would have comprised 42 turbines with a maximum height of 145.5 metres. The project was anticipated to generate over 325 gigawatt-hours per year, enough to power approximately 60,000 households.

It was first granted planning approval in 2013 by the South Australian Development Assessment Commission. The project stalled, but was thrown a lifeline in December 2017 by way of a two year extension.

Pacific Hydro was required to have substantially commenced the development by November 29 this year, and has blamed fluctuating policy settings for “the resource, legal and government approval bottlenecks” that have made the construction time frame impossible.

Mr Knoll’s decision not to approve a further planning permit extension is consistent with the National Wind Farm Commissioner’s recommendation that a permit should only be renewed for one further term as a maximum.

While those opposed to the wind farm are heralding the end of a long-fought battle, the cancellation of the project will come as a disappointment for other stakeholders and those who viewed the wind farm as an opportunity to progress green initiatives.

Director of Development and Environmental Services at Mid Murray Council, Mr Jake McVicar said that while Council was neither for or against the wind farm, benefits such as Pacific Hydro’s Community Investment Programme and local economic stimulation were “silver linings” attached to the project.

“The community benefit fund could be used for good purposes around Keyneton and surrounds, so that’s a loss now, but at the end of the day it was always a State Government decision, Council only played an advisory role,” he said.

For Keyneton horse and goat breeders, Erwin and Leonie Thaller, the knowledge that their 80 acre “paradise on top of the world” no longer faces the prospect of a neighbouring wind farm feels like a burden lifted.

“We know we have a future again,” said Leonie.

“We can get back our life now. We’ve got a little bit of sunshine.”

Other wounds may take longer to heal.

“They talk about wind farms fracturing communities, well, it has done,” said David.

“It has to a certain extent wrecked the Keyneton communal feeling. There’s a lot of people who hate me for standing up against it. I guess whether it will all be forgiven by tomorrow and we’ll be all back to normal, I don’t know. It remains to be seen.”

The future of the nearby Palmer Wind Farm, a Tilt Renewables project with scope for up to 103 turbines, is still uncertain, with an appeal currently before the Full Court of the Supreme Court.