News / Featured / 21st December 2023
A windy issue: why the race for renewables is dividing towns
The first of their kind in NSW, Renewable Energy Zones will harness energy from solar and wind farms with the aim to provide a secure and clean power supply to households across the state. But why are the projects proving divisive in local towns?
EnergyCo, a statutory authority of the NSW Government, will oversee five major Renewable Energy Zones projects including the Central West Orana Renewable Energy Zone (CWO REZ).
EnergyCo aims to power 1.4 million homes within the metropolitan areas, with power generated from the CWO REZ.
This project will encompass an area of 20,000 hectares, leaving a number of small regional towns and landowners with the responsibility of giving up their land to power cities.
Understandably, the project is creating a stir in the southern area of Warrumbungle Shire.
Emma Bowman, a fifth generation farmer from Dunedoo, is helping to inform local people about the CWO REZ projects and their potential impact on communities.
Over the past month, Miss Bowman has helped to facilitate a number of information sessions for Warrumbungle Shire residents.
Held in Binnaway, Dunedoo, Coolah and Mendooran, each of the sessions have attracted 50 to 150 people.
Miss Bowman said some of the biggest concerns she had with the CWO REZ was the burden on town resources and the loss of agricultural land.
“I would say there is a lot of concern over the cumulative impacts of the projects.
"They seem insignificant on their own, but when you put them all together, they are major,” Miss Bowman said.
“There is nowhere to find in-depth information. What happens in a drought? How many hectares does each project take up? How many cars on the road?”
In Warrumbungle Shire, towns most affected by the CWO REZ include Dunedoo and Coolah, while Gulgong and Birriwa, at Mid-Western Regional Council, will also be impacted.
Plans are already in motion to expand the CWO REZ Transmission project further north and west to Tooraweenah and Gilgandra areas.
Currently there is no maximum capacity stated, meaning the number of wind and solar projects are likely to triple by 2043 and beyond.
Construction of transmission infrastructure is enabled through an easement on private land, governed by the Land Acquisition Act 1991.
This means landowners are offered compensation for their land, however, the Act reserves the right to compulsorily acquire land.
Miss Bowman said this made it difficult for landowners to disagree to movements deemed necessary by EnergyCo.
“People I’ve spoken to have no knowledge about how the construction process works. Will I be able to keep stock? Will you cut my fences? Will there be water for stock?” she said.
“There is nothing past, ‘we need the easement and we are going to compulsorily require it’.
“To me, it is signing up to something when you don’t know what you are getting yourself in for.”
General information has been made public by EnergyCo, which states there will be restrictions to stock, farming equipment and fencing.
Miss Bowman has spent a significant amount of time researching the CWO REZ, with 150 hours spent on her submission against the transmission project alone.
Having experienced the threat of compulsory acquisition first-hand, Miss Bowman is sympathetic to those facing similar predicaments.
“Our family property was essentially cut in half by the Golden and Castlereagh double highway, so I completely understand how devastating it can be,” Miss Bowman said.
“We had a very ordinary dealing with the then RMS (now Transport for NSW) - it was stressful and I would not wish it upon anyone.
“When we went through the possible compulsory acquisition, the highway was already in place."
Miss Bowman said there were a lot of projects steamrolling through agricultural land.
“These companies hold a lot of power and rural communities have little say.
“EnergyCo itself admits we are going to change from a rural landscape to an industrial landscape.
”This is why it is important for communities to stay well informed about the CWO REZ projects.”
Impact on agriculture
It is estimated that 4000 hectares of land in the CWO REZ will be unavailable for use during the transmission line construction phase.
Construction may result in crops not being sown and infrastructure will cut off access to machinery and stock. It is not clear what measures EnergyCo has in place to minimise the impact on production.
Miss Bowman said the estimated loss of agricultural production during construction was around $1.35 million per annum.
She said this could have a flow on affect to small, local businesses such as farming contractors and freight, rural merchandise stores and voluntary community organisations.
“I believe renewable energy has its place and in my opinion that place is not taking over agricultural land,” Miss Bowman said.
“They are taking out some of the most productive land in NSW. We are a food basin. Now the whole burden is put onto us to power metropolitan NSW.
“If there were one or two wind factories, or maybe one or two solar factories within the area, there wouldn’t be quite the issue.”
Large amounts of money are being offered to those who choose to host wind and solar factories.
Landowners left with transmission line infrastructure do not get a choice and if an agreement cannot be met, their land will be compulsorily acquired.
Miss Bowman said EnergyCo had stated compensation was the same whether the easement was acquired by mutual agreement or through compulsory acquisition.
She said affected landholders who did not come to a mutual agreement had been sent a Proposed Acquisition Notice (PAN), conveniently just a few weeks before Christmas.
A PAN is the step taken before compulsory acquisition is required to be met.
“Receiving the PAN before Christmas means possible weeks taken out of the negotiation period, due to office closures,” she said.
“How is it possible to begin compulsory acquisition before the transmission route is finalised?”
She said communities and landholders were being “drip-fed information”, making it hard to comment on EnergyCo’s actions and reach an understanding of the process.
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