There’s lots of energy behind locally-owned wind power
LATE last summer, Melbourne artist Ghostpatrol spent a week manoeuvring a crane in a paddock in Leonards Hill. With a small team, he painted a huge image of a girl dressed in green, on one of the two wind turbines that comprise the Hepburn Wind farm, near Daylesford.
The artists camped under the turbine. They had to rise early to paint before the wind picked up, and for good reason: the girl’s name – and the turbine’s too – is Gale.
The community-owned wind farm has now been operating for more than two years. It has produced more than 22 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy, which more than matches the amount used by households in Daylesford and Hepburn.
Taryn Lane, Hepburn Wind’s community officer, takes regular tours for school groups and university students. “We’re the closest wind farm to Melbourne,” she says. “We believe we’ve got a big role to play in helping to demystify wind power.”
Giving Gale a personality has helped with that, and so too, will a new sign on the road at the front of the wind farm, which will click over with every kilowatt-hour the turbines produce.
“It will address the myth that wind energy is unreliable. Although it’s intermittent, it is really predictable,” she says.
As well as electricity, the turbines also generate money for the local community. So far, more than three-dozen projects – from solar streetlights to public seating at a cemetery – have received a total of $72,000.
“We can see how the people’s consciousness about community-owned renewable energy is growing,” Ms Lane says. “Within the spread of grants this year, there was a solar project, a bio-energy project, and an energy efficiency project.”
It has been a hard road: Hepburn Wind took six years to complete (planning permits and capital-raising were among the thorniest problems). But since then, the project has received local, state, national and global awards. Last year, it won the World Wind Energy award, for best global project, judged by the industry’s international association.
The wind farm is a cooperative – more than half of its 2000 members are locals, and every member has only one vote. It was nominated as the flagship project of the UN’s International Year of Cooperatives in 2012.
Ms Lane also works for Embark, an organisation created by Hepburn Wind’s founders, to support other community renewable energy projects.
“We’ve developed a model for community wind and a model for community solar energy,” she explains. “Right now there are about 70 different groups around Australia interested in developing their own projects.”
One of the most advanced is nearby: Mount Alexander Community Wind, based in Castlemaine, which received 60 expressions of interest from landowners keen to host turbines. They’re planning for up to 6 turbines, but theirs too, will be a long process. All going well, the blades will begin turning in 2017.
Only one wind farm has been approved in Victoria in more than two years. In August 2011, the state government introduced guidelines establishing no-go zones and a requirement that all homeowners within 2 kilometres must approve a development.
The lone successful project, five turbines at Coonooer Bridge, north west of Bendigo, also has a strong community focus: it’s partly owned by neighbouring landowners and will also offer up to $15,000 in local grants each year.