King Island's collateral damage from anti-wind forces

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Part-time King Island resident, David Looker, despairs of what he calls “collateral damage” as TasWind engages with residents in a battle to win support for its $2 billion proposal to build Australia’s biggest wind farm.

king_island.current wind turbines
Tasmanian wind farm


KING ISLAND sits at the western end of Bass Strait and is bisected by the 40th degree of latitude, which puts the lower half of the island literally in the Roaring Forties. The weather may be fine and windy, wet and windy, cloudy and windy — but it will be windy.

King Island dairy. index
King Island famous farm produce[/caption]

The island has many charms. It is, in effect, a very large and productive farm and was mostly cleared of native vegetation in the distant past. It has a surprisingly mild climate, a pristine and spectacular coast line and, up until now, a wonderfully cohesive and friendly community who have stuck together through many ups and downs.

The community spirit, the volunteering, the mutual support of each other is Australia circa 1950s and one of the reasons people love the place.

The writer should declare he knows and loves the Island and has investments in tourism, which might potentially be affected by the wind farm, though he has no idea whether positively or negatively. He has many friendships which will survive but require diplomacy now — something that was not the case in this robust society in the past.

That is because the 40th parallel is now not the only division in the Island.

The consistent winds of the Roaring Forties have attracted TasWind, a division of Hydro Tasmania, to target the Island as the potential site of a 200-tower, 600MW capacity mega wind farm that would include a high voltage, undersea cable, enabling the electricity to be exported to the mainland, probably near Geelong.

E3 Planning in Hobart prepared a Preliminary Socio Economic Impact Study for TasWind. This is a respected company, well-known on King Island but, of course, in the eyes of critics, suddenly not “independent” as this study was commissioned by Hydro Tasmania. E3 estimates the economic  benefits to King Island to be between $255.75 and $310.65 million and points to substantial benefits to Australian renewable energy targets:
'If generated this renewable energy would represent approximately 5% of the total renewable energy currently generated in Australia and would reduced the amount of C02 released into the atmosphere by approximately 1.9 million tonnes per annum.'


At this stage, TasWind are running a comprehensive "consultative process" to gauge community views about doing a feasibility study. A local committee of respected and hard-working individuals has battled to achieve "consultation" in a hothouse atmosphere reminiscent of that experienced by the residents of Waubra.

There will be a vote in June that TasWind say will have to achieve 60 per cent “for” vote before they even embark on an expensive feasibility study.

TasWind are not doing a very good job of winning approval. In fact, they are being outplayed at every turn. They were ill-advised not to do a feasibility study first so that people could have dealt with facts about location and profiling of the towers.

If Tom Waterhouse were running a book, it is the writer’s guess the TasWind proposal to do a study would be odds-on to be defeated — scratched before even reaching the starting gate!

Their tactic is blowing up in their face, as the debate on the Island has been comprehensively hijacked by interests with a much broader agenda than King Island, linked with a campaign to stop wind farms — all over Australia.

People on the Island, of course, have valid reasons to be against the project related to the visual impact of so many turbines on such a relatively small island. Opinions on other matters are, so far, not assessed — such as impact on tourism, the mooted golf courses and NIMBY factors which always look bogus until – well – until it is YOUR backyard.

But the matter has attracted the "professional "anti-wind lobby to King Island — a place they'd probably never given a second thought to before.

It's a case of "round up the usual suspects” and it didn't take long for the discredited anti-wind group – the so called "Waubra Foundation" and their backers – to line up the locals opposed to the proposal. How this can be called a "Foundation" escapes this correspondent. Sandi Keane has written extensively in Independent Australia about the dubious credentials of this group, their murky sources of finances and clear links to the fossil fuel lobby. A mind-boggling chart of the web of interests can be found in Professor Simon Chapman's article in Crikey.

Ironically, King Island is a model for renewable energy as a small wind farm and large dynamic solar array currently provide the island with about 60 per cent of its power. It could easily supply 100 per cent if storage issues can be overcome. No cases of wind turbine sickness have ever been reported before now and probably not even heard of by 99 per cent of the people who now swear it may be the death of them if even the feasibility study goes ahead. They’ve closed their ears to the weight of medical evidence on this topic. It's a marriage of convenience.

In a small community of about 1,600 (down about 300 in five years), this is causing tragic social division that appears to also be splitting the community between "old" and "new" residents. This was touched on directly by a recent letter to the local newspaper, the King Island Courier, by well-known identity and businessperson, Julie Arnold. Her husband, Charles Arnold, was a long term Mayor.

New King Island_beef new logoThe context is a declining population and closure last year of the JBS Swift abattoir has forced jobs off the island and created headaches for farmers who now have to ship all their cattle live off the Island. King Island Beef is now killed off shore and shipped back!

Mrs Arnold argues that the island needs the wind farm to revive the local economy, create jobs and permit development of sustained shipping links and wharf infrastructure. It will bring kids back into a school that has declining class numbers. It will revive small businesses that have seen their turnovers plummet in the last nine months since the abattoir closed.

The so-called "new" residents are on the island for lifestyle reasons — to enjoy the beauty and peace and the many attractions of living in such a place. Mrs Arnold's point is they do not depend on the Island for their livelihood.

[caption id="attachment_40757" align="alignnone" width="654"]DSC_8029-1 King Island beaches are popular with tourists

These are generalisations, as people straddle both camps, but there is truth in the basis of argument.

What is mostly missing from the debate on the Island is a sense of the broader picture. Climate change, global warming and the 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 that both political parties have to achieve rarely get a mention and are certainly not prioritised.

The anti-wind group is fiercely parochial and regard it as particularly offensive that the power to be generated on Island will be "exported” to the mainland. Not even to Tasmania!

This view thrives despite the fact that the mainland buys the produce of King Island and that King Island – indeed the whole of Tasmania – is heavily subsidised by the extra share of GST it gets.

It also ignores the fact that the Tasmanian Government, in 2011-2012, paid Hydro Tasmania $8 million to met the extra costs of "Community Service Obligations" to the Bass Strait Islands, which includes King Island.

A victory is pending for the national and international anti-wind groups – who are almost certainly funded by the fossil fuel lobby – which will have collateral damage to the quest for the 20 per cent target set for Australia.

And the divisiveness of the discussion is already inflicting collateral damage on the previously tightly knit community.

(Deputy editor's note: In less than a fortnight, the small community of King Island will vote on whether a crucial part of Australia's clean energy future should proceed to the next stage. But the islanders are divided, after claims by the Waubra Foundation and their controversial CEO Dr Sarah Laurie. Don't miss Sarah Dingle's investigation on ABC's Background Briefing broadcast Sunday 26 May 2013, as she combs through the facts and tests all the claims by the anti-wind forces.)

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