- Go to acciona.com
Driving into Waubra, wind turbines aren’t exactly inconspicuous.
The 128 turbines, each about 120 metres tall at their highest, generate enough electricity to power a city the size of Ballarat three or four times, according to the company that runs them, Acciona.
They’ve also been there 10 years, making them one of Victoria’s longer serving wind farms.
There was conflict when they were announced, with bitter divisions which have taken years to heal - some landholders sold up and moved, claiming the noise from the turbines had affected their health.
With the announcement of hundreds more turbines in the district to be built in the next few years, and the potential for a major renewable energy training centre based in Ballarat, The Courier swung by the town, half an hour north-west of Ballarat, to see how the community was getting on 10 years later.
The wind farm was officially commissioned in October 2009, after plenty of challenges to get the turbines up and running.
Waubra Primary School principal Cameron Landry was playing football for the mighty Waubra Kangaroos at the time.
“They offered employment to a lot of local footballers, kept them in town and helped out a few players that needed jobs at the time,” he said.
“A few good mates had jobs through the wind farm for a number of years while the installation was happening.”
The school is one of dozens of community groups in the area to receive funding from the company - it’s helped keep the students there up to date with technology, as well as gain a lived understanding of what renewable energy is.
Also among the recipients is the Waubra Football Netball Club, and president Simon Tol, while grateful, is quick to dispel rumours - it’s certainly not north of $100,000 per year, or even across the entire 10 years.
“It’s a common misconception,” he said, adding the club always needed more juniors.
He has noted the way the community’s gotten on with having the giant turbines in their backyard - it’s put Waubra on the map somewhat.
Attached to the football club is the community hub, and that’s where assistant secretary Kerryn Gallagher holds court.
She’s been there from the start - the initial community meetings, the concerns about noise and electromagnetic interference, the beginning of the anti-wind farm Waubra Foundation - the name of which some in the town are still unhappy about - and the benefits that have come to the community.
The 128 turbines aren’t going anywhere, she said, but other communities that are apprehensive should keep an open mind.
“Listen to both sides of the story,” she said.
“Don’t get caught up in the hype of false information or accusations, you really have to be open and listen.”
The community fund was the selling point - it’s not just the school and CFA brigades, Ms Gallagher said she was surprised to see the company quietly helping other causes, like a neighbour who needed a ramp installed after suffering a stroke.
This is the level of community engagement needed to bring a small town on-board with a massive infrastructure project, according to former Waubra site manager Melanie Robertson.
Now the chief executive of the Committee for Ballarat, Ms Robertson was there from 2012, when the site was operational.
“I look back on it as a fun experience, but there were certainly some challenges, and we did a lot of work in regard to cultural change -not just at at the site, but also in the organisation and in the community,” she said.
“We became a lot more transparent in our operations and more involved in the community, with visits from schools, models, and getting involved in events.”
A spokesperson from Acciona said not much has changed in terms of the getting a wind farm off the ground, legislatively or otherwise.
“To build a wind farm, you still have to go through various planning processes and approvals, environmental studies, community relations activities and so on,” they said.
“What we have noticed is that more people want to be involved these days, from local government to residents, and that’s good because we aim to be long-term investors with productive local relationships.”
While not everyone is on board with the wind farm in Waubra, the debate is less fiery than it was - some people declined to comment when approached.
More importantly, the sheep farms still seem to be going strong, even with turbines looming over paddocks.
“The sheep follow the shadows of the towers,” Ms Gallagher said, smiling.
“The wounds are healing.”
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This article was published by Alex Ford in the Ballarat Courier.