Thursday, July 24, 2008

Victorian community goes it alone on wind farm

ABC News Online, Posted 2 hours 49 minutes ago 

Updated 2 hours 48 minutes ago

While debate continues over when an emissions trading scheme should be implemented and its effects, the residents of two towns in regional Victoria have taken matters into their own hands.

Frustrated that state and federal governments are not doing enough to address climate change, the people are going it alone with their own wind farm.

Shares in Australia's first community-owned wind project go on sale today with expectations the offer will be oversubscribed.

The Hepburn Wind farm, near Daylesford, north-west of Melbourne, includes two turbines which it's claimed will produce enough power for 2,300 households; nearly all of the homes in the area.

Shares in the Hepburn Wind project will be offered to the local residents of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs first and foremost.

Costing $4 million each, the two turbines on Leonards Hill will eventually power 2,300 homes, which is most of the homes in the area.

Common in Denmark and Germany, the community-owned wind farm will be the first of its kind in Australia.

"We're aiming to raise $9.6 million over the next three months," says the chairman of Hepburn Wind Simon Holmes a Court.

"Investors will be buying shares in Australia's first community-owned wind park.

"It is being offered under the co-operative structure. Like any business, we will, after we take our revenue in, we will pay out our expenses and what's left over is profit.

"We will be giving a small amount of that to a community sustainability fund, but it's going to really add up over the life of the project," he added.

"We will be giving $1 million to the local community to look after local initiatives that address sustainability, but the majority of the profits will go the individuals who invest in our co-operative."

Mr Holmes a Court says not only will the wind farm power local homes, it will also contribute to the national grid.

"On days when the wind is blowing hard in Daylesford, which is often, we will be exporting power out of the area and days when the wind is rather still, we will be importing, but over a year average, it will be a net zero," he says.

Frustrated with government inaction on climate change, he says a group of residents took it upon themselves to examine the project.

"Rather than waiting for the Government, the community has got together and said, 'We as a community want to take a lead in the fight against climate change. We all have a deep and shared responsibility to do something about the problem and we're able to do it.'

"The people of Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and Hepburn Shire in general have got together with a very strong voice and said, 'We can do this, we can take care of our own energy needs and we're starting that today'."

Three years ago another wind farm project involving 20 turbines was rejected by the local community, but consultation, bus tours, downsizing and a sense of ownership all appear to have reversed community sentiments.

"This project is a local project, locally controlled and locally owned," says manager David Shapero.

The project received close to $1 million in funding from the Victorian Government.

Former environment minister and now professor at Monash University's Sustainability Institute John Thwaites will speak at today's launch.

"We have seen a lot of disputes around wind farms but this is a great example of a community and wind farm developers coming together to get a good outcome," he said.

The project is expected to be finished in 2010.

Based on a report by Alison Caldwell for AM.

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