Adam Blakester is the Project Director for New England Wind. This is a committee of dedicated volunteers working towards establishing our region’s very own wind farm …
Who is on the committee for New England Wind?
The committee has 8 members. Their role is to lead the project and take responsibility for all strategic decisions. This is an action-oriented group, with the mix of skills and contacts.
The other members and specialities are Chris Blanksby (wind engineer), Andy Cavanagh-Downs (community-owned renewable energy), Liz Gardiner (renewable energy), Patsy Asch (communications), Paul Cruickshank (government policy and funding), Karen Zirkler (landholder relations), Will Winter (business development) and Barbara Finch (community development).
Why do you believe we need a wind farm?
Two years ago we conducted a series of forums, surveys and meetings, asking the community about how they would like their electricity to be handled. This involved more than 1,300 people and overwhelmingly, they wanted three things.
First, they wanted clean and renewable energy and to move beyond coal. Concerns about unconventional coal seam gas were just beginning to emerge at that time, and there was deep concern for the need to protect farmland, water systems and nature.
Second, the community wanted to have electricity created close to where they use it. There are two excellent sources of currently usable renewable energy in the New England – wind and solar.
Wind was preferred, because the technology is more mature and significantly more affordable than large-scale solar.
Third, the community wanted to own their power system. In fact, the strongest message which came through was that we should be aiming to own our entire energy system. That’s a much bigger vision; however, a community-owned wind farm will take us some way towards achieving it.
Where does the idea of a community-owned wind farm come from?
We have been deeply inspired by Hepburn Wind, which is in Daylesford, Victoria. They are Australia’s first community-owned wind farm, and so far the only one. They were recently awarded the 2012 World Wind Energy Award at the World Wind Energy Conference, Germany.
New England Wind aims to be Australia’s second community-owned wind farm.
While this is a new idea in Australia, it is a very common model in Western Europe and North America. In Germany, more than 90,000 people are employed by community-owned renewable energy projects.
There are lots of benefits from community-ownership. Electricity is a basic need, so owning your own power is very useful. We also then keep the jobs and business suppliers local, as well as the financial returns. Hepburn Wind have a community fund for other sustainability projects, and we will set up a community benefits fund for the same purpose.
What is the proposed location for the wind farm?
We have analysed more than 120 sites, which were voluntarily offered to us to consider. The current preferred location is an area known as Woodville East, which is about 20 km to the north-east of Armidale. We are working closely with five landholders where the actual wind farm would go, plus their immediate neighbours and the wider community.
What is the timeline to develop the wind farm?
Our current priority is to thoroughly assess the wind farm site. We are arranging on-site wind monitoring and determining the cost of connecting to the electricity grid. This phase of work will take around one year.
A further two years of work will then be required for planning approvals, permits and various studies to be completed (environmental, social, financial, legal).
All going well, we will be in a position to raise funds to build the wind farm in 3 – 4 years from today.
So you can see, this is a very long-term commitment. However, we believe it is worth it. A wind farm will produce electricity for 25 years or more (especially if the wind turbines are re-furbished or renewed for another 25 years after that).
Do you have sufficient community support for this project?
We have had overwhelmingly positive support for the project so far; however, we have a long way to go and would welcome more!
We are very thankful to our past financial sponsors and funders (NSW Government, New England Mutual, Sustainable Living Armidale and Starfish Enterprises) and our current in-kind partners (particularly Embark, Environmental Defenders’ Office, Australian Community Energy and Wilson & Co Lawyers).
How do you plan to educate our community on the benefits of this project?
A comprehensive community education process goes hand-in-hand with development of a community wind farm. There are several streams to this, including: community forums (like those we are currently doing with the near neighbourhood around Woodville East); our web presence (which includes resources that range from general information right through to technical research); and in-person discussions (which we have a great many of).
Who will fund this project, and are you looking for donations and/or investors?
The whole idea of a community-owned wind farm is that eventually we will raise funds for shares from local residents and businesses across the New England. However, there is quite a lot of work we need to get done before we can legally issue a share offer.
In the short-term, the funds we need will be raised from a combination of donations, fundraising, sponsorship, grants and early investors.
We would certainly welcome any and all contact from people who are interested in this!
Where to from here?
Our immediate focus is raising funds for the wind monitoring to thoroughly assess the site. A fundraising campaign will be launched soon to assist with this.
At the same time, we will continue with our communication and meetings with the community, landholders, neighbours and authorities.
NE Wind contact details?
Current information about the project is on our website www.newenglandwind.coop or we can be emailed at email@example.com. To stay up to date, people can sign up for our newsletter (via the website) or ‘like’ us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/NewEnglandWind. All project reports and technical research documents are available at: http://www.scribd.com/NewEnglandWind
This story was published in issue 64 of the New England Focus