Frequently Asked Questions

 

Q - What is "New England Wind" (NEW)?

A - NEW isa project which aims to establish the first community-owned wind farm in NSW. NEW will establish a community-owned wind farm of 3-6 turbines (depending on financial considerations and grid capacity), able to produce a susbstantial portion of the residential electricity usage of the New England Region. NEW has arisen from a vision for long-term energy self-sufficiency for New England.
 
Q - Who are the people involved?

 A – A dedicated group of individuals and community organisations has been leading the NEW project with the prospect of establishing the first community wind farm in NSW. NEW has been established under the auspices of Starfish Enterprises which also promotes this project. The New England Wind Consortium operates as a Steering Committee, while expertise is contracted to carry out necessary work. Details of the Team behind this project can be found here.

 
Q - Why is wind energy important for our future?

 A - Wind power harnesses the inexhaustible energy of the wind to generate electricity. It is one of the most cost-effective renewable energy sources. The technology to harvest it is well proven, and is already being used widely around the world to provide reliable electricity. In Australia it is important to replace our reliance on non-renewable and polluting coal-fired power stations with power supplied from renewable sources such as wind.

 
Q - What benefits will the 'community wind farm' seek to deliver for people in New England?

 A - A community-owned wind farm based on the New England Tablelands will have significant benefits for residents, businesses and organisations in this region. Such projects create local jobs and increase awareness and education about renewable energy. There will be local participation in planning and ownership and increased employment and business opportunities during the construction phase. Once the windfarm is operating, financial benefits from the wind power produced will remain in the community.

 

Q - Wind farms can have various impacts - how would these be addressed?

 A – Wind farms can have a range of potential environmental impacts, including:

·         Visual/landscape impacts;

·         Noise from the operation of the turbines/blades;

·         Impacts on wildlife, including potential impacts on birds;

·         Blade glint or shadow flicker

·         Potential social impacts; and

·         Construction impacts.

 

Responsible wind farm proponents should address all such issues, as well as the energy generation potential of a site, as part of the site selection process.  When a proposal proceeds to a development application (DA), all potential impacts need to have been considered and fully documented for community consideration and independent planning assessment.

 In NSW, a DA for a wind farm proposal with a capital investment value exceeding $5million is currently assessed by the local council planners and determined by an independent Regional Planning Panel.  Alternatively, where a wind farm project:

(a) has a capital investment value of more than $30 million, or

(b) has a capital investment value of more than $10 million and is located in an environmentally sensitive area of State significance,

then the DA is assessed by the State Department of Planning and determined by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission.

 The State Government has also issued Draft Planning Guidelines for Wind Farms (Dec. 2011), and these - or the final version which supersedes them - will have a significant bearing on the planning assessment.  Among other things, the Draft Guidelines propose a precautionary approach to the siting and development of windfarms, including noise limits among the strictest in the world for this type of development.  Moreover, they require that where turbines are proposed within 2km of existing residences, the proponent must obtain either the consent of all owners of the land on which the residences lie or a site compatibility certificate (SCC) from the Regional Panel for the area in which the proposal is located before a DA is submitted.

 For further information see:

 http://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/en-us/policyandlegislation/renewableenergy.aspx

 

SODAR-related Q & A's


Q: What does a SODAR do?

A: It is a portable wind monitoring unit designed to measure the wind speeds in three dimensions and up to 200m above ground level. A box-trailer sized unit sends up a signal to measure the scattering of sound waves by atmospheric turbulence. which is then reflected back to the SODAR where the data is logged continuously.

Wind speed is the single most important factor in determining how much energy a turbine can produce. Installing a fixed wind monitoring mast may cost $70,000+ for a site, whereas the cost of  leasing the SODAR is covered by the grant we received

Q. What’s the significance of the SODAR for New England Wind and the community windfarm sector?

A: NEW is very grateful to have been awarded a grant by the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage to hire the SODAR and gain on-site wind data to assess the viability of possible sites for our community windfarm.

At the same time we took an innovative step to partner with Embark Australia to enable them to purchase the SODAR outright ~ which represents a positive step-change for the community windfarm sector. Community windfarm projects, including NEW, can now hire and measure wind resources for far less cost. We expect the unit to have a ten year operating life and as such make a real difference to the community energy sector.

Q: Where is NEW doing the monitoring?

A: A number of sites across the Tablelands, each for 3 months, possibly including one site in each of Uralla, Walcha, Armidale Dumaresq and Guyra Shires

Q: Why do you need to measure the wind when there’s a wind atlas available showing wind?

A: The wind atlas doesn’t provide actual wind speeds, but just gives an indication of the areas where wind speed is likely to be higher than in other parts of the state. Use of the SODAR will increase certainty and reduce risk, which will help to make a business case for a wind farm. It will strengthen the collection of real wind data for this region.

Q: Is the data that is collected for only 3 months as good as that collected for 12 months at a site?         

A: The data from 3 months at a particular site in this region will then be compared to long-term data from Armidale Airport weather station, de-seasonalised, and extrapolated over a full year. This will give a fairly accurate picture of wind performance over an average year at that site.

But once a site has been indentified as promising and a decision has been made to proceed, further monitoring should occur to verify probable annual speeds and direction.

Q: What’s the impact of the operation of the SODAR on the environment/surrounding area?

A: There is no physical impact as it’s just a small transportable trailer. It needs to be protected from cattle by a fence to prevent any damage to equipment from rubbing or chewing on it. Otherwise normal grazing activity can be carried out around the SODAR. There is a beeping noise emitted from the SODAR but this is only noticeable close to the equipment.

Q: Why is the New England Wind project taking so long?

A: We had expected it to take 4 to 6 years, and following the principles established at public forums, we had selected a site that looked promising. In 2013, before starting to measure the wind, we learned that the necessary connection to the grid for that site was way beyond the capacity of the project. Further sites are still being investigated.

Recent Government policies have created uncertainty for the whole of the renewable energy industry, and many commercial projects are on hold.

Q: How long will it take, after you’ve done this wind measurement, before you build a windfarm?

A: See the Project Development Timeline on the NEW website. Wind and site assessment are early parts of the Development Phase. Seven further stages after that will include: Business Model, Community Engagement, Planning/DA, Financing, Grid Connection, Turbine Selection and Purchase. All of that before construction can start.

Q: What approvals are needed?

A: No approvals are necessary to monitor wind with a SODAR. However, there is a rigorous process for planning approval for a wind farm, and the planning requirements in NSW, especially regarding noise, are understood to be the most stringent in Australia and among the most stringent in the world.

 

The sort of windfarm we would expect to see developed in this area would currently be assessed independently either by the NSW Government's Northern Joint Regional Planning Panel or by the NSW Planning and Assessment Commission.  The (draft) guidelines for Wind Farm Development in NSW issued in 2011 and some separate FAQs about the planning process can be found here

http://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/en-us/policyandlegislation/renewableenergy.aspx

 

Q: Not much seems to be happening with wind energy in Australia, why are you still pursuing this project?

A: We are confident that “the long, slow arc of change is moving unequivocally” towards renewable energy. New England Wind was the first community energy organisation to receive NSW Government funding, and though we hadn’t anticipated the negative effects of national political uncertainties on renewable energy, we are positioned for a bright future, even though progress is slow.

 

Q: Is there an educational aspect to the SODAR, beyond the actual data obtained?

A: We will use the presence of the SODAR in New England to continue to engage with the wider community to demystify some technical aspects of wind generation. There may be opportunities for the public and students to observe the SODAR, and to see the monitoring in progress.