‘Green’ energy’s environmental hurdle

The Forest Wind project aims to turn the near-Gympie forest area into a renewable energy resource.

Arthur Gorrie

Environmental issues remain the big challenge for a giant $2 billion green energy wind farm between Gympie and the Cooloola Coast, as the proposal heads for federal environmental assessment.

The proposed 1200 megawatt project had a rocky passage through state parliament last year and now faces assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the same law which saved the Mary Valley from inundation by the failed Traveston Crossing dam proposal.

Former State Development Minister Kate Jones backed the 11200-megawatt Forest Wind project in state parliament during heated discussion in August last year.

Ms Jones said the project would provide “significant economic benefits for the state, including 440 jobs during construction and up to 50 full-time operational jobs.”

The project, including 226 large turbine structures in the pine plantations between Gympie and the Cooloola Coast, attracted strong concerns from the Opposition at that time.

Ms Jones’ Opposition counterpart Andrew Powell said the project was so huge it would be “clearly visible” from Fraser Island.

The LNP was concerned about secrecy and a lack of timely public consultaiton on noise and visual impacts, he said.

It would be the biggest energy development in the near-Gympie area and would be built “across tends of thousands of hectares within the Toolara, T/uan and Neerdie state forests,” he said.

“The Forest Wind project is on a scale that neither of the impacted Gympie or Fraser Coast local government areas have ever seen before,” he said.

The LNP did not oppose new law to facilitate the project but was concerned residents had been kept in the dark during three years of “secret” government negotiations.

Gympie MP Tony Perrett said other landowners, were worried they might find powerlines planned across their properties.

Now the project will be assessed by the Federal Environment Department, according to information announced by the company, Forest Wind, recently.

The company and the state government have rejected criticism of consultation efforts, with strong support from Fraser Coast politicians at state and council levels.

Wide Bay federal MP Llew O’Brien said outside the assessment under the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Protection Act the fate of the wind farm rests solely in the hands of the Queensland Government.

“I don’t have any input into the decision making process,” Mr O’Brien said.

“I support cheap reliable dispatchable power,” he said, adding that he was “disappointed at secrecy” when it was first announced.

Forest Wind said the project would ultimately be able to power one quarter of Queensland homes.

Forest Wind’s newsletter said it had been investigating the best way to haul items including the turbines’ blades and towers into the area.

“Once the transport routes have been further refined, we will share these plans and consult with the local community,” the company said.

“The Forest Wind team has been busy working on many aspects of the Project over recent months, including wind resource measurement, site design and optimisation, logistics studies, environment and planning studies, grid connection studies and ongoing community engagement,” a company statement said.

“We are preparing our Request for Information (RFI) report which will be submitted to the Federal Department of Environment, after which the Department will advise on the public notification period as required under the EPBC Act. Once this public notice period is known, we will notify the community.

“The team has been investigating transport routes for delivery of major components such as blades, towers and nacelles to the Project site. This has involved an extensive logistics study to assess road and port entries and the most efficient way to deliver the components to where they are needed with the least impacts.

“Once the transport routes have been further refined, we will share these plans and consult with the local community.

“Our wind engineers have been busy collecting wind and climate data from the Project site. This extensive data is being used by the whole team which includes our own wind engineers, the turbine manufacturer team and an independent third party wind expert team, in an ongoing complex process of optimisation in order to determine the precise locations of the wind turbines within Forest Wind’s Development Permit conditions.

“We are planning to conduct another round of community engagement and information sessions in local community halls when further information becomes available on the transportation routes and Stage 1 site design.

“Closer to the time, we will post notices of these events in upcoming newsletters and through local community information sites.

“We are currently revising the program and anticipate being able to provide an update in three months,” the Forest Wind information statement said.

“Forest Wind’s Community Reference Group met 11 September in Poona, 11 November in Boonooroo and the 23 February in Maryborough.

“Meetings of the FWCRG have provided a great opportunity to address community questions and concerns regarding the Project and for members to provide feedback on various aspects of the Project. “The FWCRG is also an important stakeholder in the development of the Forest Wind Community Benefits Sharing strategy, ” it said.

“We were very pleased to have a stall at the Envirotech Day Gympie on 17 April 2021. There was a strong turn out from the local Gympie community with many people interested in low or zero emissions technologies, including electric vehicles, roof top solar and battery storage,” a company representative said.

“The team is working on the Forest Wind Community Benefits Sharing strategy. This strategy will identify how Forest Wind will work in partnership with local community organisations and groups to deliver initiatives that create lasting benefits in the region.”

The spokesman said the company would be working closely with contractors and local stakeholders to maximise local employment opportunities, including identifying training and skills development opportunities, and connecting job seekers with employers.

“We are particularly interested in hearing from the Traditional Owners of the land, the Butchulla and Kabi Kabi people,” he said.

“Local businesses are invited to lodge Expressions of Interest to supply goods or services via our Project Page on the ICN Gateway at forestwind.icn.org.au,” he said.