Southern hemisphere's largest wind farm proposed for Rokewood

The largest wind farm in the southern hemisphere could be built in Rokewood if a proposal put forward by renewable energy company WestWind gets the all-clear from the Golden Plains Shire and state government. 

The proposed development called Golden Plains Wind Farm would feature between 200 and 240 wind turbines across 38 private properties near the town 40 kilometres south of Ballarat. 

WestWind communications and stakeholder engagement manager Paige Ricci said the project would provide enourmous benefits for the local community and for clean energy production. 

“(The project has) been in the pipeline for a long time and we’ve been monitoring wind in the Golden Plains area for years now,” Ms Ricci said.  “Now we have a supportive state government in particular we think it’s the right time to move forward.” 

If given the go-ahead the farm is expected to produce 800 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 450,000 homes.  Developers expect the farm would save 2.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. 

While the company is currently in the pre-permit stage of the development, the total cost of the build could top $1.5 billion if given the green light. 

“Over the last couple of months we’ve been busy doing our environmental studies and we’ve got a lot to go yet because were at the beginning of this process,” Ms Ricci said.  

“One of the key reasons (why West Wind is looking to investing into the region) is there's a great wind resource there.” 

WestWind will hold a community information session at the Rokewood Hall on February 23 to meet with the town’s residents and explain the details of the proposal. 

Cultural heritage surveys of the area are also currently being undertaken by the company. 

“We're investing a lot in the community and have just come on board as the major sponsor of the Rokewood-Corindhap Football/Netball Club,” Ms Ricci said.  

“The opening day will be one of our biggest priorities.” 

The company already has a presence in the shire as the developer of the Mount Mercer Wind Farm, which has been fully operational since 2014 and is now owned by Meridian.  

It is also the permit developer for the proposed wind farms at Lal Lal and Moorabool, with construction of the latter expected to begin in mid-2017. Moorabool has since been sold to an investor. 

Ararat mayor lends his support

Ararat Rural City mayor Paul Hooper has encouraged his Golden Plains Shire counterparts to accept the development of the proposed Golden Plains Wind Farm, citing the economic benefits his shire’s two farms have had on the area. 

The Golden Plains proposal, which will be the biggest wind facility in the southern hemisphere if given the green light, is yet to go before the council. 

WestWind, the company behind the development, predicts the farm would pay $800,000 in rates annually to the shire if fully operational. 

Cr Hooper said the development of Pacific Hydro’s Challicum Hills Wind Farm in 2003 and the imminent opening of the Ararat Wind Farm in May this year had contributed more than $40 million into the local economy. 

“At its peak we’ve had more than 350 contractors working in the Ararat region on wind projects and they need somewhere to stay and eat,” Cr Hooper said.  

“We’ve now got two operations in Ararat and they inject enormous amounts of money back into the community, and when Ararat Wind Farm is up and running they will be the two biggest ratepayers in the shire.” 

While the project is still in the pre-planning stages, WestWind communications and stakeholder engagement manager Paige Ricci said the company hoped to hold its first official meetings with council in the coming weeks. 

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning was also made aware of the project in November 2016, but no formal planning application has yet been lodged with the planning minister. 

Golden Plains Shire councillor and Rokewood resident Helena Kirby said she was first made aware of the proposal two months ago.  

She said she was keen to “stay neutral” on the proposal given the controversy which has surrounded similar developments in Mount Mercer and Waubra. 

“I think a lot of the farmers are pretty keen for it to go ahead because turbines have proven to be good in droughts,” Cr Kirby said.  “It will be interesting to see how the township responds and I’m looking forward to their feedback.”