Communities and wind power

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Jarra Hicks shares experiences of community-owned wind power in Europe and considers the implications for wind power in Australia.

We are currently facing a dilemma in Australia. Wind power often gets a hard rap in the press and is met with suspicion, if not concern, by communities. Yet it is currently the most deployable and cost-effective form of renewable energy, especially at larger scales.

Although a diversity of renewable energy technologies operating at a variety of scales will likely be essential to transforming Australia’s electricity supply to largely, or wholly, renewable sources, there is no doubt that wind power will play an important role in the next decade and beyond. Wind power is projected to be the major contributing technology for achieving Australia’s 20% by 2020 renewable energy target. But will this be possible in the current socio-political context? How can we ensure wind power is delivered in a way that builds social acceptance and contributes positively to communities?

A recent trip to Denmark and Germany provided a comparison point.

In Denmark, wind development comes in all shapes and sizes and, more often than not, local people are involved in owning and benefitting from the presence of wind turbines in the landscape. Germany is much the same, with more than 50% of its installed wind capacity owned directly by the citizens (Gipe, 2012). Sometimes, wind power supplies just one home or farm; other times a group of homes, a town or a region become net electricity exporters, as happens with the larger wind farms common in Australia.

In Australia, the wind industry has been dominated by one development model: large farms, comprising 30 to 120 1.5+ MW turbines, owned by corporate developers. Although this model has meant that Australia can now boast at least a small wind industry, supplying 1.5% of national electricity demand (and 24% in SA in 2011–12), it has had some down sides.

For whatever reason (one can hypothesise about self-interested lobby groups, inequitable distribution of financial benefits or inadequate community engagement), wind power has emerged as a contentious socio-political issue, culminating in the introduction of highly restrictive wind development guidelines in Victoria in late 2011. These laws subject wind power to a development approval regime that is stricter than for any other form of development in Australia and is the strictest of any wind-related regulation in the world.

Rather than focusing on how this came to be the state of play, this article focuses on the factors that build community support; the things that can lay the foundations for a vibrant wind industry.

Read the full article in ReNew 123

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