“It’s not about climate change.”
The more than 150 locals who attended a public meeting in Cooma on 17 May to voice opposition to the development of a wind farm south of the town were assured the protest was not about climate change.
It was about a wind farm being sited in an inappropriate location.
The meeting was called by REAL Monaro, an entity that supports renewable-energy initiatives, but is fighting to preserve the iconic Monaro Treeless Plains, which feature The Brothers, or Gugang in Ngarigo language, three prominent hills that many believe define the Monaro.
Speakers at the meeting included REAL Monaro’s Jim Litchfield, grazier and author Charlie Massy and solicitor Dominica Tannock of DST Legal.
Wind farm proponent Someva Renewables was invited to the meeting but declined the offer.
The meeting, held in the Alpine Hotel, attracted a diverse audience comprising farmers, graziers and townsfolk.
The overwhelming feeling of the meeting was that the proposed 266-metre wind towers were not welcome on the Monaro Treeless Plains.
Opening the meeting, Mr Litchfield referred to the irreplaceable and significant vision of the plains and The Brothers. He also referred to the significant cultural connection The Brothers had to the Ngarigo people.
He said the size of two towers would have them overshadow The Brothers and there would be few places on the Monaro from which the towers would not be visible.
He said REAL Monaro’s objection to the towers had nothing to do with climate change issues, but all to do with the towers being in the wrong place.
He said, by comparison, another great local area to capture wind power would be in Kosciuszko National Park, but that would also be inappropriate.
Mr Litchfield said the Monaro landscape “belongs to all of us”, not just a developer.
Mr Massy has spent many years farming in the area. He is a renowned author of, among other titles, Call of the Reed Warbler and The Last Dragon, two books that deal with species found on the Monaro Treeless Plains.
Mr Massy said there were at least five reasons why the wind farm should not proceed on the proposed location: one, it would create an industrial landscape; two, it is in conflict with the 23,000 years of Ngarigo culture; three, the plains landscape has significant tourism value; four, the location of the farm would impact endangered species such as the Monaro Earless Dragon and large raptors such as wedgetail eagles, a keystone species in the food chain.
Mr Massy said the fifth reason was that the “precautionary principle” must be applied to The Brothers – that is, it must be proved the development would do no harm.
The third speaker, Dominica Tannock, told the meeting: “This is not a done deal.”
Ms Tannock has been working with other community groups that have opposed wind farms in locations around Australia.
She said ultimately, the wind farm was a development application.
“This is not a fight about renewable energy, it is a fight about having Coonerang Wind Farm on Monaro lands,” she said.
Ms Tannock said the community had enormous power in deciding the outcome of the proposal.
She said she had written three letters to Someva Renewables to advise it of the meeting. A spokesperson for Someva had advised they would not attend but preferred to consult on a one-on-one basis.
Ms Tannock said Someva Renewables was owned by two Sydney businessmen who had been involved in similar developments elsewhere in Australia.
She said those developments had been sold off to other companies.
She cited as an example her representation of a small community in western Victoria that opposed a wind farm development.
She said it transpired the applicant had just been a shell company and the developers were Hydro Tasmania and China Investments.
Ms Tannock said it appeared some renewable projects were simply other countries’ means of meeting emissions targets, at Australia’s expense.
She gave the audience tips on how to deal with developers’ ”one-on-one” approaches and urged people to seek legal advice before signing anything.
REAL Monaro met Member for Monaro Steve Whan on 18 May and Mr Litchfield said it had been positive.
“He is sympathetic to our position and aware of the significant community opposition to this project,” Mr Litchfield said.
”We showed him the graphic of the wind towers in comparison to Sydney buildings and he was clearly unaware of the scale of these structures.”