Saturday, June 22, 2024

James Lister speaks out: wind farms blow the seeds of community division

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James Lister MP, Member for Southern Downs, Allora Advertiser

Recent talk of more wind farm developments in our electorate of Southern Downs has stirred up all kinds of anger and ill feeling in the community. The fundamental problem is the exclusion of local input from state government level decisions over where wind and solar farms should be.

As our representative in the Queensland Parliament, I have a duty to express to the Queensland Labor government the concerns which people raise with me. And on this topic, the overwhelming majority of people who have contacted my office and spoken with me in person over the past two months have told me to voice opposition to more “wind farms without consultation or compensation”. In fact, if it wasn’t for concerned constituents contacting me, I would not have known that companies were quietly going door-to-door seeking landowners to host wind farms near Allora and Greymare. And that lack of community engagement breeds suspicions and makes things worse.

Last week I spoke in parliament and wrote to the Energy Minister, The Hon Mick de Brenni MP, to express the concerns which local councils and residents have raised with me. I publicly published the letter and the speech on my facebook page “James Lister MP – Member for Southern Downs” last week, so that it would be clear to everyone exactly what I have said on this matter.

As I understand things, there are no formal proposals for wind farms around Allora or Greymare at the moment. So far there are only reports of speculative approaches to some local landowners. But what we DO know is that large-scale wind and solar farms – along with the very large power line corridors to connect them – can be approved at state government level under Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) legislation, without the agreement or even input of local communities and local councils. In the case of power lines, this may even involve compulsory acquisitions.

Normally, if someone wants to build a road, a quarry, a feedlot, a gain depot or they wish to subdivide or realign property boundaries, they have to go through an approval process with their local council. In this process, the community is informed, and people have the right to object. If approved, such developments may have conditions attached to protect the interests of the community and the council. Our local council is quite rightly at the centre of that process and our councillors are accessible and accountable to the community for their decisions. But it is different with wind and solar farms and their connecting power lines in an REZ. This override of local community interests is at the heart of the problem with wind and solar farms.

When local communities learn through the grape vine (not through the state government) of potential wind or solar farm developments on their doorstep, they become understandably alarmed, particularly given that the state government has imposed limitations on their rights to have a say or object in REZs. Most of the potentially impacted people I’ve spoken with had no idea that their property is part of an REZ, despite the Labor state government saying that it consulted with communities in developing its REZ roadmap.

I have heard it said by those who desire wind farm developments that people who have moved to our electorate from elsewhere are being unreasonable in objecting to them. I can understand their point of view, especially if they are locals whose family have worked their land for generations. It’s true that over the decades, some of the loveliest areas of Southern Downs have seen an influx of residents onto subdivided blocks, or blocks made available to them by the realignment of property boundaries by local landowners.

Those enablers of recent rural zone population increases have been approved via democratically accountable local government processes, and the actions of local landowners themselves. People who have moved into our electorate are entitled to representation from me on state government matters, just as they are entitled to comment on or object to local government over development applications – even if the proposals to which they object are in fact appropriate uses under the local planning scheme zone involved.

The consequence of these changes in population is obvious. In some places – for example some of the areas around Allora and Greymare – the installation of power lines and wind generators, most of which are in excess of 600 feet in height, would result in only a fortunate minority of locals being compensated for the presence of a wind farm. For residents who worry that, without compensation, their property values may be reduced, their land resumed for power lines, or that their community may be diminished, it is understandable that they might seek to object. The trouble is that in REZs the normal mechanisms for people to register their objections and infl uence decision makers has been closed off by the state Labor government. And the developers who know this now have the whip hand. It’s this override of the usual safeguards of public opinion and council planning and approval processes which enables big multinationals to disregard local communities in ways impossible for the developers of other developments of similar scale.

Lastly, I have been asked “What is your alternative James?” My alternative is to review the state government’s laws on Renewable Energy Zones, and to restore – in legislation – a formal seat at the table for local people and local councils on all decisions about renewable energy project proposals impacting their communities. The inevitable result of this would be that large scale renewable energy projects would have to be sent further west, into remote country, and onto large landholdings where the neighbours of the property owner who decided to host a wind farm can’t see them.

I do not like this quarrel. I hate to see community division imposed on us by external forces not of our making. And I can understand the disappointment of landowners who want to host a wind farm when their MP expresses the voices of those people who object. But if the voices of local communities hadn’t been removed from these decisions by the Labor state Government in the first place, we probably wouldn’t be engaged in this quarrel at all.

Allora Advertiser 29 May 2024

This article appeared in the Allora Advertiser, 31 May 2024.

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