BALD Hills Wind Farm is expected to be fully operational by the end of June 2015, with some of the turbines generating power as soon as December 2014. In recent weeks the giant turbine components have begun making their way by road from the Port of Hastings to the wind farm site approximately 10km south east of Tarwin Lower, travelling in the very early hours of the morning to minimise the impact on other road users. Delivery of the components is not expected to be completed until the end of October.
Reporting on progress of the project to South Gippsland Shire Council last Wednesday, the wind farm’s general manager, Matthew Croome, said that the installation of the wind turbines had begun and would continue until the end of the year. The turbines can be installed at a rate of two or three a week, using cranes, the largest of which has a 750 ton capacity. Underground cable trenching has also begun, with a 33kV underground cable to be laid between the 52 turbines and the substation. Depending on ground conditions, over a kilometre of cable can be installed each day.
The wind farm at Tarwin has been a contentious proposal since the Environment Effects Statement and planning permit application were first prepared in 2003. The Victorian Minister for Planning issued a planning permit approving the use and development of the land for a 52 wind turbine facility in August 2004, but construction at the site did not begin until August 2012.
Access tracks are now 65 per cent complete. Constructed through the re-use of excavated material, they will cover a total distance of approximately 28km and be 5m wide when completed.
The hardstands for the turbines are 56 per cent complete. These are large level gravel areas adjacent to each wind turbine necessary to support cranes during installation. The concrete foundations are 30 per cent complete.
Mr Croome acknowledged there had been some complaints from the community regarding construction at the site and, in particular, traffic in the vicinity of the wind farm. He said that a range of measures have been taken to alleviate any concerns. These include: reinforcing safety messages at all staff meetings; taking disciplinary action against drivers; getting police to check speeds; enforcing construction traffic speed limits; logging truck arrivals and departures to assist identification; widening sections of Buffalo Waratah Road; and trimming roadside vegetation to improve visibility. Furthermore, there are no deliveries of materials or work on the site outside the hours of 7am to 5pm (with the exception of over-dimensional loads), and water carts have been employed to minimise dust.
The wind farm is expected to eventually generate sufficient power to meet the electricity needs of up to 62,000 average households. As well as the environmental benefits of this clean energy, there are economic benefits – rates for South Gippsland Shire; employment opportunities in the construction phase and, to a lesser extent, the operational phase; and procurement of goods and services from local businesses.
Mr Croome said that to date over 500 people have been inducted to work at the wind farm site. The daily workforce peaked at over 200 people in the month prior to Easter. Currently around 150 to 175 people work at the site each day. That figure is expected to drop to about 60 in August. Of the people who have been employed on the project, 43 live within 50km of the site, a further 61 within 100 km and a further 40 within 150km. Of these 144, the largest groups by profession are truck drivers, plant operators, crane rigger operators or labourers. They include three apprentices.
The wind farm will yield additional benefits for the community, with money set aside in a Community Fund. Mr Croome explained that community members would be invited to be part of a group to decide how best to use that money. Already, the wind farm has given support to the Tour de Tarwin cycle event.