Infigen Community Engagement
17 December 2011
Gaining community support of our developments is essential for Infigen Energy. While it is agreed that safe and clean energy should form a significant part of our energy portfolio in the future, the location of wind farms can often be contentious.
Infigen welcomes the elevated interest in its development proposals from project inception. It is Infigen’s preference to provide information to the public from the start rather than surprise or offend residents when a wind farm is being constructed. It is therefore Infigen’s priority to engage with the community at the first opportunity.
“Don’t tell me, show me” delivers dividends
Effectively engaging with stakeholders and talking through people’s concerns is a priority for Infigen. We strive to improve how we do this and continue to learn. Despite following best practice when it comes to our developments, we understand that the information published from a variety of sources is often conflicting and this makes it difficult for communities in which we look to operate make informed decisions.
To inform our decision-making processes, Infigen refers to scientific peer-reviewed research. In many instances, there is an overwhelming volume of research and the research is often technically or physically inaccessible to those who have concerns.
It is for this reason that Infigen invited an independent acoustic expert to the most recent community information session at Cherry Tree to answer any questions visitors might have about the various sounds generated by wind farms. Logically wind farms are located in areas where there is a strong wind resource. For this reason there is often significant audible background noise caused by, amongst others, wind passing through trees and bushes and wind interfering with man-made objects.
The acoustic expert explained in layman’s terms the independent noise compliance testing procedures that must be undertaken at wind farms. He also described the various aspects of these noises and brought recordings from an operating wind farm of wind turbine sounds at various distances.
“Having attended information days without the presence of independent experts, we know there is always a technical question that we cannot answer because we do not have the relevant in-depth expertise. We can certainly see the difference it makes having an independent consultant to address the concerns directly and will invite them along in the future,” says Laura Dunphy, Development Manager at Infigen.
Getting the community on board
Supporting the community throughout the development, construction and subsequently the operation of the wind farm can be a difficult task. This is often related to the degree of alignment between the local community and its local council. Despite councils receiving contributions from wind farm developers, some communities have voiced concerns. They fear this misalignment will result in them not seeing a tangible benefit to the development.
Recognising this Infigen has proposed setting up a community wind farm cooperatives as part of its Flyers Creek wind farm proposal. This is the first commercial wind farm development proposal in Australia to offer this cooperative initiative.
Year 2012 is the official UN year of cooperatives. Based on Infigen’s initiative, 15 local residents from the Orange, Blayney and Bathurst areas of New South Wales have initiated the formation of the Central NSW Renewable Energy Cooperative (CNREC). The volunteers with the assistance of Infigen and legal representatives are preparing the Rules and Disclosure Statements that will hopefully lead way to the establishment of the cooperative. In the first few weeks, approximately 70 prospective members have registered their interest with the cooperative. Interest is growing with the ultimate goal being that the cooperative will buy and own a turbine at Flyers Creek wind farm.
This initiative has been a learning experience for all stakeholders and it has given Infigen the opportunity to work more closely with the community in the Flyers Creek area. This has enabled us to truly understand how we can meet their expectations and demonstrate that we will deliver on our commitments.
“A lot of work is still to be done and patience is required to form the cooperative in 2012. We are very excited to see the wind cooperative initiative getting a life of its own as the proposed CNREC. This initiative has brought together people willing to dedicate their time to doing something good for their community,” says Marju Tonisson, Communications Coordinator at Infigen.
The cooperative initiative will hopefully take off in all the communities with proposed wind farms.
For more information visit www.windcoop.com.au.