If the Tara Springs wind farm goes ahead as proposed, it could result in more than a million dollars being put into a community fund for the villages of Woolbrook, Walcha Road, Wollun, Kentucky and Bendemeer project manager Nathan Kelly says.
"As well as paying benefits to the landholders and those impacted by the development we also pay a benefit to the community based on the number of turbines involved," Mr Kelly said.
"The most recent project we've done is the Dulacca Wind Farm in Queensland, and the community there decided that if the project proceeds they prefer that the benefit payment is paid upfront so we will put $1.25 million into a community fund and then it is up to them to decide what to do with that."
The Dulacca Wind Farm in Queensland consists of 43 turbines while 60 to 80 turbines producing 400MW of energy to 190,000 homes are proposed for Tara Springs.
Mr Kelly said the way the benefit funds are typically set up is to include villages within a specified kilometre distance around the project. Hence, the benefits go directly to the communities impacted and not just to the local council. Input will be sought from the community to inform and shape how the fund could be implemented.
The company behind the Tara Springs project is the worlds' largest independently owned renewable energy operator. Renewable Energy Systems (RES) was started in 1982 as part of the Sir Robert McAlpine group of engineering and construction companies and has a 17 GW portfolio of projects around the globe across wind, solar and battery storage. RES also asset manages over 5 GW of renewable energy projects globally.
Sir Robert McAlpine Limited is a private British company which carries out engineering and construction for the oil and gas, petrochemical, power generation, nuclear, pharmaceutical, defence, chemical, water and mining industries.
Established in Australia since 2004, RES' recent projects include; Taralga Wind Farm, Turrawarra and Tarleigh Park Solar Farms in NSW, Ararat and Murra Warra Wind Farms in VIC, Twin Creek Wind Farm in SA, and the Emerald Solar Farm and Dulacca Wind Farm in QLD.
Last week RES took the first step in community engagement and held open house information mornings in both Bendemeer and Woolbrook with more than thirty people attending each session.
"We were very happy with the meetings given the weather," Mr Kelly said.
"The community is lovely - the local CWA groups set up morning tea in the local halls, and it was good to just talk to everyone. A lot of them were involved in other renewable projects, and they were excited to see more going ahead."
Mr Kelly said no significant issues were raised at the meetings other than some questions around views and noise levels.
"There were no really big concerns from the community as they had all heard about renewable projects as there are so many going on in the area - people were just trying to understand the levels of visual impact and noise involved," he said.
"We had our visual and noise consultant come along to the morning, and we showed our visual and noise map depicting what we think our impact will be. Our consultants were able to talk people through what the impact would be on their individual homes."
The Tara Springs Wind Farm will span two private properties on land located between Armidale and Tamworth.
"This location has been chosen due to the excellent wind resource, proximity to the transmission network and the low number of identified constraints," Mr Kelly said.
"The project will be comprised of a wind farm, a battery storage facility and associated infrastructure."
RES is just at the first stage of the project and if all goes to plan construction is not expected to begin until late 2022 or early 2023, but Mr Kelly said during the construction period between 150 and 200 direct jobs will be generated.
"In addition, approximately 8 to10 full-time staff will be required during the operation and maintenance phase," he said.
"The employment benefits extend through the local supply chain to tradespersons, tool and equipment suppliers, fencing and landscaping, vehicle hire and servicing, hotels/motels, B&B's, cafés, fuel supply, pubs, catering and cleaning companies, and many other businesses."
RES has been monitoring wind speed on the two properties involved for the last two years, and following community consultation plans to submit a Scoping Report to the New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) to obtain Secretary's Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs).