Winds of change as island residents will be consulted

JUST imagine a small island in Australia becoming home to the southern hemisphere's largest wind farm project.

That's what the 1565 residents (at last census) of King Island are considering.

It will cost some $2 billion and - while that price tag includes an $800 to $900 million undersea cable - it is not a pipe dream.

On Wednesday, Hydro Tasmania unveiled its proposal to put 200 wind turbines on the Bass Strait island to capture that most famous of winds, the Roaring Forties.

Chief executive Roy Adair first floated the idea with chairman David Crean 18 months ago.

Since then, a lot of preparatory work has gone into evaluating whether it could happen. Wednesday's official announcement was only made once Hydro was confident the project would stack up from a technical, economic and environmental perspective.

The fact this was kept under wraps up until the day before the unveiling is remarkable. After all, there are very few secrets in Tasmania. Or at least, they don't last long.

Deputy Premier Bryan Green referred to this at the press conference, saying: "It's been difficult to hold back from wanting to start talking (publicly) about this project, as I think most Tasmanians want to see what the future will be like."

He also thanked the King Island Council, which was informed earlier, for keeping it hush-hush.

It's no wonder the government was impatient to unveil such a good news story. They have been few and far between.

The island was left reeling after September's sudden closure of its main employer, the JBS beef abattoir.

At the wind farm announcement, the smiles on the faces of Mr Green and Premier Lara Giddings were genuine.

But there was also an element of reservation in the room.

Dr Crean made it clear that while the project could go ahead it would only do so with the blessing of King Island's inhabitants.

Over the next three months, Hydro will try to speak to everyone who lives there. It's possible when the population can fit into Aurora Stadium's new Northern stand with room to spare.

The consultation isn't token. A shopfront will be set up on the island as community forums, industry briefings and face-to-face meetings are held.

Residents will be updated via a dedicated website and community bulletins. A survey in February will provide the final, critical feedback on whether a full feasibility is carried out.

It all seems a world away from the Bell Bay pulp mill, which was the last project lauded as the state's largest, single infrastructure spend.

That mill is yet to be built after year's of divisive community and political debate over whether it should be.

The difference? Asking first, rather than later and, most critically, listening.

It is easy to see the benefits of the wind farm project, which has been dubbed TasWind.

King Island residents who lease land - and 12 to 15 per cent of the entire island will be required - will be paid. Just as importantly, so will their neighbours and, in the form of a community fund, so will everyone else.

There will be 500 construction jobs and 10 to 20 ongoing jobs created. Most of these trained employees are likely to come from off the island but all that will still create a "mini-boom".

Facilities that everyone needs - roads, bridges, the port and air services - will improve, and high- speed internet possibly connected.

More broadly, Tasmania stands to get an extra $220 million in revenue; no small bikkies for a state that's rapidly losing taxes.

Not to mention a 5 per cent contribution towards Australia's renewable energy target, which could attract some serious Commonwealth dollars, and the backing of the Greens.

But if and when those turbines are switched on, it will be each and every King Island resident who has to live alongside them.

So it is right that they will ultimately choose whether or not to flick the switch.


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