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THE PROJECT

The Winterbourne Wind Farm is located to the north and east of Walcha township in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, approximately 425 kilometres by road from Sydney.

 

The proposed development area is bounded by Thunderbolts Way and the Oxley Highway to the west, the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park to the south and east, and the Salisbury Plains to the north.

The project will consist of up to 118 turbine locations with a combined capacity of around 700 MW. The project may be built in one or more stages.

The project will likely utilise Vestas V162-6.2 MW turbines. These turbines will have a hub height of around 149m and a maximum blade tip height of approximately 230m.

WinterbourneWind will construct new unsealed access tracks linking existing Council roads to the turbine locations.  In many cases, the new tracks will involve upgrading existing farm tracks, which will also help landowners with farm operations, and potentially emergency responders in the event of bush fires or other emergencies.  In all cases, the new access tracks will be designed with the objective of minimising impacts to existing vegetation. 

 

The new access tracks will be unsealed but will be constructed to allow for transport of heavy materials and equipment during construction, and to allow for long-term operation of the wind farm.

In addition, WinterbourneWind will work with Walcha Council to upgrade some existing Council roads as required to support project traffic requirements. 

The project will include one main transmission line, approximately 45 km long, which connects the wind farm to the existing electrical grid.  The line will be an overhead 330 kilovolt (kV) line, built using steel lattice towers.  The new line will connect into the existing Tamworth-Armidale 330kV line, approximately 7 km south of Uralla, NSW. 

Within the wind farm, the turbines will be connected to each other and to the substations primarily via underground 33kV cabling.  The cabling will generally run adjacent to the proposed new access tracks. Several short sections of overhead 33 kV line will also be constructed in the vicinity of project substations.

The project will include two new 33/330kV substations within the wind farm area, which convert the lower voltage generated by the turbines to high voltage which can be connected into the existing grid. 

 

In addition, a new switchyard will be built at the proposed connection point where the new transmission line will connect into the existing Tamworth-Armidale 330kV line.  The substations, switchyard and transmission line will be constructed in parallel with the wind farm.

The project dates back to 2001, when a group of local landowners conceived of a wind farm in the Walcha area.  However, Vestas has been involved with the project since 2019.  

The planning process for wind farms in NSW is rigorous. It requires detailed assessment of potential noise, visual, biodiversity, traffic, cultural heritage, aviation and other impacts.  Biodiversity surveys need to be conducted over every season and across multiple years to ensure the potential impacts to vegetation, habitat, flora, fauna and migratory species are understood.   Technical requirements for connecting a power station into the grid network are complex and require highly specialized modelling and negotiation with the grid owner (TransGrid) and Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).  Finally, a project of this size requires the financial and technical due diligence of lenders, investors and energy buyers (offtakers) to ensure the proposal is commercially viable.   

Subject to development consent, we expect to start construction in early 2026, and would expect construction to last approximately three years, followed by 6 months of project commissioning.  Based on this timeframe, we would expect the project to begin commercial operations in 2029.

The project is not dependent on government subsidies for construction or operation. Wind farms are considered one of the cheapest forms of new electricity generation, along with solar energy, and can produce energy at a significantly lower cost than coal or gas-fired power stations.

WIND ENERGY

Wind turbines convert the natural movement of air into mechanical energy through rotation of the turbine blades. This mechanical energy is converted into electricity, which is sent to the electrical grid.

The Winterbourne Wind Farm will be built using Vestas wind turbines. More than 166,000 MW of Vestas turbines have been installed in 88 countries around the world, accounting for almost 1 in 5 of all turbines installed worldwide.

Wind farms have significantly lower carbon footprints than other electricity-generating sources.  A typical Vestas wind turbine emits around 1% of the carbon emissions per kWh of electricity that would be generated by a coal-fired power plant. We expect emissions reduction of ~1.5 million tonnes CO2-eq per annum.

What is the carbon footprint of a wind farm

‘Energy payback’ is the time required for a wind farm to produce as much energy as it consumes over the full life cycle of the plant, considering the manufacturing of components, transport, construction, operation and decommissioning.

For Vestas turbines, the typical ‘break even’ point – where energy output exceeds energy required – is between 6 to 9 months, depending on the wind speed and other site-specific factors. This means that a typical wind farm becomes carbon neutral in less than one year of operation. By comparison, a coal-fired power station always consumes more energy than it generates and never achieves an energy payback or emissions avoided. In 2023 alone, Vestas turbines avoided 396 million tonnes of CO2-eq emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

“Return on Energy” looks at the amount of energy paid back to society versus the energy needed in the lifetime of that turbine. Over the life cycle of a typical Vestas project, the wind farm will return 38 times more energy than it consumed. That means that when 1 kWh is invested in a wind energy solution, you get 38 kWh in return. For coal, however, if you invest 1 kWh you typically get 0.34 kWh in return.

 

Read more about the sustainability of Vestas wind farms and turbines as well as comparisons of energy payback and return on energy for other power sources.

WIND FARM DEVELOPMENT

Activities during the development stage of the wind farm have included:

  • discussions with host landowners
  • installation of wind monitoring equipment such as masts and, remote sensing units
  • identification of potential wind turbine locations, and design of access routes and electrical infrastructure
  • consultation with local councils and State/Federal government stakeholders
  • engagement with the local community and project neighbours
  • environmental impact assessment, including evaluation of potential biodiversity, noise, visual, traffic, socioeconomic, bushfire, heritage, aviation and other impacts
  • preparation of State and Federal permitting applications and documentation
  • grid connection studies in accordance with requirements set by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) and the local network service provider (Transgrid)
  • financial modelling
  • project funding and investment decisions.

Project development is complex and requires continuous adjustment to meet the NSW Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure (DPHI) stringent environmental requirements and the challenging technical requirements of connecting a power station to the grid network.

The NSW Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure (DPHI) will assess the project as a State Significant Development (SSD) under Division 4.7 of Part 4 of the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act). This assessment will take into account the findings of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was lodged in late 2022 and was on public exhibition between November 2022 and January 2023.  The EIS was prepared by a qualified independent environmental consultant supported by specialist sub-consultants who completed detailed technical assessments of potential noise, visual, biodiversity, transport and other environmental impacts. 

 

In addition, the project has been referred to the Australian Government Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) for assessment and approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

Winterbourne Wind Farm is committed to open and transparent engagement throughout the project. The team has been actively engaging with landholders, neighbours, the Walcha community, government at all levels and local businesses since mid-2019. We have appreciated the opportunities to discuss the need for the project, its scale and dynamics, and the community benefits.

 

Information about the proposed project is available through several avenues, including the dedicated website, an 1800 number, a dedicated email, a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.

 

We have hosted seven public information sessions. In addition, we have provided 15 project update newsletters for the community, conducted multiple surveys, and met or talked individually with project neighbours.

 

Our Community Consultative Committee, established in March 2021,  met seven times between March 2021 and August 2022. 

 

We have also consulted extensively with representatives from Walcha Council and Uralla Shire Council.

 

In total, we have logged almost 2300 stakeholder interactions on this project, and we will continue our commitment to community engagement as the project moves forward.

WinterbourneWind has followed the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Consultation Requirements (ACHCRs) for proponents developed by the Office of Environment and Heritage (now Heritage NSW).  Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) for the project, including the Amaroo Local Aboriginal Land Council, have been consulted extensively since 2020 and were actively involved with a comprehensive heritage field survey program. 

PROJECT IMPACTS

A wind farm project must satisfy the stringent biodiversity impact assessment requirements of both the NSW Government (via the Environmental Impact Statement) and the Australian Government (through the EPBC process).

The project site mainly consists of exotic grasslands with sparse woodland and scattered trees. Extensive flora and fauna studies have been undertaken since 2019 to identify, avoid, and minimise potential biodiversity impacts.

Vegetation clearing and potential impacts to flora and fauna species will be offset through the NSW Biodiversity Offset Scheme. In addition, a Bird and Bat Management Plan will be developed before construction to define measures for reducing potential impact on avifauna during project construction and operation.

The project layout has been designed to minimise impacts to biodiversity by establishing infrastructure and roads to avoid areas of high conservation significance. The findings of the biodiversity assessment and proposed mitigation measures are presented in the EIS.

We will ensure cultural heritage is protected and will continue to consult with Aboriginal stakeholders during project construction.

 

Together with a specialist consultant and with assistance from Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs), WinterbourneWind completed cultural heritage surveys to identify items and locations of cultural significance within the proposed project area. Five field surveys have been conducted since 2020 over 286 person days totalling 2,288 hours of survey effort.  These surveys identified 23 artefact sites.  No evidence of human burials or skeletal material were recorded.

 

Seventeen of the 23 sites will be avoided by the project as they are either outside of the project footprint or will be protected during construction works.  There are six sites that could potentially be harmed by the project, and these artefacts will be salvaged prior to construction in consultation with the RAPs.

 

The findings of the cultural heritage investigation are presented in an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Assessment Report (ACHAR), included in the EIS and made available for public review and comment.  An updated ACHAR will be provided as part of the Submissions Report, expected to be submitted in mid-2024.

Several studies commissioned by the NSW and Victorian governments have examined potential impacts of wind farms on property values and have found no evidence that wind farms lower rural property values, including the Assessment of the Impact of Wind Farms on Surrounding Land Values in Australia (Preston Rowe Paterson, 2013) available here:

 

PDF Download –> Assessment of Impact

The majority of wind farms are developed on agricultural land and wind turbines are very much compatible with existing farming operations. Turbines occupy only a small amount of land, and landowners can continue normal grazing or cropping activities. Livestock has often been seen using turbine towers for shade and shelter from wind and rain. The income provided to landowners hosting wind farm infrastructure can help make farms more resilient to the impacts of droughts, fires and commodity price fluctuations.

We have assessed the cumulative impact of the wind farm in relation to other proposed and existing renewable energy projects according to NSW Planning guidelines. Given the uncertainty in the potential delivery timeframes of other projects, it is difficult to assess the extent of cumulative impacts. However, potential cumulative impacts may include traffic impacts if multiple projects are being constructed simultaneously and socioeconomic impacts (e.g. workforce requirements and accommodation challenges). 

The proposed project will create direct economic opportunities for local workers and local businesses, and indirect benefit for the local economy through the multiplier effect of economic activity. In addition, WinterbourneWind will provide one of the largest Community Benefit Funds of any renewable energy project in Australia, which will support community initiatives, services and infrastructure. 

A workforce accommodation strategy will be developed if the project is approved. There may be an ebb and flow of workers and accommodation requirements but we expect that up to a third of the full-time workforce during construction will be from the local region.

As well as local construction jobs the project will be able to provide around 16 long-term local service and maintenance jobs during operation.  While the wind farm will have a design life of 30 years, the project may also be extended for a further operating period, presenting an opportunity for continuous new industry, skills, jobs and economic activity in Walcha and the broader region.

PROJECT BENEFITS

If the project is approved, Winterbourne Wind Farm will establish a Community Benefit Fund that will include a $1 million contribution at the financial commitment of the project and $750,000 annually from the start of commercial operations through to project decommissioning, indexed for inflation, based on an installed wind farm up to 600 Megawatts (MW) in size. We will contribute an extra $1000 every year as an additional contribution for the life of the project for each MW installed above 600 MW.

 

The Community Benefit Fund will provide a meaningful financial contribution that benefits the whole community and will be one of the largest community benefit schemes of any wind farm in Australia.

 

In addition, the Social Impact Assessment of the proposed project found that the proposed project will generate more than $150 million in direct wages and profits, and more than $160 million in indirect wages and profits, per year of construction. Furthermore, during project operations, the project would be expected to generate around $25 million per year in direct and indirect economic benefit for the local region.

If the project is successful, WinterbourneWind will set up a Community Benefit Fund which will include a $1 million contribution at the financial commitment of the project and $750,000 annually from the start of commercial operations through to project decommissioning, indexed for inflation, based on an installed wind farm up to 600 Megawatts (MW) in size. We will contribute an extra $1000 every year as an additional contribution for the life of the project for each MW installed above 600 MW.

We are working with Walcha Council and Uralla Shire Council to document the CBF within a Voluntary Planning Agreement (VPA). The VPA will document our obligations to make initial and ongoing contributions to the CBF, and the obligation of each local Council to administer the CBF. It is intended for the funds in the CBF to be split 90% to the Walcha community and 10% to the Uralla Shire community, which matches the relative geographic and infrastructure split of the proposed project within each LGA.

The project will create up to an estimated 400 new jobs during construction and around 16 long-term service and maintenance jobs during operation. A range of skills will be required, including engineering, trades (electrical, mechanical, construction), transport, building material providers, equipment operators, consultants and administrative staff.

Please send us an enquiry via our contact form with your contact details and details of your skills or services.  We are maintaining a database of interested contractors and suppliers.  We will hold contractor information nights in late 2025 as we get closer to the start of project construction.

PROJECT CONSTRUCTION

We expect to begin construction in early 2026, subject to development consent and grid connection approval.  Construction will take around 3 years to complete.

We understand that water is a critically important issue for the Walcha community. During construction, water will be required for concrete batching, earthworks and dust suppression. We are currently investigating water supply options for the project and will likely source water from nearby licenced groundwater boreholes.

The hours of construction will be specified in the development approval.  Typically, construction will occur during standard construction hours Monday through Friday 7am to 6pm and Saturday 8am to 6pm, with no work on Sundays and public holidays.  When works need to happen outside these standard hours, we will provide advance notice and put in place measures to minimise disruption. 

WinterbourneWind prepared a detailed traffic and transport assessment (TIA), which incorporates input from Walcha Council and other stakeholders. This assessment is included in the EIS. A revised TIA will be included as part of the Submissions Report to be submitted in mid 2024.

 

Two different types of vehicle movements have been assessed. The first is the impact of standard light and heavy vehicles, which generate the majority of the vehicle movements and represent the typical traffic impact of the project on a day-to-day basis. The second is the impact of the Oversize and/or Overmass (OSOM) vehicles, which are subject to separate permit applications and regulations.

 

Following review of EIS submissions, the OSOM transport route has been modified to avoid Oxley Highway. The project proposes to utilise a new route which follows the New England Highway to just south of Uralla, and then follows Thunderbolts Way back south towards Walcha.

A Traffic Management Plan (TMP) is typically prepared once the project is approved, a construction contractor is appointed, and additional information about the construction arrangements is known. The Traffic Impact Assessment prepared as part of the EIS has provided an assessment of the expected construction traffic impacts and provided a range of traffic management and mitigation measures. The subsequent Traffic Management Plan will incorporate these management measures. Road authorities must approve the TMP before construction.

Turbine loads will originate from the Port of Newcastle and travel via Tamworth along the New England Highway. The delivery of larger plant associated with the turbines will be undertaken by Oversize and Overmass (OSOM) vehicles. Following review of EIS submissions, the OSOM transport route has been modified to avoid Oxley Highway. The project proposes to utilise a new route which follows the New England Highway to just south of Uralla, and then follows Thunderbolts Way back south towards Walcha.

 

The delivery of the turbine plant will be conducted by a specialist transport company with experience working on wind farm projects. Vehicles are subject to specific permits, ensuring the proposed delivery method is undertaken in a considered manner acceptable to the road authorities.

 

These trips are extraordinarily well-planned and coordinated to ensure public safety and traffic control where required. There will be lead and follow escort vehicles. Drivers can only work for a specified number of hours per day and given the length of the trip from Newcastle to Walcha, each trip will take two days. It is expected that the first day will be travel from Newcastle to Tamworth, where the driver will spend the night. On the second day, the driver will leave Tamworth at daylight and travel to Walcha, arriving around 3 hours after departure.  Drivers are professional and highly experienced.

We plan to transport wind turbines and other heavy equipment on major roads, from the Port of Newcastle through Singleton and Muswellbrook on Highway A15 and then up the New England Highway until just south of Uralla at Staces Road. From Staces Road, a new road will be constructed through Crown Land which connects Staces Road to Thunderbolts Way. Vehicles will then turn right on Thunderbolts Way and travel south to Walcha, turning left at the Walcha Showground onto Jamieson Street.

 

Some local roads may need to be upgraded within the project area to accommodate heavy loads and construction traffic. For example, Bark Hut Road and part of Blue Mountain Road will likely be upgraded, and some culverts and causeways may also need to be strengthened.

 

The proposed route, and required road upgrades, are described in the Environmental Impact Statement. Any local road upgrades will also be discussed and agreed with Walcha Council before construction.

Following review of EIS submissions, we are proposing a new transport route for OSOM vehicles which utilizes the New England Highway until just south of Uralla at Staces Road.  From Staces Road, a new road will be constructed through Crown Land which connects Staces Road to Thunderbolts Way. Vehicles will then turn right on Thunderbolts Way and travel south to Walcha, turning left at the Walcha Showground onto Jamieson Street.

 

This new proposed transport route means that no inbound oversize and/or overmass (OSOM) vehicles will utilise Oxley Highway, which addresses a major concern raised by the community during public exhibition of the EIS. On the return leg, any OSOM vehicle which requires an escort will return along the same route, heading north on Thunderbolts Way and then south on the New England Highway. However, any vehicles which do not require an escort will utilize Oxley Highway on the return trip to the Port of Newcastle.

The current traffic on Thunderbolts Way is approximately 1,120 vehicles per day and may increase by approximately 280 vehicles per day during the peak construction of the project. A traffic expert has concluded that Thunderbolts Way and the local road network can accommodate project traffic with good service and ample spare capacity.

 

We will upgrade local roads where necessary before construction to the satisfaction of the Council and Transport for NSW. The road network utilised by the project will be monitored and maintained to ensure continued safe use by all road users. Any damage attributed to project construction will be rectified.

Maintenance and repair of roads is a standard condition of development consent and will be the subject of an agreement with Walcha Council. As the project proponent, we will be responsible for repair and maintenance of roads used for wind farm construction.

PROJECT OPERATIONS

Numerous reviews of research literature conducted by leading health and research organisations worldwide, including Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), have concluded there is no published evidence to link wind turbines with adverse health effects.

Wind turbine movement creates sound; however, people generally find they can have a conversation at the wind turbine base without having to raise their voices.

 

The NSW Wind Farm Noise Guidelines specify some of the most stringent noise criteria in the world and are lower than comparable criteria in the US and Europe. The allowable level is somewhere between a whisper and a quiet library in terms of noise. This level is set to ensure that noise levels from wind turbines are compatible with surrounding land uses and to ensure that noise levels do not significantly affect the living experience of people residing in the area.

 

The noise assessment for the Winterbourne Wind Farm predicts the operational noise at all non-involved neighbouring dwellings will be lower than relevant noise criteria in accordance with the NSW Wind Farm Noise Guidelines. The EIS contains a detailed noise assessment.

 

The wind farm team will monitor noise during operations to ensure the actual operational noise does not exceed the relevant noise criteria.

As part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project, we engaged a specialist consultant to prepare an Aviation Impact Assessment.  The assessment evaluates existing aircraft operations (both commercial airlines and local operators) in the vicinity of the wind farm.  The report found that the wind turbines would not require obstacle lighting to maintain an acceptable level of safety to aircraft.  However, it is possible that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) may still recommend lighting for aircraft safety.  If lighting is required, it will be installed on the turbine nacelle, and will be shielded to reduce the amount of light visible at ground level. 

The EIS includes an Aviation Impact Assessment, which examines the potential impacts of aerial spraying. This is managed by shutting down relevant turbines while spraying takes place, something we do regularly at wind farms across Australia.

DECOMMISSIONING

The Winterbourne Wind Farm will have a design life of 30 years. At the end of this period, it may be possible to replace some equipment and extend the project for a further period. Such an extension would require a new development approval. The project may also be decommissioned.

The project will be decommissioned at the end of wind farm life.  Decommissioning of wind farm infrastructure at the end of project life will be a legal condition of the development consent. In addition, contracts with landowners also require that wind turbines and other infrastructure are removed at the end of the lease term.

At the end of the project life, the wind farm owner will be fully responsible for plant decommissioning, including removing the wind farm infrastructure and rehabilitating the site in compliance with the conditions of development consent.

At the end of project life, the wind farm will be deconstructed in accordance with a Decommissioning Plan, which must be approved by the NSW Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure. Decommissioning will involve de-energising, disconnecting, dismantling, demolishing and removing the wind turbines and other operational infrastructure (e.g. maintenance buildings, substations and power lines). We will also rehabilitate roads and fencing in consultation with host landowners.

 

The method of decommissioning will depend on safety considerations and on options for potential re-sale of the equipment.  If the equipment can be reused or refurbished, then decommissioning will be undertaken essentially as the reverse of construction, with blades, nacelle and tower sections removed carefully by crane and transported offsite to be delivered to another user, either within Australia or overseas.  More likely, however, the equipment will no longer be suitable for re-use or it will not be economically viable to transport it to a new location.  In this case, the equipment can potentially be brought down via controlled demolition and then cut up on the ground and transported offsite for recycling or disposal.  This method will not require cranes or oversize vehicles and will thus be less disruptive to landowners and the community.

The typical Vestas wind turbine is around 88% recyclable. This includes the steel which forms the tower and the aluminium and copper used in electrical equipment within the turbine.  Vestas has announced a goal of achieving zero-waste wind turbines by 2040.

Turbine blades are constructed of carbon and glass fibre composites, polyurethane foam and epoxy adhesives. They are designed to endure harsh conditions over several decades, and blade materials are strongly linked together, resulting in durable structures that are challenging to break down.

 

The recycling process aims to separate the polymer (resin) and fibre composites. Once separated, the resins are usually used for energy production while the fibre can be reused or recycled. As the global wind industry continues to grow, and as increasing numbers of older wind farms require repowering or decommissioning, more commercial options for recycling of wind turbine blades are becoming available

 

Vestas is currently upscaling a new chemical solution that can break down epoxy resin into virgin-grade materials. Once matured, this solution will eliminate the disposal of epoxy-based blades in landfills when decommissioned. In time, legacy blade material currently sitting in landfills and blade material in operational wind farms can be disassembled and re-used by applying this technology. The newly-developed solution supports Vestas’ goal of achieving zero-waste wind turbines by 2040.

 

The Walcha landfill will not be used for disposal of decommissioned turbine blades

The concrete foundations will be removed to a depth of at least 500 mm below ground surface, but the bulk of the foundation will be left in-situ.  The excavated area will be backfilled with compatible local material and then covered with topsoil to ensure that grazing and farming activities can be resumed.   

 

In many cases, the access tracks built as part of the wind project will become a valuable asset for the host landowners. At the end of project life, we will consult with host landowners to determine if they would like the access tracks to remain or would like them rehabilitated.  Access tracks which are no longer needed for farming operations will be covered with 200 mm of topsoil and seeded with native vegetation.

A Decommissioning and Rehabilitation commissioned by WinterbourneWind found that the total cost of project decommissioning and rehabilitation varied between approximately $28.8 million ($242,000 per turbine) and -$13.1 million (-$111,000 per turbine), depending on the demolition method, and net of the return from salvage. The lower figure (negative number) indicates that the value of the scrap metal recovered would more than offset the cost of decommissioning.

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