A Uralla Shire Council order to take down a wind turbine has left a Rocky River resident feeling aggrieved.
“It is simply a vendetta by council that I put it up without first consulting with them over it,” Antonius Vanden Hoogen said.
Mr Vanden Hoogen, a retired mechanical engineer, erected the turbine on his property in January, to act as a backup to his solar power system. A keen conservationist, he believed it would help him lower his carbon footprint, particularly since council advocated for renewable energy.
He did not realise that council required a development application for a semi-rural area. He submitted the form – but it was turned down when neighbours complained that the turbine was noisy, blocked the view, and could be a menace to birds.
A wind turbine built within 200 metres of neighbouring dwellings needs council approval.
“The turbine was erected without approval,” a council spokesperson said, “and the subsequent application for approval was refused due to noise and visual impacts on the immediate neighbours.”
Council gave Mr Vanden Hoogen 28 days to take down the offending structure.
“I was not given an opportunity to defend my wind turbine on the grounds of sustainable energy,” Mr Vanden Hoogen said, “and I thought that because I live in a semi-rural area I did not need a development application.
"An employee of council whom I cannot name due to repercussions inside council told me it is standard for all structures that have been erected without a DA, that if a DA is then sought they must be refused. The reason for this is to deter landholders from trying to circumvent the DA system.”
Mr Vanden Hoogen also believes that the information in his neighbours’ statements, and in the development assessment report, was full of errors.
“Objections by impacted neighbours are taken into account and verified by staff,” the council spokesperson said.
Neighbours’ statements said Mr Vanden Hoogen had run the turbine at any time of day and night since January, and that “the height of the turbine in the installed location impacts upon their visual amenity”.
Mr Vanden Hoogen denied that the turbine had run since January; it was, he said, switched on in late March.
"The visual amenity is absolute bullshit,” Mr Vanden Hoogen said, “as you can hardly see it from my neighbours’.
He also thought that the photo of the wind turbine in the report was misleading. It showed, he said, the turbine blades above the treeline – but that treeline was the ridge half a kilometre away.
“They said the windmill was way above the treeline; it's not. The blades are just above those two trees. It'd be stupid to put it down below the trees, because the trees would be in the way of the wind."
Mr Vanden Hoogen said that council did not talk to him or his wife, and gave him no opportunity to explain, and was concerned that council did not do any noise readings, either at the wind turbine or at his neighbours’ properties..
Council staff, the spokesperson responded, visited the site four times.
“They inspected the wind turbine on numerous occasions in varying wind conditions, and formed the opinion that the impacts on surrounding properties were unreasonable.”
Mr Vanden Hoogen acknowledged that the turbine made a noise, but that this was in the initial testing phase.
“I made some significant restrictions on the operation of my turbine so as to not affect my neighbors in relation to noise, especially having it turned off at night.”
He said he hired an electrician to fix the noise problem, so it would run smoothly.
“It won't be run during the day when the solar keeps up. If the solar keeps up, it is left switched off. The only time it'll be run is if it's cloudy and windy, and the solar doesn't work in the cloudy time.”
He said he switched both turbine and solar power system off at night, and went back onto the grid. He would only use the turbine at night if the power grid was out, and that it was quieter than starting a generator.
Mr Vanden Hoogen said that the assessment report referred to noises made by a mechanical gearbox. Mr Vanden Hoogen said that the turbine had no mechanical gearbox. He had bought a direct drive, because it was the quietest and safest available on the market.
Gearbox, Council said, was used as a generic term to refer to the transfer of energy at 90 degrees through the shaft.
“Its up to the applicant to manage unreasonable impacts upon neighbours, and it’s immaterial whether the noise, which is an impact, is created by a gearbox or another element within the turbine,” the council spokesperson said.
The distances in the report, Mr Vanden Hoogen thought, were also incorrect. The report states that the nearest dwelling, a neighbour’s house, was 75 metres away; Mr Vanden Hoogen said it was 83.2 metres away, based on a tape measure and sonar measurer.
“It is immaterial whether the distance is 75 or 83 metres,” the council spokesperson said, “as being within 200 metres is the trigger for an application.”
Mr Vanden Hoogen has agreed to take the turbine down and sell it.
“I found out that council has the power to come onto my property, remove the turbine, and sell it to recover their costs,” he said.
“When I told them this sort of thing could anger the ratepayer to a point of violence, to that I got the remark "Are you threatening a council officer". What a bunch of dickheads. So much for sustainability and lowering our carbon footprint!”
Mr Vanden Hoogen is now investigating other sources of alternative energy.