Approval has been given to French company Neoen to build an energy park near Crystal Brook

PARK APPROVED: Gerry Nicholson, a Crystal Brook resident was disappointed at the result of the Crystal Brook Energy Park.
PARK APPROVED: Gerry Nicholson, a Crystal Brook resident was disappointed at the result of the Crystal Brook Energy Park.

Approval has been given to French company Neoen to build 26 wind turbines in addition to a solar farm and lithium-ion battery in the Southern Flinders Ranges near Crystal Brook.

Plans for the energy park were developed in 2017 and immediately received backlash from the local community who simply did not want the turbines in close proximity to the town.

The decision landed with the State Commission Assessment Panel who approved the $500 million project, with construction set to commence in 12 months time.

Head of Development at Neoen Australia, Garth Heron, gladly welcomed the news of the approval saying that they look forward to building on their existing success in the state.

"With this project, we look forward to building on the success of the Hornsdale Wind Farm and Power Reserve which since commencing operations in 2017, has helped to stabilise the grid and saved South Australian consumers over $50 million.

"The Crystal Brook Energy Park will further strengthen the grid and generate low-cost and reliable power, ensuring we can keep the lights on and cut electricity bills for South Australian homes and businesses," Mr Heron said.

Yet, the company were met with many angry residents who continuously opposed the development across multiple stages, stating they are not against renewable energy, just against where it is being placed.

Gerry Nicholson, a Crystal Brook resident, has fought in opposition to the park and will be able to see the turbines from his front porch. He expressed his disappointment of the news.

"This is not an anti-wind turbine movement, this is a considered approach to where these wind turbines should be placed in our battle to have renewable energy which is inevitable," he said,

"We knew that this was coming eventually, one way or the other and I only found out through the media. It was a bit of a shock to the system, however to be disappointed is an understatement. I am very disappointed, but it would appear that the government of the day have listened to the proposal from Neoen and have accepted it, unfortunately."

Mr Nicholson expressed his frustration on the way Neoen have behaved throughout this entire process, he says that they [Neoen] have said they want to work closely with the community, but all he can see is the profit that they will earn from it as a result.

"Neoen are a multi-national French company who according to Garth Heron, are here to solve all the problems for South Australia. To assist the grid, to assure continuous power for industry. Neoen have absolutely no interest in that, they are here to make money. Let's not beat around the bush.

"I am aware that Garth Heron says he wants to work closely with the community, but that is like the Romans saying to Ancient Britain, we want to work closely with you. They have come here for no other reason but to make money," Mr Nicholson said.

In a statement released on August 6, Mr Heron states they are committed to ensuring the economic benefits from the project will flow onto local residents, workers and businesses, but this is not enough for a town that Mr Nicholson says will have no escape from the 240 metre turbines.

"We are grateful to the many persons who have contributed their support to the achievement of development approval, including the Port Pirie Regional Council, involved landholders, neighbours and the community of Crystal Brook. As the project moves forward, we are committed to ongoing engagement and consultation with all stakeholders and local residents," Mr Heron said.

In contrary to Mr Heron's statements, the Port Pirie Regional Council voted against the park twice, in May 2017 and June 2018.

The council's Mayor, Leon Stephen says they reacted to what was given to them by the community they represent and in this case, it was to not support the project.

"We react to what our elected parties give to us and from the community, they came back to the elected members and said that they weren't happy with the process. Elected members took that on board and brought it through the chamber. That is our stand and we are only here to represent our public and that is what we did in this case," Mayor Stephens said.

Mayor Stephens explains that the final result is bittersweet for the council and they look forward to how it will contribute to the region.

"Moving forward, it is bittersweet, I think it is a great opportunity for the region in some respects and not in other respects. It is one of those things that I think is progress. We will probably have up to 350 to 400 jobs for a period which will be great for the economy moving forward," he said.

Support for the project has also come from the Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan, who said the approval is evidence of the government's determination to provide residents with cheaper electricity.

"The combined solar farm, wind farm and grid scale storage project is an exciting step towards getting the mix right in energy generation in South Australia," Minister van Holst Pellekaan said.

Mr Nicholson reflected that their fight against the park was not a waste of time, but an opportunity to try and change the future implications possible to health.

"I don't think it was a waste of our time, the fact that it has gone ahead is certainly disappointing. There have been a lot of people investing a lot of time.

"But at the end of the day, when those wind turbines are stretched a quarter of a kilometre up into the sky around our township and there are people having health concerns, there are going to be a number of people who can sit back and say, at least we tried, and we didn't sit on our hands to do nothing and allow this to happen," he said.