Windfall powers a recharge for drought-hit farmers in central Victoria

A VITAL income stream that blew in by chance for some drought-hit farmers near Charlton in central Victoria is about to become a reality.

The Coonooer Bridge Wind Farm on a property owned by Peter, Leigh and David Watts, of Yeungroon, is in the final stages of construction and will be commissioned by March 31.

According to the developer, Windlab, it is one of only three wind projects in Victoria with community shareholders.

And, with six towers each standing 95.1m, with blades spanning 117m, they will be the largest wind turbines yet built in Australia.

The scale of the development means the wind farm has the potential to generate significant returns for the three brothers, as well as about 30 neighbours within 3km of the project who were given shares in the company — as well as the opportunity to invest.

“We’re in worse conditions now than we were at this time of the year in the drought in 2001-2002,” Peter Watts said.

“It’s going to return resources to us to help put some ­finances on the bottom line.

“We’re looking at it as another stream of revenue.

“We’ve got grain, our sheep and now this — and it’s reliable, it will be generating dollars each time the blades turn.”

The site was selected by a “someone sitting behind a computer in Canberra” more than a decade ago, according to Mr Watts.

“We just got a phone call out of the blue saying this place had been identified as having very good potential for a wind farm and could they come down and talk to us,” he said.

“It was unbelievable but we thought, ‘Why not?’ if it was an opportunity to return some resources to the farm. They told us it’s the best site in Australia for a wind farm — they don’t need big winds, they just need them to be constant.”

Coonooer Bridge Wind Farm Rob Fisher said potential income for the host property and community shareholders was confidential but did reveal the number of people to benefit was wider than first proposed because of the Watts family’s generosity.

“The host landholders have taken a slightly below-average return to let us expand our community scheme,” he said.

“So, where we proposed a certain distribution to the neighbours, the guys who are hosting the turbines in fact agreed to take a slightly lower return to increase that distribution to the wider community.”

Oz Sanderson, 95, one of the Watts’s neighbours given shares in the company reckons the wind farm is “fantastic”.

“You’re bloody lucky if a $50 million project gets dropped in your lap,” he said.

Note: Original story was published on weeklytimesnow.com.au