Clean Energy Council member ACCIONA has completed construction of the Mt Gellibrand Wind Farm 25 km east of Colac and 17 km west of Winchelsea on Victoria’s Western Plains.
ACCIONA’s Mount Gellibrand Wind Farm is one of ten projects from around Australia that will be opening its gates to the public on Sunday 21 October as part of Wind Farm Open Day.
The $258 million project generated its first kilowatts in June, and now has 22 of it 44 turbines operational. When the commissioning process finishes Mt Gellibrand will deliver up to 132 MW of new capacity. The construction workforce peaked at over 150 jobs and there will be approximately ten ongoing full-time equivalent positions. Six of these roles in the operations team have gone to locals, demonstrating the positive economic impact of the project on the local community.
The support and cooperation of the local community, with whom ACCIONA has built productive relationships, have been vital to the success of the project.
“We have spent many years getting to know the local people and making sure they understand our aims and challenges throughout the process,” said Kirsten Lee, Community Relations Coordinator for ACCIONA Energy Australia.
“It’s crucial to get to know people from day one, not only because we need their support, but also because we can learn from them and take on board useful advice on how to go about our business. We are here for the long term, so we seek to build long-term relationships.”
Since its entry into the Australian market over a decade ago, ACCIONA has learnt many important lessons, particularly when it comes to its social licence to operate.
“We have learned to be as transparent as possible from the start,” Ms Lee explains. “Community engagement is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach. You always need to be open and honest. You also need to understand the specifics of each community, the people that live where you want to work and the local conditions.”
A key task is investing the right resources into community relations from the outset. Efforts must be properly planned and funded, with sufficient resources to ensure frequent interaction to build relationships with local people. To that end, ACCIONA has been consulting with and providing financial support to local groups in the Mt Gellibrand area since 2012.
“We are prepared and fully involved in community activities, which has strengthened relationships,” Ms Lee explains. “For example, as well as the sponsorships and community benefit fund, we also invest in payments to landowners hosting our wind turbines and education opportunities once the wind farm becomes fully operational. Once everything is up and running, the local council benefits from an increase in the base rate too.
“In addition to this, we work hard at keeping the community informed about the project progress and make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch. Most importantly though, we make sure that our operations team is equipped and empowered to represent and communicate on behalf of the company once the project is up and running. In the end, they are the ones that are living in the community and we encourage them to take an active role in it.”
It is estimated the Mt Gellibrand Wind Farm injected approximately $10 million into the local economy during construction, and it will continue to benefit the community for the operational life of the wind farm.
ACCIONA has been operating in Australia since 2002, with its main activities in the infrastructure, renewable energy and water sectors. ACCIONA has directly invested more than $1 billion in Australia and employs more than 1000 people locally.
For a global company such as ACCIONA, focusing on specific local factors in every project is key to positive community relations and a successful business model. Whether it’s building a railway tunnel in Norway, a desalination plant in the UAE or a solar farm in the USA, the way the company relates to local communities is a crucial aspect of its work.
This story was first released on 16 November 2017.