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Wind farms kicking goals for local communities

Civil engineer Scott Stedall was fresh off the plane when he landed a job on Phase 1 of the Snowtown Wind Farm, 107 km north of Adelaide, in 2007. Twelve years and two children later, Scott continues to live and work in the region that is fast becoming ‘wind country’.

Australians travelling in regional areas have become increasingly familiar with the elegant beauty of tall, white wind turbines dotted across the landscape.

Since the first commercial wind farm at Salmon Beach near Esperance, WA in 1987, energy harnessed from the wind has provided clean electricity to the grid.

However, beyond the clean electricity provided to the grid, wind farms offer a number of other significant benefits. These include income for landholders and regional communities, usually in the form of a Community Benefit Fund, and construction and maintenance jobs that help breathe new life into regional towns - many of which experience an exodus of young people in pursuit of work in the cities.

South African civil engineer Scott Stedall was fresh off the plane when he landed a job on Stage 1 of Tilt Renewables' $200 million Snowtown Wind Farm in 2007.

He stayed in Adelaide for six months before making the decision to settle with his wife in the town of Clare – about an hour’s drive from the Snowtown Wind Farm and in the heart of South Australian wine country.

Twelve years and two children later, Scott continues to live and work in the region that is fast becoming ‘wind country’.

“My business partner Shane and I started OTM Civil Construction in 2011,” Scott said. “There were a number of wind farms in the area and we saw an opportunity to initially look at the civil maintenance on operational wind farms. This quickly progressed to the civil construction of new wind farm projects, and we are proud to have been involved in the construction of a number of wind farms in South Australia and interstate.”

He said that state and federal renewable energy targets have played a crucial role in getting started.

“It allowed us to run a sustainable, regional business,” he said. “Not all projects are just down the road, but we can travel within the state or to Western Victoria, and there’s work. The growth is here.”

And grow it has.

Omt Turbine Construction 1
Source: Scott Stedall, OTM Construction

South Australia now tops the nation for wind energy, with almost 40 per cent of the state’s electricity coming from wind turbines.

In Western Victoria, the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere – AGL's MacArthur Wind Farm – generates enough clean energy to power the equivalent of approximately 154,000 average Australian homes.

Australian wind power capacity has almost tripled since 2009 to reach 4816 MW in 2017. The Snowtown wind farm alone offsets 1,045,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas every year – the equivalent of removing some 220,000 cars from the roads.

But megawatts and emissions reduction only tell part of the story.

The Australian Wind Alliance estimates that wind farm construction has delivered an economic boost of almost $4 billion to regional Australia, while farmers across Australia receive more than $20 million every year from hosting wind turbines.

Over 40 wind farm Community Enhancement Funds are contributing more than $2 million every year into community organisations and projects.

But for Scott and his family, the benefits run deeper.

Omt Clare Footy Club
Source: Scott Stedall, OTM Construction

“We briefly contemplated returning to Adelaide, but we are settled and enjoy being part of this community – we are all actively involved with the local sporting clubs. Working in the renewable industry has allowed us to provide a grounded upbringing for our kids in a close-knit regional community,” Scott said.

“We’ve also had the opportunity to become a decent-sized employer in the area and support a lot of the local community that way as well.”

OTM Civil Construction now employs nearly 30 project managers, engineers, machine operators, business and admin staff and labourers – with the bulk of the company’s work in renewable energy.

A commitment to giving real-world work experience to some kids from the local high school is also a sign that the company expects to be around for a while to come.

“As we have grown, so too has our commitment to community support and engagement, which we see as an important part of our business culture and values,” he said.

Scott said while the industry seemed to come to a standstill a few years ago, he believes there’s enough momentum for it to succeed well into the future.

“There are a number of projects seeking approval or planned, and an exciting addition to the renewable industry is the introduction of battery storage. We’ve been fortunate to be involved on some of the state’s battery projects as well.”

“I think the whole industry is currently in a good place. It’s big enough and has enough of a voice to keep moving forward,” he said.