Indigenous backing for Cooktown wind project

Siobhan Barry | www.abc.net.au | Aug 12, 2009

Traditional owners have signed an agreement with US company National Power to build a wind farm south of Cooktown on Cape York in far north Queensland.

The project at Archer Point will produce 120 megawatts of electricity per year.

Gerhardt Pearson, from the Cape York Development Corporation, says the company and Indigenous owners will now start a lengthy process to try to get Queensland Government approval.

"This project is a first in Australia - a wind energy development project on Aboriginal land, with an agreement that ensures Indigenous training and employment opportunities during all phases of the project," he said.

"[Training includes] feasibility investigations, through to construction, through to maintenance of the turbines, once the wind park is operational.

"There was always a risk that at the end of the feasibility phase, the numbers may very well not stack up - we have taken that risk ... because for too long Aboriginal lands have been used by developers and Government in a way where traditional owners have been sidelined."

National Power managing director Tim Flato says Indigenous groups approached the company about the project.

He says it still has a long way to go to get the project through all of the approval processes, but he hopes it will create a significant number of jobs in the area.

"Certainly during the construction phase we will be employing a number of people - our hope is that we will employ a large number of traditional owners," he said.

"In the operating phase we will employ less people. However, we will be injecting a significant amount of dollars into the local economy that can be recycled for further economic development.

"We do have a ways to go, and certainly this is not a project that's going to be started and built tomorrow - we have at least a year's worth of study, both in the environmental and cultural aspects of this site, as well as gathering appropriate wind data, to make an appropriate selection of turbines and other infrastructure."

Traditional owner Larissa Hale says Indigenous people are happy with the deal.

"We were approached by a number of other proponents and pretty much they didn't come up with, or discuss with us, or listen to us about what we would like," she said.

"This proponent did listen to us. He's agreed to work with us on getting the outcomes that we would like to see."

Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott says he is pleased the plan is now a step closer, but has questioned the process that led to Indigenous groups signing the agreement.

Councillor Scott says another proponent has spent years planning a wind farm twice the size and has full financial backing.

He says he would have preferred to see the bigger project go ahead.

"From an economic point of view I would, but I guess there's other considerations within that, that I'm not privy to, as far as the traditional owners' decision goes," he said.

"I respect their decision well and truly, and there may be other considerations to do with the smaller operation that overruled the scope or size of the project."

Cr Scott says the area is heavily reliant on tourism and needs another industry.

"We desperately need something that's going to create employment and create income on a year-round basis and just give us that little bit of diversity as far as the income goes," he said.

"I think it's going to be a huge project in its construction and in the ongoing running and maintenance of it."