A small town on the south coast of Western Australia has proven that it’s possible to dream big when it comes to renewable energy.
Denmark — located roughly 400km from Perth and with a population of fewer than 3,000 residents — is home to one of only two community-owned wind farms in Australia.
The two 50m-high turbines that stand proudly on a headland overlooking the Southern Ocean supply a little over half of the town’s domestic energy requirements.
“Denmark’s always been a ‘green’ town, and it’s ideally situated on a very high energy coastline,” said Craig Chapelle, one of the wind farm directors.
“We went to the community and asked, ‘Do you think we should produce our own energy?’ and the consensus was ‘yes’.
A slow start
The project was given the green light in 2003 and was on course to become Australia’s first community-owned wind farm, had it not been for what Mr Chappelle describes as “bureaucratic stonewalling”.
By the time the turbines were built and began operating seven years ago, another community wind farm in Hepburn, Victoria, had beaten them to the chase.
Mr Chappelle said the Denmark wind farm paid a dividend back to its 116 shareholders in its the first year and had done every year since.
“The investors are getting a very good rate of return on their investment, and the project has a life expectancy of around 20 to 21 years,” he said.
“We will reach break-even point in another two to three years, and it’ll all be cream after that.”
Expansion in the pipeline
The Environment Protection Agency has given the go-ahead for two more turbines, but it’s unclear when that will happen.
Mr Chapelle said the project served as a model for other community-owned wind farms in Australia.
“The political climate for renewables has not been favourable for some years, and it’s not looking super terrific in the near future either,” he said.
“The writing has been on the wall for some time that renewables are the way of the future.”