Indefinite hold on energy park

(Sam Forson via Pexels)

Elsie Lange

A letter from the state government has put a localised energy source in the Macedon Ranges on hold for the foreseeable future.

The Macedon Ranges Community Energy Park had been in the works for some time, and “looked likely” until two years ago, when a legal barrier was identified, requiring the government to amend legislation.

The amendment would allow for the proposed park site just south of Woodend to be used for non-forestry purposes.

However, Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group (MRSG) president Dr David Gormley-O’Brien said a letter from the government in August “effectively spells the end of a community dream”.

A report was provided to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and MRSG in March 2021 and outlined legal pathways for greenlighting the park – including changing the Victorian Plantations Corporation Act 1993 (VPA Act).

The letter received by MRSG in August, seen by Star Weekly, said while the legislative change was “feasible”, it was complex and not a matter of priority.

“Since the report’s release last year there have been no developments which have caused [the] government to rethink the timeframe for amending the VPC Act and that any process to do so remains in the medium to longer term,” the letter said.

Dr Gormley-O’Brien said the letter confirms the government would not consider the legislative change during their next term, should the Labor win the state election in November, despite widespread support for the project.

Even the licensee of the land, Hancock Victorian Plantations Holdings, is supportive of the park, which according to MRSG could host enough renewable energy sources to power every household in the Macedon Ranges.

“It’s hard to fathom the reason behind the Government’s reluctance to address this seemingly minor regulatory hurdle,” Dr Gormley-O’Brien said.

“Community initiated renewable energy is central to government policy and the project is on government-owned land.

“There are already many non-forestry uses on Plantations Act land around Victoria, such as mountain bike tracks and adventure parks, so why not amend the Act to allow those uses to legally operate and allow community projects like ours to proceed.”

A Victorian government spokesperson said they had worked closely with MRSG to progress their community energy aspirations.

“DELWP commissioned independent advice on this project which demonstrated lengthy and complex legal processes and a range of potentially conflicting interests in relation to use of the plantation land,” the spokesperson said.

“In 2020-2021 we funded $59,400 towards Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group as part of our Neighbourhood Battery Initiative to undertake a feasibility study for community battery, this work was submitted for consideration last month.”