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Expert witness statement of John Nicholson - Expert Witness

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									                                                          Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson



                      In the matter of Stockyard Hill Wind Farm
                Permit Application Nos PL-SP/05/0548, P2009/104
                                Planning Panels Victoria
                    Proponent: Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd
          Expert Witness Statement of John David Nicholson
                     Expert of Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd


1   Name and address
           John David NICHOLSON
           39 Heysen Drive
           Sunbury


2   Area of expertise
            (a) Graduate Diploma, Institution of Fire Engineers
            (b) For the past 11 years I have been consulting in bushfire protection and
                safety
            (c) While my qualifications and experience are detailed in Annexure A, I add
                here that I have a reasonable knowledge of the project area and firefighting
                strategy and tactics employed to combat bushfire in and adjacent to the
                project area due to:
               •   Employed for approximately 4 years in the late 60s to early 70s as
                   Assistant Regional Officer for CFA Region 5 (Hamilton) that included part of
                   the Westmere Group south and southwest of the project area
               •   Employed as Assistant Chief Officer CFA Western Zone (Hamilton) that
                   included CFA Region 5 from January 1989 – October 1991
               •   Employed as Deputy Chief Officer CFA Western Division (Ballarat) that
                   included CFA Regions 5, 15 and 16 from October 1991 – September 1993
                Prior to commencing my career with the CFA I gained the trade qualification
                of Electrical Fitter and worked in a maintenance environment that included
                high voltage switchgear and transformers. I found that electrical knowledge
                useful in this project.


3   Scope
    3.1    Instructions
           I have been commissioned by Origin Energy for Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd
           to prepare an expert witness statement that details my expertise, summarises
           the findings of my specialist studies, addresses the concerns and arguments
           raised by opponents or government bodies of the Stockyard Hill Wind Farm in
           their submissions lodged during the exhibition period. In particular, my expert
           witness statement addresses whether the risks and concerns raised in the
           objections can be managed through appropriate measures in a wildfire
           prevention and emergency response plan.



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                                                   Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson



3.2   Process and Methodology
      Prior to commencing my work I perused the document Policy and Planning
      Guidelines for Development of Wind Energy Facilities in Victoria (September
      2009). Then, my approach was to consider the papers, etc, referred to below.
      Objections
      Having considered the fire-related objections, I then visited four of the Objectors
      (two couples) residing close to or within the project area to gain a better
      understanding of the basis of their written objections.
      I chose these four Objectors from the eloquence of their written objections, which
      are more than what appears to be a “form letter” approach by some objecting on
      fire safety grounds.
      Firefighting strategy and tactics
      To confirm my understanding of the approach of the local brigades to fighting
      bushfires in and adjacent to the project area I met with the Captains of two CFA
      brigades located in the project area, plus a Deputy Group Officer of the Beaufort
      Group of fire brigades and a Deputy Group Officer (one of the Objectors
      objecting in a private capacity) of the Westmere Group of fire brigades.
      Aerial firefighting operations
      Acknowledging the reference to aerial firefighting operations in some objections I
      spoke with the Acting Manager State Aircraft Unit to discuss the validity of
      objections concerning air operations and to refresh my own knowledge of that
      aspect of fighting bushfires. .

3.3   Reports and other Literature Reviewed to Prepare Statement
      .1   Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Application for Planning Permit.
      .2   Application for a Terminal Station Planning Permit
      .3   Repower MM92 brochure describing the preferred wind turbine.
      .4   Several wind turbine documents sourced from the World Wide Web,
           including a Waubra Wind Farm Fact Sheet posted by Acconia Energy.
      .5   Aviation Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Visual Meteorological Conditions
           (VMC) requirements applicable to operation of firefighting aircraft.
      .6   Various relevant literature on aerial firefighting sourced from the State
           Aircraft Unit web site and CFA procedures for aircraft operations.
      .7   Emergency Management Guidelines for Wind Farms, CFA, Version 3, April
           2007
      .8   Community profile data obtained through the Pyrenees Shire Council
           website.
      .9   DSE paper on bushfire causation.
      .10 CFA’s Municipal Fire Prevention Planning Guidelines and township
          protection arrangements for applicability to the project.




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                                                         Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson




4   Findings
    4.1   Summary of Opinions
          In considering the proposed wind farm including the Terminal Station, the fire-
          related objections I dealt with:
               •   the CFA’s “Emergency Management Guidelines for Wind Farms”;
               •   the model planning permit conditions for wind farms.
          I found nothing that I consider to seriously militate against establishing the wind
          farm and terminal station as proposed. Of course this summary statement is
          conditional on the acceptance of certain management recommendations and
          additional planning permit conditions that follow later in this statement.

    4.2   Emergency Management Guidelines for Wind Farms, CFA Version 3,
          April 2007
          I perused this document and consider it addresses the fire issues involved with
          the two projects. To ensure it is fully and effectively implemented within
          Stockyard Hill’s Bushfire Mitigation Plan (BMP) Stockyard Hill should collaborate
          in the preparation of the BMP and CFA’s internal emergency response planning.

    4.3   Planning Permits
          I have reviewed the model planning permit conditions for wind farms and have
          found them satisfactory, subject to the following recommendations:
          .1   Concerning the preparation of an Environmental Management Plan (EMP),
               Condition 11(e) of the Model Planning Permit requires the preparation of a
               “wildfire prevention and emergency response plan”. Fire should be a year-
               round and all risks consideration. Consequently, this plan should be known
               as a “fire prevention and emergency response plan” and prepared
               accordingly to the satisfaction of the CFA.
          .2   Condition 11(e)(iv) of the Model Planning Permit be amended to require the
               operator Stockyard Hill to facilitate the familiarisation visit to the site and
               explanation of emergency services procedures no more than one (1) month
               prior to commencement of operation of the wind energy facility.
          .3   Condition 8 Aviation Safety Clearances of the Model Planning Permit be
               amended to include the State Aircraft Unit as a recipient in the distribution of
               endorsed development plans – refer to 5.5 later in this statement.

    4.4   Management Recommendations
          Based on my investigations, I consider the following recommendations
          appropriate for the management of the proposed Stockyard Hill Wind Farm and
          terminal station:
          .1   Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd should develop arrangements with the CFA
               to include in the bushfire management plan weather-based thresholds for
               calling out the closest fire brigade and dispatching the nearest helicopter
               water bomber to the wind tower concerned – refer to 5.1.1, 5.2.1 and 5.4
               later in this statement.




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                                               Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson




.2   Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd should liaise with the CFA and the high
     voltage operator to determine suitable safety management arrangements,
     including for fire detection and notification, at the terminal station and
     substations in accordance with best practice. – refer to 5.1.2 later in this
     statement.
.3   All Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd employees, contractors and suppliers
     working on the project site receive bushfire prevention training as part of their
     induction training – refer to 5.1.3 later in this statement.
.4   The maintenance regime for the wind farm to include the minimising of
     potential for “pole top fires” – refer 5.1.4 later in this statement.
.5   Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd should seek to be represented on the
     Municipal Fire Prevention Committees — shortly to be succeeded by
     Integrated Fire Management Planning Committees — covering the project
     area and adjoining municipalities with towns at risk from bushfire emanating
     from the project area – refer to 5.3 later in this statement.
.6   Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd should enter into discussions with the State
     Aircraft Unit on use of aircraft to protect wind farm assets – refer to 5.4 and
     5.5 later in this statement.




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                                                              Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson



5   Response to Fire-related Objections
    As the objections all generally mention risk of fire and/or consequences of a fire event
    involving the wind farm I deal with the objections in the risk management context, that of
    the likelihood and consequence of fire associated with the wind farm project. In
    responding to the objections I have grouped them as follows:

    5.1 The notion of fire risk attributed to the project.

        From examination of the written Objections and meeting with the two couples who
        lodged Objections I have defined the Objectors’ notion of risk as:

        .1 Turbine nacelle – the likelihood of outbreak of fire a turbine nacelle
           While the manufacturer’s literature explains the high standard of manufacture
           and fail-safe devices installed, there can be no guarantee that fire will never
           occur in a wind turbine nacelle:
              While there cannot be any guarantee that an installation involved in electricity
              generation can never malfunction and cause a fire, the potential for fire of [sic] wind
              turbines is inherently low, Emergency Management Guidelines for Wind Farms,
              CFA (page 4).
           The problem with a fire in a nacelle is its height above ground — the higher
           above ground the fire the greater the distance freed lightweight burning materials
           will be spread by strong wind in conditions conducive to the rapid spread of
           bushfire.
           Nacelle “covers” of glass-reinforced plastic covers ignited would certainly be
           lightweight fuel.
           The Objectors’ concern is understood to be the risk of fires being started
           downwind in very windy conditions.
           Solution
           I am informed that there will be temperature sensors within the nacelle and hub
           that will pick up the heat of a flame and shutdown the turbine. This shutdown will
           send an alarm to the control room and that alarm will be sent to on-site service
           technicians to immediately investigate the cause of that alarm.
           To minimise the spread of fire beyond the turbine and given the remoteness of
           some wind towers, Stockyard Hill should develop arrangements with the CFA to
           include in the bushfire management plan weather-based thresholds for calling out
           the closest fire brigade and dispatching the nearest helicopter water bomber to
           the wind tower concerned — see reference to fire brigade response later in this
           statement.




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                                                     Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson




.2 The likelihood of outbreak of fire in the terminal station or a
   substation.
  Outbreaks of fire in the terminal station and substations should be able to be
  minimised with well-designed circuitry, use of high quality equipment/components
  and effective surge protection and/or earth leakage detection/isolation equipment
  — circuit breakers or rapid action fuses.
  Solution
  The first paragraph above covers engineering design and quality control issues
  that I will leave to Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd — in view of the investment
  cost and required return on investment I have no reason not to expect the best.
  Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd should liaise with the CFA and the high voltage
  operator to determine suitable safety management arrangements, including for
  fire detection and notification, at the terminal station and substations in
  accordance with best practice.
  Spread of fire from the terminal station or a substation can be minimised as part
  of a comprehensive bushfire management plan.

.3 The likelihood of employees, contractors or suppliers involved with
   the construction of the wind turbines and related infrastructure
   starting a fire.
  Outbreaks of bushfire can be attributed to causes such as:
   •   a carelessly discarded cigarette or lighted match
   •   welding or use of grinders in the open air
   •   defective exhausts or spark arrestors on motor vehicle, tractors or stationary
       motors
   •   defective machinery that can lead to a fire
   •   failure to have first aid firefighting equipment such as fire extinguishers readily
       available at each work site
  Solution
  The likelihood of employees, contractors or suppliers starting fires ought to be
  able to be prevented though a comprehensive bushfire management plan that
  includes induction training.

.4 The likelihood of “pole top” fires.
  Pole top fires, an issue raised in my discussion with Objectors, tend to occur in
  circumstances of heavy fog, mist or drizzle when an accumulation of dust on a
  high voltage insulator is converted to paste by the moisture thus creating a path
  across the insulator from the conductor to earth. The fire usually occurs where
  the metal insulator pin enters a timber cross arm or steel bolt fixing a cross arm to
  a timber pole and where a high resistance joint exists.
  The relatively wet conditions in which pole top fires usually occur would also
  likely inhibit ignition of vegetation around the pole or slow its spread — when pole
  top fires occur, the moisture content of grass or other fine (vegetation) fuel
  around the pole is likely to be high.
  Solution
  An effective maintenance regime should address any potential for pole top fires.

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                                                    Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson




   .5 The likelihood of poles supporting conductors falling over in high
      wind causing fires
     Solution
     An effective maintenance regime can go a long way to minimising this source of
     fire.

5.2 Concern that local fire brigades are not equipped to fight such fires
    adequately and with a reasonable level of safety for the volunteers.

   .1 Suppressing an outbreak of fire in a turbine nacelle
     Clearly, suppressing outbreak of fire in a nacelle requires specialised equipment
     to suppress, the height above ground being a major problem. I don’t expect that
     the CFA will have ground-based firefighting equipment readily available to bridge
     the distance from the ground to the nacelle.
     Solution
     In accordance with CFA standard practice, the event of an outbreak of fire the
     most practical solution would be for brigades to sit off at a safe distance and
     judge the extent of falling burning material and endeavour to set up a control line
     (at least a wet strip) to try to contain any spread of fire. A nearby road or track
     may be able to be utilised for this purpose.
     In weather conditions conducive to the rapid spread of fire, the earlier the alarm
     of fire the better, with the objective of keeping a fire below the nacelle small
     before the arrival of fire brigade units. Detectors in the nacelle raising an alarm in
     the monitored control room will enable a quick notification to neighbouring fire
     brigades of a situation where there may be a fire.
     In my discussions with the Acting Manager State Aircraft Unit, I was informed and
     agree that if available, water bombing aircraft could be used to extinguish or at
     least contain a fire in and around a turbine tower with a burning nacelle.

   .2 Outbreak of fire involving the terminal station or a substation
     Solution
     I consider such a fire situation a containment issue for local brigades using the
     equipment normally issued to fire brigades. I also expect that the CFA will
     provide the necessary training to brigades likely to find themselves in this
     situation.
     My expectation is that the local brigades would contain the fire until the arrival of
     appropriately qualified and equipped Stockyard Hill maintenance people.
     I don’t consider this a significant issue.




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                                                      Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson




5.3 Increased risk of fire damage to properties

   A principal cause for concern amongst Objectors is a view that the more potential
   sources of ignition that come into the area the greater is the likelihood of a repeat of
   the 1977 Streatham fire.

   The potential threat to life and property is considered great on days of extreme fire
   danger, or worse in conditions similar to 7 February 2009.

   The threat of fire on extreme fire danger days is recognised in the Westmere Group
   located at the southern end of the project area, where there is voluntary compliance
   with a request from that Group of brigades to the community to “stay out of the
   paddocks” on such days.

   A declining population in the rural areas due to the shift of young people to the
   cities, farmers turning their land over to plantation forestry and retiring and other
   farmers forced to take employment off the farm means that response times and
   levels of crewing can be problematic, particularly during harvesting.

   Slow responses by fire brigades give time for a fire to develop. In much of the
   project area stony barriers further slow or block firefighting units pursuing a fire
   along its flanks as they work to reach the head of the fire to eventually halt its
   forward spread.

   In recent years water bombing helicopters have been added to a fleet of fixed-wing
   crop dusting aircraft responded to assist fire control, but this is a finite resource that
   may have already been deployed to a going fire elsewhere.

   Solution

   In my travels I have found that many individual properties, settlements and towns
   are poorly prepared to withstand bushfire.

   In addition to the solutions mentioned earlier in this report, individuals within and
   adjoining the project area should continually be encouraged to make their properties
   or at least the principal assets such as dwellings machinery sheds, fodder storages
   bushfire resistant and provide refuge areas for stock.

   Municipal councils need to be urged to ensure that Municipal Fire Prevention Plans
   include works plans to eliminate any gaps in settlement and township bushfire
   protection.

   Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd’s risk minimisation strategy should include seeking
   to be represented on the Municipal Fire Prevention Committees — shortly to be
   succeeded by Integrated Fire Management Planning Committees — covering the
   project area and adjoining municipalities with towns at risk from bushfire emanating
   from the project area. The representative should be active in bringing to the
   committee Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd’s concerns over towns and settlements
   inadequately prepared to withstand bushfire.

   Given a high standard of maintenance of the wind turbines and related infrastructure
   and adherence to bushfire risk cognisant work practices that it is reasonable to
   expect of such a project, the wind farm should present less of a risk of outbreak of
   fire than some of the day-today activities within the project area during the summer



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                                                       Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson



   months, such as slashers in contact with rocks, mechanical failure of harvesters and
   careless use welders and grinders in the open air.

5.4 Defence of wind turbines in event of a major bushfire – toxicity of
    burning glass-reinforced plastic

   A wind driven grass fire moves very swiftly across the ground and its residence in
   one place is very limited. Consequently, a grass fire is unlikely to cause more
   damage than to blister the paint near to the base of a wind tower.

   Concern has been expressed over toxic fumes emanating from burning glass-
   reinforced plastic turbine blades. I cannot comment on toxicity other than to say that
   I doubt that a grass fire passing a wind tower will only soften rather than ignite
   blades closest to the ground — I note that the blades are between approximately 30
   to 130 metres above the ground, in which case I doubt there is any cause for
   concern.

   Solution

   Fuel (vegetation) reduction around the immediate base of wind towers and related
   infrastructure in accordance with the CFA’s “Emergency Management Guidelines for
   Wind Farms” as part of a bushfire management plan would be an appropriate
   solution.

   Water bombing aircraft, particularly helicopters, can be used to protect Stockyard
   Hill assets in the path of a fire. Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd should contact the
   State Aircraft Unit to discuss the availability and application of water bombing
   aircraft to protect its assets in the project area.

5.5 Use of firefighting aircraft in close proximity to wind towers – safety of
    aircraft

   Firefighting aircraft are required to be operated according to Visual Flight Rules
   (VFR) and Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC), that is the pilot must be able to
   see the ground and for prescribed distances around them. Basically, they are not
   permitted to operate in smoke or cloud and they usually operate under the control of
   an Air Attack Supervisor in a separate aircraft.

   The height of wind towers is not considered to inhibit the operation of water bombing
   aircraft by reducing the efficiency of “drops”.

   Solution

   Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd should provide the State Aircraft Unit with a
   detailed map of the location of the wind towers and associated infrastructure.

   Stockyard Hill Wind Farm Pty Ltd should enter into discussions with the State
   Aircraft Unit on the use of aircraft to protect its assets in the project area, particularly
   the use of water bombing aircraft to extinguish a burning turbine nacelle.




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                                                         Expert witness statement of John David Nicholson




6.   Declaration
     I have made all the inquiries that I believe are desirable and appropriate and no matters
     of significance which I regard as relevant have to my knowledge been withheld from the
     Planning Panel.




     John Nicholson, AFSM
     28 March 2010




Annexure A - Qualifications
            See attached professional resume.




                                                                                               page 10

								
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