Posted on August 22, 2016 by Anna Sinclair
Change in direction – new NSW wind energy guidelines released
The NSW Government has released for public consultation a draft ‘New Wind Energy Planning Framework’ (Draft Framework) for large-scale wind energy facilities, which aims to increase investment in wind energy in the state, whilst balancing the needs of the community.
The Draft Framework, if adopted, will replace the controversial draft Planning Guidelines – Wind Farms released in December 2011 (2011 Draft Guidelines), which were described by the then Planning Minister as the “toughest wind farm guidelines in Australia and possibly the world“. The 2011 Draft Guidelines provide that a wind turbine cannot be located within 2km of a residence unless the relevant landowner consents or the proponent obtains a site compatibility certificate.
There has been uncertainty in the community and industry with how the 2011 Draft Guidelines apply. There have also been substantial delays in the approval of projects under them, with the average determination time for wind farms in the past 5 years being more than 1000 days.
The Draft Framework
The Draft Framework principally includes the draft ‘Wind Energy Assessment Policy’ (Policy), ‘Wind Energy Noise Assessment Bulletin’ (Noise Assessment Bulletin), ‘Wind Energy Visual Impact Assessment Bulletin’ (Visual Impact Assessment Bulletin) and Standard Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs).
The key aspects of the Draft Framework include the following:
- it only applies to wind energy facilities that are state significant development as defined in the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act 1979 being facilities with a $30 million or more capital investment value or electrical power output of 30MW or more,
- it does not impose “arbitrary buffers”, but rather provides for a merit-based assessment approach,
- the Noise Assessment Bulletin and Visual Impact Assessment Bulletin set noise standards and the assessment methodologies for noise and visual impacts of wind energy facilities, and all facilities must be assessed in accordance with the bulletins,
- the draft standard SEARs and project specific SEARs will apply to the assessment of all other environmental impacts of wind energy facilities,
- it requires proponents to “undertake a comprehensive, detailed and genuine community consultation” including establishing a Community Consultative Committee early in the process in accordance with the Department of Planning & Environment’s “Community Consultative Committee Guidelines: State Significant Projects“.
Impact of the Draft Framework
The Draft Framework marks a clear departure from the 2011 Draft Guidelines and demonstrates this Government’s support for the development of wind farms in New South Wales.
Whilst the removal of the requirement for proponents to seek the consent of landowners within 2km of the development reduces the power local residents have in the planning process, the adoption of a merit-based assessment approach ensures that wind farms are assessed in the same manner as other infrastructure projects across the state, subject to the application of the Bulletins.
In terms of the most controversial aspects of wind farm developments, namely visual impacts, noise impacts and community consultation, the Government has sought to strike a balance between the interests of the industry and the community under the Draft Framework.
The Noise Assessment Bulletin proposes to adopt the South Australian EPA’s 2009 Noise Guidelines (with variations appropriate to NSW), and impose a noise limit of 35 decibels (dB) or background noise plus 5dB – whichever is greater, averaged over a 24-hour period. These limits are some of the most stringent in Australia and internationally for wind farms.
If development consent is granted, the proponent will also have to obtain an Environment Protection Licence under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997.
In terms of visual impacts, under the Visual Impact Bulletin, proponents are required to consult with a representative sample of the local population at the scoping stage to determine any key landscape values, viewpoints and areas of scenic quality and factor these in to the design and layout of the wind farm. There is also a requirement for a two-stage visual impact assessment.
Whilst these measures and guidelines are not determinative of where turbines can be located, they are designed to highlight sensitive locations, and if a turbine is proposed to be in such an area, it may need to be re-assessed, justified, or require further consultation with affected landowners.
The Draft Framework seeks to ensure that communities are consulted and involved in all stages of the wind farm development.
In addition to consultation on visual impacts of the development, community input in the project will also be secured through the establishment of a Community Consultative Committee, which includes representatives from the proponent, local council and the community. The committee is designed to provide for early input into the assessment, and to maintain effective communication with the community during the construction and operational phases.
The Policy also outlines where it may be appropriate for proponents to enter “negotiated agreements” with impacted landowners, and share the benefits of the project with the community (and enhance their support for it) through mechanisms such as “community enhancement funds”.
Feedback on the Draft Framework can be made up until 16 September 2016. To view the Draft Framework and for further information visit the Department’s website.
For further information regarding the Draft Framework, please contact Anna Sinclair on 02 8235 9713.