The Wind Farm State Code (Code) will take effect on 22 July 2016. The Code is the outcome of an extended consultative process involving two rounds of public consultation on draft versions of the Code released in early 2014 and late 2015.
The Code provides a standardised process and assessment criteria in respect of new or expanding utility-scale wind farms in Queensland for the granting of development approvals for a material change in use under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld).
Development approval applications will be assessed by the State Government through the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA) rather than by local governments. The Code does not apply to applications for developments containing one wind turbine of a height less than 30 metres and with an overall generation capacity of less than 500 kW.
The Code identifies the matters SARA will consider when assessing a wind farm development approval application - aviation safety, electromagnetic interference, shadow flicker, flora and fauna, traffic safety, stormwater management, construction management and acoustic amenity.
The Code has some important differences from the draft released in October 2015. These changes predominantly favour wind farm developers by offering greater flexibility, for instance:
- the development must no longer be located more than 30 metres from a waterway (although the development must still minimise the clearing of vegetation around watercourses or drainage features);
- wind turbines can now be located closer than 1,500 metres from sensitive land uses on adjoining non-host land lots, if all affected adjoining land owners consent under a deed of release;
- a less stringent acoustic amenity standard (the standard used for the host land lot) can be applied to adjoining land lots if all affected adjoining land owners consent under a deed of release; and
- removal of the low frequency noise emission criterion.
Less preferable for wind farm developers is the inclusion of a new criterion for acoustic amenity on the host land lot for the development. However, this standard is less stringent than for assessing acoustic amenity on adjoining land lots. There are also increased aviation safety criteria regarding endorsements from key aviation stakeholders and safety lighting and marking requirements for the wind farm.