The Queensland Government has finalised the Wind Farm State Code (Code) and Planning Guidelines (Guidelines), both of which will come into effect on 22 July 2016. The Code and Guidelines build on earlier versions, which were the subject of an alert shortly after they were released in 2014.

The Code and Guidelines align with the Government’s goal to increase the production and use of renewable energy to 50% by 2030.

The Code applies to development applications for a material change of use for a new or expanding wind farm. Its aim is to protect individuals, communities and the environment from adverse impacts as a result of the construction, operation and decommissioning of wind farms.

The Code has been added to the State Development Assessment Provisions, an existing framework used by the State Assessment and Referral Agency when assessing development proposals under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld).

The Code

The Code prescribes certain standards and performance outcomes in relation to a range of matters relevant to the assessment, approval and operation of a wind farm.

The Code details acceptable outcomes in relation to some of those considerations. The key outcomes that a proponent might want to consider when selecting a site for a wind farm, and developing its design, include the following.

Aviation safety, integrity and efficiency

Wind turbines less than 150m in height must not infringe certain airspaces; or, if wind turbines are more than 150m, written endorsements from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (‘CASA’), Airservices Australian and the aerodrome supervisor are required. If the proposed site is within 30km of a military aerodrome, written endorsement from the Department of Defence is also required.

Marking and lighting measures must also be observed. For example, the upper two thirds of wind turbine masts must be painted white; and, the top third of wind monitoring towers must be painted in alternating bands of contrasting colour. The lighting of wind turbines or wind monitoring towers of more than 150m in height or within 30km of an aerodrome requires written endorsement by CASA.

In areas where low flying aircraft occur, markers or high visibility sleeves must be placed on the outside guy wires of wind monitoring towers and a strobe light must be installed to operate on wind monitoring towers during daylight hours. The ground attachment points of the guy wires must be a contrasting colour to the surrounding ground or vegetation.

Shadow flicker

The shadow flicker impact on any existing or approved Sensitive Land Uses (e.g. residential houses, child care centres, retirement facilities and other land uses listed in the State Planning Policy 2016) must not exceed 30 hours per year and 30 minutes per day. Wind turbine blades must be of low reflectivity.

Acoustic amenity

For a parcel of land that accommodates part of the wind farm development and that is also subject to a Sensitive Land Use, the night time (10pm to 6am) acoustic level must not exceed 45dB(A) or 5dB(A) more than the background noise.

For a parcel of land that does not accommodate part of the wind farm and that is also subject to Sensitive Land Use, the night time (10pm to 6am) acoustic level must not exceed 35dB(A) or 5dB(A) more than the background noise. The day time (6am to 10pm) acoustic level must not exceed 37dB(A) or 5dB(A) more than the background noise. Alternatively, written agreements must be entered into with lot owners and the predicted acoustic level must not exceed 45dB(A) or 5dB(A) more than the background noise.

Visual amenity: character, scenic amenity and landscape values

The proposed wind farm should avoid or minimise and mitigate any adverse impacts on the character, scenic amenity and landscape values of the locality and region through effective siting and design. Scenic amenity is described as being a measure of the relative contribution of each place in the landscape to the collective appreciation of open space as viewed from places that are important to the public. Landscape values are areas protected under a regional plan or local government planning scheme, such as biodiversity networks, natural economic resource areas, scenic amenity areas and landscape heritage areas.

To demonstrate compliance with this outcome of the Code, a visual impact assessment report might be undertaken. Ideally, it would identify and propose measures to avoid or minimise adverse impacts. When undertaking a visual assessment, ancillary structures including monitoring towers and electrical infrastructure should be assessed along with the wind turbines themselves. As well, a written statement or services plan that demonstrates electrical infrastructure associated with the wind turbines will be located in areas that reduce its impact on visual amenity.

Separation distances

Wind turbines must be at least 1.5km from existing or approved Sensitive Land Uses on parcels of land on which no part of the wind farm is located. Or, a written agreement from all affected landowners must be provided outlining acceptance of the reduced setback.

The Guidelines

The Guidelines supplement the Code and provide information on how to demonstrate compliance with the performance outcomes. Methodologies used for technical assessments required by the Code are also set out. The Guidelines are comprehensive and have been adapted from the guidelines, policies and procedures of other jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth.