One of the key documents for the assessment of wind energy facility proposals in Victoria is a set of guidelines that are incorporated into all Planning Schemes in Victoria.
Following the gazettal of Amendment VC78 on 15 March 2011 (View our legal update), the Victorian Government has now released new Policy and Planning Guidelines for the Development of Wind Energy Facilities in Victoria, March 2011 (Guidelines). The Guidelines replace guidelines introduced in 2002 and revised in September 2009. It is notable that the Guidelines were introduced without any form of consultation with stakeholders and are now an incorporated document in the Victorian Planning Provisions and therefore have considerable weight in the planning process.
The Guidelines are directed at responsible authorities, proponents and the community. The purpose of the Guidelines is threefold – they aim to provide:
- a framework to enable a consistent and balanced approach to the assessment of wind energy projects across the State
- a set of consistent operational performance standards to assist in the assessment and operation of a wind energy facility project, and
- the requirements for planning permit applications.
The Guidelines provide a definition of wind energy facilities, describe Victoria’s wind energy resources, outline the broad planning policy and statutory context in Victoria and provide a decision making framework for the assessment of planning application for wind energy facilities.
The key changes between the 2009 guidelines and the new Guidelines are:
- The removal of the distinction between energy facilities of less than 30 megawatts and more than 30 megawatts. The Minister was previously the responsible authority for applications relating to energy facilities with a capacity of over 30 megawatts. Now, the default position for all applications relating to wind energy facilities is that local councils will be the responsible authority except where a project is designated as of State Significance under Part 9 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (the Act), in which case the Minister for Planning is the responsible authority. Local councils may also ask the Minister for Planning to decide an application under Section 97C of the Planning and Environment Act 1987.
- The Guidelines do not extend the same level of support for wind energy as their predecessors and include greater emphasis on community concerns.
- New and updated documents are to be considered when deciding applications for wind farms:
- National Wind Farm Development Guidelines (draft, July 2010).
- Best Practice Guidelines for Implementation of Wind Energy Projects in Australia, Australian Wind Energy Association (Auswind).
- New Zealand Standards NZS 6808:2010, Acoustics – Wind Farm Noise, in place of the existing 1998 Standard.
Amendment VC78 has introduced additional application requirements in Clause 52.32 of the Victorian Planning Provisions, namely the need for:
- a plan showing all dwellings within 2 kilometres of a proposed turbine
- a concept plan of associated transmission infrastructure, electricity utility works and access road options, and
- an assessment of noise impacts prepared in accordance with the New Zealand Standards NZS 6808:2010, Acoustics – Wind Farm Noise.
The Guidelines provide further detail on these requirements and other information that should accompany an application for a permit for a wind energy facility.
The 2009 guidelines encouraged applicants to provide site plans showing the location of all dwellings within a 500 metre radius of the site. The ‘2 kilometre’ requirement is therefore a significant change. This change is in line with the revised clause 19.01-1 of Victorian planning schemes, which promotes greater consideration of the effects of a wind energy facility proposal on the local community.
The Guidelines continue to provide practical advice for proponents and responsible authorities in relation to applications for and the assessment of wind energy facilities. The Guidelines confirm the Government’s focus on community concerns relating to local amenity and are likely to make obtaining approvals for wind energy facility proponents more difficult.
The Victorian Government has indicated that the Guidelines, like VC78, are steps in a series of actions to reform wind energy policy. New measures to minimise the effect of wind farms on national and state parks and designated tourist areas are expected, as are further arrangements to support residents who live in the vicinity of proposed wind energy facilities.