In the wake of the Labor party conceding defeat, the new Liberal National Government (Government) will begin to introduce its election policies. There are three key policy plans in the environmental space:

  • Planning
  • Water
  • Energy and Resources

This legal update provides a summary of the key aspects of each of these plans.

In general terms, the Government’s policies for Planning include commitments to reducing delays, improving affordability, increased transparency, and (the ever-desirable but inevitably conflicting) certainty and flexibility. There is also a major focus on decisions being made at local level.

The Government’s policies on Water and Energy and Resources, while stated in very broad terms, are underpinned by a new focus on the recycling of water and the development of renewable energy technology and projects to ‘re-balance’ the Victorian electricity portfolio. ‘Re-balance’ appears to be the Government’s way of saying that Victoria will continue to use coal-fired power but is seeking a gradual transition to renewable energy. The commitment to renewable energy has to be viewed in light of the Government’s wind farm policy, which if implemented will greatly reduce the number of potential wind farm locations within Victoria.

Planning

There are proposed to be a number of new institutions developed to replace those put in place under Labor. Some existing institutions will also have their powers or functions altered.  

Please see table.

Changes to the Victorian Planning Provisions

A new outcomes-based metropolitan planning strategy for Melbourne will be developed to replace Melbourne 2030. It is not clear how this will be implemented, but there are references elsewhere in the Plan for Planning to “a new metropolitan planning scheme for Melbourne”.

Localised Statements of Planning Policy will be established for key areas around Victoria, including the Mornington Peninsula, the Yarra Valley, the Macedon Ranges and the Bellarine Peninsula.

The Government will give consideration to amending the Farm Zone to allow greater flexibility in the application of the 40-hectare minimum lot size and to the Green Wedge Zone to allow an increased range of uses on smaller lot sizes.

There will be increased fire prevention-related native vegetation clearance exemptions.

Growth Areas Infrastructure Charge (GAIC)

The full amount of the GAIC will be payable at the time of Statement of Compliance.

The GAIC will not apply to land zoned commercial or industrial or to land currently owned by non-government schools.

Land Supply in the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB)

A biennial review of the UGB in growth areas will be undertaken, with greater transparency.

The Government will seek to have 20-25 years land supply in growth areas around Melbourne and regional cities, such as Geelong.

Wind Farms

No turbines will be allowed within 2km of a home except with the agreement of the homeowner.

Local government will be reinstated as the decision maker on wind farm applications.

Compensation will be provided to homes located within 1km of a turbine.

There will be extensive ‘no-go’ zones along the coast, in the ranges and in and near national and state parks, designated tourist areas and designated regional population growth corridors.

Coastal Development

Continuation of detailed coastal mapping is supported. Coastal development is to be allowed “at owner’s risk” vis-à-vis climate change. It is unclear what this means, but a more permissive stance on coastal development seems likely.

Miscellaneous

Activity centres are to have their boundaries fully defined within three years, ‘population strategies’ considering service and infrastructure requirements are to be prepared, and support for high density development along public transport corridors is to be reduced.

There will be tougher planning controls for packaged liquor outlets.

Amendments will be made to the heritage protection processes, including requiring all Councils to complete a Municipal Heritage Strategy for their municipality.

Metropolitan Liveability Audits will be undertaken in relation to population growth possibility, transport, bikeways, utilities infrastructure, climate constraints and community services.

A population strategy will be developed for all of Victoria and investigation will be undertaken of non-Melbourne growth corridors.

There will be Increased disclosure around ministerial interventions both before (prior notification to Councils) and after (enhanced reporting to Parliament) the fact.

There will be a focus on interface and peri-urban councils and planning, including a new Urban Interface Zone.

Water

The Government’s water policy places a high emphasis on water recycling to reduce the demand on drinking water. In order to promote the use of recycled water and the value of water conservation, the Government will establish a market for recycled water and will set a water substitution target.

The Government has also made clear its opposition to the costs associated with the Wonthaggi desalination plant and has questioned the necessity and effectiveness of the North-South Pipeline.

Water recycling

Sewer mining has been identified by the Government as a solution for the watering of sports grounds parks and golf courses

The Government will seek to supply recycled water, through a third pipeline, to new residential estates located close to waste water treatment plants.

Major Government projects will adopt guidelines ensuring that roof areas will be used to collect and reuse rain water.

To promote the use of recycled water, the Government will seek to secure and stimulate a market for recycled water.

Establishing a water substitution target

A water substitution target will be established for the years 2015, 2020 and 2030.

An initial substitution target of 110 billion litres of water by 2015 and interim substitution target of 144 billion litres of water by 2020 will also be set.

By 2030, the Government target will be to have 200 billion litres of water substituted with water drawn from rain water, treated stormwater or recycled water. This equates to 36 per cent of Melbourne’s projected water demand.

North-South Pipeline and Food Bowl Modernisation

Melbourne’s use of the North-South pipeline will be phased out. The Government will, however, use it for “critical human needs”, provided that there is sufficient water in the Goulburn system.

To determine the viability of the North-South Pipeline and the Food Bowl Modernisation Project, the Coalition will hold an independent judicial inquiry into the social, economic and environmental impacts that they are having on communities throughout Victoria.

Energy & Resources

The Government’s energy and resources policy appears to be a safe response to the issue of climate change, focusing on energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy technology and projects.

Despite this focus on renewable energy projects, the Government appears to have increased the restrictions placed on wind farms (as outlined above). Rather, the Government identifies technology advances in clean coal, fuel cell energy, solar energy, co-generation and tri-generation as major contributors in ‘rebalancing’ the state’s electricity portfolio.

The Government has also indicated that it will commission a review of the various regulatory barriers to the development of low emission generation.

Feed-in Tariffs

The Government will continue to support feed-in tariffs. They believe, that a gross feed-in tariff scheme will better promote the use of solar and other renewable forms of energy as opposed to the current ‘premium’ based feed in scheme. The current scheme will remain in place until an inquiry and report by the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission into the design and implementation of a market-based gross feed-in tariff scheme has been completed.

Cleaner Coal

The Government acknowledges that Victoria is still reliant on brown coal and the coal-fired generation of electricity and is careful in describing any transition from coal-fired power to renewable energy.

In its attempt to ‘rebalance’ the use of coal-fired stations with other lower emissions sources, the Government will promote research and development in technology to reduce emissions from coal-fired generation and encourage the development of carbon capture and storage.

The Government believe that this technology will enable Victoria’s brown coal assets to continue to be used in a more environmentally friendly and responsible way.

Clean technology identified by the Government to achieve this rebalancing include the:

  • Retrofitting of existing coal-fired generators
  • Further development of the CCS hub and geosequestration
  • Introduction of restrictions on new approvals for coal-fired power stations exceeding .08 tonnes of CO2 per megawatt hour, and
  • Continued promotion of the $30million CarbonNet Project.

Similarly, the Government will continue to make grants available for energy projects, such as fuel cell technology, which seek to reduce emissions or increase energy efficiency.

Renewable and Low Emissions Energy Projects

The use of renewable energy will also be used by the Government to rebalance Victoria’s electricity portfolio. Funding for grants for pilot renewable energy plants and technology projects will, therefore, be increased from $42 million to $82 million. Subject to Federal Government funding, the Coalition will also:

  • Provide $100 million to the TRUenergy Large Scale Solar Power station near Mildura; and
  • Provide the remaining $50 million to Silex for their solar energy plant and advocate for an additional grant from the Commonwealth’s Solar Flagship program.

Based on pilot programs in Britain and Sydney, the development and installation of co-generation and tri-generation plants will be trialled in Victoria. In doing so, the Government will seek to extend the eligibility for pilot program grants and attempt to address the regulatory barriers that inhibit the use of this technology.

The Government has also set the target of obtaining 5 per cent of Victoria’s power from solar energy by 2020. The same target was part of Labor’s Climate Change White Paper.

Wind Farms

The Coalition policy outlines support for wind farms in ’appropriate locations’. The parameters for an appropriate location are outlined in the planning section above. While the policy stipulates support for the development of renewable energy, the restrictions imposed on the development of wind farms confirm the political sensitivity of this form of renewable energy in regional areas.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency has been identified as integral to reducing emissions in households and small businesses.

The Government plans to provide greater information to households and businesses about energy efficiency and emissions reductions. For example, forums will be organised for individual inventors’ products and capabilities to be showcased to Victorians.

The Government will also seek to:

  • Ensure that the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target Scheme has safeguards ensuring that the effort to deliver energy efficiency is not undermined by rorting.
  • Support the extension of the Energy Saver Incentive to small and medium enterprises, and
  • Maintain energy efficiency rebate schemes, public housing and low income energy efficiency programs.

Government departments will be required to set the example in energy efficiency. A range of benchmarks for the energy use and efficiency of government departments will be established.

Barriers to the development of low emission generation

The Government will seek to identify the barriers to the development of low emission generation in assisting Victoria to meet its growing energy demand from lower-emission generation.

The Government will commission the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission to identify and report on the barriers to the development of a network of distributed renewable and gas fired electricity.

The regulatory barriers to tri-generation and co-generation energy will also be examined along with the price consequences of the different forms of energy generation.