The Draft Code and Draft Guidelines provide a regulatory framework aimed at:

  • facilitating the development of new, or expansion of existing, wind farms; and
  • avoiding the potential adverse impacts on the community and environment during the construction, operation and decommissioning of wind farms.

The effect of the proposed reforms will see responsibility for development assessment transferring from local to state government and the creation of new performance criteria to manage the impacts of development.

What we know

The Draft Code is intended to apply prospectively. Wind farm proposals currently under assessment will continue to be assessed by the relevant local government.

The Draft Code will apply to:

  • all new wind farm developments with one or more wind turbines (including any existing wind turbines on the site) with a generation capacity of over 500 kilowatts; and
  • associated infrastructure and works (eg site access, foundations and building works).

Wind farm developments caught under the Draft Code must apply to the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA) for development approval. In assessing development applications, SARA will apply the State Development Assessment Provisions, which will incorporate the Draft Code (once finalised).

If a new wind farm development is not subject to the Draft Code, it will continue to be assessed by the relevant local government.

Meeting assessment requirements

In an attempt to manage potential adverse impacts of wind farm projects, the Draft Code sets out various assessment criteria in the form of performance outcomes and acceptable outcomes. The Draft Guidelines make reference to a number of different federal, state and industry guidelines to assist proponents in demonstrating that the assessment criteria can be met. The assessment criteria under the Draft Code includes the following key considerations:

  • connection to supply networks – wind farms are to be located in areas where they can be readily connected to existing high-voltage electricity transmission lines;
  • air safety – proponents will be required to assess the impact on aviation activities and air traffic in the vicinity of the wind farm and must not develop wind farms or place wind turbines within restricted areas (eg wind turbines over 150m above ground level are not to be located on land within 30km of the aerodrome reference point of strategic airports);
  • electromagnetic interference – proponents will be required to assess the impact of electromagnetic interference caused by wind turbines on electronic transmissions (eg television, radio or radar transmissions);
  • environmental and ecological matters – proponents will be required to assess the environmental (eg bird and bat collisions with wind turbines) and ecological (eg clearing of important flora species and fauna habitats) impacts of the wind farm development;
  • wind farm transport and access – proponents will be required to assess the traffic impacts associated with the construction and operation of the wind farm;
  • visual amenity – proponents will be required to assess the change to landscape values likely to be caused by wind farm development;
  • shadow flicker – shadow flicker must not exceed 30 hours per annum and 30 minutes per day and turbine blades are to be finished with low reflectivity;
  • audible noise emissions – noise levels must not go above 35 decibels, or exceed background noise by more than five (5) decibels;
  • low-frequency noise emissions – noise levels must not result in unacceptable levels of nuisance; and
  • environmental management plan – proponents will be required to comply with an environmental management plan that identifies how all relevant aspects to the construction, operation and decommissioning of the wind farm development will be managed.

For further information and guidance on the assessment requirements, refer to the Draft Code and Draft Guidelines (available here: https://haveyoursay.dsdip.qld.gov.au/communications/windfarms).

What we don’t know

The Draft Code will be subject to ordinary Parliamentary processes after the public consultation period closes. Accordingly, it is unclear whether any changes will be made to the Draft Code before it is finalised. As it stands, the Draft Code is silent on the consequences for the project if it fails to meet one or more of the assessment criteria. Clarification of this issue is important because it has the potential to derail any new wind farm development. Additionally, some of the required outcomes lack specificity which may render compliance difficult. For example, the Draft Code specifies that low-frequency noise emissions must not result in ‘unacceptable levels’ of nuisance, yet there is no guidance as to what constitutes an ‘unacceptable level’. It is also unclear whether third party rights of appeal will be permitted or restricted.

Watch this space

As Queensland is one of Australia’s richest resource states, the uptake of renewable energy has traditionally lagged behind the other states and territories. The Draft Code represents the Queensland Government’s recognition of the importance of having a planning framework that guides investment in wind farm development in Queensland. Comments and submissions on the Draft Code can be made until 13 May 2014 (see https://haveyoursay.dsdip.qld.gov.au/communications/windfarms).