To implement the Victorian Government’s commitment to supporting renewable energy development through the planning framework, Amendment VC161 (Amendment) was gazetted on 17 September 2019, introducing important changes to all Victoria Planning Provisions.

What does this Amendment do?

Key changes introduced by the Amendment include:

  • introducing the Solar Energy Facilities Design and Development Guideline August 2019 (Guideline) as a decision guideline for planning permit applications for renewable energy facilities (other than wind energy facilities)
  • specifying the Minister for Planning as the responsible authority (previously councils) for all renewable energy facilities and associated utility infrastructure above 1 megawatt generation capacity
  • introducing State planning policy to protect declared irrigation districts.

What does the Guideline tell us?

The Guideline is intended to guide the development of and assist in the granting of permits for ground mounted solar structures which export electricity generated onsite to the National Electricity Market.

Notably, the Guideline:

  • does not apply to roof-mounted solar panel arrays
  • defines what a large-scale solar energy facility is
  • outlines the Victorian Government’s policies and strategies to encourage more renewable energy in Victoria
  • provides guidance on matters that should be considered at the site selection stage when identifying suitable locations for solar facilities
  • provides ‘best practice’ guidance for proponents when engaging the community and preparing the final permit application
  • clearly outlines the Victorian planning framework for the assessment of an application for a solar energy facility and its associated infrastructure in the context of the Planning and Environment Act 1987 and the Victoria Planning Provisions.

The Guideline will work in tandem with Clause 53.13 (Renewable energy facility – other than wind energy facility) and must be considered by the responsible authority, as appropriate, before deciding on an application.

What does Amendment VC161 mean for solar farm proponents?

The Guideline encourages:

  • proponents to assess if locations are still desirable after it considers potential community concerns, surrounding environmental impacts and the integrity of existing and future irrigation networks
  • both proponents and the responsible authority to think about the cumulative effects of renewable energy facilities in the area and the outcome if there are too many facilities located close to one another; and
  • proponents to think about environmental values such as maintaining flora and fauna and the design and landscape components when constructing and operating renewable energy facilities.

What does VC161 mean for Councils?

Councils can expect a reduced administrative burden now that:

  • the Minister for Planning is the responsible authority for renewable energy facilities and associated utility infrastructure above 1 megawatt generation capacity
  • a permit is not required to use land for power lines and electrical sub-stations associated with an energy generation facility if a permit was granted for such a facility prior to Amendment VC157.

Councils remain as the responsible authority for all proposals below the 1 megawatt threshold. This means that Councils will still need to review and understand the Guideline when assessing such proposals.

Protection of declared irrigation districts

The Amendment has also introduced new clause 14.02-3S, which prioritises irrigation districts created under the Water Act 1989 (Water Act). The Secretary of the Department administering the Water Act will now be a recommending referral authority for renewable energy facilities within irrigation districts.

This seeks to ensure that the siting and design of renewable energy facilities minimises its impacts on the agricultural use and productivity of declared irrigation areas.

A copy of the Gazetted Amendment materials and further information can be found via this link: https://www.planning.vic.gov.au/schemes-and-amendments/browse-amendments?query=VC161.