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Noise level blow for wind farm

A Victorian court has ruled that a wind farm proposal must follow the Baillieu government’s new tougher guidelines, raising opponents’ hopes the project will soon be axed.

The decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has dealt a blow to Wind Farm Developments’ plan to base 12 turbines at The Sisters, near Terang, 220km west of Melbourne.

Wind farms are coming under increased scrutiny nationally after a Senate committee this week recommended firmer noise limits and urgent research into the turbines’ potentially damaging health effects on nearby residents.

The Gillard government is yet to respond to the committee report, but wind farm opponents have called for an immediate halt to all developments until the research is complete.

In Victoria, deputy VCAT president Helen Gibson found the proposal at The Sisters needed to be judged by wind farm guidelines implemented by the Baillieu government in March, instead of the former planning rules, which had more lenient noise limits.

Moyne Shire has been fighting the proposal since 2009, when it first rejected the application from Wind Farm Developments.

The company took the case to VCAT last year, when the tribunal ruled that the development should not proceed because it breached last year’s noise standards, which consider the cumulative impact of noise and set a lower decibel limit in some cases.

Wind Farm Developments then appealed to the Supreme Court, which ordered the case back to VCAT after finding the tribunal had erred by applying recent noise standards instead of the 1998 version.

Ms Gibson said she took into account the Supreme Court’s direction that the case be “heard and decided again in accordance with law, and with the hearing of further evidence”.

“It does not matter that the process of decision-making is being made on remittal from the Supreme Court,” she said.

“I find the law requires the tribunal to hear and decide the remitted proceeding in accordance with the provisions of the planning scheme at the time the tribunal makes its decision.”

Moyne Mayor Jim Doukas said he felt the VCAT decision would halt the proposal at The Sisters. “It will breach the guidelines,” he said. “It’s now a whole new ballgame with a new set of rules.”

The amended planning guidelines fulfil part of the Coalition’s pre-election promises regarding wind farms, but the government has yet to make changes to block turbines being built within 2km of homes if residents oppose them.