The clean energy industry has warned it will invest away from Victoria, potentially costing the state $3 billion, after the Baillieu government announced Australia’s most restrictive planning laws for wind farms.
In a victory for wind farm opponents, the government will amend planning laws to give households power to veto wind turbines within two kilometres of their homes.
Turbines will also be banned in the Macedon and McHarg ranges, in the Yarra Valley, on the Mornington and Bellarine peninsulas, and within five kilometres of the Great Ocean Road and the Bass Coast.
And in changes that go further than the Coalition flagged in the policy it took to last year’s state election, turbines will also be prohibited within five kilometres of 21 Victorian regional centres.
Planning Minister Matthew Guy said the changes restored “certainty and fairness” to local communities while leaving the vast majority of the state open to wind farm development. “It is important that while wind energy develops, it does not do so [to] the detriment of rural and regional Victorians,” he said.
But opponents of the change said Mr Guy’s claim that most of the state would stay open to wind farm development was valid only if all rural households agreed to farms being built in “no-go zones” around their homes. If they opposed, most of the state was blacked out.
The Clean Energy Council said the change would cost hundreds of new jobs in regional areas and billions of dollars in investment.
An analysis for the council by consultants Carbon Market Economics before last year’s election estimated that between 50 and 70 per cent of proposed wind farms, worth up to $3.6 billion, would not be developed under Coalition policy.
Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said the policy meant landholders could in effect hold developers to ransom. “If Victoria is prepared to impose mandatory setbacks on technology as quiet, safe and clean as wind turbines . . . what will they do to more imposing infrastructure like roads, fossil fuel power stations, factories or mines?”
The new rules affect future wind farm proposals, not those already approved. A total of 1107 turbines, with 2629 megawatts of generating capacity, have been approved for Victoria, but not yet built.
Mr Guy rejected claims of a multibillion-dollar impact. “There are still 1000 turbines permitted in Victoria, there are only 400 built,” he said. “There is still a long way to go for those turbines to be built and I do not believe that this will scuttle wind investment in the state.”
Renewable energy company Pacific Hydro said it remained committed to building three farms approved under Labor, but it did “not envisage” developing more in Victoria. “Unfortunately these new wind farm rules will hold Victoria back while other states power ahead,” general manager Lane Crockett said.
Freehills environment and planning law partner Tim Power said many of the eight firms he represented agreed with Pacific Hydro. “I would say that is representative of the view of quite a few wind farm companies.”
The communications director at clean energy company Acciona, Tricia Kent, said it was unfortunate the government had not consulted before announcing rule changes. “We will look at our future portfolio on a national basis,” she said.
Randall Bell, president of anti-wind farm group The Victorian Landscape Guardians, described the announcement as a “starting point”, and credited Premier Ted Baillieu – a former planning spokesman in opposition – with driving the change.
“I’d have to say Ted has picked the logical no-go zones, but unfortunately we’ve lost quite a number [of sites] already,” he said. “Sadly, for landscapes such as Cape Bridgewater and Bald Hills, it is too late.”
Mr Bell said the introduction of a two-kilometre veto suggested the government accepted the group’s claims that wind turbines caused health problems.
Mr Guy denied his decision was based on a link between turbines and poor health. “I haven’t seen any evidence either in favour or against that’s definitive,” he said.
The National Health and Medical Research Council last year found there was no published scientific evidence linking wind turbines with health problems. A Senate committee has urged the government to investigate whether there is a link.
Mr Guy said the two-kilometre buffer for households was long-standing Coalition policy, chosen after studying planning schemes in New Zealand and Britain.
Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said Mr Baillieu had crushed wind farm development. “The price will be paid by the loss of regional jobs, the environment and our children, who will be locked out of a green future,” Mr Tee said.
Greens MP Greg Barber said Mr Baillieu had close links with anti-wind farm groups. He said there was “not a single thing” they had asked for and not been given. “Wind farms are one of the biggest growth areas for regional Victoria over the past 10 years and they would have been for the next 20 years, but he has killed that off,” Mr Barber said.
Turbines banned from:
Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Dandenongs, Bellarine Peninsula and Great Ocean Road
Within five kilometres iof 21 regional cities
Land within two kilometres of a home without written consent
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