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Ararat bucks wind farm responsibility

Ararat Rural City Council has warned it does not have the expertise to enforce planning permit conditions on the city’s wind farm after the State Government handed it the responsibility.

The State Government passed laws on Thursday to have councils enforce conditions, including noise restrictions, on eight wind farm projects across the state.

Ararat Rural City’s will take on the new role, as well as the Moyne, Moorabool, Pyrenees and Golden Plains shire councils.

Ararat Rural City Council council services director Neil Manning said the new legislation would burden smaller rural councils.

“Council doesn’t always have the full expertise to look at these issues when they arise – we don’t have the medical, sound or engineering expertise so it could be a burden on council,” he said.

“The State Government has been looking after this, which we feel is more appropriate considering the minister made the decisions to allow the wind farms.

“The positive is that councils will be the first to look at future wind farms but again there is also a burden on councils because we don’t have the expertise to judge the proposals.”

Rural Councils of Victoria chairman Rob Gersch said councils were concerned about the cost of enforcing the permit conditions.

“The smaller councils don’t have the finances and the human resources to administer these permits that have been handed to them,” he said.

“They have had no say in the actual permits because they were decisions made by the planning minister but they now have to administer them.”

The new legislation comes after the State Government introduced new planning laws for wind farms in 2011.

Ararat Greenhouse Action Group chairman Russell Pearse said having councils enforce the permits would create inconsistencies across the state.

“I think the general attitude is that it is dodging the issue because the State Government introduced some really strict regulations several years ago and now I think they are trying to pass the responsibility,” he said.

“This is a piecemeal approach because there might not be consistency across the state and as far as wind farm developers are concerned there will be no consistency of outcome.

“We are keen to see as much renewable energy as possible and wind energy is one of the best forms of renewable energy – it is quick to establish and it is catching on everywhere except in Victoria because of the restrictions.”

Planning Minister Matthew Guy said the cost of enforcing the permits would be minimal.

“I think the advice is that if there are any enforcement issues, they will be minimal,” he said.

“Councils could use differential rates on wind energy facilities if they desired; there are a whole range of mechanisms that councils have.

“It is not all about money; it is sometimes about principle, and the principle of giving these powers back to local government we believe is important.”