The NSW Landscape Guardians has applauded a decision to refuse a modified application for the Gullen Range Wind Farm.
The state’s Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) on Thursday ruled that developer, Goldwind should not be allowed to shift 69 of its 73-turbine project, 25km northwest of Goulburn. The application was retrospective, given that turbines had already been built.
The company is digging its heels in, following the ruling (see below).
But the decision was a win for residents and a rebuff of the NSW Department of Planning, which had recommended conditional approval.
“I think it’s an enormous step in the right direction and therefore I’m pleased on behalf of people living along this site who are suffering sleep deprivation and loss of rural amenity,” NSW and Crookwell Landscape Guardians president Humphrey Price-Jones said on Friday.
The Commission refused the application on the basis that it was “inconsistent with the intent and spirit of the draft NSW Planning Guidelines for Wind Farms.”
Secondly, if approved, it would have “significant visual impact on non-associated residences” and vegetation screening would not mitigate this to an acceptable level.
The Commission found that up to 49 non-associated residences were within 2km of a turbine. Yet the draft guidelines, released in December 2011, and which applied to all new wind farm applications without director general’s requirements, proposed a 2km buffer.
Panel members Garry Payne and Richard Thorp argued Goldwind should have considered the intent of these guidelines.
“It is of significant concern to the Commission that this application seeks approval to modify the location of 69 turbines out of seventy- three.
“Although 68 per cent of turbines moved less than 50 metres, others are of significant distance, up to 187m away from the approved location.
“This raises the adequacy of the original application for suitability of locations and their impact on residences, particularly non-associated houses.”
In July, the Department recommended that just two of the turbines be relocated due to adverse impact, but that vegetation buffers could offset the effects of the others.
But the Commission revealed the Department had not adequately assessed the impacts of another turbine, known as BAN- 08, at the Bannister end of the project. In a meeting last month, the Department agreed that this tower, which had been shifted 187m from its approved spot, should also be considered for relocation.
The PAC’s hearing at Crookwell on September 5 drew 29 speakers, backing up more than 80 written public submissions.
Mr Price-Jones praised the Commission’s “thoroughness.”
He previously argued it would simply tick off the Departments’ recommended approval.
“(But) I always thought (refusal) was a possibility given the enormous weight of evidence presented to the PAC,” he said.
“They listened attentively and assured me they would read all submissions and consider them carefully. They were as thorough as their word and I appreciate it.”
Mr Price-Jones said this in itself sent a strong message to the Department that it should also properly consider submissions written by people “who knew what they were talking about, rather than the cock and bull stories presented by developers.”
“It also shows that bloody minded perseverance can pay off,” he told the Post.
Mr Price-Jones was referring to the fact he had told the Department in April, 2013 that turbines were being relocated from approved spots, but it was not until the following November that officials formally acknowledged this. An independent investigation concluded in April confirmed that 69 out of 73 turbines had been relocated. Even then, the Department allowed the modified application.
Project will go ahead
THE company developing Gullen Range wind farm intends to continue its project, despite the Planning Commission’s decision.
In a statement, Goldwind said it would rely on the existing approval, arguing its development was consistent with this and that a modified application was not required.
“The existing approval provides flexibility about the final location of turbines,” a spokesperson said.
“Finalising the turbines’ locations on large wind farms is a normal and necessary aspect of construction.”
Their location had been backed up by consistency reviews, expert planning, visual, noise and other assessments.
The company maintained the PAC had effectively relinquished its role in considering the modification; it had the opportunity to apply specific conditions but did not.
“The existing project approval granted by the Land and Environment Court remains in force,” the spokesperson said.
“In making their decision it is (the company’s) view that the PAC has misunderstood and misapplied the “Draft NSW Planning Guidelines: Wind Farms.”
The company said it had been carefully focussed on compliance with approval conditions since starting the project.
Further, a Departmental approved environmental representative had reviewed each stage to ensure compliance.