The NSW government has launched legal action against a $250-million wind farm north of the capital.
The NSW Department of Planning and Environment announced on Friday that the proceedings would order the relocation of nine of the 73 turbines at the Gullen Range Wind Farm, near Crookwell, which had not been built in approved locations.
The department said it had issued a draft order to Gullen Range – which will be capable of producing 165.5mW or enough power to supply 60,000 homes on completion – to move the turbines.
The wind farm has 21 days to justify why a full order should not be imposed, ordering it to move the turbines.
The news comes a week after the NSW Planning Assessment Commission denied permission for the developer, Chinese company Goldwind, to retrospectively shift the location of 69 of its 73 turbines built at the project.
The application by Gullen Range was retrospective because most of the 69 out-of-place turbines had already been built.
The commission found that most (about 68 per cent) of the turbines had shifted less than 50 metres from their approved locations.
But others were repositioned a significant distance – up to 187 metres from the permitted position.
The relocations brought the turbines within two kilometres of about 49 non-associated residences – in breach of 2011 guidelines that proposed a minimum two-kilometre buffer.
In refusing to retrospectively modify the existing approval, the commission said the application had been “inconsistent with the intent and spirit of the Draft NSW Planning Guidelines: Wind Farms”.
“The application, if approved, would have significant visual impact on non-associated residences and the proposed vegetation screening would not be able to mitigate the impact on all affected residences to an acceptable level,” the decision said.
The decision and the legal action came despite the planning department having originally supported conditional approval to modify the turbines locations.
In July, the department recommended that just two of the turbines be relocated on account of adverse impacts, but vegetation buffers could offset the effects of the others.
The department said it had determined to force the wind farm to respect and abide by the approval process, despite a web of intricate legal issues.
“The department has rigorously investigated the complex legal issues around the Gullen Range Wind Farm building turbines in locations not specified in the approval,” it said.
“While the company claims that they acted within their approval, the department shares the local community’s opinion that the new positions of these nine turbines are inconsistent with the conditions of consent and have negative impacts on nearby residents and environmental areas.
“It is not reasonable to say that turbines located up to 187 metres from the originally approved location constitute ‘minor’ changes.”
The department had launched the action in relation to the nine turbines because they were considered a “significant departure” from their approved location.
But the proceedings could set off a surge of further legal skirmishes, including Gullen Range challenging the government directions or the department seeking an enforcement order through the Land and Environment Court.
Goldwind could not be contacted for comment, but has previously told Fairfax Media that it intended to push on with the project anyway.
The company said in a statement that the development had been consistent with the original approval and did not require the modified application.
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