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Windfarm restrictions have ‘crippled’ the industry, says Daniel Andrews

Victoria’s tough restrictions on windfarms have “crippled the industry” and would be eased under a state Labor government, the opposition leader, Daniel Andrews, has announced.

Buffer zones allowing homeowners living within 2km of a proposed windfarm to veto the project – part of a suite of wind-energy restrictions introduced by the Coalition after the last election – had “driven wind energy into the ground and driven investment out of our state,” Andrews said on Thursday.

Just two windfarms have been approved in Victoria since the buffer zones were introduced in 2011, compared with 29 in the decade prior.

Clean energy groups say the limits are arbitrary and should be scrapped altogether, but Andrews said reducing them to 1km was “balance and a fair outcome”. He said Victoria could become a world leader in wind energy “if only we can get the settings right”.

A minimum 5km limit on windfarms near state and national parks and areas of state significance, such as Hanging Rock in central Victoria, would be retained under the Labor plan.

Power to grant windfarm applications – which the Coalition passed to local councils – would be handed back to the planning minister under the scheme.

Labor’s planning spokesman, Brian Tee, said councils would still play “an important role” monitoring compliance with noise restrictions and “identifying critical landscapes and environments” where turbines might be banned.

Labor would also keep blanket bans on windfarms along the Great Ocean road, the Mornington Peninsula, the Macedon Ranges and dozens of other sites the Coalition has declared no-go zones.

But Tee said exceptions would be carved out for “smaller scale” projects where “community involvement could be demonstrated”, including a three-turbine windfarm in the marginal seat of Macedon, which residents have been agitating to build for six years.

Ralf Thesing, the president of the group behind the proposal, the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group, said the windfarm would power “thousands of households” in Woodend, Mount Macedon and the Macedon Ranges.

The state planning minister, Matthew Guy, said Labor’s plan was a disaster and “a risk to all of those people in regional Victoria who live anywhere near a hill”.

“Daniel Andrews is taking planning power away from communities that this government gave power back to four years ago,” he said.

Friends of the Earth said the Labor announcement was a “welcome step”, but their renewable energy spokesman, Leigh Ewbank, called on Labor to go further.

“If Labor is serious about wind energy development, they will have to dump the blanket bans on windfarms in the places such as the Macedon Ranges,” he said. “Labor’s pledge to exempt community-initiated projects from windfarm restrictions is sensible policy. Yet the blanket bans on windfarms still prohibit commercial projects that enjoy strong community support.”