Wind turbines that were built up to 180m from approved sites and dubbed illegal referred for retrospective approval
Having once dubbed them illegal, the state government has moved to save controversial wind turbines in the state’s southern highlands that were built in the wrong spot and too close to homes under the prospect of multi-million legal action.
A retrospective development application for Gullen Range Wind Farm near Goulburn has been referred back to the Planning Assessment Commission for approval.
The move comes just eight months after the independent body ruled the misplaced turbines were unauthorised and must be removed.
The commission had ruled the wind farm, owned by Chinese company Goldwind, had built 69 of its 73 turbines in areas that were not approved.
Some were more than 180 metres from their original positions and were many within the 2km limit from residential homes.
After initially demanding Goldwind remove only the most offending turbines, the government was forced into an embarrassing backflip last month after the company launched proceedings in the Land and Environment Court, which set aside the PAC findings.
The government has now recommended the PAC approve the turbines, claiming the company had reached financial settlements with two aggrieved property owners and biodiversity concerns had been fixed. But it refused to concede construction of the turbines were still likely illegal, and remain such, and has yet to issue any infringements.
An insider close to the project said the state government found itself in a predicament – it’s planning department had signed off on the company’s appointment of an “independent environmental monitor” to oversee turbine placement, without knowing the expert was a director of a consultancy firm that worked on the wind farm’s development.
It left the door open to a possible lawsuit, if the turbines were then ripped up.
NSW Landscape Guardians chairman David Brooks said the backflip was outrageous and further affected the lives of hundreds of residents.
“The Minister just caved in. The parties at the Land and Environment Court, the minister and the developer, simply agreed to close the case and ask the court to set aside the PAC decision,’’ he said.
“(If PAC approve the turbines), it will be an outrageous violation of proper planning, since it will give retrospective approval to a massive breach of a project approval, and will cover up a failure of compliance monitoring by the department on a grand scale,’’ he said.
A Planning Department spokesman said aside from the financial settlement the company reached with two residents most affected by the wrong placement of turbines, it was swayed by a new independent biodiversity report.
In its earlier recommendation, the PAC said the wrong placement of the turbines would affect local populations of the powerful owl and little eagle.
A biodiversity report submitted by the independent expert, appointed by Goldwind, said the potential for collisions had not materially increased.
The Planning Department spokesman said: “In light of this new information and landholders no longer objecting, the Department recommended the PAC approve the layout … as it was constructed.’’
Goldwind Australia managing director John Titchen told The Daily Telegraph the government had recommended approval of the retrospective DA because the company had done everything right, not because it was in a bind.
He denied the government was under pressure from likely legal action to recoup damages if the company was forced to remove its unauthorised turbines.
“We believe we have complied. The department sought their own independent report and legal advice, and decided not to issue an order (to remove the turbines).’’
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