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Moyne Shire says wind farm planning fees far short of costs

Wind farm permit work costs Moyne Shire Council 15 times more than it receives in application fees paid by energy companies, a Senate committee heard yesterday.

State standard fees for major projects set a $16,130 maximum that councils can charge a proponent, yet Moyne has calculated the full costs are closer to $250,000.

The shire’s planning manager Michelle Grainger told a Melbourne hearing of the select committee on wind turbines that considering projects such as the 140-turbine Macarthur wind farm cost about $1 billion a standard fee of $250,000 seemed more appropriate.

“Council is concerned that it will not be adequately financed by the state government for planning permit compliance and the general Moyne community should not have to subsidise the compliance of a major energy project,” she said.

Asked by a committee member if the state government had addressed the discrepancy, Mrs Grainger said it hadn’t as yet.

She said the planning fees schedule had not been reviewed for at least eight years.

Asked if the system seemed to put councils into a position where they could not refuse an application she said “with state policies encouraging alternative energy it would be hard to get a refusal through”.

Mrs Grainger said if all proposed energy projects were permitted the shire would have staffing resource problems to handle the workload and there would be serious cumulative consequences.

“We’ll end up with projects extending over four shires and we don’t have the skills to deal with that,” she said.

The committee, which first sat in Portland in March, is gathering evidence on the application of regulatory governance and economic impact of wind turbines. It is scheduled to hand down its report by August 3.

Submissions also heard yesterday included the Clean Energy Council, state government departments, Vestas Australian Wind Technology, Brolga Recovery Group, Municipal Association of Victoria and Wind Industry Reform Victoria.

Moyne Shire Council’s presentation covered a broad range of issues relating to approval, follow-up compliance and spin-off effects including damage to roads.

It already has 187 turbines operating, permits issued for up to 185 further turbines not yet constructed and proposals for at least 400 more.

Mrs Grainger said the Environment Protection Authority should handle the contentious issue of noise complaints rather than councils.

An investigation into noise complaints about the Macarthur wind farm cost the shire about $25,000.

Wind farms were the only industry category where the EPA was not tasked with considering approvals based on noise impacts and associated monitoring, she said.

“Council does not have the expertise and resources to properly meet the complex compliance and enforcement responsibilities,” Mrs Grainger said.