New wind farm guidelines are expected to impose tough requirements on developers to limit their visual impact in a move that proponents say will put NSW at a disadvantage to other states.
The proposed guidelines, requiring developers to prepare visual impact assessments according to the height of turbines, were disclosed by the planning department to a select group of prospective wind energy developers on the sidelines of a two-day clean energy summit in Sydney on Thursday.
Fairfax Media understands proponents were told a sliding rule would apply, with the tallest wind turbines – reaching as much as 200 metres at the full extent of the blade tips from the ground – required to be located as much as 2.7 kilometres from the nearest dwelling.
Visual amenity surveys would have to take into account factors such as the dwelling’s orientation and whether there were screening hills or woodlands between it and the turbine towers.
One prospective developer said it was good the Baird government was finalising guidelines that have been in draft form for almost five years. The outcome, though, would be to add “quite a bureaucratic process that would certainly not be quick to do nor cheap to do”.
“The cost of permitting and the timeframes required in NSW are going to be consistently more than in any comparable jurisdiction in Australia,” the developer said, declining to be identified.
Planning minister Rob Stokes said the new policy would reduce assessment times and give the industry more certainty.
“We will balance the rights of proponents, landowners and neighbours through a merit-based assessment process,” Mr Stokes said.
“The assessment process for wind energy projects has been uncertain for too long, causing stress to local communities and cost to proponents.”
The guidelines were expected to be made public in coming weeks and would be open for public comment. Some wind farms have taken more than 2000 days to be assessed.
Another developer, who also requested anonymity, said states such as Victoria – which last month set a 40 per cent renewable energy by 2025 – “want as much renewable energy built as absolutely possible”.
The person said the visual assessment plan was “trying to quantify the un-quantifiable”. Would it matter if just the extreme edge of the blades were visible over a hill, or half a turbine, the person asked.
“Why are they doing it? It’s going to make it harder for wind farms to get approved, and opponents are not going to be satisfied.”
The suggested guidelines struck a negative note to what had been a generally upbeat gathering, with energy minister Anthony Roberts making positive comments about the prospects for wind energy.
“Our wind sector is seeing great successes … driving investment growth in regional NSW,” Mr Roberts told the summit on Wednesday. “The NSW government is determined to pursue a far greater growth in investment in what we believe is a key sector.”
Mr Roberts said large-scale wind farms under construction or in the development approval process had the potential to bring 6500 megawatts of new capacity, draw $10 billion in investment and create 3000 jobs.
Adam Searle, Labor’s energy spokesman, said NSW was “losing out in the race for investments”.
“The trouble is one side of politics is riddled with sceptics about climate change and renewable energy, and so they’re just not equipped to give that stability and certainty [need for investors],” he said.
“Other states have had a much more practical and effective approach to assessments and approvals and they don’t seem to have the same sorts of problems that we have experienced in NSW.”
Kane Thornton, chief executive of the Clean Energy Council, said NSW was planning “a more vigorous approach to visual amenity than we see in other states”.
Still, no guidelines were perfect and it was important that they were being finalised after so long, and could still be modified after consultations.
“We’re hoping some of those concerns can be addressed so that the industry can press on,” he said.
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