A NSW wind farm developer says the “visual impact” rules of the government’s long-awaited planning guidelines are very subjective and could be used to challenge new wind projects in the state.
The proposed guidelines released on Monday for consultation, after lingering in draft form since 2011, include recommendations on the required distance from homes for wind turbines, and acceptable noise levels.
The absence of firm guidelines for wind in NSW has for the past few years put the state at a disadvantage to Victoria and South Australia, for example, where investors and communities have more certainty and transparency over acceptable conditions for new wind farms, industry sources say.
“The visual impact is subjective and provides more ground for someone to challenge or delay or change the shape of what would be an optimal wind farm layout. If planning guidelines are increasingly conservative it can produce a sub-optimal project design,” said Ed Mounsey, chief operating officer for CWP Renewables, a joint venture between Wind Prospect and Continental Wind Partners.
CWP has four wind projects in the development phase in NSW. Two of the projects – the 270-megawatt Sapphire wind farm near Glen Innes and the 130 MW Crudine Ridge wind farm near Bathurst – have been approved, while the 280 MW Bango wind farm near Yass and the 600 MW Uungula wind farm near Mudgee are still in the approval process.
“The government is trying to speed up the process which is encouraging but at the same time not capturing the greater good argument [about renewables],” he said.
Martin Poole, executive director of developer Epuron, which finally secured approval for its $400 million Yass Valley wind farm in late March after a record timeframe of more than 2500 days, said the proposed guidelines mean there would soon be more certainty for projects, developers and communities.
“Clarity is useful for everybody and hopefully that’s what we’re getting here,” Mr Poole said, adding it was still to be seen how the proposal would affect Epuron’s earlier-stage projects that have yet to get approval.
“The issuing of draft guidelines and then the draft guidelines never moving beyond the draft stage causes uncertainty for them, the planners, the community and for us,” Mr Poole said.
Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton said the guidelines should speed up approvals that have been taking more than three years in some cases. He said that while the proposed guidelines placed “more rigour” around the visual amenity of projects, they seemed “quite workable” and should help unlock investment to help reach the 2020 renewable energy target.
The proposals do not include any “buffer zone” or no-go zone for turbines, but would allow each to be assessed on its merits. A sliding scale is used to assess whether how close a turbine should be sited to a home before further assessment is required, ranging from about 700 metres for a 50 metre high turbine, to more than 3 kilometres for one that is 250 metres high.
“Overwhelmingly, the most contentious issues in dealing with wind projects are noise and visual impacts,” NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes said.
“The framework will provide guidance to the industry on how to better design their projects with these impacts in mind.”
Mr Thornton said the proposed guidelines were not a “definitive make-or-break” for a project but provided “a framework that allows a bt more transparency and clearer understanding of expectations, or a need for greater focus”.
“Projects that don’t have approval will all be reflecting on these quite deeply and considering how might this change their project: are there some elements that they should give further consideration to, or do more community consultations, or does it just give them more certainty and confidence that the project they are planning is the right project?” he said.
EPYC, an Australian-Spanish wind developer whose $300 million Jupiter wind farm near Tarago in the Southern Tablelands was rejected by the Department of Planning and Environment last October, said it had yet to review the guidelines.
It is preparing to re-submit the environmental impact statement for the controversial Jupiter project, involving 100 turbines with a combined capacity of up to 350 megawatts, within months.
The lack of planning guidance for wind in NSW has damaged the growth of renewables in the state, said Australian Wind Alliance national coordinator Andrew Bray. The alliance welcomed the focus in the proposals on sharing financial benefits from projects.
This story first appeared on The Australian Financial Review.
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