New laws have been introduced to the Parliament by the Government as part of the Planning and Building Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability and Other Matters) Bill 2017. These laws seek to strip away the rights of communities to object to, oppose or seek modification of large windfarms proposed for their community.
As the law stands, where a permit to construct a wind farm has been granted – generally by Labor Ministers bypassing normal planning processes – communities have a say on proposed expansions and modifications to these windfarms. For example, a windfarm seeking to increase the number of turbines or their height by as much as 50% would have to apply for a new permit.
Instead, the Government now proposes to establish a bureaucratic rubber stamp to tick and flick wind farm expansions with scant regard to local community input. The Bill appears to reward Labor Party donors in the wind industry by amending the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to:
- allow the Minister to refer the amended permit to a Standing Advisory Committee (instead of a specific Panel), if a significant change is sought to a permit and it receives objections;
- allow the Advisory Committee to provide advice to the Minister and provide it’s reports within a defined timeframe;
- specify that the Advisory Committee’s terms of reference only allows consideration of the proposed amendments to the permit, rather than a full reassessment of the impact of the entire wind farm permit;
- specify ‘significant change’ to a perm it as an increase in the total number of turbines, an increase to the maximum height of a turbine (eg height of the tower or the blade length), or changes to the location of the turbine (eg closer to a home);
- provide for the Planning Scheme to specify classes of applications to amend wind farm permits, which will be exempt from the requirement to refer objections or submissions to a Planning Pane l which relates principally to legacy permits issued prior to April 2015 by the Minister for Planning; and
- apply to future wind farm permits issued under the Minister’s ‘call in’ powers.
The Bill has already been forced through the Lower House, deaf to the concerns of country communities at the mercy of the Government’s proposed special planning rules for the wind industry, and it will soon be debated in the upper house.
The amendments to the Planning and Environment Act 1987 are essentially a measure by the Andrews’ Government to help ensure Victoria meets Labor’s renewable energy targets by curtailing local planning rights and input to windfarm developments. In doing so, the Bill proposes to take away established rights of communities and individuals to object to planning proposals centred on communities that have seen previous windfarm development call-ins.
Approved (but not constructed) wind farm permits that were ‘called in’
(In the interim, Panels have been appointed is the case of a number of these permits where amendments to the original applications have been submitted).
|Farm permit||Location||No. of turbines|
|Berrybank||60 km south west of Ballarat||99|
|Crowlands||20 km north east of Ararat||72|
|Dundonnell||23 km north east of Mortlake||96|
|Hawkesdale||35 km north of Port Fairy||31|
|Lal Lal||25 km south of Ballarat||64|
|Moorabool||25-30 km south east of Ballarat||107|
|Mortlake South||5 km south of Mortlake||51|
|Mt Gellibrand||25 km east of Colac||44|
|Ryan Corner||10 km north of Port Fairy||68|
|Stockyard Hill||35 km west of Ballarat||157|
|Woolsthorpe||16 km north of Warrnambool||20|
As Victorians, we need to balance alternative, albeit intermittent, energy supply achieved through a short-cut process with the need to allow local communities to have their say via a normal process without corners cut or special deals.
Wind farms, of course, have a legitimate place in the energy mix on which the State relies, but they should face proper planning checks and balances, like other industrial developments, and country communities should have their say under the Planning and Environment Act, and not have their rights curtailed.
Just like a planning application in the city, where new or expanded arrangements are sought, a proper permit process should occur. Why should country people have their rights torn from them?
The quality of life in quiet country locations should be protected and proposed industrial·scale wind farm development should not be favoured over legitimate community objections.
Many of these proposed wind farm expansions are massive industrial developments – wind turbines as tall as skyscrapers. A skyscraper expansion needs a full permit. Why should country communities be treated differently? Small country communities are vulnerable to the political and legal muscle of wind energy developers and their apparently special relationship with Victorian Labor. Surely, we can achieve a planning scheme process that is fair while promoting energy diversity.
Hon David Davis MP, Shadow Minister for Planning and Local Government – firstname.lastname@example.org
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