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Wind farms: Victorian Government cuts resistance

Rural landholders will no longer be able to drag wind-farm developers before a planning panel to argue against a change in the height, location or number of turbines on a site.

Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne last week removed that right, introducing regulations that give his office the power to make a determination or use an advisory committee.

Mr Wynne’s office said the move would cut costs and reduce delays in approving wind farms, where objectors oppose changes to an existing planning permit.

But the move is seen by Opposition MP Simon Ramsay as a way for the Government to fast track wind farms to meet its renewable energy generation targets of 25 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025.

“This is all about removing impediments to wind farms to meet these targets,” Mr Ramsay said.

“It cuts back community engagement and allows the minister to change (wind farm) work plans without the need for a planning panel hearing.”

Mr Wynne’s spokesman said rapid advances in renewable energy technology, combined with long construction lead times, meant permits for wind farms sometimes needed to be amended. “This is a common sense planning reform that will ensure proposals for minor amendments to existing permits will still undergo community consultation, but won’t have to go through a costly and protracted panel process,” Mr Wynne’s spokesman said.

Under the old rules any objector had the right to be heard by a planning panel. But the Government has argued this process could add months to the approval process.

Under the new regulations the minister will direct objections to significant amendments, such as an increase in the number of turbines, to a less rigorous Standing Advisory Committee.

The Minister will also determine if the amendments are of a minor nature, such as moving a power substation at a wind farm or the alignment of an access road. In these cases the minster will make his own decision, but will still be required to consider objectors’ views.

Landholders will still be notified of proposals to amend permits, and have a chance to air their views.