Local councils will be stripped of the power to investigate wind farm noise complaints under a major shake-up of regulations governing renewable energy generators.
The state government hopes the new laws, to be introduced in July, will provide a clearer process and prevent protracted and expensive legal disputes that have plagued some projects.
Under the changes, the Environment Protection Authority will become the primary regulator of wind farms in Victoria.
The government said the new laws would deliver a “strengthened regulatory framework” for turbine noise and require all Victorians to minimise the risk to human health and the environment from pollution, including noise.
The new regulations are being introduced after residents in South Gippsland won a major legal battle against the 52-turbine Bald Hills Wind Farm in August last year.
In that case, the wind farm had launched a legal challenge against the validity of a report produced by the South Gippsland Shire that found noise from the project caused a nuisance for residents.
However, the Supreme Court upheld the South Gippsland Shire’s report, ruling there was no error in the council’s findings.
At least two fresh legal challenges against separate wind farms are under way in Victoria.
A state government spokeswoman said the new laws would simplify the regulation of wind farms in Victoria and provide certainty for investors and local communities.
“Wind farms are vital for Victoria’s future,” she said.
“Wind farms play an important role in achieving the Victorian renewable energy targets while creating jobs and driving down carbon emissions.”
South Gippsland Shire chief executive Kerryn Ellis said the new laws meant councils would be spared expensive legal disputes about wind farm noise.
“The council supports the change as it will provide clear regulation guidelines and a consistent process both for the industry and communities right across Victoria,” she said.
Ms Ellis said councils had previously been required to investigate noise complaints under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, which she argued was not created to deal with large-scale operations, including wind farms.
“The experience has been that it’s a complex, convoluted process that’s very costly for all parties.”
The sound level requirements for wind farms will remain the same under the new regime.
But the lawyer who represented residents in the Bald Hills case, Dominica Tannock, said the new laws would make it harder for neighbours to launch challenges against wind farms based on noise.
She argues that local councils had been obligated to act when residents complained about noise, but this option would no longer be open to neighbours of wind farms.
Ms Tannock said councils should also take responsibility for managing noise created by projects within their own boundaries.
“They’re encouraging them to be built in their area,” Ms Tannock said.
However, she agreed that councils did not currently have the expertise to measure noise properly, and they should have access to EPA experts.
Ms Tannock said she supported renewable energy, but wind farms had to be built in appropriate places.
“This is not a fight over renewable energy or a fight over wind farms.”
She is representing residents in Hawkesdale, in south-west Victoria, who are challenging plans to extend a permit for a wind farm.
In a separate case, she is also representing residents who are mounting a fresh legal challenge of noise compliance at Bald Hills Wind Farm.
A Bald Hills Wind Farm spokeswoman did not comment on the new challenge.
But she said the company welcomed the government’s decision to transfer wind noise regulation from local councils to the EPA.
“Wind farm noise assessment is a complex area that needs a scientifically rigorous and standardised approach,” she said.
The spokeswoman confirmed the wind farm had engaged acoustic experts to conduct “extensive noise monitoring” to demonstrate it was complying with planning permit requirements.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding