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Wind farms – Some new planning developments

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In the month prior to Christmas, two significant publications were released in relation to the development and environmental assessment of wind farm at Federal and State levels.

At Federal level, the Environmental and Protection Heritage Council (EPHC) released the draft National Wind Farm Guidelines for public feedback and submission.

The guidelines deal with a number of recurring issues with wind farms such as:

  • shadow flicker noise;
  • electro-magnetic interference;
  • birds and bats;
  • landscape issues; and
  • community and stakeholder consultation.

The guidelines are not mandatory but can be adopted by each state and territory as part of their planning requirements for wind farms.

At State level, the New South Wales Parliament General Purpose Standing Committee released its report on the Inquiry into Rural Wind Farms.

The Committee made a number of recommendations including:

  • a New South Wales wind farm noise policy similar to the current South Australian guidelines;
  • an adequate policy and authority to manage ongoing wind farm noise;
  • a 2 kilometre minimum setback between wind turbines and neighbouring houses which can be waived by the affected land owner;
  • funding and improved systems for the decommissioning of wind turbines;
  • further research into compensation options for land owners adversely impacted by wind turbines;
  • improved monitoring and reporting in relation to bird deaths and penalties;
  • increased modelling requirements during the environmental assessment process including day and night time noise modelling, noise modelling in relation to temperature and the Van den Berg effect;
  • a further more comprehensive and ongoing study on the impact of wind farms on property values in New South Wales; and
  • a requirement that wind farm developers publish within the local community detailed information about all aspects of the proposed wind farm and provide appropriate communication options for the community to discuss concerns including a phone line, email account or local office.

Interestingly, the Committee dismissed concerns in relation to issues such as:

  • Vibro-acoustic disease and wind turbine syndrome concluding that there was not    sufficient evidence to support these claims; and
  • Shadow flicker concluding that this can easily be managed through turning the relevant wind turbine off for a few minutes that the sun is a at a particular angle that causes the flicker

If adopted the recommendations about compensation will pose some interesting issues for land valuations and the operation of the Land Acquisition (Just Terms) Compensation Act which may require amendment to deal with what appears to be a new head of compensation payments.

New South Wales is also currently developing its own planning and assessment guidelines for wind farms and these are expected to be released in mid 2010.  It is likely that some, if not all of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee, will make their way into these guidelines.

We will provide a detailed report on the New South Wales guidelines once they are released.

Author: Mark Kemp