The Queensland Government has announced a new wind farm planning code that shifts the responsibility for assessing wind farm developments from local governments to the State Government, and provides a consistent approach to assessing wind farms across the State. Partner Bill McCredie, Associate David Thorpe and Lawyer Kate Ah Shay look at the Queensland Government's new role and consider the planning code and supporting guideline.
As discussed in our Client Update: Changes for Developing Wind Farms in Queensland, each local government in Queensland was previously the assessment manager for wind farm development applications made in its local government area. However, local government planning schemes typically lacked the detailed planning provisions that are required to assess the complex technical characteristics specific to wind farm development.
The Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning (the DILGP) via the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA) is now the assessment manager for all new or expanding wind farm developments in Queensland.
The Wind Farm State Code (the planning code) is contained in the State Development Assessment Provisions. The Sustainable Planning Regulation 2009 (Qld) has been amended to prescribe that a material change of use for a new or expanding wind farm is assessable development requiring either code or impact assessment by the chief executive administering the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld).
The planning code applies to development of wind farms, including the use of premises for generating electricity by wind force (other than for domestic or rural use), and extending to wind turbines, monitoring towers and anemometers, buildings, infrastructure, electrical and ancillary works.
The planning code and its supporting guideline will commence on 22 July 2016.
- Wind turbines should be set back at least 1500 metres from 'sensitive land uses' (eg dwellings), unless written agreement has been obtained from affected land owners.
- Noise levels from new wind farms cannot exceed 35 dB(A) at night, 37 dB(A) during the day, or five dB(A) over background levels (LA90) at any time (whichever is the greater).1
- To protect aviation safety, wind turbines or wind monitoring towers should be 150 metres or less in height (unless agreed otherwise by the regulatory authorities), and wind farm development must include lighting and marking measures to ensure the safety of air services and aircraft operations.
- Shadow flicker is to be avoided or minimised, and the modelled blade shadow flicker impact on any existing or approved sensitive land use(s) cannot exceed 30 hours per annum and 30 minutes per day. Wind turbines must also have a low reflectivity finish/treatment to reduce blade glint.
- The planning code requires that wind farm developments must be appropriately located, sited, designed and operated to avoid, minimise and mitigate impacts on flora, fauna and associated ecological processes so as not to unreasonably impact on the character, scenic amenity and landscape values of the locality and region.
- The DILGP will not be the assessment manager for any associated reconfiguration of a lot or operational works applications and these will continue to be assessable under a local government's planning scheme.
- The planning code represents the Queensland Government's recognition of the importance of having a planning framework that guides investment in wind farm development in Queensland.
- The planning code applies prospectively; therefore, wind farm proposals currently under assessment will continue to be assessed by the relevant local government.
- A wind farm applicant will be required to publicly notify proposals when wind turbines are located within 1500 metres of 'sensitive land uses' (eg dwellings) if landholders have not agreed to a lesser setback. Affected parties will have an opportunity to make submissions in respect of the proposed developments and will be afforded appeal rights.
- The planning code may lead to protracted negotiations with surrounding landholders, and result in developers considering acquiring non-essential property surrounding the proposed development.
- As the DILGP will not be the assessment manager for any associated reconfiguration of a lot or operational works applications, separate applications would need to be made to the local government in respect of these aspects of the development. This may continue to pose issues for project feasibility, as wind farms are typically located within rural areas and the unusual pattern of land subdivision for wind farm projects may not meet prescribed minimum lot sizes intended to prevent fragmentation.
- When a wind farm does not meet its conditions of approval, enforcement measures can be implemented – the operator will either be required to alter operations to achieve the conditions of approval or risk suspension of operations.
- To the extent that it affects 'non-host' lots (ie a lot no part of which is used for a wind farm or part of a wind farm). For host lots, night-time acoustic levels cannot exceed 45 dB(A) or five dB(A) over background levels (LA90) (whichever is the greater).