Queensland releases draft Wind Farm Code for consultation

By Bill McCredie, Julieane Materu, Tristan Hall, Amy Fleming
Energy Renewable Energy

Proposed new requirements for applications for wind farm developments are open for submissions 6 min read

Updates to the State code 23: Wind farm development (proposed Code) and associated Planning guidance (proposed Guidance) were released for public consultation on 7 August 2023. Submissions close on 4 September 2023.

The current version of the Code and its accompanying guidelines are used by the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA) when assessing planning applications for new wind farm developments and changes to existing approvals. The Planning Guidance is also intended to be used by proponents when preparing their applications to ensure that the performance outcomes in the State Development Assessment Provisions are addressed.

Reforms proposed to the Code and Guidance will complement other recent Queensland Government policy changes which aim to facilitate state-wide growth of the renewable energy sector. For further reading, see previous Allens Insights on the Queensland Renewable Energy Zone Roadmap and Queensland Energy and Jobs Plan.

There are significant additions and changes to the performance outcomes in the proposed Code. These changes will front-load much of the assessment that proponents need to undertake for a wind farm development application, particularly in relation to environmental assessment, decommissioning and rehabilitation, erosion and sediment control, social impact and heavy vehicle haulage routes.

In this Insight, we outline our thoughts on the key updates to the proposed Code and Guidance, and explain how to make a submission.

Key takeaways

  • The Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning has released updates to the Wind Farm Code and accompanying Planning Guidance. Submissions may be made until 4 September 2023.
  • In the updated Code, emphasis is placed on avoiding unacceptable impacts to the natural environment, with specific consideration required in relation to places of 'high environmental value' and threatened species, migratory species and their habitats.
  • There are specific assessment requirements relating to replanting of cleared land and rehabilitating wind farm developments.
  • There is a heightened focus on erosion risks and avoiding adverse impacts to Great Barrier Reef catchments and other watercourses.
  • There are new social impact assessment requirements.
  • Among other things, proponents will need to consider potential impacts to road networks and community infrastructure, which will require the front-loading of impact assessments.

Emphasis on biodiversity protection (proposed PO1-PO4)

There is a sharpened focus on protecting threatened species, their habitats and areas of high environmental value in the proposed Code. The term 'high environmental value' is discussed further below.

The proposed Code represents a shift away from high-level protections currently afforded to flora, fauna and associated ecological processes, with the introduction of more specific performance outcomes that the proposed Guidance explains will aim to achieve compatibility, not conflict, with the surrounding environment.

Developments must be designed, sited and constructed in a way that protects threatened species and their habitats, and areas of high environmental value from adverse impacts.

Currently, the Code does not expressly address construction impacts on biodiversity, despite our experience being that most adverse impacts (except for bird and bat strike) typically occur during the construction phase of wind farm projects. Proposed PO4 states that any land that is cleared is to be replanted to the maximum extent possible after construction is complete, provided that this does not impede operations and maintenance of the wind farm. This performance outcome is in line with the trend towards addressing rehabilitation early in a project's life, which we observe is being introduced across environmental law frameworks in Queensland more generally.

For wind farm operations, a new performance outcome extends protection to birds and bats, in addition to threatened species. The proposed updates to the associated Guidance confirm in relation to birds and bats that migratory paths must be considered, and they should influence site layouts and turbine locations to minimise impacts.

It remains the case that a proponent is required to provide an ecological assessment report to demonstrate compliance with PO1. The updated Guidance includes an expansive list of matters that must be addressed in this report, in addition to bird and bat studies, and including two seasonal surveys, which we consider reflects the increased focus of the proposed Code on biodiversity. Appendix 1 to the updated Guidance provides further information about how proponents should prepare this assessment.

Draft management plans that are required to be prepared as part of the ecological assessment should be detailed. This will include a draft progressive rehabilitation plan detailing on-site rehabilitation works for the life of the development. The preparation of management plans will also typically be enforced by conditions of approval.

Amendments may provide greater certainty for business

The term 'areas of high environmental value' is not defined in the proposed Code or Guidance, nor is it used in any other Queensland legislation. The term will adopt its ordinary meaning –  that is, intensified, assigning or attributing a great value, important and of great consequence.

Although 'environmental value' is defined in the EP Act, qualifying this through the undefined use of the descriptor - 'high' - leaves this term open to interpretation. Proposed updates to the Guidance could provide greater clarity, as they simply refer to the areas of high environmental value as being 'highly sensitive', without providing examples.

We consider that there is an opportunity to define 'high environmental value' so that its meaning is clear and business may invest with certainty.

Water quality, erosion control and natural drainage (proposed PO5-PO8)

Land-based run-off contributes significantly to poor water quality in the Great Barrier Reef, particularly in inshore areas, and in other watercourses.[1] Additional performance outcomes in the proposed Code which aim to protect watercourses and drainage lines must be considered from a catchment perspective, particularly those that discharge to the coastline north of Bundaberg.[2]

Under the proposed Code, the design and siting of wind farm developments must minimise crossings of, and interference with, natural drainage lines and watercourses, and avoid areas of high erosion risk. New performance outcomes are proposed to require proponents to undertake post-construction stabilisation works to minimise erosion and run-off impacts to surrounding areas.  

Construction is to be undertaken in a manner that maintains or improves the water quality of receiving waters and watercourses through preservation of bank stability and erosion minimisation works.

Proponents will need to undertake an erosion risk assessment to inform site layout, which will need to be provided to SARA during the application process. Conditions are likely to be imposed on the development approval requiring a detailed erosion and sediment control plan to be prepared prior to construction, as well as requiring a detailed stormwater management plan.

Natural hazards (proposed PO9)

Developments must be responsive to natural hazards and extreme weather events to ensure the safety of workers onsite. The proposed Guidance states that approval conditions requiring the preparation of detailed bushfire management and safety and emergency management plans will be imposed.

Acoustic criteria (proposed PO10-PO11)

The proposed Code would bring acoustic criteria into line with 'current best practice approaches', however few updates to the current Code and Guidance are actually proposed.

Acoustic levels remain unchanged for sensitive land uses on both host and non-host lots.

However, the proposed Code now expressly recognises a separate acoustic criteria for sensitive land uses on non-host lots where a proponent enters into a deed of release with the relevant landowner. Although the option to enter into a deed of release to agree on different acoustic criteria is available under the current Code, the updates proposed to the Code expressly set the default acoustic levels to less than the greater of 45dB(A) or 5dB(A) above background noise levels.

The proposed Guidance also places increased emphasis on the methodologies to be adopted for noise impact assessments and operational noise monitoring in (now) Appendix 4 of the proposed Guidance. Previous iterations of the Guidance stated that the methodologies described 'should' be adopted. The wording now proposed states that the methodologies 'must' be adopted.

New requirement for heavy vehicle haulage to be assessed during the application phase (proposed PO14, PO16-PO20)

The proposed Code will require proponents to front-end the assessment of heavy vehicle construction haulage in a manner not typically seen before in the wind farm industry. We understand that SARA will require a high level of confidence that a safe, viable and practical haulage route can be secured to accommodate the movement of oversize / overmass vehicles during construction. This change has been proposed because some wind farms have had difficulty in securing feasible haulage routes post-approval. We expect this may result in additional upfront costs and timing delays being incurred by proponents.

Construction activities are, under the proposed Code, to have no adverse impact on transport networks and infrastructure. Impacts on the safety, efficiency and condition of roads infrastructure should be mitigated. Road user safety should not be compromised. Proponents must demonstrate that the development will deliver upgrades to local and state-controlled road intersections.

Approval conditions will still require the preparation of a detailed traffic impact assessment and detailed construction and heavy vehicle haulage plans, prior to commencement of construction.

The inclusion of a new performance outcome for social impacts requires that, for wind farm projects where it is proposed that there will be worker accommodation of 50 beds or greater, the development application must demonstrate that the project will not result in adverse impacts on the local community or townships. A construction worker's accommodation options report must be prepared.

Decommissioning (proposed PO23)

To ensure the whole-of-life impacts of wind farm developments are considered at the application stage, a new performance outcome to address decommissioning is proposed.

The proposed Code will require that developments are decommissioned in a timely manner. The application should demonstrate that disturbance footprints are rehabilitated and watercourses and drainage patterns are reinstated. Reassuringly, the proposed Guidance confirms that only above-ground infrastructure is to be removed.

Conditions will require the preparation of a decommissioning management plan for the end of operations and prior to decommissioning.

Unamended performance outcomes

Performance outcomes relating to aviation safety, integrity and efficiency, electromagnetic interference and shadow flicker are largely unchanged in the proposed Code. Projects in areas identified as having high scenic amenity no longer need to be developed in a manner that protects the character of the locality, but scenic amenity and landscape values must still be addressed in a visual impact assessment report.

Actions you can take now

Wind farm developers, and operators who want to change their existing approvals, will be impacted by the proposed updates to the Code and Planning Guidance document.

Proponents should familiarise themselves with the proposed changes and make any submissions via the online survey by no later than 4 September 2023.

Please contact any of the people below if you need advice or require more information about the proposed updates to the Code and what it means for your business.




  2. Proposed Guidance, pp 10