This chapter deals with issues relating to the planning of wind farms in
Australia. These issues cover the lifespan of wind farm developments: the site
selection; the feasibility of the project; the planning and approvals process;
construction; commissioning and operations; and decommissioning. The committee
has received considerable evidence on these matters, the bulk of which has
drawn attention to poor planning processes and the lack of effective community
Currently, there is no national planning framework for wind farms in
Australia: the relevant regulations and laws are within the relevant State environment
and planning statutes. These statutes are regulated in an often confusing
manner with jurisdictional overlap between state governments and local
In its interim report, the committee argued that national wind farm
planning guidelines are needed, and planning decisions relevant to technical
issues must be elevated from local councils to the state government body with
the relevant technical expertise. Logically, responsibility for monitoring
compliance issues relevant to these technical decisions should also lie with
the decision-making body that has the technical expertise. See the following
chapter on Monitoring and Compliance for further discussion and
Interim report recommendations relating to planning
committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government introduce National
Wind Farm Guidelines which each Australian State and Territory
Government should reflect in their relevant planning and environmental
statutes. The committee proposes these guidelines be finalized within
12 months and that the Commonwealth Government periodically assess the
Guidelines with a view to codifying at least some of them.
Implementation of planning processes
The implementation of planning processes for wind farms has three key
land use planning frameworks—the planning regime that applies to
all large-scale development in the relevant jurisdiction;
environmental planning frameworks—the regulatory regime to assess
technical and environmental issues relevant to wind farms, including the
permits required to operate a wind energy facility; and
the capacity of the relevant authority/authorities to implement these
planning and permit frameworks.
Many submitters have expressed their concern at the lack of consultation
by wind farm proponents both before a development application is lodged, and
during the development application process.
Land use planning and construction approvals are conducted through
local, state and territory planning processes. Planning and approval frameworks
for all large-scale or 'significant' developments are different across all
jurisdictions in Australia. In some states, individual councils approve and
regulate development at a local level, while in other jurisdictions, decisions for
larger developments are made at a state level, often by using 'call-in powers'
exercised by state ministers with responsibility for planning issues.
To add to this confusion, planning approvals specific to wind farm
development are even more variable. There is a myriad of approval processes
relevant to technical issues and environmental impact, both across jurisdictions
and even within different levels of government within a state or territory.
Some jurisdictions have moved to ensure that wind farm approvals are
both regulated and approved at a state or territory level, while others allow
local councils to make all planning decisions for wind farms. Some states, such
as Victoria, have moved the decision making from local councils to state
government agencies and then back again, adding to the confusion. Other
jurisdictions elevate technical decision-making based on these guidelines to
state agencies, while relying on local councils to monitor and enforce wind
farms' compliance with operational approvals.
Proponents of a new wind farm must navigate this confusing array of
separate approvals processes. Not only does this adversely impact on the wind
farm industry, this process also makes it very difficult for affected
communities to engage in the consultation and approvals process for new wind
farm proposals. Many of the current legislative frameworks effectively take
away the right of communities to appeal.
Most state governments have either drafted (New South Wales, Queensland)
or finalised (Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria) guidelines for wind
farm developments. The guidelines cover issues such as setback
from existing homes, environmental and visual impacts such as noise, blade
flicker and electromagnetic interference, aircraft safety, and impacts on birds
The committee has received a considerable volume of evidence, by written
submission and during hearings, that state-based planning frameworks have
significant flaws in a number of areas. Following is a discussion of the
planning approvals processes across a few sample states, to give a picture of
the complexities and problems faced due to the planning regimes that apply to
wind farms around Australia.
The Victorian Government first published the 'Policy and planning
guidelines for development of wind energy facilities in Victoria' in 2003. This
document has been refined and updated in 2009, 2011, 2012, and April and June
to reflect policy changes and to update information.
In its submission, the Department of Economic Development, Jobs,
Transport and Resources summarises the guidelines as follows:
Once lodged, a planning application is advertised to
neighbouring properties and referred to relevant authorities. The decision
maker then considers the proposal against the relevant planning scheme policies
and controls including the particular provision at Clause 52.32 – Wind Energy
Facilities. Considerations include noise, visual and landscape impact,
vegetation clearance, shadow flicker, aviation safety, and fauna impacts. Following
consideration of the planning provisions, referral responses and public
submissions the responsible authority will determine the application.
Permit applicants and objectors can apply for a review of the
decision to grant or refuse a permit application. Applications for review are
held before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In April 2015, an amendment to planning laws made the Minister for
Planning the responsible authority for all new planning permit applications for
the use and development of land for the purpose of a Wind energy facility. In
addition, the two kilometre buffer zone between wind farms and residential
dwellings, introduced by the Coalition State Government in 2011, was reduced to
These changes were largely in response to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry
into renewable energy projects tabled on 25 February 2010.
Of particular relevance to this inquiry, the Victorian inquiry recommended:
the Victorian Planning Minister be the responsible authority for all
commercial wind energy facilities;
a departmental Project Manager be appointed to each renewable
energy facility project;
a Technical Reference Group be established and integrated into
the assessment process for all renewable energy facilities;
standard development approval conditions should be developed by
the Department of Planning and Community Development for permit applications
for renewable energy facilities;
Planning Panels Victoria form a small team of members with
substantial expertise in considering wind farm applications;
The Minister for Planning be responsible for the monitoring and
enforcement of conditions set out in all wind farm permits and post development
Strategic regional plans should be developed by the Department of
Planning and Community Development to assist local councils and communities
manage the cumulative impacts of multiple, concurrent major developments,
including wind energy facilities; and
Regional Development Victoria fund local councils impacted by
wind farm and renewable energy projects, to establish community engagement
Some of these recommendations were accepted and legislated by the
government through amendments to Victorian planning law in April 2015. However,
many of the problems that have been continuously raised by local councils,
communities and affected residents, do not appear to have been addressed. The
Victorian parliamentary inquiry found:
Local councils advised that they do not currently have the
capacity, expertise and resources to act as the responsible authority for wind
farm projects of less than 30 megawatts. Councils identified the cumulative
impacts of wind farms and monitoring and enforcement arrangements as
Despite this finding, the new planning regime in Victoria makes the state
Minister for Planning the responsible authority to issue permits for new wind
farms, but local councils are the responsible authority for enforcement and
compliance with the permit.
The cost to local councils and ratepayers under this arrangement was raised as
an issue of particular concern in the submission by Moyne Council:
Council is concerned that it will not be adequately financed
by the State Government for planning permit compliance and that the general
Moyne community should not have to subsidise the compliance of a major energy
Submitters expressed frustration in the difficulties created in a
complaints system with overlap between state and local governments:
Nobody is responsible, because, when I first made a
complaint, I went to the state office in Ballarat. They said, 'We've got no-one
here to know how to force compliance', and we got the same statement from the
council that it is the department of planning's problem.
As outlined in the Capacity of authorities section below, even in
the event local councils are willing to accept an enforcement and compliance
role, they lack the expertise and funding required by this important role. A
more detailed discussion of monitoring and compliance issues is undertaken in
Chapter 4 of this report.
Furthermore, the Moorabool Council states that the back and forth
movement between state and local government as to who is the responsible
authority has added to confusion about who is responsible for the issue of permits
and ongoing monitoring of compliance. The Council is also concerned where the
State Planning Minister has extended permits without consultation with Council.
Former Cape Bridgewater resident Ms Joanne Kermond noted in her
Some seven years after the commissioning of the Cape
Bridgewater Wind Farm, neither the council (which incorporated the Portland
Wind Energy Project into its planning scheme in 2004) nor the Minister (who
issued the permit against the recommendations of the VCAT panel and a
government appointed panel) are prepared to formally accept the responsibility
for the enforcement of noise conditions attached to Portland Wind Energy
Project’s planning consent.
The Victorian Minister for Planning has never formally
determined that he is satisfied that the Cape Bridgewater Wind Farm has met
compliance with condition 13 and so Pacific Hydro still has the unmet
obligation to demonstrate that the power station is compliant with the noise
conditions set out in its conditionally issued planning consent.
It is my understanding that no authority has determined Cape
Bridgewater Wind Farm’s compliance, no authority is prepared to take
responsibility for the enforcement of noise conditions attached to the Portland
Project’s planning permission, and no authority has made itself available to
seriously address our concerns. We are simply told to direct our complaints to
the wind farm company.
Glenelg Shire Council told the committee that the Council does not have
the technical capacity to enforce conditions of consent and nor does it have
the authority to do so to the extent that the Minister is satisfied. The
Minister reasons that Council is now the responsible authority for Portland
Wind Energy Project because the PWEP was incorporated into the Glenelg Planning
Scheme. Although the Minister for Planning is unwilling to accept
responsibility for noise conditions of the Portland Wind Energy Project, he was
quite prepared to use his powers to intervene, amend the permit and extend the
same permit's expiry date to assist the developer to obtain finance which would
allow Stage 4 of the project to be completed.
frameworks: South Australia
South Australia is the largest producer of wind energy in Australia. The
South Australian government website notes that 'as of June 2014, South
Australia hosts the bulk of the nation's installed capacity'.
As the South Australian Government noted in its submission:
South Australia has established itself as the nation’s leader
in wind energy investment having attracted 41% of the nation’s installed
capacity. Indeed, South Australia has an international reputation, and if it
were a nation state would be second only to Denmark in its amount of wind
On 18 October 2012, the Minister for Planning approved the Statewide
Wind Farm Development Plan Amendment (DPA).
Under the DPA, planning and development assessment is encouraged to remain
under existing local Council processes, although the SA Government notes that
'all wind farm development applications in South Australia are referred to
agencies for comment to assist with the development assessment'. It adds:
Once a wind farm development application is lodged with the
assessment authority there are statutory public consultation time periods and
the ability for community members to make submission to the assessment
authority on the development.
However, some councils have expressed dissatisfaction with this process.
The District Council of Yankalilla submitted that:
The State agencies (Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
and Dept. Health) seem to be poorly set up to help Local Government get another
perspective on sometime complex technical information about windfarm proposals.
In the past it has not been possible to get their expert staff to brief
Councils /Development Assessment Panels during the rather constrained timeframe
for processing Development Applications.
The DPA identifies 'rural type zones' in the state which are classed as
Category 2 developments and not subject to third party appeal rights. The
exception to this is where a turbine falls within two kilometres of a
non-associated dwelling or township type zone. If a turbine falls within two
kilometres, then the wind farm will be classed as Category 3 and subject to
third party appeal rights.
Furthermore, the DPA limits public consultation requirements to:
...public consultation with neighbours but reserves widespread
public consultation for those proposals that include one or more turbines
located less than 2000 metres from: an existing or approved dwelling; tourist
accommodation; or potentially incompatible zone such as an airfield,
residential or township zone.
In addition, the DPA established that wind turbines:
need to be setback at least 1km from non-associated dwellings and
tourist accommodation; and
need to be setback at least 2km from defined urban and township
Reponses from local councils in South Australia to this planning regime have
not been positive. The Southern and Hills Local Government Association, which
comprises seven South Australian local Councils submitted that:
Although the vast majority of our member Councils have not
been party to or processed any Wind Farm Development applications it is
generally felt the policies contained in the Development Plan following the
State Amendment referred to earlier provide little guidance for Councils and
Enforcement of conditions such as noise levels is a confusing joint
responsibility of local councils and the South Australian Environment
Protection Authority. Submitters have stated that the agency is poorly funded
and unable to properly conduct its compliance function.
The committee received considerable evidence from residents in regional
areas of South Australia expressing concerns with planning processes in South
Ms Nicki Morgan wrote in her submission:
The State's "fair and expeditious planning system"
comes at the cost of a total loss of rights for those who must live near wind
power stations. There are no provisions for fair and reasonable objections to
be made or acted upon when they are made. Only the Councils of the Adelaide
metropolitan area, the Barossa and McLaren Vale have wind power stations banned
– the entire rest of the state (including one proposed within 50 metres of the
Barossa Council area) is open with no reasonable objection acceptable by the
authorities. Indeed, even Councils are powerless when they oppose them
themselves. I am uncertain what the government means by "fair".
Ms Jackie Rovensky, who also made a submission to the South Australian
Parliamentary inquiry, wrote in her submission:
...the SA Government changed its Planning Regulations to give
virtually unrestricted access to the vast majority of the State, and to assist
this process removing the Right of Appeal to approvals for these projects from
its citizens. As a consequence of involvement of the industry in decision
making there is no evidence of State Governments making any adequate Planning
Regulations to manage community concerns, rather they have created planning
regulations which favour the industry and ignore community concerns.
Mrs Karen Wilson referred in her submission to the Trustpower Palmer
Wind Farm development:
My husband and I own a property adjacent to the proposed
Palmer Wind Farm. We will be surrounded by up to 50 x 165 [meter] tall wind
turbines ranging from 2.5 km to 10km...
We now live in fear that this will go ahead. We fear for our
health, we fear for our safety in regards to bush fires as we live in the Adelaide
Hills which is a high bushfire zone. We also fear that our property will be
devalued. Trustpower have held public consultations and right from the
beginning they have given us the impression its [sic] a done deal so we may as
well get used to it. The Mid Murray Council have been intimidating to say the
least. The SA state government have changed legislation to make sure these wind
farms are approved. We have no third party right of appeal.
Currently, local governments are the responsible authority for wind farm
development approvals, assessing these proposed developments against their
local planning schemes. However, there are no Queensland guidelines specific to
the assessment of new wind farm developments or the expansion of existing wind
Local councils have expressed frustration with the existing process for
assessing wind farm proposals. In its submission, the Tablelands Regional
Council identifies the problem with these arrangements:
Small regional councils are generally under-resourced, and
lack the financial and technical capabilities and expertise required to deal
with complex wind farm developments, or the associated monitoring and
compliance. These difficulties are compounded by the state government's failure
to develop and implement enforceable state-wide policies and standards for the
wind farm industry, and to address the complexity and contradictions embedded
in the existing state noise regulatory environment (as they apply to wind
The Queensland Government submitted that it will change the responsible
authority to a state-based agency, but did not indicate when that change would
Future applications for wind farm development are to be
assessed by the State Assessment and Referral Agency (SARA). SARA is the single
lodgement and assessment point for all development applications where the state
has jurisdiction, under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA) —Queensland's
principle (sic) planning legislation.
To support the new assessment process, the Queensland Government says in
its submission that:
The department is preparing a draft Wind Farm State Code (the
Code) which will be incorporated into the State Development Assessment
Provisions (SDAP). The SDAP is a prescribed document that sets out matters of
interest SARA may have regard to when assessing development applications. A
Draft Wind Farm State Code Planning Guidelines (the Guideline) is also being
developed to support the Code. The purpose of the Guideline is to assist
proponents in preparing a thorough development application for a new or expanded
In subsequent evidence presented to the committee's Cairns hearing, the
Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning stressed that the
proposal to make SARA the responsible entity to assess wind farm developments
has not yet been considered or endorsed by the new Queensland Government. If
the proposal for centralised planning approval is not implemented, the
Department suggests the draft wind farm code could be used by local councils as
a suggested code or guideline in assessing wind farm development proposals.
However, there is no clarity as to whether this proposed regime will be
similar to the new regime put in place in Victoria, where planning approvals
are elevated to a state level, but responsibility for monitoring compliance
with the approvals is left up to local councils. In its submission, the Tablelands
Regional Council finds it unclear whether it or the state will be responsible
for associated compliance and enforcement, and raised concerns that ratepayers
could be responsible for significant enforcement and compliance costs.
The council noted that in terms of the costs of compliance for the Windy Hill
It is estimated to have directly cost taxpayers over $200,000
in acoustic expert costs and legal fees, and a further $50,000 in indirect
costs such as officers' time.
Several submitters have criticised the role of the Queensland Government
in relation to the Mount Emerald Wind Farm development. The Tablelands Wind
Turbine Action Group told the committee:
Acknowledging the inadequacy of the planning scheme, the Council
made several amendments (Temporary Local Planning Instruments) [TLPI] to assist
in the wind farm assessment. However, the Queensland Government diluted the TLPIs
in order to expedite the wind farm planning approval. The Queensland Government
has also relaxed many of the standard regulatory arrangements for the Mount Emerald
developers. For instance, the developers will not be required to have a permit to
clear native vegetation under Queensland’s Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation
2006 because the works will be considered "for the purposes of electrical works".
(When these Regulations were developed, electrical works of this scale were carried
out by government agencies in response to public need for power. In this case, additional
energy is not required, the developer is building turbines purely to take advantage
of Federal Government regulations which assist renewable energy suppliers.) The
Queensland Government has also withdrawn the requirement for the turbines to comply
with remnant vegetation habitat regulations under the Vegetation Management Act
2009, and has refunded the developers’ assessment fee.
The Tablelands Regional Council also highlighted the higher cost to
councils of development decisions under the current planning regime:
If council decides something then the developer, if it does
not agree with that approval, can appeal that decision to the Planning and
Environment Court, which can be a very costly process for the council. In a
ministerial call-in situation, there is no right of appeal. That is the
difference—council remains exposed to the consequences of their decision; the
minister does not.
frameworks New South Wales
The committee received evidence from Mr Robert Griffin and Mr Alwyn Roweth,
both landholders near the proposed Flyers Creek wind farm in NSW. They related
their experience of dealing with the proponent, Infigen Energy, and the NSW
Department of Planning.
The committee has serious concerns about the manner in which the
landholder contracts were signed and the quality of information that was made
available to the landholders at the time of signing the contracts. The
committee notes that the contracts with the three landholders have expired and
that the host landholders do not wish to be part of the project. The committee also
notes that the proponent has attempted to force an extension of the contracts
on Mr Griffin, Mr Roweth and Mr Neville Obourne using a force majeure
clause. Further, the NSW Department of Planning has:
- confirmed to them in writing that the Department has not caused any of
the delays that the proponent purports; and
granted a further extension on the already deferred commencement
conditions, thereby placing Mr Griffin, Mr Roweth and Mr Obourne under
significant pressure from the proponent.
The committee expressed its concern that the aforementioned gentlemen
are not adequately resourced with legal representation. The committee also
notes the intricacies of changes over recent years to the planning statutes in
NSW. These changes have in effect taken away the community's right of appeal
and have been the subject of recent investigations by Independent Commission
Against Corruption (ICAC).
Capacity of local councils
Many submissions from different local government areas have questioned
the capacity of local councils to implement a robust planning approval process
for developments of significance, such as windfarms. Many of these submissions
have come from local councils themselves:
Small regional councils are generally under-resourced, and
lack the financial and technical capabilities and expertise required to deal
with complex wind farm development, or the associated monitoring and
Issues raised around the capacity of local councils to manage
development applications of wind farms include:
their lack of staff to properly run a development application
process for large scale developments;
their lack of technical expertise to assess developments, or to monitor
compliance with planning or permit conditions;
the lack of funds to litigate non-compliance;
the absence of planning laws that adequately regulate large-scale
industrial development; and
the timeframes for consultation and feedback in local planning
laws are not suitable for developments of such significance as they have been
developed to address residential or smaller scale non-residential development.
Moyne Shire Council submits that the burden on local councils to engage
in the technical assessment of development applications is too high:
There is considered to be an imbalance in the process as the
applications are supported by technical and expert reports covering a wide
range of topics many beyond the expertise provided by the functions of local
government. To adequately consider, address and respond to either a planning
permit application, a referral from the Minister for Planning or to an EES
[Environmental Effects Statement] process, creates a large and expensive
resource burden on both Council and the local community.
Moyne Shire Council proposes a solution, citing the approach taken in assessing
the development proposals of other kinds of major industrial and infrastructure
projects. The council submits that those processes have a layered approach to
approvals, with planning permit approval assessed first by local councils, then
works authority or aspects relating to technical issues undertaken by State
Government or its agencies, which are more technically resourced.
The Pyrenees Shire Council cites similar concerns:
...resourcing issues will arise due to the significant amount
of officer time and specialist technical skills required to assess complex
matters such as blade flicker, cumulative impacts and noise assessments.
There will also be a need to engage specialist consultants to
assist with the assessment of noise reports.
The Pyrenees Shire Council recommends the State Government resource
regional offices of the Environmental Protection Agency with wind farm coordinators
with access to technical experts. The council further recommends these regional
offices should be responsible for ensuring compliance with wind permit
Local councils have submitted that the financial burden of both assessing
development applications and ongoing monitoring of compliance is very high. Moyne
Council points out state-regulated planning fees are set to a maximum planning
permit fee of $16 130, yet the council estimates their costs in assessing a
wind farm proposal to be in the vicinity of $250 000.
Moorabool Council puts forward a similar position to Moyne Council on
the cost to council, stating that rates income generated per tower is not
adequate compensation for councils' costs.
Individual submitters have pointed out that this financial burden is
actually borne by local residents, who pay for local councils costs through
The ongoing issues at Windy Hill place a considerable burden
on staff resources, as well as significant legal costs that must be borne by
the Council (and therefore ratepayers).
Another key cost raised by councils is the damage to roads caused by
heavy vehicles accessing small country roads during construction of wind farms:
There has been no offer to the TRC [Tablelands Regional
Council] by the developers to make good damaged roads, nor any commitment of
any kind in respect of future costs to the TRC. The TRC is aware of the
complaints of the Moyne Shire Council to effect that millions of dollars in
road damage has occurred. It is also aware that the TRC road system is not
sufficient to withstand the expected number and weight of movements from the
Palmerston Highway to the site. 
Local residents have also raised the impact to local roads as a concern.
The McMillan family proposed a solution whereby wind farm developers would be
required to place funds in trust to repair damage to roads, so that this
financial burden did not fall to ratepayers.
Submitters pointed to a lack of resources that local councils were able
to put towards assessing development applications as well as compliance
The Tarwin Valley Coastal Guardians (TVCG) noted in its submission that
the South Gippsland Shire Council was under-resourced to fulfil its compliance
responsibilities in relation to the Bald Hills Wind Farm:
In December, 2013 TVCG formally petitioned SGSC asking it to
be diligent and proactive in its role as lead regulatory agency for the BHWEF
planning permit. We were not confident that Council had dedicated any
additional resources to support this role.
Later in the submission, TVCG states:
We believe the project’s size and the complexity of its
development plans required SGSC to assign a full time compliance officer to
monitor the project, document observed breaches, liaise with local residents
and initiate necessary enforcement action. This never happened. Over the full
twelve-fourteen months of construction, we are aware of SGSC senior officers
visiting the site four times.
TVCG members started asking that they do so in January, 2014.
By September 2014 TVCG members, local residents and their lawyers had lodged
approximately ten formal written complaints to SGSC and attended four or more
meetings, including two with the entire elected Council, to report alleged
breaches and voice concern about SGSC inaction.
Inappropriate local planning
Submitters discussed the problems faced in using local development
planning laws to assess and approve large scale industrial developments such as
wind farms. One issue raised was that local planning laws do not allow for
assessment of developments that impact more than one council region:
Wind farms are large developments, and while they are a land
use covered by the planning system, we see them as being a quite different land
use to our normal planning permit applications, on the basis that they are
usually a development over multiple titles of land, over hundreds of hectares
of land stretching for kilometres.
This problem was highlighted by the case of the Mount Emerald Wind farm,
where 90 per cent of people within 5 kilometres of the proposed were excluded
from the development decision-making process because they lived in a different
local government area to the wind farm site.
Another problem raised by submitters, is that there is no capacity in
local planning laws to assess cumulative impacts—each development application
must be assessed as a stand-alone application.
The issue of assessing the cumulative effect from large
projects is an important issue, given the potential for greater landscape,
visual and noise impacts.
Appropriate triggers need to be introduced (based on combined
project size and their proximity to each other) that should be used as a
mechanism for the Planning Minster to call in such proposals to ensure a
co-ordinated process is followed in assessing such proposals. Without
amendments to current state guidelines there is no capacity for a joint
consideration of combined impacts from large projects.
Submitters have discussed problems faced by residents and local
communities during the process of consultation undertaken by wind farm
proponents, both during the initial scoping phase as well as the consultations
during the formal planning approval phase. Serious concerns have been raised
with the manner in which various wind farm companies have engaged with local
communities when seeking prospective wind farm hosts, as well as a lack of
quality and accurate information provided during formal community consultations.
Local resident submitters raised concerns with how wind farm companies
enter into what they describe as secret negotiations and discussions with
Host farmers were required to sign confidentiality agreements
that emphasised lack of disclosure with neighbours, the beginning of the
dreadful wedge that has riven our community, overwhelmingly against this
The quality and detail of information provided to communities at the
pre-proposal stage was raised. Submitters have also discussed the level of
information provided to prospective wind farm hosts as being difficult to
gauge, due to non-disclosure rules in agreements. Other submissions discussed
the lack of quality information provided to non-host residents at the
pre-approval stage had negative impacts on the later community consultation
In Yankalilla’s experience in assessing a Development
Application (DA), we received substantial public comment and our Development
Assessment Panel (DAP) went on to hold 2 or 3 meetings just to give sufficient
item for presenters to make their verbal (and Audio Visual) presentations in
relation to their objections. It would have been good if a series of
pre-application public information sessions could have been given by the
proponent of the windfarm application in the lead up to the actual formal DA
Some submissions raised concerns over the manner in which wind farm
companies interacted with individuals. The McMillan family describe being
pressured to sign a contract:
After this interview with them in December 2013 we were
receiving 18-20 phone calls per day pushing us to sign their contract. This
went on for 5 months, we got caller ID on our phone line so that we could just
let the calls go through to the answering service, as well as an alarm on our
driveway due to them continually calling in to get the contract.
Mr David Mortimer noted a similar negative experience of dealing
with wind farm developers in his submission:
As a recent turbine host, we have first hand experience of
the way in which wind farm developers work in securing willing turbine hosts
and creating compliant governments at all levels.
Once a wind farm developer has chosen a suitable area of
land, he begins to infiltrate the community and win the hearts and minds of the
locals with promises of community funding, and endearing themselves with the
prospective hosts with one on one sessions around the kitchen table with strong
requests not to discuss matters with neighbours or any others. These days, it
is common in the up front "option to lease" document to include a
confidentiality or gag clause preventing any such communication. 
Mr Richard Paltridge also submitted that gag clauses negatively impact
on community consultation:
There had been no public/community discussions in public
between residents in the district about the project, even though it is now
evident Acciona had been speaking with landholders since around 2005 as they
were seeking those willing to accept payment to have turbines on their land. I
was not one of those approached. They had also held Community Group meetings,
but it is unknown which groups and how many are supported by other than a few
of the local community.
That not many realised what was happening and how advanced
the work on the project proposal is directly a result of all those contacted by
Acciona were required not to speak publically about the project or their
meetings with Acciona.
The South Australian Government submitted that the positive practices of
Trustpower enables non turbine hosts to benefit financially from wind farm
An example of good practice in South Australia is the Trust
Power Palmer Wind Farm development. The company sends regular newsletters to
stakeholders, has undertaken community meetings and employed a community
liaison person who lives in the local area to assist with information
dissemination. They have developed the concept of neighbourhood agreements whereby
non-host residents who live nearby a wind farm, but who are not hosts, can
benefit financially from the development.
The committee heard further evidence from Trustpower Ltd that they had
not had any operational concerns raised on any of their projects in New Zealand
or South Australia. They attributed this to the combination of strong community
consultation processes, particularly in the pre-lodgement phase, combined with
financial benefits for neighbouring landowners.
Post application consultation
There was a wide range of evidence presented on problems encountered by
individuals, community groups and local councils during the consultation phase
mandated by planning laws. Concerns included the paucity of accurate
information provided by proponents, the lack of real community engagement, too-short
consultation phases compounded by communities finding out about developments
well into the planning state instead of near the beginning. Some submitters
also identified a tendency for some councils to have already decided in favour
of a development prior to the public consultation phase.
Submitters have presented evidence that wind farm proponents use various
strategies to reduce the capacity of people to organise themselves into groups
that improve community advocacy during the consultation phase. The Bodangora Wind Turbine Awareness
Group wrote that the wind farm company preferred to meet with individuals
rather than groups:
Infigen (the proponent in this instance) have refused to meet
with the BWTAG or any groups of neighbouring property owners, despite numerous
requests. They (the proponent) prefer 'one on one meetings'.
Heartland Farmers had a similar experience and submitted:
Suzlon representatives were asked to meet with the Heartland
Farmers in January this year. This meeting was refused as Suzlon failed to
recognise the Heartland Farmers as a legitimate group and demanded the names
and details of the individual members.
Suzlon have failed to attend open meetings that are not
controlled by them, failed to respond to telephone messages, faxes and messages
on their blogs.
Heartland Farmers also provided an experience of one member in their
The first we knew of how many would be on my boundary was
when the maps were released by Suzlon on the Information Day in January 2013.
At these meetings, Suzlon’s representatives controlled the interaction with our
farmers by allowing only 25 to listen to a presentation. Their tactic was to
not allow questions from the floor and asked everyone to move to the back of
the room and ask questions one--‐on--‐one rather than use an
open style forum which would have then shared information amongst the wider
group. These meetings were held in Curramulka, Port Vincent and Port Julia, the
smallest towns, venues with limited space. Why did they choose small venues?
Why didn’t they use town halls in Maitland and Minlaton? Because that way they
could limit the numbers to 25 people at a time. They knew that a farmer--‐filled Minlaton Town
Hall with an open forum would be a PR disaster.
The McMillan family found that the public consultation events were
tightly controlled by the wind farm proponents:
Their public consultation has been non existent to the extent
that the only meeting they organised was only open to pro-wind people by email
invitation, where your email had to be shown at the door to be able to get in.
If you were not pro wind you could not get in.
Evidence from a number of submitters questioned the community survey
results that are published by wind farm proponents which claim community
support for the project:
Melbourne based Suzlon describe the support in the community
as overwhelmingly good. One could only say this from Collins Street, having
spent no time consulting a community that we know has overwhelmingly voted to
stop this project. The Council of this community, along with the coastal
progress associations of Black Point, Port Julia and Sheoak Flat have
unanimously rejected this proposal at recent meetings.
Ratch-Australia (RATCH) presented evidence that the pre-development
community survey of the Mount Emerald wind farm found that 70 per cent of
people were supportive of the project.
However, the Tablelands Regional Council contends that the survey was
framed to provide a positive response to the proposed wind farm, as it included
many respondents living a long distance from the wind farm.
The survey demographics shows that 400 people in total were surveyed: 59 per
cent of respondents lived over 15 kilometres from the proposed site and only 19
people surveyed (5 per cent) lived less than 5 kilometres from the proposed
Conversely, the Tablelands Regional Council states that around 2 500 people
live within 5 kilometres of the proposed site, with a total of around 3 500
people within 10 kilometres.
In comparison, the Tablelands Regional Council quoted results from a
community-citizen funded survey:
When the community citizens got together and did a very
professional survey, which was open and transparent and available to RATCH for
comment and criticism, 700 residential addresses within five kilometres were
posted to, and the reflection there was: 91.7 [per cent] did not support, 3.5 [per
cent] did support and neither way was 4.8 [per cent].
Other submissions have highlighted a problem with the quality and
accuracy of information provided during the consultation phase:
The Community Engagement Process has been less than
satisfactory. We had received information from the initial developers, we never
received information from Acciona. Indeed our residence, as many other local
homes were not on their maps, even though most of them have been there for a
minimum of thirty years.
The level of community consultation undertaken by developers
has been abysmal and any that was undertaken generally ignored community
concerns. There has been a less than honest approach by developers in relation
to noise, shadow, blade flicker affects and visual amenity on residents.
The developers have attempted to minimise any opposition by
withholding information, incorrectly presenting data and rejecting community
concerns about the project. Throughout the planning process, they have tried to
keep details as vague as possible and have avoided any meaningful stakeholder
In their proposal RATCH says that they have contacted the
volunteer fire brigade and have permission from us to access all our water
supplies and get help from us if they should have a fire. My father is the
secretary, and no-one has ever been contacted by RATCH with regard to firefighting
on the mountain. It shows that they write what they think people want to hear,
and they are not actually talking to the people on the ground.
Some submitters provided evidence that communities had only 10 days in
which to respond to development proposals, and stated that this was not enough
time for people to research a complex issue and write comprehensively of their
This was compounded by the situation where projects were well into the late
planning stages before communities became aware a wind farm was being proposed
in their area.
It reaffirms the point made in evidence by the Queensland Department of
Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning official: 'the department formed
the view that we cannot say no to any wind farms'.
Consultation Case Study: Mount
Emerald Wind Farm
The Mount Emerald Wind Farm development was proposed by the partnership
of RATCH Australia and Port Bajool. The site is private land on the plateau
adjacent to the Mt Emerald / Springmount area, approximately halfway between
Mareeba and Atherton, five kilometres west of Walkamin.
RATCH is proposing to build 63 wind turbines generating up to 189MW of power
from this site. The towers will be approximately 80 to 90 metres high with
approximately 50 metre blades, utilising 3 MW machines.
On 24 April 2015, the Queensland Government approved the development
application for the Mount Emerald Wind Farm. The Deputy Premier and the
Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, the Hon. Jackie
Trad MP, said:
I have listened first-hand to the community’s concerns
regarding the proposed development, particularly in relation to potential
noise, traffic and environmental issues. As part of the approval, the State
requires the proponent, Mount Emerald Wind Farm Pty Ltd, to comply with a
number of strict conditions, including daytime and night time noise limits
which are equal to, or better than, standards in other states like Victoria and
In explaining the decision to approve the project, the Queensland
the approval also includes a condition requiring all turbines to
be located at least 1.5km from any existing dwelling;
the applicant is also required to submit detailed traffic and
environment management plans for approval prior to construction commencing; and
the approval also includes conditions requiring the applicant to
undertake community consultation prior, during and post construction to ensure
any community concerns are addressed, as well as the establishment of a hotline
and complaints register to ensure any community concerns are appropriately
The inquiry has received evidence from numerous submissions concerned
with the community consultation processes for this development. In his
submission, Mr Ian Parker states:
Ratch has presented its case at all legislative levels and to
the media as a benign and much needed investment in Far North Queensland,
making out that it has met all requirements demanded in law for such a
development. Yet in doing so it has lied over many issues. Among them claiming
to have canvassed and received favourable local opinion on its proposal. It
never did so in the areas contiguous to the wind turbine site.
Ms Jennifer Disley and Mr Jack Krikorian submitted they were approached in
2007 by the Port Bajool developers who sought to sell them 100 acres of land.
They describe RATCH and Port Bajool's behaviour as 'unethical and
They note that 'the assessment on Community Impact has never been done. This is
a part of normal application process and has been bypassed'.
Ms Disley and Mr Krikorian also offered the following criticisms of
their experience with the consultation process:
I personally invited RPS Consultant, David Finney to my
property on 5 separate occasions, so that I could show him our community
and the number of enterprises which employ large numbers of employees. His
response, "I know your road, I drove down it once". As locals we
found this contemptuous.
On following community development guidelines for windfarms,
Port Bajool stated that they had done letter drops of their newsletters. We do
not have a rural delivery service here, and we do not have letter boxes. The
local Postmistress has never been given any information from the wind farm
Politicians and media have always been told that there is
only a handful, or 5-6 people who object to the wind farm. The action group has
an emailing list hundreds of people long for those objectors in the area who
want to keep up with the information.
Ratch conducted via a Melbourne Firm, a phone survey
regarding the wind farm. Their survey did not include local people to the wind
farm. One third of the people questioned resided over 20 kms away. No one on
Channel Road was interviewed, i.e. some of the most impacted people. With over
100 residents on Channel Road it is surprising they could not find one person
to contact. 80% of people surveyed said they knew nothing of Mt Emerald...
John Morris and Jim Noli visited a few of the neighbouring
farmers. They stated they would get back with the information sought. To date
there has never been a second visit or information offered.
During some council meetings, despite Ratch stating they were
open and transparent, council sessions were closed and the public had to leave.
I have been shut out of one of their meetings during the public session as were
all other members of the public.
Ms Krista Watkins, a resident of Walkamin, wrote in her submission:
We had in fact been completely lied to, given false
information by the proponent and in no way shape or form had the community been
advised, consulted or provided information. We had been privy to the lies and
deceit due to the venue of the "meetings". We only researched the
project ourselves because a good Samaritan informed us that we might want to
research it ourselves.
The committee has received evidence from a number of submitters relating
to RATCH and the Mt Emerald wind farm development. John and Grace Cargan, in
their submission, stated that 'RATCH Australia, in an attempt to be
transparent, put the original development application on their website but when
we started asking questions they removed it'.
Expectations that the development would not impact local agriculture
have not been followed through with by RATCH or its representatives. This
specifically relates to the aerial spraying industry:
At that time we expected to be presented with a draft written
assurance that our ability to service our customers would not be affected by
the wind farm development, however this did not eventuate.
In its submission, the Tablelands Wind Turbine Action (TWTA) Group
suggests that the developers have not engaged in good faith with the community
stating that 'ongoing betrayal and disrespectful behaviour [has] destroyed our
community's trust in the Mount Emerald developers'.
TWTA further submits:
there has been no consultation about fundamental changes to the
project, (e.g. number of turbines and sizes of turbines);
the EPBC Act referral documents were released for community
consultation over the Christmas period;
there has been a misrepresentation of the number of receptors to
there has been a misrepresentation of 'surveys' to demonstrate
support for the project that is not apparent;
there has been a lack of engagement on community concerns and
'denigration and rejection' whenever valid issues have been raised; and
there have been extraordinary claims made by the proponents
Some prospective buyers were told by Port Bajool they would
not see or hear the wind farm because "sound travels upwards" and
they signed away both their rights to object, and their rights to compensation
from the developer.
TWTA notes that 'attempts to buy the community should be banned', citing
the following examples:
The developers sponsorship of the Mareeba Chamber of Commerce;
the Chamber supports the wind farm.
Port Bajool are Executive Members of Advance Cairns at a cost of
$20 000 per annum; Advance Cairns supports the Mt Emerald wind farm as a
The developers have proposed sponsoring a community benefit fund
for $200 000 per annum. There is a concern this will bias the decision
making process for the project approval.
The developers offered Tolga State School $10 000 in the
early stages of project scoping. This donation was refused on the basis that
'schools are places for teaching and learning'.
Generally, community consultations for development approval are
requirements under the relevant planning provisions in each state or territory.
Some jurisdictions, such as Victoria, have additional consultation requirements
specific to wind farm developments. The committee notes the reported widespread
inaccuracy of community consultation in all States.
The Victorian Government first published the 'Policy and planning
guidelines for development of wind energy facilities in Victoria' in 2003 and
was last updated in 2015 to reflect policy changes and to update information. In
its submission, the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and
Resources summarises the guidelines as follows:
The guidelines encourage proponents to undertake
pre-application engagement with decision makers and the community. They provide
clear information for prospective wind farm hosts about the planning process
under the Planning and Environment Act 1987. The information is targeted
for use by proponents, decision makers and the community on the planning
approval process, matters considered by decision makers, and to provide links
to other information sources. It also includes model permit conditions to
The Clean Energy Council has also prepared guidelines for wind farm
development proposals. They have developed a guide to best practice community
engagement for the wind industry, and a guide for communities on the steps to
expect in a wind farm development project.
However, both the Victorian Government and the Clean Energy Council guidelines
are not enforceable.
However, the ACT Government has developed a mechanism to ensure quality
consultation is financially rewarded. Such a mechanism could be replicated in
other jurisdictions. In its submission, the ACT Government outlined a method it
used to incorporate community engagement criterion into the assessment of
proposals submitted to its 2014/2015 wind auction.
The community engagement criterion accounted for twenty per
cent of the assessment score of each wind auction proposal. Proposals that were
able to demonstrate good community engagement practices throughout all stages
of their development were assessed favourably against this criterion.
The committee's view is that improvements to community consultation
processes are urgently required across all jurisdictions, and a mechanism to
ensure compliance must be incorporated into the National Wind Farm Guidelines,
as outlined later in this chapter.
Improvements to planning processes
A large volume of evidence has been provided to this inquiry, outlining
significant problems encountered by local councils, residents and wind farm proponents
in the development approval process for wind farms.
Different jurisdictions are taking different approaches: in some places
local councils are responsible for all aspects of development approval
including sources technical consultants. In other states, councils are provided
technical support from state governments. While some jurisdictions have moved
to elevate development decision-making to a state agency level, monitoring and
compliance enforcement of state agency-made development decisions are left to
local councils. Where state agencies are making development decisions, often
there is no input sought from councils regarding their knowledge of local
region development constraints or needs.
Moyne Council recommends a two tiered approach, where local council
grants planning approval, but there is also an approval to operate. This second
approval process would be the mechanism to assess technical aspects, and would
also be the appropriate mechanism to conduct monitoring and compliance. The
council also recommended:
...there is a role for the Commonwealth to set the standards
but I think the actual enforcement and meeting of those standards could best be
dealt with maybe through a state agency.
The Clean Energy Council argued that planning for wind farm development
should remain with the state governments:
Certainly in our view the states have worked hard over the
years to evolve their planning schemes as they relate to our sector.
I think consistency in approaches across jurisdictions is
something that we generally welcome as a principle. I think it can make things
more straightforward from an industry perspective and from a community
perspective. But, as I said, I think fundamentally that is a question for the
regulators in each of those jurisdictions to pass judgement.
The committee's view is that it is clear from the range of evidence
presented that no single jurisdiction in Australia has yet developed an
appropriate system of decision-making for planning approvals of wind farms. Such
a system would ensure that aspects relevant to local knowledge, such as traffic
impacts and facilitating community consultation would be the responsibility of
local councils, while technical aspects of evaluating development proposals
would be the responsibility of the state-level agency with the appropriate
National wind farm
There are no official national regulations or guidelines relating to the
planning and development approval of wind turbines in Australia. National Wind
Farm Guidelines (National Guidelines) were first proposed nearly a decade ago
and were developed by the former Environment Protection and Heritage Council of
Australia and New Zealand (EPHC), now replaced by the Council of Australian
Governments National Environment Protection Council.
The draft National Guidelines were released for public consultation in
These guidelines were not mandatory, but were intended to encourage
improvements in state and territory processes for assessing wind farm proposals
by clearly outlining the key principals and issues for consideration both by
proponents and decision makers during the development approval process. The draft
National Guidelines provided advice ranging from detailed best-practice methods
for impact assessment, to short guidance notes:
Detailed best-practice methods
Short guidance notes
Issues not covered
Wind turbine noise
Visual and landscape impacts
Birds & bats
Electromagnetic interference (EMI)
Community and stakeholder consultation
Aircraft safety and lighting
Risk of fire
Terrestrial fauna impacts other than birds and bats
Other ecological impacts
Construction and engineering standards
Social and economic impact on local community
In its 2012 inquiry, The Social and Economic Impact of Rural Wind
Farms, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee made
recommendations regarding the National Guidelines. The committee considered the
National Guidelines could 'provide for greater transparency and consistency
for planning for wind energy facilities.' 
In its response to the inquiry report, the former Australian Government
did not accept the recommendation to redraft the National Guidelines. The former
Australian Government went further, and announced the EPHC would cease further
development of the National Guidelines, on the grounds that:
Jurisdictions have developed, or are currently developing, planning
application, assessment and approvals processes within their own planning frameworks
to manage community concerns about wind farm developments such as turbine
noise, shadow flicker, electromagnetic interference and impacts on landscapes
It is not a coincidence that progress at the state and territory level to
develop robust wind farm development frameworks has also faltered. The nature
of evidence presented to this inquiry shows that where progress has been made,
it has not resulted in assessment, monitoring and compliance frameworks that
are robust enough to alleviate negative impacts on the communities surrounding
wind farm developments.
By the sheer weight of submissions to this inquiry alone, some from the
regulatory decision-makers themselves, it is clear that current planning
frameworks have failed to address community concerns, or to create nationally
consistent wind farm development standards to give certainty to residents that
the precautionary principle is being applied.
It is clear that there is an ongoing role for the Australian Government
to play in the development of a consistent, transparent and sustainable
regulatory framework for the development, monitoring and compliance of wind
farms. Such a framework would have the benefit of:
providing certainty to the wind farm industry of standards that
must be met in development proposals;
providing nationally consistent industry standards that does not
favour or hinder industry investment in any one state or territory;
assisting regulators to apply nationally consistent decision
making on the planning, construction and operation of wind farms'
assisting in more consistent and transparent monitoring and
compliance of operating wind farms; and
providing greater transparency to communities on the potential
impact of new wind farm proposals, as well as a more easily understood
framework for community generated compliance complaints.
In its interim report, the committee recommended the Commonwealth
Government finalise the National Guidelines within 12 months, which each state
and territory should reflect in their relevant planning and environmental
statutes. The interim report recommended the Commonwealth periodically assess
the National Guidelines with a view to codifying some of them.
The committee has since deliberated further on the significant volume of
evidence presented to this inquiry—that previous attempts to develop national
consistent guidelines and planning frameworks has failed and the current
proposals for state level wind farm development assessment is neither robust nor
The committee is therefore of the view that the National Guidelines for
a two-tiered wind farm approvals process to ensure local councils have
authority for local development issues, and the relevant state agency is the
decision-making authority for environmental impact issues.
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