25 Jun 2015

Victoria's streamlined permit application process could breathe new life in the wind farm industry

by Sallyanne Everett, Florence Riviere

Amendments VC124 and VC125 simplify the application process for wind energy facilities and reduce the distance between wind turbines and dwellings.

Two Planning Scheme Amendments in Victoria, VC124 and VC125, have partially relaxed the previous Government's windfarm policy by streamlining the planning permit application process for wind energy facilities and reducing the allowable distance between wind turbines and dwellings from two kilometres to one kilometre.

Taken together with the passage of the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015, these changes could mean the beginning of a new era for the renewable energy industry in Victoria.

The previous Victorian Government's wind farm policy

The Coalition's policy had been implemented in 2011 through Amendments VC78 and VC82, which:

  • removed the Minister’s decision-making powers over wind energy facilities and made Councils the responsible authority for all permit applications regardless of the size of the proposed facility;
  • prohibited wind turbines within two kilometres of a dwelling, except with the written consent of the owners of the dwellings located within a two kilometre radius of any turbine;
  • introduced no-go zones for wind energy facilities; and
  • introduced new Policy and Planning Guidelines for Development of Wind Energy Facilities in Victoria (August 2011).

Amendment VC124: changes to allowable distance

Amendment VC124 which commenced on 2 April 2014, introduced the following significant changes in all Victorian Planning Schemes:

  • the allowable distance of a wind turbine to a dwelling is reduced from two kilometres to one kilometre, so a proponent must only obtain consent from owners of dwellings located within that one kilometre zone;
  • the Minister for Planning is now the responsible authority for decisions on all new permit applications for a wind energy facility;
  • the removal, destruction or lopping of vegetation on Crown land will now be the subject of a permit exemption provided that it is carried out by a person acting in accordance with an authorisation order made under section 82 or 84 of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010.

Amendment VC125: changes to the definition of "wind energy facility"

Amendment VC125 which came into operation on 11 June 2015 expands the definition of "wind energy facility" to include related transmission and distributions systems of power lines within the definition.

Previously, the transmission system of power lines was defined as a "utility installation" or a "minor utility installation" and considered a separate land use to the use of land for a "wind energy facility", requiring a separate permit from Council as the responsible authority. Consequently, proponents of wind energy facilities were required to undertake two separate planning permit processes for the one proposal. The broader definition of "wind energy facility" will now allow a single integrated planning permit application process to be adopted.

Amendment VC125 also updates the "Policy and planning guidelines for development of wind energy facilities in Victoria" to reflect the changes made to the planning schemes by Amendments VC124 and VC125. A reference document within the VPPs, the Guidelines cover the planning process for wind energy facilities, from identifying suitable locations through to meeting permit application requirements. It is to be noted that the no-go zones introduced by VC82 remain in place. 

How will Amendments VC124 and VC125 affect the wind energy sector in Victoria?

The streamlined permit application process including the Minister's new decision making powers may result in a more consistent approach to the determination of planning permit applications. The reduction in the "prohibition zone" from two kilometres to one kilometre before land owner consent is required may ease negotiations with land owners and potentially result in the more efficient location of turbines, facilitating increased investment in the wind energy sector.

While the Federal and State Governments' policies in relation to renewable energies may differ, the end of an uncertain period for the RET and the streamlining of the planning application process for wind energy facilities may mark the beginning of a new era in the wind industry in Victoria.

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