The Victorian State Government has thrown the renewable energy industry a curve ball, announcing that the planning control for new wind farm developments would now be handled by the relevant local council. Victoria is home to a number of large scale wind farm developments, with more on the way, such as the AGL Energy Macarthur wind farm. “One of the difficulties wind farm developers in Victoria have faced is opposition from local communities,” said Norton Rose partner and energy head Vincent Dwyer, who acted for AGL Energy on its development plans. The new regulation also requires all homes within a two kilometre radius to be identified by the wind farm developers.
According to Dwyer local concerns surrounding wind farms were a significant topic in the lead up to the last Victorian state election, which saw the Liberal Nationals Coalition come into power. “Community concerns around wind farms was significant topic at the last Victorian state election - I have not seen that in NSW,” said Dwyer. NSW will go to the polls on Saturday (March 26).
The decision to pass on the responsibilities around wind farm planning could be of little concern to developers, depending on how the councils go about it, says Dwyer. “The key issues going forward will be whether local councils will have a standardised practice in dealing with wind farm proposals, and will they be predictable in their requirements,” he said. “The difficulty will come when councils have unusual requests, or delays or unpredictable conditions, because then developers will have to look at each individual council and how they treat proposals.”
Additionally, even just one or two councils that make unreasonable or restrictive request of wind farm operators could cause the entire state to be tarnished by the same fate according to Dwyer, causing developers to look elsewhere. “I’m not sure that other states would follow Victoria’s lead on this. I don’t think there is a chance of this happening in NSW, as it has not been at the forefront of community concern,” said Dwyer.
Overall, Dwyer said the renewable energy market was recovering well after the downturn 18 months ago. “There is a lot of interest from offshore parties in Australian renewable energy…on the development side, significant interest from China, which has as part of its new five year plan to reduce carbon, is encouraging international development of renewable energy,” said Dwyer.
Meridian – AGL Macarthur wind farm project 29 September 2010
Meridian Energy acquisition of Mt Millar wind farm from Transfield 30 July 2010