New wind farm planning code
A new planning code has come into force as of July 2016 in Queensland, Australia. The purpose of the new code is to support the growth of the wind industry. In particular, it has been compiled because most local government planning schemes do not cover wind farms and do not have sufficient technical expertise to assess wind farm applications.
Figure 1: Wind Farm Australia
Two publications are available to developers. These are:
- The Wind Farm State Code itself.
- A supporting Planning Guideline.
The two are designed to be considered in parallel to provide clarity on the issues that should be addressed and processes that should be followed. The objectives set out within the new wind farm planning code are to provide applicants with:
- Increased transparency and clarity on how development can comply with the matters of interest to the state.
- Clarity on when the state is to be involved in the assessment of a development application.
- Qualifying criteria to enable self-identification of eligibility for fast track assessment pathway.
What it means for developers
Developers proposing wind farms will have their applications assessed via the State Assessment and Referral Agency (as opposed to local governments). The State Assessment and Referral Agency will consider the contents of the new planning code as part of their assessment.
The new code sets out numerous areas that require consideration for a wind farm development. In many areas, acceptable limits are unambiguously quantified. Examples include:
- Shadow flicker – guidance is provided within the wind farm planning code pertaining to the technical parameters that should be considered and the resulting exposure levels per year/day that are considered acceptable.
- Aviation – reference is made to internationally defined Obstacle Limitation Surfaces. Rules pertaining to written consent endorsement from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority based on turbine size and distances from particular classes of aerodrome.
- Noise – limits at sensitive receptors are defined for the daytime and the night-time in decibels.
- Electromagnetic interference – guidance is presented with reference to assessment of radio links, including explicit reference to Fresnel zones.
Many other areas are covered within the new planning code – this article is not intended to provide a full review of the contents.
The availability of comprehensive guidance plays a significant role in the growth of the renewable energy industry. Many developments around the world are paralysed or refused due to:
- Applicants/developers who are genuinely unaware of all the issues.
- Ambiguity around what needs to be assessed.
- Disagreement over what is an acceptable impact.
The above issues are not the only ones that can derail renewable energy projects, but they are very common. More importantly, vague definitions of what is or is not acceptable can result in significant time and money being tied up at crucial stages of the planning process.
The overall impact of the new planning code in Queensland remains to be seen, but increased clarity and well-defined criteria for new developments can only be a good thing.
- Deputy Premier, Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning and Minister for Trade and Investment The Honourable Jackie Trad (2016), Media Statement, (http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2016/7/15/new-planning-code-to-support-growing-wind-farm-industry). Last accessed December 2016.
- SDAP (2016), Overview of wind farm state code (http://www.dilgp.qld.gov.au/planning/land-use-planning/wind-farm-state-code.html). Last accessed December 2016.
- Wind Farm State Code (2016), Version 1.9 (http://www.dilgp.qld.gov.au/resources/policy/sdap/v1-9/state-development-assessment-provisions-v-1-9.pdf). Last accessed December 2016.
- McInnes Wilson Lawyers (2016), New roles for assessing wind turbine developments (http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=9c86bf97-e3c1-4e74-bb50-f45c1e420f1b). Last accessed December 2016.
 Media statement from Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, see Reference 1.
 The new planning code states that land use planning in Queensland is primarily the responsibility of local government, matters of interest to the state are assessed by the state at a site level for certain aspects.