Wind farm commissioner says permits should only be extended once as south-west projects granted multiple extensions
11th December, 2020
By Jackson Graham, The Standard
Australia’s Wind Farm Commissioner says south-west wind proposals should only receive one planning permit extension because dormant projects cause perpetual anxiety in communities.
It comes as communities have expressed concern about two wind farms at Hawkesdale and Ryan Corner that the state government granted planning permits to in 2008 and developer Global Power Generation now says will commence construction next year.
Plans for the two projects received extensions to state permits in 2011, 2013 and 2015, before the permit was amended in 2017 and extended again until 2023.
Wind Farm Commissioner Andrew Dyer has made recommendations that a project should only be granted one planning permit extension, unless exceptional circumstances cause a delay.
“If you haven’t got it done, tough. I am very clear on these matters,” Mr Dyer said.
“Everyone has this cloud of over them. If you’re a neighbour or community member you just don’t know what’s going to happen. It creates anxiety.”
But he said Victoria’s Planning Act and case law favoured extensions being granted.
“Unless there is overwhelming considerations to the contrary the minister is generally obliged to grant the exemption,” Mr Dyer said.
Legislation to move complaints about wind farm noise away from local councils and to the EPA is due for debate in Victoria’s upper house.
Meanwhile, legislation to move complaints about wind farm noise from the Health and Wellbeing Act to the Environmental Protection Act has passed Victoria’s legislative assembly and is yet to be debated in the upper house.
The move was opposed by opposition MPs including the South West Coast’s Roma Britnell who said it removed the ability for community members to make complaints related to health through their local council.
But Mr Dyer, who had supported the move, said he supported the change because it took some responsibility away from councils.
“Councils have enormous assets and responsibilities to fulfill, they have enormous burden on them, to add the need to keep the wind farm compliant is a big burden,” he said.
“(In the Act) council must investigate, therefore council must have a policy and procedure to carry out the investigation. Many councils don’t have that in place which is a gaping hole.”
The Hawkesdale community is pushing for Moyne Shire Council to do its own background noise testing before the Hawkesdale Wind Farm is constructed.
Moyne Shire councillor Jim Doukas has filed a motion to ask the council to contract its own acousticians.
Cr Doukas said the tests could then be compared to those used by developer Global Power Generation to check for anomalies.
Cr Doukas said the council needed to do its own background noise testing to be sure the project would not breach the planning permit.
“If the council undertakes its own independent testing, that can be compared to the wind farm companies testing and if there are anomalies, we could then argue the case they haven’t done it properly,” he said.
“There are three independent contractors named in the recommendation. These three have never done work for the wind farm companies.”
Moyne Shire councillor Jim Doukas has filed a motion to ask the council to contract its own acousticians for the Hawkesdale wind farm.
Wind farms in Victoria follow the the New Zealand Noise Standard for wind farms. The NZ standard requires the sound output from the facility alone to be below 40 decibels.
However, if background noise such as wind noise exceeds 40 decibels then the standard allows the wind farm to exceed the background noise by no more than five decibels.
Cr Doukas said he did not have a firm cost for the testing but expected offices would be able to give councillors a ballpark estimate before they debated his motion on Tuesday .
Mr Dyer said he would prefer to see the wind farm company commit to have its noise testing audited by an EPA accredited auditor, a planning requirement for new projects from October 2018 that came after the wind farm was approved.
“I think this would be taking council to an area that would beyond their jurisdiction,” he said.
“I would completely support council encouraging the proponent, as part of the proponent being a good corporate citizen, having an EPA accredited auditor audit the assessment report, which includes the background noise data collection and assessment.
“Particularly in light of them being granted extensions – a good corporate citizen would follow the new regulations by the EPA.”