It is almost two years since the Victorian government introduced the world’s most restrictive wind farm siting regulations. As a total package, the wind laws have significantly impacted the state’s wind energy development industry, with only 6MW of installed capacity permitted in Victoria under the current Liberal government.
The new Victorian Premier, Denis Napthine, is likely to know a thing or two about wind energy. His electorate hosts approximately two thirds of the state’s operating wind farms and many associated industries. However, since taking up the reins from former Premier Ted Baillieu, Dr Napthine has stated that there will be no change to Victoria’s wind laws.
Nonetheless, here are 10 reasons why the Premier should bin Victoria’s draconian wind farm planning laws:
1. Because wind energy equals a jobs and investment boon for Victoria
Australia’s bipartisan renewable energy target of at least 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity to be sourced from renewables by 2020 (RET) means that approximately 8 to 10 GW of renewable generation capacity is required. Much of this will come from wind, given the cost of wind compared to other renewables, meaning an estimated 3200 2.5MW wind turbines are required Australia-wide.
Meeting the renewable energy target at the cheapest possible price means that Victoria should abandon its restrictive planning policy to allow for its slice of the $20b renewable energy pie. South Australia has and is currently enjoying the benefits of jobs, protection from higher electricity costs and lower emissions by producing 26 per cent of its electricity from the wind.
The construction of wind projects brings significant benefits to regional Victoria. The recently completed Macarthur Wind Farm had an average work force of 220 during construction. The Clean Energy Council estimates that there are 300 direct jobs and 900 indirect jobs as a result of Victoria’s 428MW of operating wind farms with approximately 2878 direct jobs associated with 4111MW of proposed projects.
Other beneficiaries include farmers who receive additional consistent incomes for 25 years of leasing land for wind projects and local governments who benefit generous municipal charges from wind projects.
To ensure investment is not missed, all State governments need to do is to ensure land use planning policies for wind energy are reasonable.
2. Because there is no accountability on those determining the location of wind turbines
Wind energy facilities are prohibited in Victoria without the written consent of dwelling owners within 2km of a proposed wind turbine.
This means that neighbouring land owners, who are not bound by the objectives of the Planning and Environment Act 1987, planning schemes or any other guideline, policy or law can now decide: whether a farmer can diversify farm income through involvement in a wind project; whether millions of dollars of investment can take place in a particular region; and whether or not more of our electricity should come from the most cost effective renewable energy source.
There are no opportunities for the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (or any other body) to review a decision not to provide consent.
No other land use is or has ever been subject to such a requirement.
3. Because distances between homes and turbines should be based on the distance required to meet performance standards
Fixed two kilometre distances between wind turbines and homes do not consider the: number and the location of wind turbines; prevailing wind direction; topography and landscape features; power rating or size of the turbine or make and model of wind turbines and the rated sound power output.
4. Because there has been no assessment or justification for blanket area bans over swathes of Victoria
Irrespective of consent from a neighbour with 2km, wind energy is banned from the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Ranges, Bellarine Peninsula, Great Ocean Road region, Macedon and McHarg Ranges, parts of Mitchell and Mt Alexander Shires, parts of the City of Greater Bendigo, parts of Bass Coast and South Gippsland Shires and land within five kilometres of major regional cities and regional centres.
Proposing a change of any significance to a planning scheme requires significant work, and it’s worth noting that no environmental, landscape or tourism assessments were undertaken within these areas to support the bans. Furthermore there are no equivalent restrictions placed on other land uses and developments that can have significant impacts on landscape.
5. Because it causes uncertainty by affecting Victoria’s multi-billion dollar wind project pipeline
Making minor changes to projects, often required for specific turbines models, such as increasing blade length (even if it corresponds with a reduction in tower height or removal of wind turbines) or making minor layout adjustments will need to meet the application requirements and comply with the current clause 52.32 – including the requirement for consent from dwelling owners within 2km.
The transitional arrangements have resulted in some permits expiring and a number of projects being forced to start construction before project financial arrangements are settled. All permits must have an expiry date, but some consideration should be given to regionally significant infrastructure projects with complex financing arrangements.
6. Because the state government has backed the wrong horse
There is a high level of support for using the wind to generate electricity.
In November 2011 polling commissioned by Pacific Hydro and carried out by QDOS found that 83% of communities surveyed (where wind farms are operating or proposed) supported wind farms with 14% opposing and 3% not having a position. Such results are reflected in other perception studies and in 2012 the CSIRO found that there is stronger community support for the development of wind farms than might be otherwise assumed from media coverage.
An analysis of the 2010 State election finds that not one electorate, where wind farms are operating or proposed changed hands.
Meanwhile the World Wind Energy Association notes that globally wind energy rolls on with the installed capacity of wind passing 250GW in 2012 and growing annually by 16-20 per cent.
7. Because the current policy will ultimately result in an increase in electricity cost
All electricity generators have an obligation to produce power at the lowest possible price. Price logic dictates that wind energy developments located away from the electricity grid and away from optimal wind resources will ultimately result in higher electricity prices.
Modelling by Bloomberg New Energy Finance has predicted that Victoria’s current wind energy policy could force up the price of electricity for Victorians by up to $2 billion over the next decade as good development sites are no longer available and have to shift towards less favourable sites or more expensive technologies to meet their requirements under the Commonwealth’s renewable energy target.
More approvals within excellent wind areas would allow investment to flow to the project sites that can deliver the RET at the best possible price.
8. Because wind energy is the cleanest and safest form of electricity generation
In 2004, the report Energy, sustainable development and health was prepared as background reading to delegates at the World Health Organisation’s Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health. The report found that wind energy has the lowest level of health and environmental impact of all electricity generation fuel cycles.
Wind is the safest and cleanest form of electricity generation.
9. Because, in the words of the Premier, wind turbines are ‘absolutely fantastic’
In opening the Southern Hemisphere’s largest wind farm the Premier stated in The Age newspaper that wind turbines are “absolutely fantastic, they’re not right in every place, but in places like this, the wide open plains, I think they are really valuable in terms of the energy they produce.” The Premier went on to say “I think they are majestic, and I actually love them.”
A quick look at the wind atlas for Victoria will provide the Premier with some comfort that Victoria will not be covered by wind turbines as is critical for projects to be located in areas with excellent wind resources, access to the electricity network and minimal land constraints.
Victoria’s planning system is mature and is experienced enough to responded strategically to legitimate concerns around landscape, visual amenity, tourism and planning conflicts rather than to simply ban whole areas of Victoria and fix 2km setbacks and vetoes over the remainder of the state.
10. Because preventing the development of wind projects is globally irresponsible
Operating wind farms produce no carbon dioxide emissions and the embodied energy from the turbines, blades, towers and foundations are recovered within a few months of operation.
Wind energy is currently the cheapest renewable energy source with modern wind turbines producing a significant amount of electricity. The two Hepburn Wind turbines at Leonards Hill on average power 2300 homes with Macarthur Wind Farm powering the equivalent of approximately 220,000 homes all the while traditional farming continues unaffected underneath.
As concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide nudge 400 ppm, all levels of governments should demonstrate leadership in planning for electricity generation that maintains our lifestyles without impacting on the lives of future generations. Ignoring the safest and cheapest renewable electricity source (a source cheaper than new coal and gas) which is available right now is irresponsible.
Phil Burn is Development and Planning Manager at WestWind Energy – a small company dedicated to the development, construction and operation of wind farms in Australia