NSW flags tighter rules on where wind and solar farms can be built

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A proposed amendment to New South Wales planning rules that seeks to protect some of the state’s major regional centres from “encroaching solar and wind development” has closed to public submissions.

The proposed changes to the State Environmental Planning Policy would apply to projects looking to build within 10km of the commercial centre, or within 5km of residential land in Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Dubbo, Griffith, Orange, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga.

The new rules – if introduced – would not immediately rule out projects that fell into the above-mentioned categories, but rather would require authorities to consider additional mandatory matters before granting planning approval.

These “considerations” included whether the project was located to avoid land use conflicts with existing and approved uses of land and whether it was likely to have a significant impact on, or conflict with, land required to support the growth of a regional city.

A third and final consideration would require authorities to weigh whether a proposed solar or wind farm would significantly affect the scenic quality and landscape character of a regional city, including the approaches to it.

So, as the legal blog Lexology puts it, while the proposed planning amendments don’t prohibit projects in the designated zones, they do “present additional hurdles for approval and could compromise existing projects in the development pipeline.”

Lexology says the proposed amendments send the message that the NSW government’s ambitious Net Zero Plan “will not be sought at all costs, or at least not without consideration of the impact … on metropolitan and regional communities.”

“These moves are further illustrations of the tension that governments face in managing the proliferation of renewable energy technologies, while also balancing interests of other sectors and constituencies,” write the authors from Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

“This has proven particularly difficult in an Australian context and could impact progress on greenhouse gas emissions reductions, which is likely to come under scrutiny at the upcoming COP 26 international climate summit in Glasgow in November.”

In the “Strategic Justification” of the proposed new rules, the NSW government says the increasing number of utility-scale solar and wind energy projects required to support the state’s transition to renewables had the potential to create new or exacerbate existing land use conflicts.

“Although many of these projects will be located in the NSW government’s REZs, there will continue to be a need for development outside these areas to support a transition to renewable energy.

“It is important to preserve land on the outskirts of regional cities from potentially incompatible development, such as solar and wind farms, that could preclude growth and development of these cities in the future,” it says.

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