EPA provides assessment guidance for future renewable energy projects in Western Australia

21 September 2023

Renewable energy remains a key government focus across Australia. Achieving significant and sustained growth in renewable energy generation levels is fundamental to meeting Australia’s national and state net-zero emissions targets (and the establishment of a sustainable decarbonised economy).

Woodside Energy Ltd is proposing an initial capacity 100MW (scalable to 500MW) solar photovoltaic farm, battery storage and electricity transmission (to the North West Interconnected System) project in the Maitland Strategic Industrial Area.

Recently, the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) published its environmental impact assessment report (which is a precursor to Ministerial approval under Part IV of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA) (EP Act)). That report includes important guidance for other renewable energy projects, as follows:

  • The EPA supports decarbonisation projects as a key objective in protecting Western Australia’s environment.  However, while renewable energy production provides greenhouse gas emission savings, this often comes at the expense of native vegetation and habitat loss and associated water quality impacts. The EPA commented that it:
    • “expects proponents of future renewable energy proposals to apply the mitigation hierarchy to its fullest extent for each relevant factor and that the entire lifecycle of the proposal, including decommissioning and replacement of infrastructure, is adequately considered and addressed”.
  • Further, that the EPA will develop new assessment guidance with the aim of encouraging alignment of green energy projects with the EPA’s environmental factor objectives. The EPA considers that such alignment will ensure that “decarbonisation projects would have fewer technical environmental assessment and management challenges, public acceptance and trust …”.
  • In furtherance of the EP Act waste minimisation statutory objective, the EPA is concerned with waste management, recycling and the circular waste economy. The EPA noted the present underdevelopment of the recycling industry for solar panels and other infrastructure. For future proposals, the EPA may seek the imposition of recycling requirements through Ministerial Statement implementation conditions.

The above comments equally apply to non-solar renewable energy projects and should be actively considered and reflected in environmental referral or assessment documentation.

Notably, the EPA consider that future renewable energy projects involve wider environmental considerations than native vegetation clearing (under Part V of the EP Act) and that it expects such projects will be actively assessed through the more comprehensive Part IV environmental impact assessment (with regard being given to whether the project will likely achieve social licence to operate).

HWL Ebsworth advises a range of renewable energy clients on project acquisition, due diligence, land access agreements, and regulatory approvals (including environmental impact assessment) within the Western Australian and wider Australian context. Please reach out to us if you have any queries or require assistance with your existing or proposed project.

This article was written by Mark Etherington, Partner, Michael Brady, Partner and Shaun McNaught, Partner.

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