One of the major obstacles facing renewable energy projects in Australia is the length of time it takes to obtain planning approval. Delays in the approvals process add to the cost of a project and impact investment decisions1.
The WA Planning Commission (WAPC) has published a draft position statement (policy) to provide guidance to local councils on the development of renewable energy facilities in WA, including wind turbine and solar array systems, geothermal, biogas, ocean power and hydro-electric power. The policy outlines key planning and environmental considerations for the location, siting and design of these facilities for inclusion in local planning frameworks.
The Draft Position Statement: Renewable energy facilities is available here and is open for public comment until 5pm on Friday 27 July 2018.
Location, siting and design
The aim of the policy is to ensure that facilities are located in areas that minimise potential impacts on the natural landscape and the environment while maximising energy production returns.
The key planning and environmental considerations identified by the WAPC for the location, siting and design of renewable energy facilities include:
- Assessing the potential impact on flora and fauna, particularly rare and endangered communities, and avoiding areas of remnant vegetation. Proposals that significantly affect the environment may require environmental impact assessment under the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (WA) and, if the proposal is a controlled action for the purposes of the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth), a referral to the Federal Minister;
- Locating facilities close to the grid to minimise the clearing of vegetation (proximity to the grid would not be relevant for distributed energy in remote locations);
- Positioning wind turbines outside migratory routes to reduce the risk of avian strikes;
- Undertaking a visual and landscape impact assessment that addresses landscape significance and sensitivity to change, the impact of the facility on views, the layout and design of components (including ancillary buildings, access roads and incidental facilities), and measures proposed to minimise unwanted, unacceptable or adverse visual impacts;
- Minimising the distance between sensitive land uses and wind turbines to 1.5 kilometres. The policy states that the standards prescribed under the Environment Protection (Noise Regulations) 1997 (WA) apply to wind turbines;
- Managing impacts during the construction phase including vehicle access, dust and noise control, erosion, run-off, flooding, water quality, stabilisation of top soil, and weed and disease hygiene;
- Separating facilities from public uses and bush-fire prone areas; and
- Considering cultural heritage implications when assessing site suitability and consulting traditional owners in relation to sites of Aboriginal significance.
Implementation by local councils
The policy is to be implemented through the local planning framework, including local planning strategies, local planning schemes and local planning policies. Locations suitable for renewable energy facilities are to be identified in local planning strategies, with local planning schemes to provide direction on the permissibility, terms of operations and relevant development standards.
Local councils must consider the deemed provisions of clause 67 of the Planning and Development (Local Planning Schemes) Regulations 2015 (WA) when undertaking an assessment of development applications for renewable energy facilities.
Community and stakeholder engagement
Poor public perception of renewable energy system aesthetics is a potential barrier to the up-take of renewable energy technologies. The policy states that a community consultation program should be endorsed by the local council before a proposal is advertised.
The WAPC encourages community and stakeholder engagement early in the planning process to ensure that the proposed facility is compatible with existing land uses on and near the site. It also recommends that a renewable energy facility is designated in the zoning table of a local planning scheme as an ‘A’ use (not permitted without discretion and special notice). This would require public advertising of the proposal before the development application can be determined by the local council or development assessment panel.
A list of potentially relevant stakeholders is included in the policy.
The policy applies state-wide and is particularly relevant to regional local councils where large tracts of cleared land are suitable for the siting of renewable energy facilities.
Once the policy is finalised, it will replace the existing Planning Bulletin 67 Guidelines for Wind Farm Development (2004).
If you require assistance with preparing a submission on the policy to the WA Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, please contact Charmian Barton.
This article was written by Charmian Barton, Partner.
1 See Inquiry into the Approvals Process for Renewable Energy Projects in Victoria, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Parliament of Victoria, February 2010, p.106.