Wind Farm Impact Assessment Home Page

Assessment Process

Phase 1: Scoping & Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PEA)

Introduction

This is usually the point at which the community first hears about a wind farm proposal. The proponent will have chosen a site for the wind farm close to the electricity grid and identified some property owners willing to sign host agreements to have wind turbines located on their land.

We assume you are reading this because you are keen to understand what the wind farm might mean to your community, how to make your own assessment of its impacts and if appropriate, oppose its development.

If you have never been involved with a wind farm development before, there are a few concepts that you need to understand and the flow on implications for the community.

During the scoping phase you will need to get organised as a community and understand the role of the wind farm developer (proponent) and the Department of Planning (the Department). The Wind Energy Guideline for State Significant Wind Energy Development 2016 guides the assessment process and outlines what the proponent should do during the scoping phase with respect to early community consultation and identification of local values, impacts and issues. All the information gathered during the scoping phase should be presented in the scoping report (PEA) and submitted to the Department. The Department will publish this report and the Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs, which set out clear expectations on the level of assessment required for each relevant matter which must be addressed by the proponent in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Departmental website. The community should assess the scoping report for accuracy and completeness and make their views known to the Department if there are deficiencies. At some point the Department will take steps to set up a Community Consultative Committee (CCC) and call for members of the community to nominate to be on that committee.

What you can do

Form a community group

Contact everyone in the community to inform them that a wind farm has been proposed. Don’t assume people know. Discuss your concerns with others.

Organise a community group of interested persons and give it a name. It does not have to be incorporated.

Like any group, its best if you have a committee who can meet regularly.

The committee needs to organise an action plan and coordinate who is going to do what. Communicating with everyone in the community is very important, difficult and time consuming. It is important to establish methods for doing this early in the piece.

Collect emails for a mailing list at every opportunity - at public meetings or local cluster meetings. And in the early stages try to encourage as many people to engage with the process whether they support the wind farm proposal or not.

The group should make itself known to the Department, local council, and other organisations in the area, and the local media.

Public Meetings and the Media

Public meetings are an effective way of bringing together interested parties in the community to voice their concerns.

Encourage the Department to attend, as they can answer questions, provide information about the assessment process as well as gain useful insight into the community and their concerns.

Encourage your local councilors to attend, and your State politicians.

Public meetings are open to all, so are inherently fair and transparent. However, they can at times get out of hand as passions run high and need a fair but firm structure and of course a good chairperson.

Smaller group meetings or private meetings are just as important for getting things done.

Open Days are great for engaging with the community.

The proponent will possibly hold Open Days and you should attend these and make your views known.

Utilising the media and having a dedicated Facebook page is also worthwhile.

Communication is of vital importance and is possibly the most time consuming and difficult task most communities face. Email lists, newsletters, mail, letterbox drops, Facebook, advertisements, articles in the local papers... anything that reaches all those impacted needs to be maintained.

Research

The assessment process carries with it an unfamiliar language and the learning curve can be steep. Do your homework, and delegate as much as possible to the people in the community with the best skills, background, interests and most importantly, time to do the work. Our reading list contains the key Departmental publications and plain English guides to the all-important Wind Energy Framework.

Taking time to read  about other wind farm proposals can be one of the most useful areas of research. You can develop a feel for the overall assessment process, how the key players – the proponent, the Department and the IPC approach their tasks and, most importantly, what arguments have proved effective.

Be aware that the same Guidelines do not apply to each wind farm.  The current Guidelines were issued in December 2016 and only apply to wind farm proposals submitted after that date.  The Hills of Gold Wind Farm near Nundle NSW is the first wind farm to which the current Guidelines apply in their entirety.

The Department’s own assessments reports, as well as submissions by organisations and individuals are extremely useful.

An individual facing a wind farm proposal will likely not have expertise, but the internet and this website have a wealth of good information. There is also misinformation and lots of propaganda about wind farms on both sides of the argument out there. You need to be discerning when doing research and back up any assertions with facts and references to research, particularly Australian research in your dealings with the proponent, the Department and in submissions.

The community around the Jupiter Wind Farm found that it was effective to lobby the relevant government agencies and provide them with valuable local knowledge to better present balanced submissions which took account of community views. We have flagged ways in which you can do this in the section on the Key Issues.

Early research will stand you in good stead to assess the scoping report, glean an understanding of the calibre and qualifications of the proponent and make your views known to the Department as early in the EIS process as possible.

Key Players

Wind Farm Developer

The wind farm developer, also known as the proponent, will select the location of the wind farm, sign up host properties, facilitate the wind farm approval process and coordinate the various consultants who are paid by the proponent to assess the environmental impacts and work through the list of SEARs requirements.

The proponent is the spokesperson for the wind farm and is responsible for consultation with the Department, other government bodies and the community.

Ultimately, they are responsible for the content and accuracy of all the impact assessments.

We have provided some information on what you might expect from the proponent in the Key Players section of the website.

Department of Planning (the Department)

The Department is responsible for overseeing and guiding a wind farm proposal from inception through the EIS process to determination, and if the wind farm is approved, the Department and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) are jointly responsible for monitoring its operation and compliance.

They are the planning authority, and their task is to facilitate the development of wind farms under State Significant Development (SSD) Legislation. The legislation is geared more to the approval of projects while minimising impacts, rather than their rejection. And so, the community should be giving the Department as many reasons as possible to reject the proposal if they object.

The Department is an excellent resource of information. Encourage them to participate as much as possible. They should also be kept fully informed about any concerns the community has throughout the process. This includes the conduct of the proponent.

The Department operates under guidelines that demand transparency and fairness.

Consequently, the Department will try to help the local community as willingly as they will assist the proponent. However, this can be quite frustrating when, as often happens, the Department meets with the proponent during the scoping phase and will not engage with the community or visit the site until the PEA has been submitted.

Demand to be heard and if you feel that you are not being treated fairly, then make a complaint in the first instance to the Secretary of the Department of Planning and if concerns are not resolved in a timely manner then complain to the National Wind Farm Commissioner or the NSW Government Ombudsman.

But it is also important to watchdog the Department and ensure that they do fulfill their legislative requirements. This too can be frustrating because they may not always conduct themselves fairly from your point of view, when they assist the proponent and keep the community at arms-length particularly during the early stages of the process.

The Department is also reluctant to pass judgement on the quality of the PEA or the EIS before the Development Application (DA) and the EIS is complete. This means that the Department will let the EIS process unfold and play out with very little intervention. You should persist in logging all your concerns with the Department as they come to light and repeat those concerns in formal submissions during the Public Exhibition phase.

We have provided some information on what you might expect from the proponent in the Key Players section of the website.

The Scoping Phase: What to expect

The scoping phase, also known as the Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PEA) is the first phase of the environmental impact assessment and establishes the terms of reference for the EIS. During this phase the community should expect:

Not all of this will be done well or done at all. It is important that the community indicate any concerns they have with the quality of consultation and the dissemination of information to both the proponent and the Department.

It is very important for the community to have input during the scoping phase, and yet this is often a time when the community is not adequately involved, despite the intention that the Department’s Guidelines should bring transparency and clarity to the assessment process.

During this phase, the proponent may meet with local organisations such as regional councils to get their support for the proposal. The community should also meet with regional councils and other local groups as early as possible to ensure that their concerns are understood.

Early Community Consultation

The Wind Energy Guidelines 2016 advise:

“Consultation with a range of potentially affected stakeholders could be undertaken to identify the constraints and opportunities of the project area.

Consultation could involve engagement on the values the wider community place on those attributes, in order to inform project siting and design. For example, consultation could be undertaken with local councils, heritage groups, farming groups, environmental groups and business chambers. This may include inviting stakeholders to rank or value attributes such as access to the site, surrounding land uses, landscape values, geology, hydrology, soils, biodiversity, and wind resource location... Such consultation should occur before the project siting and design is finalised so that it informs the siting and design process.” 

It is the proponent’s responsibility to consult with the community. This consultation should be a genuine dialogue, providing information and gathering feedback. The proponent needs to inform both potentially impacted landowners and the broader community. The Wind Energy Guidelines also states:

“Early, meaningful and innovative community consultation, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to providing clear information and ensuring opportunities for genuine input, is important to delivering good planning outcomes. It also enables communities to be engaged when there are real opportunities to influence projects and decisions, such as at the siting and design stage.”

The Department outlines the consultation that should be covered in the scoping phase prior to lodgement of the PEA:

“Consult with potentially affected stakeholders to identify the constraints and opportunities of the project area. Consultation could involve engagement on the values the wider community place on those attributes and should inform the siting and design process.

Engage with the community in the identification of landscape values, as required by the Wind Energy: Visual Assessment Bulletin.

Engage with landholders about the proposed project area, likely corridors for development, or preliminary turbine layouts, access routes and potential location of ancillary infrastructure (consider “associated properties” and “non-associated properties”).

Listen to the community’s concerns and suggestions.

Discuss noise, visual impact, proposed siting and alternatives.

Discuss issues for landholder agreements if the project is approved including siting and micro-siting, access, compensation, responsibility for decommissioning and rehabilitation.”

As consultation should “inform the siting and design process”, a failure to inform and obtain feedback at this early phase is not readily rectifiable.

The community can be prepared by informing itself on wind farms and their impacts, reflecting on local landscape values, being aware of the local area and discussing the proposal with others in the community.

It is essential that everyone knows about the proposal and understands fully what the impacts may be. That includes an understanding and appreciation of the impacts on others and concerns held by others in the community.

It is also important that the community participate. Attending public meetings, reading the literature, and generally prioritising participation in the process. An early assumption that the proposal will not impact on an individual may be a lost opportunity when the real impacts are known.

This phase of consultation should be monitored by the community. The proponent and the Department should be notified if consultation seems to be of poor quality, is not genuine, is not comprehensive and is not timely.

Local Values and Local Knowledge

From the earliest scoping phase of a wind farm proposal, through to the development of the EIS, the community consultation process should allow the community to outline what they value in the geographical location and lifestyle they have chosen. Visual amenity is particularly important in this process.

Landscape characteristics including places of public value as well as aspects of private value should be considered. Visual consultants usually have an urban architectural background and so be mindful that they may not see the surrounds in the same way that you do. Visual consultants may focus on views from the living areas of a house ignoring the fact that you live, work and value the outdoor areas and desirable views.

There is a table of reference for valuing landscape in the Visual Assessment Bulletin.

One of the more valuable contributions a community can make to a development proposal is local knowledge.

Much of the scoping, research, planning and design of a wind farm is done at a desk. Very little time is actually spent on the ground. Pooling resources with neighbours and ensuring that every piece of relevant information is brought to the Department’s attention is very important.

Identification of Issues and Impacts

During the scoping phase a proponent is expected to provide as complete a picture as possible of the impact the proposed wind farm will have, and the particular issues and concerns the community, impacted landowners, associated landowners and relevant agencies may have.

Consultation with the community at this early stage enables the proponent to incorporate this information into the design, and the proposal will theoretically be more responsive to community concerns.

Whereas it is the proponent’s responsibility to consult with the key stakeholders to obtain a thorough and correct understanding of issues, it is also in the community’s interest to ensure that this is done and to raise issues and communicate the areas of concern as well as the level of concern.

The more issues raised, the greater the likelihood that the Department will request that these matters are specifically addressed in the EIS either by identifying specific issues in the SEARs or in the covering letter.

The issues to be addressed include visual and acoustic amenity, roads, infrastructure, public domain, heritage, health and safety, social impacts, economic impacts, air, biodiversity, soil chemistry, water quality, and risks, such as bushfire.

The proponent is expected to rate these risks. The Department provides a guide for this rating which includes the following elements:

Extent: The geographic area affected by the impact

Duration: The timeframe over which the impact occurs

Severity: Degree of change from the existing condition as a result of an impact

Sensitivity: Susceptibility of receivers or receiving environment to the impact, or importance placed on the matter being affected (e.g. national parks)

Attributes of sensitivity include: conservation status, intactness, uniqueness or rarity, resilience to change, replacement potential, community value/lifestyle

Cumulative Impact: resulting from the combined effects of an activity or project when added to other impacts

All issues and concerns raised by the community should be recorded and included in the scoping report. The community should ensure that this is done.

The proponent, as part of the report, can rank relevance and importance, and can offer initial mitigation methods where applicable.

The whole process should be done in an open and transparent manner. The community should have a fair hearing, should be kept informed, and treated with professional courtesy.

Inform the Department if any part of this process does not appear to be conducted according to the Department’s Guidelines.

Complaints will be acted upon.

Submission of the Scoping Report (PEA)

Once the PEA is submitted it will be published on the Department’s website.

Currently the Department has no mechanism for informing the community when this occurs. You should ask the Departmental Planning Officer allocated to your wind farm to inform someone when the PEA is published.

The quality of the PEA will no doubt reflect the calibre of the proponent and their consultants, and just because the Department has accepted the PEA it does not necessarily mean that it has followed the Guidelines and is of an acceptable standard.

Assessing the Scoping Report

The scoping report (PEA) will be published on the Department’s Website. Once the scoping report is on exhibition, the community should read the report and provide feedback.

Check to make sure all community concerns are addressed, all the public and private viewpoints have been assessed for visual impact and check that there is a detailed proposal for a wind farm showing the project area, the location of turbines and most importantly a complete list and assessment of all the properties within the impact zone. If not, itemise the deficiencies and request that the Department reject the PEA and direct the proponent to redo the PEA.

Also check for missing information or information that appears incorrect; check the degree to which community concerns have been satisfactorily addressed; the accuracy of impacts and information included in the report, and check the degree to which the scoping process and the report comply with Guidelines. We stress again that just because the PEA has been accepted does not necessarily mean that the PEA is acceptable.

During this phase the community should have had several private and public meetings with the proponent and have been given opportunities to express concerns and say what is important as a community and as individuals. There should have been a genuine dialog. If not, lodge a formal complaint with the Department about that breach of the Guidelines because early community consultation is paramount.

If the report is not acceptable to the community, request that the Department reject the PEA and instruct the proponent to properly consult the community. It is crucial that all community concerns and values are properly and respectfully assessed in the PEA because it establishes the baseline for what follows.

Phase 2: EIS Preparation

Phase 2: EIS Preparation

Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs)

Once the scoping report (PEA) is lodged, the Department consults relevant government agencies and sets out clear expectations on the level of assessment required for each relevant matter which must be addressed by the proponent in the EIS in the SEARs document.

This includes reference to the relevant Guidelines which need to be adhered to, and specify any aspects particular to the project area that will need to be specifically addressed, as well as a list of government agencies to be consulted. The SEARs provides the legal framework for the EIS and the Development Application (DA). A standard wind farm SEARs is provided in the reading list.

The Proponent

During the EIS period the proponent will use consultants to carry out a large proportion of the work required in preparing the EIS.

The EIS should contain:

  1. A description of the project and area, maps showing the position of turbines, host houses and all impacted dwellings including land with DA entitlement. The description should reflect community consultation and a justification for the placement of turbines particularly in regard to impacts.

  2. Maps showing regional council boundaries and zoning, and all pertinent geographical features, including the proximity of other wind farms.

  3. Descriptions and assessments of the impact of all development activities including construction, concrete batching plants, substations, transport, access tracks and roads, grid connection and transmission lines.

  4. The time frame for the proposed project.

  5. Biodiversity studies and impact analysis, mitigation strategies and ongoing monitoring.

  6. Noise assessment and impacts, including mitigation.

  7. Visual impact assessment and mitigation; this will include photomontages, wireframes, night lighting where applicable and show a sensitivity and understanding of local values and concerns.

  8. Detailed descriptions of consultation with the community, including real outcomes as well as consultation with hosts.

  9. Aboriginal cultural heritage issues.

  10. An indication of the likelihood of micro-siting.

  11. Mitigation of impacts, and minimisation strategies.

  12. Plans for refurbishment, decommissioning and rehabilitation of turbines.

Other approvals

Transmission lines

Transmission lines are usually owned and operated by an electricity transmission operator or distributor under the Electricity Supply Act 1995, or an ‘authorised network operator’ under the Electricity Network Assets (Authorised Transactions) Act 2015.

The approval pathway for transmission and distribution lines under the Environmental Planning & Assessment Act NSW (EP&A Act) is often different from the pathway for the wind energy project. The Infrastructure State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) provides for this kind of development under Part 5 of the EP&A Act.

Environmental Protection Licence

An Environment Protection Licence (EPL) under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act) is required for wind energy projects which are State Significant Developments (SSD) due to their size, economic value or potential impacts. Wind farms are usually state significant unless they are small.  An EPL is issued by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA).

The requirements of an EPL regulate the construction and operation of a wind energy project for issues which the POEO Act covers, including noise pollution.

EPBC

If a wind energy project has the potential to impact on ‘matters of national environmental significance’ under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) a separate approval under that legislation is required. This includes examination of threatened species, ecological communities and heritage places impacted by the wind farm and is called a controlled action. You can read about the EPBC Act and wind farm referrals on the Federal Department of Environment website.

The EIS and the Community

During this period the Community Consultative Committee (CCC) has an important role to play by disseminating information to the community on the process of the EIS, current activities, any changes to the project description, and by bringing questions and concerns to the attention of the proponent and the Department.

Individuals can contact the proponent and the Department directly, raising concerns, asking questions and seeking information.

There should be meetings between the Department and the community, meetings with the proponent, as well as ongoing consultation.

Benefit sharing agreements will be offered to the community by the proponent as a financial incentive to accept impacts.

Major Issues

The following are major issues for the community to consider.  More information about each one is provided in the Key Issues section.

Noise

The proponent, through their noise consultants, will carry out noise monitoring in localities around the wind farm including non-associated properties. The noise monitoring positions play an important role. They establish baseline background noise to determine the overall acceptable noise level . These positions also determine noise monitoring localities for compliance measurement.

The community can become involved by:

Noise is a serious consideration in the assessment. The wind farm must be noise compliant. Any dwelling within one and a half kilometres of a wind farm will likely not be noise compliant. Dwellings further than this may also not be noise compliant, depending upon topography and the noise effect of multiple turbines.

It is important to ensure that landowners with building entitlement, who have not yet built, get a noise assessment done. Individuals may have to demand this. There is a question about dual occupancy regarding larger blocks. Where dual occupancy entitlements exist, ensure that your alternate building site is also assessed.

Hosts and landowners who have signed benefit sharing agreements may or may not be noise assessed.

Visual Assessment

The proponent’s visual assessment consultants will seek suitable locations to produce the required photomontages and wireframes.

The community can become involved by agreeing to allow access to consultants to take photographs from viewpoints at their residence. If the landowner does volunteer, they should ensure that the full viewshed is taken into account. Participation should include an assurance of their photomontage being included in the EIS.

The proponent and their consultants should ensure that they fully understand every landowner's concern and include them in the EIS. The landowner’s sensitivity to the wind turbines, their plans for future development, the importance of their view, and the use of the land.

Frequently an urban approach to visual assessment will not take account rural practices and usage of the whole property. The residence is a small component of land use in many instances and should not be the only place assessed for visual impact.

It is also important to note that planned building must be taken into account, as well as existing and other structures such as work environments, sheds and so forth.

Hosts and landowners who have signed benefit sharing agreements may or may not be noise assessed.

Biodiversity

One of the Big Three, biodiversity is an important issue. The proponent through consultants will undertake surveys both from the desk and in the field to determine the species present.

Clearing of land must be justified and offset.

Protected species, in particular those likely to be impacted by wind turbines, need to be listed. Management plans need to be developed and mitigation measures suggested.

The community can become involved by:

Cumulative Impacts

Cumulative impacts can be caused by the presence of other wind farms, or other development. The cumulative impact can exaggerate visual impact, biodiversity impact and, although less likely, noise.

Other Impacts

The following impacts are important in their own right, and need to be addressed, but are rarely given much attention by the Department in its assessment. While it is still important to raise these issues, it is equally important not to neglect the environmental issues - visual, environmental and noise - which the Department will focus on much more carefully.

Health

The Department has stated that, as the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) finds no satisfactory evidence for or against health impacts, it considers health a non-issue.

Traffic and Transport

This matter is largely dealt with through those responsible for the roads, such as local councils or state transport authorities.

The community can become involved by raising local concerns on safety and road congestion and ensuring the relevant authorities, especially your local council, is aware of concerns.

Aviation

The proponent should seek advice from local and state aviation authorities as well as investigate the presence of local airstrips including airstrips for firefighting. Night lighting can significantly increase visual impacts, and can have biodiversity implications such as the impact on bats.

Bushfire

An issue that involves consultation with local and state bushfire authorities. The main two concerns are the potential for wind farms to start a fire when placed in bushfire sensitive areas, and the problems associated with aerial fighting of bushfires. Put simply, wind turbines might inhibit access.

Telecommunications

Operating turbines can interfere with television reception, mobile phone reception, radio and medical equipment. These impacts need to be carefully considered and adequate mitigation provided.

Blade Throw

Blade throw is a term used to describe the distribution of pieces of blade when one disintegrates. This normally occurs when blades are operating under pressure of high wind. Parts of the blade can carry over distance and are lethal. It is a serious risk to life and should be examined carefully.

Submission of the EIS

When the EIS is submitted, the Department will assess the EIS to ensure that the document meets the standards set in the Guidelines and has met the requirements of the SEARs. If not, the EIS may be rejected and the proponent will be given the opportunity to redo the areas found unsatisfactory and resubmit.

When the EIS is accepted it will be published on the Department’s website. The community and other interested parties will be able to access it and will have 30 days to assess its contents and write submissions. But do not assume that if the EIS is accepted it is acceptable.  The Department is following a process to the end.

When the EIS is available, the Department will also publish a notification in the local paper and one of two other papers informing the immediate and wider community that the project is open for submissions. According to the Guidelines, all impacted landowners should be notified. The only way to ensure this is the case is to notify people individually.

However, this does not occur, despite these issues having been raised with the Department. It may be possible for the CCC to organise a more specific and thorough process utilising the cooperation of the regional council.

Writing a submission is covered next.

Phase 3: Public Exhibition

Phase 3: Public Exhibition

Introduction

Making a submission is extremely important and after the EIS is published you only have 30 days to digest its contents and prepare a submission, so you might like to draft your submission before the EIS goes on public exhibition.

As a landowner or resident, your opinion matters. You pre-exist the wind farm, you have an investment in your property and the community and your rights are recognised. But this can only happen if you speak out.

Your submission is the equivalent of a vote. For or Against. Not putting in a submission equates to support for the wind farm. Making a submission is more important than the content of your submission.

Submissions

Submissions range from a simple statement of objection or support, a letter outlining concerns or a lengthy exploration of an issue or issues. An individual can write more than one submission, and this can be advisable if covering a range of topics, or if you wish to separate personal concerns from more general issues. Some submissions represent weeks of research, and others express a personal opinion. All are valid, and all are important.

Keep in mind that the proponent may be required to respond to submissions and that the Department will count the submissions and categorise them according to the issues raised. So consider making separate submissions for each issue.

Why You Should Submit

There are many reasons why you should write a submission:

What you should include

It is important that you:

Remember that you are making a submission on THIS wind farm so be specific about what you want.  Generalisations about wind energy, electricity prices etc will achieve nothing. Organise the local community to make as many submissions as possible and assist them in the process.

There is no definite right and wrong in writing a submission. Do not be intimidated by the process.

Here are some points to think about before putting pen to paper:

Submissions come in all shapes and sizes and are all important.

When you are ready to put pen to paper, think about including:

Visual Amenity: if you have concerns about visual amenity, make this very clear. It may be that your view is an important component of your reasons for purchasing your property and is highly valued by you. You may have built to incorporate the existing view. The view of turbines may not be in keeping with what you value about your landscape. The degree of change the project represents may be too extreme and so forth.

Consider requesting the removal of turbines which:

Key Issues: Pay particular attention to all the key issues listed in the SEARs. The Key Issues section of our website explains each issue and what the community can do to ensure that each one is properly assessed.

Consultation: Provide an assessment on the proponent’s consultation. Has it been an ongoing and meaningful dialogue? Has it been respectful? Has change resulted to lessen your concerns? Have your questions been dealt with in a satisfactory and timely manner? The Department clearly stated that community consultation is not just a matter of ticking boxes but should be sincere. You may have an opinion as to whether consultation has met these requirements.

Mitigation Measures: How satisfactory do you find the mitigation measures suggested by the proponent? Is it acceptable to you? Is it practical? Is it effective?

Noise: You may be concerned noise levels have not been met; be critical of methods to assess noise, or have special considerations you wish to bring to the Department’s attention. For example, schools, places of meditation, or people with special needs.

Biodiversity: Any local knowledge or general information you have concerns about, including flora and fauna, reserves, and special interest groups.

Bushfires: In rural areas where properties are assessed high risk, bushfire considerations are important and need to be brought to the Department’s attention.

Roads: Your local knowledge can highlight particular areas of concern such as school bus routes and high accident areas. The added traffic on roads from construction can cause serious impacts on local businesses, road safety, road conditions and noise.

Community: You may have concerns stemming from your knowledge and involvement with the community. This includes public places as well as club activities and groups.

Cumulative Impact: This includes not only other wind farms in the area, but other industry or activities.

Property Value: Although evidence is as yet non-conclusive, there are certainly indicators that rural lifestyle blocks and rural residential properties are negatively impacted by a nearby wind farm. This negative impact may affect local businesses and towns.

Health: A contentious issue, but that does not mean you are not concerned about it. With no proof either way, it is a very serious and alarming question mark.

Heritage: Cultural, environmental and Aboriginal heritage issues need to be highlighted.

Aviation: Private airstrips and general aviation concerns, including the impact of night lighting.

Electromagnetic Interference: This can impact on mobile phone cover, television and radio reception, and interfere with various electronic equipment. If your reception is marginal, expect it to be worse with a wind farm next door.

Other: Each area and region will have its own particular and unique issues to bring to the Department’s attention.

Help Each Other

Encourage individual members of a family to make their own submission.

Sometimes simple is better.

There is strength in numbers.

Some members of the community may need assistance to write a submission. Help them any way you can including putting together a general statement that reflects community views and encourage individuals simply to sign and submit.

In Summary

The Wind Energy Guidelines 2016 acknowledge that wind turbines are large 150m+ structures, usually located on ridgelines and elevated positions; their distinctive outlines, the colour and movement of wind turbines make them stand out in a rural landscape; wind farms can cover large areas and other forms of development in a rural landscape are unlikely to match the height of wind farm. The Guidelines also state that whilst the noise may not be dominant, it is perceived as different and can occur any time of the day or night when the wind blows.

The fact that wind turbines may spoil your view, disturb your sleep, damage your health or reduce the value of your property are a real concern to those affected. Certainly, make your feelings known about all the issues because your submissions will be read by the proponent, by the Department and by the IPC. However, we recommend that your submissions focus on:

The NSW Environmental Defenders Office has an introductory fact sheet on having your say and making submissions.

Jupiter Case Study

The Department received 452 submissions on the Jupiter Wind farm proposal, including 402 objections, primarily from residents living within 10 km of the project site. The proposal received the largest number of objections for any wind farm in NSW. Submissions covered a wide range of issues, but the key concerns related to: loss of visual amenity; bushfire risk; noise impacts; and impacts on health and property values.

This overwhelming response from the community was a major factor in the rejection of Jupiter.

While there were supporters of the project (38 submissions), they comprised less than 10% of submissions overall, and of these, 50% were host landowners or located more than 50 km from the project.

Phase 4: Response to Submissions (RTS)

Phase 4: Response to Submissions (RTS)

The Response to Submissions (RTS), prepared by the proponent, addresses issues raised in the submissions from organisations, community groups and individuals. The extent and nature of an RTS can vary greatly depending on the number of submissions and the issues raised.

The RTS will frequently deal with organisations and groups quite specifically, answering each issue raised in some detail. Where there are a large number of individual submissions, rather than answering each one individually, they can be addressed in summary form issue by issue.

The RTS will either provide a counter view to issues raised or will mitigate in an attempt to remove the issue. Therefore, the RTS can involve a minor or major redesign of the project including the moving of turbines and the reduction in the number of turbines. When this is the case, the RTS will also include a revised environment impact assessment.

The RTS is the final stage before the Department assesses the project. There is no formal public submission process, which gives the proponent the last word before assessment. It is therefore essential that you communicate directly to the Department, and ensure they understand what issues still remain, and the extent to which any redesign of the project has removed, or not removed your objections and concerns.

Action

You need to examine the RTS carefully.

Ensure that issues you raised in submissions have been included and adequately addressed.

The proponent should address all issues raised. Let the Department know if issues have not been included, or if the RTS has not dealt with them in a satisfactory manner.

Ensure that the RTS is free from errors, particularity errors of omission. Let the Department know if errors exist.

Assess whether the RTS has improved the wind farm, made no difference or made it worse, and what problems still remain.

Ensure your local councils and local organisations contact the Department with their response to the RTS.

Jupiter Case Study

The Jupiter Wind Farm had a record number of submissions with very few not in opposition. The proponent’s answer to this was a major redesign of the project with a new Environment Impact Assessment (EIA).

The Southern section of the wind farm was expunged, and the number of turbines in the northern cluster was reduced.

The proponent argued that the RTS had significantly reduced impacts and improved the wind farm design. This self-referencing standard allowed for a more positive assessment. The new assessment of visual impact significantly lowered the level of predicted impact, even where there had been no or little change.

The community and both regional councils contacted the Department and made it clear that the new version was equally unacceptable.

The RTS was thoroughly dissected and every concern and issue was raised.

Throughout the assessment process the Department and the proponent continued to meet and discuss design options including benefit sharing agreements and a further reduction in the number of turbines.

Phase 5: Assessment

Phase 5: Assessment

Introduction

Up to this point, the proponent and their paid professionals have been working through an impact assessment for the wind farm with any number of revisions and amendments. This ends when the Response to Submissions (RTS), often including a revised EIS, is submitted to the Department for assessment.

In the beginning, the proposal usually starts off with an inflated number of turbines as the proponent tries to impress the local community with the promise of jobs and money. As time passes, the number of turbines gets less, sometimes because hosts don’t always sign up as expected. But more often, community input and expert opinion will cause a project re-think. The impacts which usually make a difference are noise compliance, biodiversity issues like habitat protection and land clearing as well as medium to high visual impact on the closest non-associated dwellings.

You should expect the RTS to be a more realistic attempt at a wind farm design with reduced impacts.

Likely Outcome

There are several factors which play into a favourable outcome for a wind farm proposal.

Public opinion favours any wind farm’s contribution to renewable energy and the NSW Renewable Energy Action Plan supports the national plan for 20% renewables by 2020.

The Wind Energy Guidelines 2016 sets out a path for success which focuses on removal of high impact turbines and mitigating technical, engineering and biodiversity issues to a tolerable level. And only wind farm proposals with high impacts which cannot be lessened will likely be recommended for refusal.

The summary of the assessment process is a useful reminder of all the issues under consideration.

NSW Wind Energy Framework

In December 2016, the Department released the new Wind Energy Framework and will consider new wind farm proposals submitted after that date against these Guidelines on their merits.

The Department will assess the wind farm proposal on its merits and taking account of all the documentation including public submissions and their own Wind Energy Guidelines.

The key documents which make up the Wind Energy Framework include: Wind Energy Guideline; Visual Assessment Bulletin; Noise Assessment Bulletin; and Standard Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) and taken together they reflect current government policy and focus on the issues which are unique to wind farms like noise and visual impacts on local communities.

The Wind Energy Guideline 2016, the over-arching policy document, emphasises community consultation and states that the community affected by a wind farm should expect to have meaningful, respectful and effective communication during the assessment process and, if the wind farm is built, to hold the developer to account for their assessment of impacts.

The Guideline also states that assessment of the EIS will include consideration of impacts on development within the vicinity of a wind farm for which a development application has been lodged, including with councils, but a determination is yet to be made and existing dwelling entitlements (right to build). Elsewhere the Guideline mentions the need to consult stakeholders of other infrastructure. And so, it seems that the wind farm developer is required to assess all dwellings and potential dwelling locations and places of work during the EIS process.

The community must ensure that the proponent and the Department adheres to these Guidelines. Get to know them well if you haven’t already.

We have written three plain English guides to the Guideline and each of the Bulletins for communities. Hopefully these guides will help clarify what is quite a complex process.

The Department expects these Guidelines to bring clarity, transparency and efficiencies to the EIS process. However we have noticed a number of omissions, contradictions and anomalies which we have mentioned in the plain English guides. We have also sought clarification from the Department with mixed results.

The Assessment Process

Throughout the assessment process government authorities will assume that the proponent and their consultants have put forward a good business plan for a wind farm in a suitable location with adequate wind resources, willing hosts and close to the electricity grid as well as an objective and expert environmental impact assessment which emphasises the advantages of the project and minimises the impacts by any means.

The Department will evaluate the EIS documents against their Guidelines, and often employ consultants to peer review the highly subject visual impact assessments and to validate the complex noise modelling.

The Department will scrutinize moderate to high visual and environmental impacts and recommend removal or relocation of turbines if mitigation including vegetation screening and benefit sharing agreements are not acceptable.

Turbines which are not noise compliant will also be recommended for removal or relocation if mitigation including limited operation of turbines and benefit sharing agreements are not acceptable.

Peer Review

The Department usually commissions a peer review of the visual impact assessment report and sometimes will commission a review of noise, aviation safety and other impacts during the assessment of the EIS if they judge a second opinion to be necessary.

The findings will be published as an appendix to the assessment report.

Peer review is an independent process undertaken by a consultant to assess the findings of an environmental assessment. Any of the stakeholders including the proponent, the Department, the IPC or other government agencies may engage a consultant to undertake a peer review as part of its assessment of an application, or as part of the post-approval phase.

Although an independent peer review may form part of the SEARs and therefore be a part of the scoping phase, it is unusual for that to happen with a wind farm so early in the process.

The peer review consultant will be an expert, senior practitioner and independent of the proponent.

Jupiter Case Study

During the EIS process the proponent commissioned two visual assessments of two different layouts. The original layout of 88 turbines was assessed by Clouston Associates as having a moderate to high visual impact on 42% of dwellings within 3km of wind turbines and offered vegetation screening as the only mitigation.

As a response to submissions the layout was reduced to 54 turbines and a second assessment was commissioned. The consultant ERM downgraded the visual impact to medium in most cases and claimed vegetation screening to be highly effective for all but one dwelling.

The Department commissioned their own independent peer review during assessment.  That consultant rejected ERM’s methodology and assessments and based their assessment on Clouston’s more relevant and objective outcomes. The consultant concluded that impacts were still significant and that the revised layout had made little difference. The likelihood of reducing impacts based on vegetation screening for the many dwellings on elevated terrain surrounding the turbines was low and exacerbated by the difficulty of achieving acceptable growth rates for effective screening in that climate and location.

Three different assessments, three different outcomes, highlighting the subjectivity of the visual impacts assessment process.

Throughout the assessment process the community questioned the credentials of both ERM and Clouston and pointed out to the Department many flaws, inconsistencies and errors of omission in these assessments.

The Assessment Report

It is well worth reading a Departmental assessment report to gain an understanding of the assessment processes. Bango Wind Farm is a good recent example because the report was a comprehensive assessment of all the key issues which recommended approval of the wind farm subject to conditions of consent.

Conditions of Consent

An approved wind farm will include conditions of consent which the wind farm developer must follow to minimise impacts during construction and operation of the wind farm. The Department sets out the basic conditions according to draft Guideline 7: Approach to Setting Conditions, June 2017 and gives the list together with their recommendation report to the IPC. The IPC may modify the list to reflect their determination.

The conditions of consent will specify:

The conditions of consent may include specific reference to residences and specify mitigation strategies, including buyout requirements, legal agreements to accept/tolerate impacts, procedures for handling requests for vegetation screening and so on.

Some conditions of consent may require monitoring, for example shadow flicker or noise at dwellings.

Other conditions are prescriptive. That is, what must/must not be done. Others require management plans, for example strategies minimising bird and bat death.

In any case the conditions must be:

The community should assess the conditions of consent against Departmental recommendations and raise any concerns. Some of the things to consider include:

Express any concerns to the Department and again to the IPC.

Ask the proponent how they intend to prove compliance and ask how the Department intends to monitor and verify compliance.

Regular meetings of the CCC will likely continue during construction and operation.  The community should review the membership and request changes to redress imbalances in representation by associated and non-associated landowners.

Public Versus Private Interest

In the final analysis, the assessment will weigh public versus private interest in order to make a recommendation.  This is a complex decision that weighs the impacts of the project on the local community (private interest) against its benefits to the broader community of NSW (public interest).  Both the Department and the IPC will look for opportunities to lessen impacts so that the proposal can be approved. This can be anything from painting turbines to make them less visible, planting vegetation screens to hide turbines, and as a last resort removing turbines to reduce impacts. Anything else of concern goes onto a list of conditions of consent.

If the local community does not want the wind farm they must convince the Department and the IPC that the impacts are high and cannot be mitigated and that conditions of consent cannot be policed. This requires focus, determination and a clear head.

Jupiter Case Study

In their assessment report the Department stated that the site was not suitable for a large-scale wind farm, that the project was not in the public interest and should not be approved.  The main reasons given were:

The Department considered the project was not in the public interest because the impacts on the local community significantly outweighed its potential benefits to the broader community of NSW.

Overall, the Department considered the site and surrounds not suited to a large-scale wind farm, and that there were limited opportunities to effectively address the visual impacts of the project without removing a large number of additional turbines, which would materially reduce the benefits of the project as a whole.

In that sense, Jupiter was an extreme case of a wind farm too close to too many people.

But the Department also noted that the number of approved and operational wind farms in the region demonstrates that there are wind farm sites in the region that can provide renewable energy, making efficient use of the region’s significant wind resources without such adverse impacts on the local community.

They also mentioned that there was a suite of renewable projects (including both wind and solar) either approved and not constructed or currently in the assessment process that also had the capacity to provide renewable energy in NSW.

In summary, Jupiter was too close to too many people with no opportunities to reduce the impact. And given the suite of renewable energy projects already operating or in the pipeline, the Department was of the view that we can now be more discerning about where we locate wind farms.

They went on to say that the oft quoted Taralga court case which decided in favour of a high impact wind farm and the public interest, was over 10 years ago at a time when there were very few renewable energy projects in NSW. The court considered that strong public interest arguments outweighed the potential visual impacts on nearby residences. The implication being that the court will now be less inclined to overrule community interest in favour of public interest.

This should echo a warning to wind farm developers and landowners that wind farms cannot be built just anywhere as has happened in the past.

In addition, the growing number of operational, approved and proposed wind farms in NSW has given rise to growing community concerns about the cumulative impacts of wind energy development, and the visual impacts of these industrial developments on the broader landscape in the Southern Tablelands and South West Slopes of NSW.

In June 2018, Yass Valley Regional Council stated their intention to object to future wind farm proposals in the region. And although regional councils do not decide State Significant Developments their objections hold sway, as was the case with Jupiter.

Phase 6: Determination By The IPC

Phase 6: Determination By The Independent Planning Commission (IPC)

Introduction

Most wind farm proposals are determined by the IPC and so this may be your last opportunity to have your say. For this reason, we have repeated some of the important considerations scattered throughout the website as a reminder to you. We have also looked at past wind farm decisions to give you an indication of likely outcomes.

NSW Independent Planning Commission

The role of the Independent Planning Commission (not to be confused with the NSW Information and Privacy Commission) is to determine State significant development applications where there is significant opposition (more than 25 objections) from the community or the regional council objects. The IPC website will give you more information about their role and processes.

After the Department submits a recommendation, three commissioners are appointed to hear the case. Expect the commissioners to have expertise in planning-related fields including architecture, heritage, the environment, soil or agricultural science, hydrogeology, engineering and so on.

The commissioners will review the recommendations from the Department and all the background documents including submissions in response to the EIS. The commissioners will normally meet with or request more information from stakeholders and invite the local community to make further submissions on the Department’s recommendations as well as hold a public meeting.

All this information will be available on the IPC website.

You can expect a decision on a wind farm within about three months.

IPC Assessment and Review

You must assume that the IPC commissioners have read the EIS and associated documents as well as all the submissions.

The IPC may request more information from stakeholders and government agencies. They will do this in writing and post the letters and replies on their website, so keep an eye on that.

Your focus, in response to a request for further input from the IPC, should be on presenting new information concerning the wind farm proposal and the Department’s assessment report.

Public Meeting

The IPC will organise a public meeting with community as part of the assessment process. The date for the public meeting, usually held in the local area, will be set 2 or 3 weeks after receiving the assessment report and recommendation report.

Members of the community can speak for 5 minutes and organisations can speak for 15 minutes.

To maximise your opportunity to be heard by the IPC, it is a good strategy to form several community organisations (eg one for each rural residential area) to get those 15-minute and 5-minute grabs at the public meeting to get your points across.

Individuals and organisations will have between 3 and 4 weeks to prepare a detailed written submission addressing the Department’s recommendations. Also prepare a short summary if you plan to speak.

The IPC meets with the community in a public forum and audio records the public meeting. Other meetings with stakeholders including the proponent are held in private and the minutes of these meetings are scant. So, it is important that you establish early contact with the IPC and request / insist on an equal opportunity to be heard. If you think it is appropriate, request a private meeting. And if you don’t get a prompt answer to your request, make a complaint.

Public Presentation to IPC

You have a 5-minute or a 15-minute grab to say your piece depending on whether you represent a group or an individual. Yes, you can read out another person’s presentation if that is appropriate.

Here are some key points to consider:

Remember that you are making a submission on THIS wind farm so be specific about what you want.  This is not the forum for a debate on the efficiencies of wind farms and their contributions to base load power and electricity resource security.

Organise the local community to make as many submissions as possible and emphasise the main issues at the public meeting and follow up with a written submission.

Written Submissions

You can make a written submission to the IPC whether you speak at the public meeting or not.

Make sure you have covered everything you would like to say but did not have enough time for at the public meeting. Keep it focused on the Department’s recommendation and issues you believe have not been adequately addressed.

Site Visits and Other Meetings

Assume that the proponent will invite the IPC on a site visit to the project area. And you can assume that the visit will focus on the project area, the hosts, the transport routes and the location of turbines well away from visual and environmental impacts.

Whilst the commissioners and their support staff will have studied the EIS documentation, you must assume that they are unfamiliar with the local area, its villages and character and will be reliant on a guided tour to get a proper perspective.

The local community should invite the IPC to visit the surrounding district and local residences impacted by the wind farm and give their perspective.

Final Determination

The final determination will either be approval with conditions of consent or refusal. The IPC may accept the recommendations and conditions of consent.

 In February 2018, the NSW Planning Assessment Commission was renamed the NSW Independent Planning Commission and was given a new charter. It remains to be seen how that the new charter will affect future decision making.

Likely Outcomes

We looked at Departmental recommendations and IPC’s determinations for the last ten wind farm proposals put forward over the last ten years:

All the proposals involved a reduction in the scale of the project, some by 50% or more.

All but one proposal was approved. The Jupiter proponent withdrew their application days after the recommendation to refuse the wind farm went to IPC.

The Department recommended approval of the other nine wind farms, often recommending removal of high impact turbines and providing a list of conditions of consent designed to ensure minimal impact and maximum mitigation.

IPC/PAC tended to place additional conditions of consent on the approvals, often determining that a few more turbines be removed.

In two instances the IPC overturned Departmental recommendation to remove turbines and put a few back on the map.

At this point in time, few if any of the IPC approved wind farms in the last ten years have begun construction even though some approvals go back over four years.

Yes, you can infer from this that a wind farm proposal will likely take six years or more for the assessment process to run its course. And another four years before anything happens.

At the time of writing, there were three wind farms under construction in NSW. None received more than 25 objections and therefore did not go to the IPC for determination.

There is a strong message in this for wind farm developers to site wind farms away from people..

Jupiter Case Study

The Department’s recommendation to refuse Jupiter went to the newly restructured IPC on 26 February, 2018 and the proponent withdrew their application on 16 March, 2018 before the scheduled public meeting. So, we will never know what the IPC’s determination might have been.

However, in that 2-week period before the proponent withdrew, the IPC seemed disorganised and slow to respond to requests for private meetings and community organised site visits.

No one initiated any contact with the community despite our many requests.The few staff we did communicate with gave the impression that they were simply cataloguing emails and phone calls without passing these through to someone else for action and inaction.

A complaint was made regarding the inherent bias of audio recording public meetings and not recording meetings with the proponent.  It was felt that either all or none should be recorded.

A complaint was also made about site tours with the proponent without community representation. The IPC agreed and took steps to make the process fairer.

These issues were under discussion when the proponent withdrew the wind farm proposal.

Bango Case Study

Bango Wind Farm was also assessed around the same time as Jupiter. The Department recommended approval with modification and conditions of consent which the IPC largely accepted with a notable exception. The Department recommended the removal of 2 turbines because of the high impact on one residence which could not be lessened by vegetation screening, unless the landowner signed a negotiated agreement. The IPC did not support this recommendation and reinstated the two turbines stating that the existing vegetation provided adequate screening.

This highlights the very subjective nature of visual impact assessment when the two consent authorities, with the benefit of multiple peer reviewed impact assessments, could not agree on the visual impact of two turbines on one residence.

The IPC had the last word in this, but local residents are appealing the decision in the NSW Land and Environment Court.