Website Tutorial

This was a challenging website to build because the assessment process is complex and it was difficult to divide into manageable pieces whilst providing all the necessary detail.

There is also an unfamiliar language to contend with, and a lot to understand about the sequence and consequences of events which can easily overtake a community unprepared to challenge a wind farm.

You also may need to move fairly quickly to ward off a wind farm proponent's attempts to shore up their position and garner support for their proposal before the true impacts of the wind farm are fully understood by the community.

For these reasons, we thought it might be useful to discuss the best ways to use this website, provide some important messages, and explain some of the key concepts that can have flow-on implications for the community.

Home Page

The home page is a jump-off point for an explanation of each of the six steps in the assessment process with some suggestions on how to get involved, have your say and how to get the best outcome for your community.

If you have never been involved in a wind farm proposal before you might find the assessment summary of what is likely to happen a useful place to start.  The main message is that the wind farm proposal will likely be approved unless you speak out and give the Department of Planning reasons to reject the wind farm.

Also on the home page we have included a series of direct links to other information which you might find useful.  The Hills of Gold Case Study tracks the progress of this wind farm through the assessment process.  In October 2018 this wind farm proposal was in the very early scoping phase and we intend to update this area of the website as that proposal progresses. This case study should be an excellent learning tool.

We have also provided suggestions on how the Department might improve the assessment process and you might find this information useful in framing questions for the Department.

Freedom of Information requests are a useful way of finding out about meetings between the Department and the proponent throughout the process.

Our intention was to develop a website as a guide to wind farm assessments in NSW, and a how-to manual on how a community can effectively speak out about a wind farm.  We have posted a PDF version for those who might wish to download everything and read it off-line, search for something specific, print pages and so on.

Assessment Steps

The steps in the assessment process are based on the NSW Wind Energy Framework 2016 which guides the assessment process and identifies methodologies for assessing the impacts of the wind farm and threshold values for measuring acceptable impacts. These documents are written for wind farm proponents and can be difficult to fathom. We have written three Plain English guides to the main elements of the Wind Energy Framework and we recommend that you study these as well as the original documents posted on our website in the reading list.

Strictly speaking, the community has two opportunities to have their say - to the Department when the environmental impact statement (EIS) goes on public exhibition and again if the proposal goes to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).  Don't wait. Make your views known to the Department and the proponent from the onset and hold them to account for their actions and inactions every step of the way.

It is very likely that the proponent will fail to consider local values and visual impacts properly. And they will likely fail to include all the impacted properties in their assessments.  Make sure you point out all these errors of omission as soon as possible to your Community Consultative Committee (CCC) representatives, to the Department and the proponent.

When you do make written submissions or present your views at a public meeting there is nothing to be gained by discussing climate change, solar versus wind as a renewable energy source, electricity prices and so on. Focus on this particular wind farm and its impacts on you.

Think of the public exhibition like a voting system where the votes will be counted and grouped into categories based on the issues raised.  We recommend a separate submission for each topic, one or two pages tops, state whether you support or object to the proposal and whether you are a member of the local community (within 50km).

Whilst the Department may commission an independent review of visual and noise impacts (peer reviews), these independent consultants will examine the EIS documentation for accuracy and if necessary conduct site inspections.  Errors of omission will not be detected, so point them out.

Key Issues

The proponent is obligated to assess the likely impacts of a range of key issues associated with the wind farm proposal.  We have explained each key issue and how it will be assessed. The paint by numbers approval process favours the developer and the Department is more inclined to facilitate than examine. The long line of government agencies called in as experts will also be inclined to tick off the boxes unless you speak out and point out local issues.

The big three issues from a community perspective are visual impact, biodiversity and noise. Focus on the big three.

The Department will likely suggest that the community focus on the visual impacts of the wind turbines and experts within the Department, the IPC (including the proponent and their consultants) and government authorities responsible for a particular portfolio will assess other key issues.  However, there are many things the community can do to lobby government authorities and ensure they do understand the issues specific to this wind farm, what is being proposed and to make submissions.

Negotiated Agreements

Negotiated agreements - host agreements and benefit sharing agreements - are pivotal to the approval or refusal of a high impact wind farm.

The scale of a wind farm proposal is determined by the number of hosts willing to sign host agreements to have turbines on their land and the size of their properties. The impacted community should lobby hosts and prospective hosts and tell them how they feel, and explain the potential impacts of this wind farm on neighbours and the local community.

Benefit sharing agreements are the most powerful and potentially unfair mitigation option.  The approval of a wind farm may well depend upon how many non-associated property owners (uninvolved landowners in close proximity to the proposed wind farm) are willing to sign benefit sharing agreements to accept impacts.  Understand that those who sign benefit sharing agreements may be asked to do so before impacts are known and assessed.  This goes against the spirit of the Wind Energy Guideline which says that landowners should be appropriately informed about impacts. And the Department will exclude those who have signed benefit sharing agreements from their assessment of the proposal. Ask landowners not to sign benefit sharing agreements until after the Department's assessment is completed and the true impacts are known.

Community Consultative Committee (CCC)

The CCC is an important forum for discussion between the proponent and the community and we have dedicated a whole section to it.  There are seven community representatives on this committee.  These representatives should work together to represent the community, contribute to discussions during meetings and disseminate information from meetings to the broader community. It is an important responsibly, so nominate your most suitable people to sit on the CCC.

Key Players

The key players section of our website is a discussion of how you might expect the Department, the proponent and the IPC to interact with each other and the community based on our experiences with several wind farm proposals in the Southern Tablelands of NSW.  This is where the authors have expressed an opinion about the assessment process and the likely behaviour of the key players.  We paint a picture of a process which favours the wind farm developer.  Your silence will be taken to mean acceptance of the wind farm. We are not saying that the process is inherently unfair, but rather the State-wide public interest imperative to develop renewable energy usually out-weighs the private interests of impacted communities.

All the more reason for a community to present a united front and make their views known to the proponent and the Department at every step along the assessment process.

One of the most distressing things for us was to be labelled anti-wind farm campaigners when we spoke out against the Jupiter Wind Farm. And our concerns about a wind farm, which was clearly too close to too many people, were dismissed by many as selfish.

We have outlined some public attitudes which will likely be expressed.  Explore these issues and be prepared to defend your right not to have a wind farm on your doorstep.

Glossary

Glossary

AAAA

Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia

AHIMS

Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System contains information about aboriginal places and objects which wind farm developers are expected to reference whilst assessing impacts on heritage

Associated landowner

Hosts and landowner who signs a benefit sharing agreement are associated with the wind farm and excluded from the Department's assessment of the wind farm

Benefit sharing agreement

A legal agreement (also known as a negotiated agreement) between the wind farm developer and a landowner to accept visual and / or noise impacts in exchange for an annual remuneration

CASA

Civil Aviation Safety Authority responsible for specifying night lighting requirements

CCC

Community Consultative Committee, a forum for discussion of the wind farm proposal between a proponent, representatives of the community and other stakeholders including regional councils

Conditions of consent

Conditions imposed by the Department and/or the IPC which control how the wind farm is constructed and operates

DA

Development Application is consent given by local council to carry out a development such as build a house; in assessing a wind farm the proponent must take account of the impact on existing and proposed dwellings including on land which simply has a DA entitlement

Department

NSW Department of Planning and Environment, the planning authority responsible for overseeing wind farm proposals from inception through to determination

EIA

Environmental Impact Assessment is the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating all the relevant effects of the project from the beginning to end (scoping through to responding to submissions)

EIS

Environmental Impact Statement is the main documentation which includes an assessment of all relevant impacts of the wind farm and is submitted to NSW Department of Planning together with the development application (DA)

EPA

Environmental Protection Authority is responsible for issuing the environmental protection licence (EPL) and ensuring a wind farm complies with the licence during construction and operation

IPC

Independent Planning Commission, formerly the Planning Assessment Commission, the approval authority for wind farms with more than 25 objections

NHMRC

National Health and Medical Research Council is the peak funding body for medical research and will provide advice on health issues associated with wind farms

OEH

Office of Heritage and Environment is responsible for providing advice on the impact of wind farms on the environment and heritage

PEA

Preliminary Environmental Assessment, is the first stage of scoping the project and establishing the terms of reference for the environmental impact assessment and culminates in the Scoping Report (also referred to as the PEA) and submitted to NSW Department of Planning together with a request for Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs)

Proponent

The organisation and associates seeking approval for the wind farm

RAJWT

Residents Against Jupiter Wind Turbines is a community group which opposed Jupiter Wind Farm and lobbied government agencies

RFS

NSW Rural Fire Service will provide advice on bushfire risks associated with wind farms

RMS

Roads & Maritime Services provide advice on traffic, transport and road safety issues

RTS

Response To Submissions or Submissions Report is prepared by the proponent as a response to issues raised in submissions and may include any proposed changes to the project to minimise its environmental impact or to deal with other issues raised during assessment.

RUSLE

Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation used to assess soil erosion and site suitability

Scoping Report

Sometimes known as the PEA, a publicly available document which provides preliminary information on a project and its potential impacts to support a request for Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs).

SEARs

Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements, issued by the NSW Department of Planning, set out clear expectations on the level of assessment required for each relevant matter which must be addressed by the proponent in the EIS; includes a list of government agencies to be consulted

SEPP

State Environmental Planning Policy for the protection and management of the natural environment

SSD

State Significant Development applies to wind farms with a capital investment greater than $30m

Visual Impact (VI)

Visual impact at residences, villages, schools, churches and public viewpoints including roads are an important key issue to be assessed

VIZ

Visual Influence Zones: the three zones high, moderate and low are a key component of visual impact assessment and factor viewer sensitivity, scenic quality and distance to determine the visual impact of wind turbines

Wind Energy Framework

A set of six documents which includes the three Wind Energy Guidelines plus guidelines for establishing the Community Consultative Committee (CCC), a sample Secretary’s Environmental Assessment Requirements (SEARs) and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Wind Energy Guidelines

Published in 2016, comprising three documents - the Wind Energy Guideline, the Visual Assessment Bulletin and the Noise Assessment Bulletin - which describe the process of developing a wind farm from siting and design through to evaluation, measurement and assessment of impacts and determination