RELEASE OF THE DRAFT NSW RENEWABLE ENERGY ACTION PLAN
In its Draft NSW Renewable Energy Action Plan, the NSW Government has committed to achieving the national target of 20% renewable energy by 2020.
But it's not the commitment that will be the predictor of success. The real issue lies in the State's current and proposed environmental and planning laws. Are they serving to help or hinder renewable energy development in the State?
Solar and wind resources have already been identified as the key 'renewable' players, spurred on by predictions that by 2030 solar photovoltaic (PV) or onshore wind energy will be among the cheapest renewable energies to produce.
Bloomberg forecasts Australia can expect a $36 billion investment in renewable energies in the decade to 2020, with $18 billion invested in wind energy and $16 billion invested in large and small-scale solar PV.
But if NSW is to maximise its ability to meet increasing energy demand with renewable resources, unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape when assessing future developments must be avoided.
Notwithstanding the role of wind energy in meeting the 2020 target, recent draft planning guidelines for wind farms mean that future State-significant wind farm proposals will face more complex, time-consuming and costly approval processes.
The Draft NSW Planning Guidelines: Wind Farms released in December 2011 would impose what are said to be the world's strictest noise standards and restrict wind turbine location to within 2km of residences unless the landowner gives consent or the site meets compatibility standards. Although not as limiting as Victoria's 2011 planning amendments that banned wind farm development in certain areas and gave residents within 2km the power of veto, the NSW requirement for landowner's consent has the potential to delay or stymie future proposals.
In the absence of landowner consent community consultation would follow, with the outcome that future development of wind farms in NSW would likely depend on the population density surrounding the proposed development.
Although this would have little effect on proposals similar to the approved Silverton Wind Farm, which had only two residences within 2km, it may have significant impact on proposals similar to the Gullen Range Wind Farm in the Southern Tablelands, which had 141 residences within a 3km radius. Given the importance of wind energy, the impact of the Draft Guidelines (if made) will require close attention to ensure development is not unreasonably restricted in the lead up to 2020 and beyond.
The Draft NSW Renewable Energy Action Plan acknowledges Australia's world-class wind resources; now the NSW government must ensure they are strategically and appropriately exploited without succumbing to the voices of the few living within their vicinity.
TURNING UP THE HEAT ON SOLAR
The draft plan tells a different story about the growth of solar energy systems in NSW. Helped by the solar bonus scheme, NSW now has the largest capacity of installed solar PV panels in Australia and the world's biggest project in development. Another factor which has likely contributed to the success of rooftop PV installation in NSW is the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007, which permits solar energy systems up to a capacity of 100 kilowatts without development consent.
Initiatives by local councils are also contributing to the State's renewables target. For instance, the City of Sydney Council is rolling out the largest rooftop PV installation (1.25 megawatts) in Australia with systems being installed across 30 properties over the next 2 years. These systems are expected to generate roughly 12.5% of the electrical power needs of the council.
ACHIEVING 20% BY 2020
Despite the fact that between 2010 and 2011, renewable energy from sources other than large-scale hydroelectricity grew by 43%, the draft plan puts their total contribution to NSW's energy in 2011 at just 7.8%. To grow that to 20% by 2020, will require dedicated effort by the NSW government to stimulate renewable energy development.
Consensus will be needed between Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard and Energy and Resources Minister Chris Hartcher on the economic benefits of investment and any regional growth plans that may impact the location of future projects. And Premier Barry O'Farrell's position on renewable energy will require a significant reset. His previously stated position that, if he had his way, there wouldn't be another wind farm developed in this State now stands at odds with the draft plan's endorsement of wind energy as "the most economical form of large-scale renewable energy over the next decade".
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