In April 2008 the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) of Australia requested its Standing Committee to report on ways to address impediments to responsible wind farm development. In November 2008 the EPHC released the report Impediments to Environmental and Socially Responsible Wind Farm Development. The report identified a lack of consistency between jurisdictions as to agreed frameworks and methods for assessing issues unique to wind farm development as the most significant impediment. The report recommended the creation of a consistent set of agreed best practice guidelines.
On 27 October 2009 the EPCH released a public consultation draft of its National Wind Farm Development Guidelines (Guidelines). The public consultation period for the Guidelines ended on 16 December 2009.
The Guidelines apply to turbines in excess of a rated capacity of 500 kilowatt (kW) and to developments consisting of one or more such turbines. It includes associated infrastructure such as site access, foundations, buildings and electrical works that are associated with the construction of a wind farm. The Guidelines do not apply to offshore wind farms. They are mainly focused on wind farms developed to produce electricity for export to the power grid but could also apply to wind farms where part or all of the electricity generated is used on site.
The Guidelines are not intended to be mandatory; however, it is hoped that they become a planning requirement for wind farm development in a particular jurisdiction if that jurisdiction adopts them through their planning system. The Guidelines aim to avoid placing requirements on wind farm proponents that do not apply to other proponents impacting the environment in a similar manner.
Wind farm specific issues
The Guidelines have identified the following specific issues associated with the development and operation of wind farms, namely:
- community and stakeholder consultation
- birds and bats
- shadow flicker
- electro-magnetic interference
- aircraft safety
- blade glint
- risk of fire, and
- Indigenous heritage.
The Guidelines provide detailed guidance and methodologies for only the first six issues in the above list and general guidance on all other issues. The purpose of this paper is to focus on a few of these specific issues.
Community and stakeholder consultation
The Guidelines have highlighted the importance of establishing an early and ongoing commitment to community and stakeholder consultation and has set out what the EPHC considers to be best practice guidance on:
- preparing communication and consultation plans and making an early commitment to community participation;
- a methodology for planning and delivering community participation activities associated with the varying stages of a wind farm's development; and
- managing community input into the assessment and management of key technical study areas, such as noise, landscape and visual impacts.
The Guidelines do not provide specific noise limits as they are considered to be the responsibility of the State and Territory authorities. However, the Guidelines are intended to provide an effective and best-practice way to reduce noise impacts consistent with current environmental legislation. In particular, the Guidelines endorse the draft Australian Standard DR 07153 CP Acoustics - Measurement, Prediction and Assessment of Noise from Wind Turbine Generator. The Guidelines also consider Special Audible Characteristics, which are not addressed in the draft Australian Standard for noise from wind farms.
Birds and Bats
The Guidelines provides a focus on the ecological questions that need to be addressed in assessing impacts, rather than specific techniques being deployed. The Guidelines deal with the impact on birds and bats by the construction of a wind farm and the operation of the wind farm, primarily due to collision with turning blades, presence of the wind farm or noise from the wind farm. The general impacts through vegetation clearance and habitat loss are not dealt with in the Guidelines on the basis that they are similar to other development and adequately dealt with by the existing regulatory processes.
Shadow flicker is produced by wind turbine blades blocking the sun for short periods of time (less than 1 second) as the blades rotate, causing a strobing effect. The likelihood of shadow flicker effecting people is dependent on the alignment of the wind turbine and the sun, and the distance from the wind turbine. The Guidelines provide a best practice approach to addressing the risk of shadow flicker by providing a set of modelling assumptions for assessment of any layout and an exposure limit that should not be exceeded.
The EPHC has advised that it is still considering public submissions made in relation to the Guidelines and will meet again in March to determine what amendments should be made to the document. The final version of the Guidelines will be considered by the EPHC at its further meeting in July. It remains to be seen to what extent the Guidelines will be incorporated into development assessment processes by State and local Governments.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.