Debate over setback policy reignited

AUSTRALIA: An Australian Senate report on the health impacts of wind farms has found in favour of a scientific approach to wind-farm permitting regulation and against the introduction of prescribed minimum setbacks, which it described as arbitrary.

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The finding is a win for the wind industry, which argues that Australia has some of the strictest permitting regulations in the world. In the state of Victoria, developers are working through the ramifications of setbacks - regulations governing distances between homes and turbines - that require them to make individual agreements with residents within a two-kilometre radius of a turbine before construction can begin.

Minimum setbacks have been proposed by some outside the industry as a way to counter perceived health problems from wind-farm noise. But the committee's report found that "the application of scientific measurements for sound and for shadow flicker to alleviate problems for wind-farm neighbours may be preferable to prescribed setbacks". This is not the end of the issue, however, as the committee also recommended that separation criteria be given further consideration.

Russell Marsh, policy director at not-for-profit renewable association the Clean Energy Council, said that while distances between a residence and turbines are already mostly governed by noise standards, it is likely state governments are watching Victoria and considering the introduction of minimum setbacks.

The industry argues that introducing setbacks will limit the societal and economic benefits of wind farms for communities and put achieving Australia's 20% renewable-energy target at risk by increasing the cost of wind technology, the energy source expected to meet most of the target.

In Victoria, wind-farm developers Union Fenosa Wind Australia (UFWA) and Renewable Energy Systems Australia both have projects that will be assessed according to the new Victorian permitting scheme.

"We have been presented with various pieces of this policy jigsaw, but we're still not certain of the big picture and its specific impacts on our Tarrone and Darlington proposals," said Thomas Mitchell, development manager at UFWA.

The amended provision, gazetted in March, also controversially removed state government decision-making powers for wind farms over 30MW, handing this responsibility to local government.

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