Regional reforms deliver certainty

AUSTRALIA: Reforms to permitting procedures in South Australia will give more certainty to wind-energy developers and provide local communities with greater say in the planning processes, according to the country's wind industry.

The reforms, which have taken interim effect while they undergo an eight-week public-consultation process, are expected to unlock dollars A$1.8 billion ($1.9 billion) worth of projects and create around 1,000 direct jobs.

Under the package, local government will be reinstated as the key authority for assessing wind-farm permit applications. The capacity of third parties to appeal these decisions will be removed as long as the correct approach has been followed.

Developers will be required to manage the visual impact of their developments, including a minimum setback of one kilometre between wind turbines and houses, unless both parties agree to a lesser distance. Council development plans will be amended to provide greater consistency of assessment for applications.

Court action

The reforms, introduced by former state premier Mike Rann and minister for planning John Rau, follow four court actions against wind-farm developments in the state that have caused delays and uncertainty for wind projects in recent years. As a result, developers have increasingly used state government over local government for construction approval processes.

However, the South Australian government stated its preference for the local-government process to be used. "Councils are closer to their communities and have proved adept at securing outcomes to the benefit of all parties," a document outlining the new regime said.

Trade body the Clean Energy Council (CEC) welcomed the proposed regime, saying the reforms strike the right balance between giving the industry certainty that decisions made by local councils will stand and giving communities a voice in the planning process.

"It also means that wind developers have to work harder to bring the community with them to get that planning approval in the first place," added Russell Marsh, CEC policy director.

Good example

"This is still an emerging area and getting this process right is challenging, but we believe the new planning process provides a better balance than the situation in Victoria, for example," Marsh said.

Victoria has introduced planning rules that restrict wind development within two kilometres of houses and in no-go zones such as conservation areas. New South Wales is due to review its permitting regime, which the CEC expects to result in the introduction of greater barriers to building wind-energy projects in that state.