Who assesses the planning permit application?

Under Victorian planning law it is the Minister for Planning who considers planning applications for wind farms in Victoria. Prior to 2015 local councils were responsible for assessing planning applications for small wind farm projects, while the Minister for Planning was responsible for assessing planning applications for large wind farms. However, since the introduction of Amendment VC124 (gazetted 2 April 2015), the Minister for Planning has been responsible for assessing all wind farm planning permit applications.

How is the planning permit application assessed?

Wind farm planning permit applications are assessed against the provisions of the planning scheme of the municipality in which they are located. While planning schemes vary from one area to another, all planning schemes contain wind farm specific provisions, such as Clause 52.32 and the Policy and Planning Guidelines for the Development of Wind Energy Facilities in Victoria, against which wind farm planning permit applications are assessed. After a planning permit application is lodged with the Minister for Planning, the Minister will consider it and may either request more information, approve the permit application, approve the permit application with modifications, or refuse the permit application. This process is often extended and can take over twelve months.

How long will it take to construct the wind farm?

Once a permit has been issued and financing completed, construction of the wind farm can begin and will take approximately one year. There are three main stages to the construction process, starting with construction of the access tracks, construction pads, foundations, and underground cabling. This stage is the busiest and involves the most people and machinery. Stage two sees the turbines delivered and installed using specialised cranes with highly skilled operators. The final stage involves commissioning and testing the wind farm and connecting it the electricity grid so that the export of energy can begin.

What is a wind farm’s life cycle?

The typical life cycle of a wind farm is 25 – 30 years. At the end of this period the wind farm is decommissioned, with all above ground structures removed and the site rehabilitated. This process of decommissioning is a condition of the wind farm planning permit and is also part of the agreement between the wind farm and participating landowners.

How tall are the wind turbines?

With every passing year wind turbines are becoming larger. Larger wind turbines are more powerful and more efficient, meaning that we can produce the same amount of power with less turbines, and produce that power more cheaply. The wind turbine models currently on the market have tip heights of between 200 – 270 m, and tower heights of between 130 – 180 m. The planning permit application for Brewster Wind Farm will be based on a tip height of approximately 250 m and a tower height of approximately 180 m.

What about the impact to the landscape?

We acknowledge that wind farms have an impact on the landscapes in which they are located. However, we also believe that the environmental and economic benefits of wind farms outweigh this impact.

An independent Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment forms part of the planning application, and contains a series of photomontages that provide a visual representation of the wind farm from various viewpoints.

Following completion of construction, we will offer free landscape screening to all dwellings located within 4 km of a wind turbine should they wish to screen views of the wind farm.

Do wind turbines affect human health?

Numerous studies have been conducted into the potential health affects of wind turbines, and none of them have found any evidence that wind turbines effect human health. Following a major review of the evidence in 2015, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) concluded that there was no evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects. You can find this study here [NHMRC].

How will wind farm noise affect me?

Wind farms in Victoria are required to comply with strict noise limits. These noise limits are set out in the New Zealand Standard NZS6808:2010 Acoustics – Wind Farm Noise, and they are designed to ensure that wind farm noise is not intrusive for the average person. The noise limits set out in NZS6808:2010 form part of every wind farm planning permit, meaning all wind farms must comply with them in order to continue operating.

An environmental noise assessment forms part of the planning permit application. This assessment contains modelled noise levels for the wind farm and will be made available to residents as part of the permit application process.

Because the experience of sound is subjective each person will experience the noise made by a wind farm in their own unique way. With this in mind our staff will consult with residents to provide as much information as possible so you can be best equipped to understand the likely outcome.

Will wind turbines affect stock or domestic animals?

No. Sheep and cattle may take a few days to become familiar with wind turbines, however they quickly become acclimatised and have often been observed rubbing themselves on towers or standing in shade of wind turbines during summer.

Do wind farms kill birds?

Wind turbines have been found to pose a similar risk to birds as telecommunication towers and other tall buildings. Studies also show that wind farms are 17 times less likely to kill birds than fossil-fuels per MWh of generation, 400 times less likey than cars, 500 times less likely than pesticides, and 1200 times less likely than high tension wires. Studies also show that the impact of cats, habitat loss, and ecological changes due to climate change, on bird species is so much greater that it renders the impact of wind farms insignificant. You can find these studies here.

Nonetheless, as part of the planning application process we have to consider the potential impact of the wind farm on threatened, at risk and endangered species to ensure that it will not have a detrimental effect on any of these species.

Does the wind farm impact cultural heritage?

As part of the planning process we will prepare a Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP). All CHMPs in Victoria must be prepared in accordance with the Heritage Act 2006 and Heritage Regulations 2007, and must be prepared by independent and technically qualified archaeologists in consultation with the local Registered Aboriginal Party.

Do wind farms affect property values?

Studies in Australia and overseas have found no measurable correlation between wind farm proximity and property values and that soil quality, access to services and capital improvements remain the major drivers of property value. You can find these studies here [NSW Valuer-General (2009), Urbis (2016)].

Is wind energy expensive?

Renewable energy is the cheapest source of new energy generation with wind projects producing each MWh for less than $60. The cost of combined gas-cycle generation is about $75 per MWh and new coal projects about $130 per MWh. Electricity produced by existing coal fire power stations costs about $40 per MWh, however it is produced using outdated technology which externalises social and environmental costs.

A 2020 study by CSIRO (2020) compared current and predicted capital costs associated with energy generation, and found coal produced energy to be the highest cost per KWh. You can find the study here.

How will the wind farm impact local roads?

The wind farm will result in an increase in traffic on local roads during the construction process. However, prior to the commencement of construction the wind farm will have to provide a bond to the local road manager, and will have to pay for any upgrades required for the delivery of turbine components. Following completion of construction the wind farm will have to repair any damage caused to local roads before it can get the bond back.

Once the wind farm is operating, the only traffic to and from the site will be a visit by a maintenance vehicle roughly once a week

Who pays for any electricity grid upgrades that are needed?

The cost of any grid upgrades and infrastructure is entirely paid for by the wind farm.

Are wind farms subsidised by the government?

The wind farm will not receive any government subsidies and will pay for all wind turbine infrastructure, electricity grid and road upgrades, local government rates and community benefits from electricity exported to the grid.

How much of the wind turbine can be recycled ?

The world’s largest turbine supplier, Vestas, estimates that currently 90% of their wind turbines can be recycled. This includes the tower, nacelle and gearbox. Traditionally, wind turbine blades have not been recycled. Wind turbine blades are made of reinforced fibreglass and, much like fibreglass boats, to date it has not be cost effective to recycle them at the end of their lifecycle. However, it is important to note that one set of wind turbine blades can last upwards of twenty years, meaning they are not regularly disposed of. Moreover, research and development is underway to close this recycling gap and Vestas has announced a net zero waste target by 2040.

How much energy is required to build a wind turbine, and how long does it take to pay this energy back?

A lifecycle assessment of a 2 MW wind turbine generator carried out in accordance with the International Standards Organisation lifecycle assessment standard (ISO 14040: Environmental management – life cycle assessment) found that the energy required to construct, decommission and dispose of a wind turbine generator is paid back within 5 months of operation. You can find this study here.

Is there a Government body I can contact for general wind farm information or to register a complaint?

The Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner (AEIC) is an independent role appointed by the Australian Government, reporting to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. The Commissioner’s role is to receive and refer complaints from concerned community residents about wind farms, large-scale solar, energy storage facilities and new major transmission projects as well as promote best practices for industry and government to adopt in regard to the planning and operation of these projects.

The office of the Commissioner can be contacted by phone on 1800 656 395 or by email at [email protected] or by post at Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner, PO Box 24434, Melbourne VIC 3001.