The Queensland Government has released the draft Wind Farm Code (State Code 23) which is proposed to replace the existing Code. Consultation on the draft Code is open until Monday 4 September 2023.
- The draft code has been released for consultation until 4 September 2023
- The draft code proposes a number of changes, including:
- strengthening protection of threatened species and high ecological value environments;
- strengthening the protection of host and non-host areas with sensitive land use operations, in particular in relation to noise impacts;
- imposing greater obligations on developers in relation to management of transport network impact
The Queensland Government has announced it is undertaking a review of the Wind Farm Code (State Code 23) and the accompanying guidelines, which are used in the land planning assessment for the development of wind farm projects in Queensland.
Key changes proposed to the State Code and Planning Guidance include:
Threatened Species – the draft code proposes that threatened species and their habitats and areas of high environmental value are not adversely impacted by construction and operation of wind farms. This is reflected in the Performance outcomes, which also emphasise replanting to the extent possible.
Ecological Assessment reports are still necessary to identify and assess any risks to flora, fauna and associated habitat, but the new guidance suggests that such a report must also cover how highly sensitive parts of the site have been avoided and risks mitigated. The new guidelines require, in particular, information to be presented on all bird species and bird activity (including flying activities). It will be necessary under the draft code to identify habitat for threatened species and vegetation, and other sensitive ecological matters such as those described as Matters of State Environmental Significance under the Environmental Offsets Regulation 2014 and threatened species as outlined in the Nature Conservation Act 1992.
Evidence is required about the following:
- how habitats of threatened species and other areas of high environmental value has been avoided
- bird and bat flight paths or behaviours and how these have factored into the layout of turbines to minimise impacts
- how significant impacts on significant fauna habitat and potential movement has been minimised
- a draft vegetation and fauna management plan, a detailed draft cleared vegetation management plan, and a detailed draft bird and bat management plan
- a detailed draft progressive rehabilitation plan for the development (until decommissioning).
Erosion and sediment control – the draft code require projects to better understand areas of high erosion risk, particularly in Great Barrier Reef catchments, when formulating site layouts and to submit material for assessment to demonstrate that erosion and run off during construction can be adequately managed (an erosion and sediment control plan and erosion risk assessment is still required).
Sensitive Land Uses – acoustic and amenity impacts on “sensitive land uses” will continue to be regulated under the draft code, however the draft code provides for no acceptable outcomes other than the performance outcomes. This is different to the current version of the Code which permitted deviation from the performance outcomes where there was 1,500m separation distance between the turbines and non-host lots with existing or approved sensitive land use.
The draft code allows for written agreements (deeds) to vary the maximum acoustic levels on non-host lots with existing or approved sensitive land uses.
Scenic Amenity – areas with high scenic amenity will continue to be protected under the new draft Code in the same way as the current Code, with the only performance outcome being that development is sited and designed to protect character, scenic amenity and landscape values of the locality and region.
The standard visual impact assessment report required under the current Code will must now also include assessment of how visible turbines does not adversely impact the scenic amenity, rather than simply how it might mitigate any impacts.
Transmission and Electromagnetic interference – the draft code still generally applies to limit electromagnetic interference, and a preliminary EMI assessment report should be lodged to demonstrate compliance with obligations, outlining all potential EMI impacts and mitigation/management.
Social and community impacts – the draft code introduces a new assessment criterion requiring proponents to assess the implications on surrounding communities and townships of proposed on-site construction camps. The draft code will require additional reporting on construction worker’s accommodation options to demonstrate compliance with obligations around social impacts where the accommodation has greater than 50 beds on-site.
Transport networks – the draft code requires that transport, and haulage of wind farm components and construction materials does not cause unacceptable impacts on transport networks or local communities. The current code offers some protection of this kind in terms of managing impacts of construction, however the draft code expands this requirement, requiring that safety of transport network users must not be compromised, upgrades must not adversely impact the network, and any development mitigates impacts on safety, efficiency and condition of road infrastructure, with obligations also imposed to ensure that safe, viable and practical haulage routs can be secured to accommodate movement of oversize/overmass vehicles during any construction.
Decommissioning – the draft code requires the development must be decommissioned in a timely manner, with rehabilitation to occur and reinstatement of water courses and drainage. Consistent with the new State Waste Management Strategy, wind farm components must be reused, recycled or repurposed to the greatest extent possible.
Aviation impacts – the draft code requires an Aviation Impact Statement Report to be submitted with the application, prepared by a suitably qualified aerodrome consultant/specialist following particular EUROCONTROL guidelines for assessment and must cover airspace procedures and navigation/radars.
The Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning will review all feedback and submissions on the draft Wind Farm Code and review the Code accordingly.
The proposed changes will be open for consultation until 4 September 2023.
By Kathryn Pacey, Partner, Holly Vaughan, Solicitor, Allira Jeffery, Solicitor, and Samuel Colwell, Paralegal.