09/01/2008 Page: 4
THE Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) approved the Devon North Wind Farm on the basis that wind turbines were a suitable use for rural land. VCAT panel members Jeanette Rickards and Ian Potts stated that opponents' objections were centred around "amenity impacts to their rural lifestyle" and dismissed such an argument as weak, from a planning point of view.. .".the proposal is acceptable when having regard to the balance between the policy weighing toward the establishment of WEFs (Wind Energy Facilities) and the local amenity issues," the panel wrote.
"In arriving at this decision, and giving consideration to the policy support for WEFs, it strikes us that one must consider the opportunity for WEFs like many other natural resources. "WEFs utilise wind energy. As is set out in the policy and planning guidelines for development of wind energy facilities in Victoria, this resource is limited to specific coastline and inland locations. "Put another way, just like quarries or mines, WEFs cannot be located anywhere.
There are specific location requirements that must be met to gain the best wind supplies." The panel questioned residents' claims their community was a "hamlet" and as such, unsuitable for a wind farm.
"However we find it a stretch from a physical point of view to suggest the degree of settlement is intense enough to be considered a hamlet," the panel wrote. "The term hamlet more rightly applies to that of Devon North, a settlement area well removed to the north-east of the subject site. We acknowledge however that there exists a mix of farming and rural lifestyle use around the subject site and there appears to be a strong community bond."
The panel also added: "We dismiss the implication that the rural lifestyle use of the surrounding land enjoys planning priority or should be contemplated as a land use with a future legitimacy or primacy over the WEF purely on the basis of land use with no consideration as to the merits of those matters required under the relevant decision guidelines."
As for the risk of the land being on a faultline and therefore the towers were at risk of falling from an earthquake, the VCAT panel found this argument "not of such gravity as to warrant the refusal of a permit." The panel believed such matters could be "remedied by standard engineering means."
Twenty-two conditions have been placed on the planning permit, requiring Synergy Wind to minimise the impact of its seven turbine plant on surrounding property owners, to some extent.
The conditions are summarised as follows:
- Before development starts, amended plans must be approved by Wellington Shire Council.
- The plans must show the exact location of the turbines, so that no turbine is closer than 500m to any existing house, other than the Hellerens' residence.
- If the turbines are re-positioned from the locations identified in the report submitted to VCAT, revised acoustic and shadow flicker reports must be approved by council;
- The use of the site must always be in accordance with the plan;
- All tower access points and electrical equipment must be locked and made inaccessible to the general public;
- The wind farm must be limited to seven MM92 type turbines, mounted on towers no higher than 80m, powered by rotor blades no longer than 48m;
- Construction work must stop at once if Aboriginal artifacts are found;
- A traffic management plan must be prepared;
- Council must receive a bird and bat management plan;
- An environment management plan that covers the construction, operation, re-powering and decommissioning of the wind farm must be approved by council;
- The Stone and Neist families must be offered tree planting to reduce the visual impact of the turbines;
- The wind farm must comply with the New Zealand Standard Acoustics - The Assessment and Measurement of Sound from wind turbine Generators. That is 40 dBA or five dBA above background;
- Within three months of any turbines being used, an independent post-construction noise monitoring program must be undertaken by the proponent in accordance with the New Zealand Standard to council's satisfaction. The program must monitor noise levels at any dwellings existing within a kilometre radius of any wind turbine;
- Synergy Wind must conduct a pre and post construction survey of telecommunications receiver and transmitter stations with line of sight across the wind farm, including TV and radio reception for residences within a kilometre radius of each of the turbines;
- Synergy Wind must ensure no residences experience unacceptable shadow flicker or blade glint. Shadow flicker must not exceed 30 hours per year;
- As required by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), aviation obstacle lighting must be placed on the turbines to the satisfaction of the CASA; and
- Once the wind farm is decommissioned, Synergy Wind must restore the site.
- The planning permit will expire if the development is not started within four years and completed within six years of the date of the permit. Council may extend this period.