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Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner—Report for 2019


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Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner

Annual Report to the Parliament of Australia

ANNUAL REPORT Year Ending: 31 December 2019

Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner

PO Box 24434, Melbourne VIC 3001 1800 656 395 www.nwfc.gov.au

31 March 2020

The Hon Angus Taylor MP Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Parliament House CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Minister

Re: 2019 Annual Report by the Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner

Pursuant to the National Wind Farm Commissioner’s Terms of Reference, I am pleased to provide the 2019 Annual Report to the Australian Parliament on the activities of the Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner.

This report covers the Office’s activities for the period of 1 January 2019 through to 31 December 2019. We again include a number of observations about the governance, development and operation of wind and solar farm projects along with recommendations for consideration.

I look forward to discussing the report with stakeholders in due course.

Sincerely

Andrew Dyer

National Wind Farm Commissioner

ISBN: 978-1-922125-70-5

© Commonwealth of Australia, 2020.

2019 Annual Report of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is licensed by the Commonwealth of Australia for use under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License with the exception of the Coat of Arms of the Commonwealth of Australia, the logo of the agency responsible for publishing the report, content supplied by third parties, and any images depicting people.

For licence conditions see: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

This report should be attributed as ‘2019 Annual Report of the National Wind Farm Commissioner, Commonwealth of Australia 2020’.

The Commonwealth of Australia has made all reasonable efforts to identify content supplied by third parties using the following format ‘© Copyright, [name of third party]’.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Government or the Portfolio Ministers for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

CONTENTS

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 1

CONTENTS

CONTENTS .................................................................................................................................................................................. 1

COMMISSIONER’S REVIEW ......................................................................................................................................................... 2

THE YEAR IN REVIEW ............................................................................................................................................................................ 2

THE YEAR AHEAD ................................................................................................................................................................................ 3

OVERVIEW .................................................................................................................................................................................. 5

BACKGROUND ..................................................................................................................................................................................... 5

WHO WE ARE .................................................................................................................................................................................... 5

OFFICE LOCATION AND CONTACT DETAILS ................................................................................................................................................ 5

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT ....................................................................................................................................................... 6

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT PROCESS ...................................................................................................................................................... 6

COMPLAINTS HANDLING POLICY ............................................................................................................................................................. 6

COMPLAINT ACTIVITY ........................................................................................................................................................................... 6

PROPOSED WIND FARMS VERSUS OPERATING WIND FARMS ....................................................................................................................... 7

OPERATING WIND FARMS ..................................................................................................................................................................... 8

PROPOSED WIND FARMS ...................................................................................................................................................................... 9

SOLAR FARMS AND ENERGY STORAGE .................................................................................................................................................... 11

ISSUES RAISED IN 2019 ...................................................................................................................................................................... 12

RESOLUTIONS AND CLOSURE ................................................................................................................................................................ 14

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT .................................................................................................................................................. 15

COMMUNITIES, RESIDENTS AND PROJECT SITES VISITED ............................................................................................................................ 15

INDUSTRY......................................................................................................................................................................................... 16

GOVERNMENT .................................................................................................................................................................................. 19

UNIVERSITIES AND EXPERTS ................................................................................................................................................................. 19

PRESENTATIONS AND EVENTS............................................................................................................................................................... 20

COMMISSIONER’S WEBSITE ................................................................................................................................................................. 20

REFORMS AND ADVOCACY ....................................................................................................................................................... 22

UPDATED OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS - 2019 ................................................................................................... 24

1. HOST LANDOWNER NEGOTIATIONS .............................................................................................................................................. 24

2. NEIGHBOUR CONSULTATION AND AGREEMENTS ............................................................................................................................. 31

3. COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ........................................................................................................................................................ 35

4. PLANNING PERMITS - TIME LIMITS AND SCOPE CHANGES ................................................................................................................ 38

5. GOVERNANCE AND COMPLIANCE OF STANDARDS AND PERMIT CONDITIONS ......................................................................................... 42

6. USE AND SELECTION OF EXPERTS .................................................................................................................................................. 50

7. COMPLAINT HANDLING AND EMERGENCY PROCEDURES ................................................................................................................... 52

8. SITE SELECTION ........................................................................................................................................................................ 55

9. HEALTH MATTERS ..................................................................................................................................................................... 58

GLOSSARY ................................................................................................................................................................................ 61

APPENDIX A - TERMS OF REFERENCE 2018-21 .......................................................................................................................... 63

COMMISSIONER’S REVIEW

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 2

COMMISSIONER’S REVIEW

Introduction

The Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is pleased to deliver the Commissioner’s fourth annual report to the Australian Parliament, which covers the Office’s activities for the period of 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019.

The Commissioner is independent and reports directly to the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction. The Commissioner’s key roles are to:

 facilitate the referral and resolution of complaints received from concerned residents about proposed or operating wind farms, large-scale solar farms (5 MW or more) and energy storage facilities such as large-scale batteries (1 MW or more)

 provide greater transparency on information related to wind farms, large-scale solar farms and energy storage in Australia, and

 identify and promote best practices related to the planning, development and operation of energy projects, including standards and compliance, complaint handling procedures and community engagement.

There are no formal powers associated with the Commissioner’s role. The Commissioner relies on effective relationships and the cooperation of a wide array of stakeholders to facilitate the complaints handling process as well as assist in the identification and adoption of best practices recommendations.

The Year in Review

2019 has been another active year for large-scale renewable energy, with many new projects being approved, constructed or commissioned. As a result, it was also a very active year for the Office, which included a large number of project site visits, stakeholder consultations, community meetings and progression of various reforms. 2019 was also the first full calendar year in which the Commissioner’s terms of reference included solar farms and energy storage projects, in accordance with the Climate Change Authority’s recommendations from their 2018 review.

During 2019, the Office understands that 36 large-scale renewable projects were commissioned, contributing more than 3.8 GW of generation capacity within Australia. This included seven large-scale wind farm projects (1,276 MW), 27 large-scale solar farm projects (2,386MW), and two hybrid projects (217 MW).

In September 2019, the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) also announced that sufficient capacity had now been accredited under the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target to achieve the 2020 target of 33,000 gigawatt hours. According to the CER, since January 2016 more than 14 GW of renewable energy projects are either generating power, under construction or backed by power purchase agreements, which is more than double the 6,400 MW the CER estimated would be required over this period to achieve the 2020 target. This includes 8,836 MW of accredited projects, 4,152 MW of projects financed and under construction, and 1,911 MW of projects still awaiting power purchase agreements or financial close.

During this period of rapid change, the Office continues to play a vital role in assisting concerned residents and affected communities. We continue to assist and support industry and government in their dealings with community related matters and to progress appropriate reforms and resolution of systemic issues.

During 2019, the Office received 75 new complaints, with a total of 361 complaints received since the Office’s inception. A number of these new complaints were related to construction matters and concerns raised by host landowners - reflecting the shift in focus in a year with substantial construction activity. The

COMMISSIONER’S REVIEW

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 3

vast majority of complaints received during the year were in relation to proposed wind farms (including projects under construction), with only five complaints relating to operating wind farms.

The Office received relatively few complaints about solar farm proposals and no complaints about energy storage projects. Further analysis of complaints received throughout 2019 are available on pages 8-16 of this report.

The Commissioner undertook 21 project site visits across the year and met with a range of residents, communities and government representatives to gain a better understanding of concerns and issues and how they can best be addressed. Many issues raised during these site visits were related to construction matters, including transportation of large-scale components, site planning and operational logistics. Concerns related to noise and health were not predominant whereas visual amenity, compound impacts from multiple projects in vicinity and environmental concerns remain primary issues for local communities.

While there was a reduction in the number of complaints received in 2019 compared with the previous year, the Office has remained highly active in a number of initiatives and reforms to proactively address and minimise community concerns through adoption of best practices. To enable this engagement and advocacy, the Commissioner has maintained a large and active network of stakeholders including representatives from the community and industry, specialist experts as well as local, state and federal government departments. Specific details and further information on the Office’s stakeholder engagement and advocacy activities are discussed in pages 17-25 of this report.

Finally, this report includes an updated compilation of observations and recommendations on a wide range of topics, following the activities and learnings during 2019. These observations and recommendations are detailed in pages 26-62 of the report.

The Year Ahead

Despite the progress in development activity last year and the relative reduction in community concerns, new challenges for industry and government are emerging in the coming period. Some projects that are currently in planning or construction phases have experienced uncertainty or disruptions resulting from various events and circumstances, which has led to anxiety and a lack of certainty for both communities and industry alike. The recent collapse or withdrawal of some manufacturers and construction companies from the market has also left a void for some prospective wind and solar projects.

Notwithstanding these challenges, there remains considerable inertia within the renewable industry as a large number of projects currently under construction draw closer to completion. Of particular note is the advancement of hybrid renewable projects taking advantage of emerging technologies. The Office understands that 15 large-scale batteries were under construction at the end of 2019, many of which are co-located with wind farms and/or solar farms.

There is continuing debate around how the energy ‘roadmap’ across Australia should be planned and delivered. The characteristics of large-scale wind and solar power generation are very different to the traditional sources of electricity such as coal, gas and hydro - in particular, for the most part, the optimal locations for renewable generation are vastly different and not compatible with the existing grid design. The Australian Energy Market Operator’s 2020 draft Integrated System Plan may play a key role in unlocking new opportunities for renewable energy projects in planning the development of network assets in the upcoming period.

While there are current initiatives to strengthen parts of the energy grid, there will need to be careful consideration on how the grid can be best utilised and augmented for the longer-term. As part of these considerations, governments will need to balance the cumulative impacts of multiple projects when building network structure associated with Renewable Energy Zones.

The Australian Government is also currently exploring options for a proposed regulatory framework to facilitate offshore clean energy in Australia, including wind energy, which will bring a range of new

COMMISSIONER’S REVIEW

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 4

challenges and frameworks that will need to be addressed. Also approaching, as some of Australia’s first wind farms reach the end of their operational life, is the funding, logistics and accountability for decommissioning of those assets.

The Office will continue to play an important role for communities and residents affected by new and operating projects, while maintaining a strong relationship with industry, governments and other stakeholders. The Commissioner looks forward to continuing to assist in resolving complaints, promoting best practices and increasing transparency within the large-scale renewable industry over the period.

Finally, at the time of writing this report, the impacts of COVID-19 have commenced emerging for the industry and our stakeholders. It is too early to predict the full magnitude of the likely impacts, but there will be impacts and we expect they will clearly affect a wide range of material activities from development, planning approvals, construction to maintenance of project assets through to severe limitations in fulfilling community engagement programs that have traditionally required face-to-face interactions.

For our Office, it will be ‘business as usual’ as we comply with the various directives and advice of governments, however our program of site visits and face-to-face meetings with stakeholders will be replaced with alternative methods of interaction for the required period.

We wish all of our stakeholders the very best through this challenging period of COVID-19 and look forward to providing you with our continued support and assistance throughout 2020.

Andrew Dyer National Wind Farm Commissioner

OVERVIEW

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 5

OVERVIEW

Background

The National Wind Farm Commissioner is an independent role established in October 2015 by the then Minister for the Environment, the Hon Greg Hunt MP. The role’s creation was initiated by Recommendation 5 of the 2015 Senate Committee on Wind Turbines Interim Report. The Commissioner commenced the role in November 2015.

In October 2018, following a review by the Climate Change Authority, the role was extended for a further three years from the initial three year period and was expanded to include large-scale solar farms and energy storage facilities. The Climate Change Authority’s review of the role of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is available at:

www.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/review-national-wind-farm-commissioner

The Commissioner’s revised Terms of Reference are available at Attachment A and on the Commissioner’s website at:

www.nwfc.gov.au/about

Who We Are

The Commissioner is supported by a small team provided by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. This team comprises an Executive Officer, a Complaints Officer and an Administrative Assistant.

Office Location and Contact Details

The Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner is located in Melbourne’s central business district. The Office can be contacted via:

Toll-free telephone: 1800 656 395

Email: nwfc@environment.gov.au

Post: National Wind Farm Commissioner

PO Box 24434 MELBOURNE VIC 3001

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 6

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

Complaint Management Process

A primary function of the Commissioner’s Office is to receive and refer complaints from concerned community members about operating and proposed projects and, via a voluntary process, help facilitate resolutions where practical. Information relating to the Office’s complaint handling activities are detailed in this report. Many of the complaints received can be complex, taking time to research and resolve. The Office’s complaint management process has been designed to help ensure that the Office functions efficiently and effectively, managing each complaint received appropriately.

It should also be noted that the Office’s procedures treat a complaint from a residence as one complaint. The complaint may contain a number of issues and may involve a large volume of correspondence with the Office over long periods of time. The Office will record ongoing correspondence in the complainant’s file as further information about that complaint. If the complainant lodges a complaint about a substantive new issue or a different project, a new complaint may be established and recorded by the Office.

Complaints Handling Policy

The Office’s Complaints Handling Policy outlines the procedure for receiving and handling complaints. Complaints initially received by the Office are classified as an ‘enquiry’ and may be formally ‘accepted’ and progressed by the Office once sufficient information, including written consent to share information, has been provided by the complainant.

The Office is also guided by the Information Handling Policy, which outlines what information the Office collects, how this information may be disclosed as well as information on confidentiality and privacy.

These policies are available on the Commissioner’s website at www.nwfc.gov.au/about

Complaint Activity

From the period of 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019, the Office received a total of 75 complaints. The breakdown of the complaints received are as follows:

 five matters were received relating to five operating wind farms

 44 matters were received relating to 23 proposed wind farms

 three matters were received relating to three proposed solar farms

 23 matters did not specify a particular project or development, and

 no complaints were received in relation to energy storage developments.

From the Office’s inception in November 2015 through to 31 December 2019, the Office has received a total of 361 complaints, comprising:

 70 matters relating to 14 operating wind farms

 234 matters relating to 58 proposed wind farms

 six matters relating to five proposed solar farms, and

 51 matters that did not specify a particular project or development.

Of the total of 361 complaints received by the Office as at 31 December 2019, 349 of those complaints had been closed. The remaining 12 complaint matters are at various stages of the complaint handling process.

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 7

Proposed Wind Farms versus Operating Wind Farms

Figure 1 below provides information on the number of complaints the Office has received in relation to proposed and operating wind farms for the period of 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019. Proposed wind farms are those which are at either the planning stage, have been approved by a state planning authority or are under construction - but not yet operating at the time the complaint was registered.

Figure 2 below provides comparative data on the number of complaints the Office has received in relation to proposed and operating wind farms for each calendar year since the commencement of the Commissioner’s role in November 2015.

While the number of complaints, from 2017 onwards, about proposed wind farms remain relatively high compared to operating wind farms, the data indicates an ongoing trend in reduction of complaints about operating wind farms each year. Given the large number of wind farms that have commenced operating in the last few years, this data could suggest that community concerns are significantly diminished once a project commences operation. The increase in general enquiries across each year also indicates the ongoing value of the Office as an independent, reliable source of factual information.

*2015-16 - refers to data collected from inception of the Office on 1 November 2015 up until 31 December 2016

Operating wind farms (5)

Proposed wind farms (47)

No wind farm specified (23)

Figure 1: Complaints by Development Stage in 2019 (by number of complaints)

4 6

42

2

1 1

54

8 8

9 5

1 7

5

4 7

2 3

O P E R A T I N G W I N D F A R M S P R O P O S E D W I N D F A R M S G E N E R A L E N Q U I R I E S

Figure 2: Complaint by Development Type per Year (2015-19)

2015-16* 2017 2018 2019

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 8

Operating Wind Farms

From the period of 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019, the Office received five complaints in relation to five operating wind farms. As at 31 December 2019, four of these complaints were recorded as closed.

Figure 3 below provides information on the location of these complaints by state.

Figure 4 below provides information on the location of all complaints relating to operating wind farms by state, from the period of the Office’s inception on November 2015 up to 31 December 2019.

The majority of complaints about operating wind farms are based in Victoria, although this may reflect ‘legacy’ community issues resulting from older wind farm projects in the state, as well as projects located where the energy grid system was traditionally designed to service relatively dense regional populations.

Victoria (2)

New South Wales (1)

South Australia (1)

Queensland (1)

Figure 3: Operating Wind Farm Complaints in 2019 - Wind Farm Locations (by number of complaints) Total: 5 complaints

Victoria (41)

New South Wales (10)

South Australia (18)

Queensland (1)

Figure 4: Operating Wind Farm Complaints Nov 2015 - Dec 2019 Wind Farm Locations (by number of complaints) Total: 70 complaints

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 9

Figure 5 below provides information on the number and location of all operating wind farms, by state, for which the Office received complaints from the period of the Office’s inception up to 31 December 2019.

As outlined above, the majority of operating wind farms that the Office has received complaints about are located in Victoria.

Proposed Wind Farms

From the period of 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019, the Office received 44 complaints in relation to 23 proposed wind farms. As at 31 December 2019, 38 of these complaints were recorded as closed.

Figure 6 below provides information on the number of complaints about proposed wind farms, by state, for the period 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019. As with previous years, Victoria had the higher proportion of complaints about proposed wind farms.

Victoria (8)

New South Wales (3)

South Australia (2)

Queensland (1)

Figure 5: Operating Wind Farm Complaints Nov 2015 - Dec 2019 Wind Farm Locations (by number of wind farm projects) Total: 14 projects

Victoria (25)

New South Wales (3)

Tasmania (6)

South Australia (8)

Queensland (2)

Figure 6: Proposed Wind Farm Complaints in 2019 Locations (by number of complaints) Total: 44 complaints

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 10

Figure 7 provides information on the number of complaints about proposed wind farms, by state, for the period of the Office’s inception in November 2015 through to 31 December 2019.

The figures below provides information on the location of proposed wind farms, by state, for which the Office has received complaints. Figure 8 covers the period 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019 and Figure 9 covers the period of the Office’s inception up to 31 December 2019.

Victoria (151)

New South Wales (40)

Tasmania (9)

Queensland (7)

South Australia (26) Western Australia (1)

Figure 7: Proposed Wind Farm Complaints Nov 2015 - Dec 2019 Locations (by number of complaints) Total: 234 complaints

Victoria (13)

New South Wales (2)

Tasmania (2)

South Australia (4)

Queensland (2)

Figure 8: Proposed Wind Farm Complaints in 2019 Locations (by number of wind farm projects) Total: 23 projects

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 11

Solar farms and energy storage

From the period of 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019, the Office received three complaints about three proposed solar farms. Since the Commissioner’s role was expanded to include solar farms and energy storage on 31 October 2018, the Commissioner has received a total of six complaints about five proposed solar farms. As at 31 December 2019, all of these complaints were closed.

Since the expansion of the Commissioner’s role, the Office has not received any complaints about operating solar farms. The Office has not received any complaints about proposed or operating energy storage developments.

It should be noted that some complaints received have been in relation to proposed projects that could be considered hybrid renewable projects which include solar panels and/or energy storage elements. In these cases, where the complaint matter is specifically in relation to the wind turbine component of the proposal, these complaints have not been recorded by the Office under this section.

Victoria (28)

New South Wales (15)

Tasmania (4)

Queensland (4)

South Australia (6) Western Australia (1)

Figure 9: Proposed Wind Farm Complaints Nov 2015 - Dec 2019 Locations (by number of wind farm projects) Total: 58 projects

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 12

Issues Raised in 2019

When a complaint is accepted, the Office records the specific complaint issues raised by the complainant.

Figure 10 on the following page provides comparative data on the types of complaint issues raised with the Office and the number of times the type of issue has been raised by complainants.

Overall, there has been a reduction in many categories of complaint issues during the 2019 calendar year compared with the previous year. However, the level of complaint issues recorded in 2019 reflect the increase in project development and construction during the year, with many of the matters raised related to community engagement, planning processes, impacts to amenity and impacts to environment.

The Commissioner handled a number of disputes throughout the year about commercial agreements and construction matters. In dealing with these matters, the Commissioner sought fair and reasonable outcomes based on best practices and worked with the parties to ensure that landowner concerns would continue to be addressed throughout the various development and operational stages of the project.

In maintaining a consistent trend with data collected from previous years, the Office notes that most complaints were about proposed wind farms or wind farms under construction, with only five complaints about operating wind farms received during the year. The comparative data also shows significantly less concerns raised about health impacts and noise from wind turbines in 2019. Since the inception of the Office in 2015, the ongoing reduction of complaints reporting these issues indicates that these matters may no longer be a primary concern for many community members.

In relation to the complaints about proposed solar farms, the primary issues raised related to commercial agreements and construction matters. The Office did not receive any complaints about operating solar farms or energy storage projects.

Given the steady increase in project development and construction in 2019, the Commissioner has maintained a strong emphasis on engaging with residents and communities, particularly where communities have raised specific concerns with the Office. Many of the complaint issues that have been raised have shaped the Commissioner’s recommendations later in this report.

The Commissioner has also devoted more time to assisting industry in being better equipped and capable to handle complaints directly. As a result, the Commissioner is regularly consulted by industry and government on how to resolve complaints received by those stakeholders.

Further, the Commissioner is often cited as a dispute resolution service by industry and government stakeholders in their published complaint handling procedures, reinforcing the value provided to stakeholders and the broader community though the service provided by our Office.

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 13

*2015-16 - refers to data collected from inception of the Office on 1 November 2015 up until 31 December 2016

5

0

0

8

16

10

13

5

11

3

8

26

5

16

0

0

4

11

42

38

39

18

19

3

14

41

4

57

2

2

3

1

11

34

17

20

19

2

7

11

1

24

1

19

0

5

26

55

20

46

32

0

7

15

0

24

0 10 20 30 40 50 60

Wind farm maintenance/operations

Vibration

Shadow flicker

Safety

Planning process

Noise

Natural Environment

Health

Economic loss

Decommissioning

Construction

Community engagement

Commercial agreement

Amenity

Figure 10: Issues Raised by Complainants (note: a complaint may include more than one issue) 2015-16* 2017 2018 2019

COMPLAINT MANAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 14

Resolutions and Closure

As at 31 December 2019, 349 of the 361 complaints received, since inception of the Office, have been closed, with 12 complaints remaining open at various stages of the Office’s complaint handling process.

82 complaints were closed during the period of 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019, including 15 complaints that were lodged with the Office prior to 1 January 2019.

The majority of complaint matters were resolved in 2019 by the provision of relevant information to the complainant. This included providing factual information addressing the concerns raised or facilitating an introduction for the complainant to the appropriate contacts at the respondent organisation.

In other, more complex matters, the Commissioner worked closely with the respective parties to reach acceptable resolutions, including making specific recommendations to these parties for consideration.

Some complaint matters were closed after complainants withdrew their complaint or did not otherwise progress their complaint. This included closure of matters after a complainant would not to provide consent to share information with respondent parties or did not provide sufficient information for the Commissioner to assess the merits of the complaint.

Some matters were closed when complainants notified our Office that they had decided to engage legal representation to resolve their matter directly with the respondent. Finally, matters recorded as ‘other’ included situations in which further efforts would be unlikely to result in a resolution.

Figure 11 below provides a summary of high level closure reasons for matters closed in 2019.

Information provided to complainant addressing concerns raised (56)

The Commissioner made recommendations to the parties (5)

Complainant did not progress matter (9)

Complainant accepted other parties resolution (4)

Complainant engaged legal representation (4)

Other (4)

Figure 11: Complaint Closure Reasons in 2019 (by number of matters) Total matters closed = 82

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 15

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

The Commissioner continues to work directly with a range of stakeholders to resolve systemic issues, complaints, provide briefings and identify needs that can be met through best practice guidance and other information. Key stakeholders include concerned and supportive community members, industry representatives, federal, state and local governments as well as experts engaged by the industry or other organisations.

The Commissioner also maintains collaborative relationships with stakeholders to encourage the adoption of best practices to address systemic issues and has engaged with stakeholders to reach positive outcomes, both for the affected individuals and facilitating improvements to governance frameworks.

Communities, Residents and Project Sites Visited

During 2019, the Commissioner continued to visit wind farm locations to meet with a range of concerned residents, supportive residents and representatives of community groups to understand their perspectives. The Commissioner also met with residents and community groups in relation to proposed solar farms to discuss matters they had raised about the projects.

The Commissioner also participated in a variety of events and meetings with community groups, Community Consultative Committees (CCC) and other liaison groups. These functions often provided the participants the opportunity to work through specific issues and concerns related to approved and proposed projects, as well as gain an understanding of the Commissioner’s experiences and learnings across other projects across Australia.

Issues raised during these forums have helped assist discussions with industry and government in considering the development of future policy and guidelines as well as assisting community groups to better prioritise and articulate their concerns.

During 2019, the Commissioner participated in a number of community representative, committee and local government meetings, including:

 community information session in relation to Mortlake South Wind Farm, Victoria

 various resident and community representative meetings relating to proposed and approved projects in western Victoria

 ongoing community representative meetings in relation to Lal Lal Wind Farm, Victoria

 community representative meeting in relation to the proposed Delburn Wind Farm, Victoria

 community meetings in relation to the proposed Hills of Gold Wind Farm, New South Wales

 resident meeting in relation to the proposed New England Solar Farm, New South Wales

 various resident and community representative meetings in relation to proposed projects in South Australia, including projects at Twin Creek, Crystal Brook, Keyneton and Port Augusta, and

 various local government, residents and community representative meetings in relation to the proposed Robbins Island, Jim’s Plain and St Patricks Plains Wind Farm, Tasmania.

The Commissioner has also continued to undertake a number of project site visits and met with a range of concerned and supportive residents to understand their perspectives in relation to projects. Key project site visits in 2019 are outlined in Table 1 below.

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 16

Table 1: List of 21 project sites visited in 2019:

State Project site

New South Wales Hills of Gold Wind Farm

New England Solar Farm

Sapphire Wind Farm

White Rock Wind Farm

Walcha Wind Farm

Bomen Solar Farm

South Australia Crystal Brook Wind Farm

Hornsdale Power Reserve

Keyneton Wind Farm

Port Augusta Renewable Energy Park

Twin Creek Wind Farm

Tasmania Cattle Hill Wind Farm

Jim’s Plains Wind Farm

Robbins Island Wind Farm

St Patricks Plains Wind Farm

Victoria

Delburn Wind Farm

Hexham Wind Farm

Mortlake South Wind Farm

Salt Creek Wind Farm

Stockyard Hill Wind Farm

Alberton Wind Farm

Since the inception of the Commissioner’s role, the Commissioner has visited a total of 67 project sites (see Tables 2 and 3 on the following page). Visits have included meetings with concerned residents to discuss specific complaint matters as well as directly experience the operation of the wind farm and/or the affected area. The Commissioner has also visited project sites to gain a better understanding of issues such as logistics during the construction phase through to observation of turbines that are nearing the decommissioning phase.

In a number of cases, largely due to complainant handling activities or ongoing systemic matters, some wind farm locations have been visited multiple times.

As outlined later in the report, the Commissioner also met with a number of local Councils to discuss local and regional community issues. The Commissioner also attended events such as National Renewables in Agriculture conference in New South Wales, where he presented at the Hosting Renewables session for landowners considering hosting wind turbines or solar panels.

Industry

Throughout 2019, the Commissioner has maintained a strong focus on proactively engaging with the large-scale renewable energy industry on a wide range of matters, including approaches to best practice community engagement, complaint handling and transparency of information. The Commissioner has also maintained useful relationships with industry associations such as the Clean Energy Council and the Australian Wind Alliance, which has been valuable in engaging more widely with the industry on systemic and emerging issues.

Some activities that the Commissioner undertook in 2019 include:

 presentations at various public and in-house industry conferences and functions (as outlined on page 22 of this report)

 presentation to the Clean Energy Council’s Wind Directorate, including a briefing on updated Annual Report recommendations contained in the 2018 Report, latest complaint statistics and other news items

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

National Wind Farm Commissioner: 2019 Annual Report Page 17

Table 2: List of 61 wind farm sites visited since 2015:

State Wind farm

Victoria (23 sites) Alberton

Ararat

Bald Hills

Cape Bridgewater

Delburn

Golden Plains

Hawkesdale

Hepburn

Hexham

Lal Lal

Macarthur

Moorabool

Mortlake South

Mt Gellibrand

Mt Mercer

Naroghid

Oaklands Hill

Salt Creek

Stockyard Hill

Toora

Waubra

Wonthaggi

Willatook

New South Wales

(16 sites)

Bango

Collector

Coppabella

Crookwell I

Crookwell II

Crudine Ridge

Cullerin Range

Glen Innes

Gullen Range

Gunning

Hills of Gold

Jupiter

NSW Energy Cluster

Sapphire

White Rock

Walcha

South Australia (8 sites) Crystal Brook Hallet

Keyneton

Palmer

Port Augusta

Twin Creek

Snowtown

Waterloo

Queensland (5 sites) Coopers Gap

High Road

Kaban Green Power Hub

Mt Emerald

Windy Hill

Western Australia (3 sites) Albany Denmark Mount Barker

Tasmania (6 sites) Musselroe

Robbins Island

Jims Plains

Cattle Hill

St Patricks Plains

Western Plains

Table 3: List of other renewable sites visited since 2018:

State Solar farm

New South Wales (5 sites)

Jemalong CSP Pilot Plant

Parkes Solar Farm

New England Solar Farm

Walcha Solar Farm

Bomen Solar Farm

South Australia Hornsdale Power Reserve

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

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 ongoing meetings with representatives of the Clean Energy Council’s Wind Directorate and Utility PV Directorate to discuss industry updates and best practice approaches

 meetings with industry and government stakeholders in relation to new regulations introduced in Queensland relating to construction of large-scale solar farms

 meetings with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), state governments and then with wind turbine manufacturers to discuss matters relating to aviation safety lighting and turbine manufacturing, and

 appointments with various industry and developers to discuss the Commissioner’s updated Annual Report recommendations.

The Office has also continued to meet with many of the industry’s proponents to obtain briefings and updates as well as review approaches and practices that may minimise potential issues, particularly as new projects are announced or proponents are preparing for construction. These meetings have been vital in proactively addressing potential community concerns, gaining industry perspectives on best practice processes and how current planning and governance processes have impacted particular projects and communities.

The ongoing engagement with many of these proponents would indicate that industry values the work of the Office, evidenced by the time taken to meet with the Office and their adoption of many of the Commissioner’s suggestions.

The Commissioner continued to meet with proponents to provide guidance in developing:

 approaches to resolve specific complaints within communities

 innovative solutions to provide benefits to local communities affected by project developments

 complaint handling policies and procedures

 transparent noise assessment regimes

 appropriate setback distances

 best practice approaches for effective and fair commercial agreements with project hosts and neighbours

 providing accessible and helpful information on project websites to enable community members to have better access to information about wind farm projects

 emergency management procedures for wind farms in the case of incidents such as bushfires, including practical measures to minimise the risk of disturbance to firefighting operations

 methodological solutions for wind farm screening and landscaping arrangements for neighbours to projects, and

 providing updates in relation to systemic, regional or topical matters that may assist developers and operators minimise impacts to communities and residents.

Ongoing engagement with industry stakeholders has been invaluable in gaining an understanding of current practices and standards as well as identifying areas where further improvements could be made by the industry. The Commissioner will maintain a strong focus on identifying opportunities for improvement as well as supporting industry to ensure that proponents are aware of best practices, affected communities are properly consulted and that project information remains transparent and easily accessible.

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

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Government

The Commissioner continues to engage regularly with federal, state and local governments to provide briefings as well as promote the adoption of best practices and reforms arising from the Commissioner’s observations and recommendations.

Some of the key reforms that have resulted from engagement with governments are outlined on pages 24-25.

The Office also provided numerous submissions on a range of relevant government reviews including regulatory guidelines, policies and processes.

Some of these submissions include:

 South Australia Environment Protection Authority’s draft Wind Farms Environmental Noise Guidelines

 South Australia State Planning Commission’s Discussion Paper on Proposed Changes to Renewable Energy Policy in the Planning and Design Code

 Victorian Government’s Proposed environment protection regulations and environment reference standards

 Victorian Government’s draft Solar Energy Facilities Design and Development Guidelines, and

 Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ Offshore Clean Energy Infrastructure Regulatory Framework discussion paper.

The Commissioner also facilitated a wind and solar farm planning roundtable for the various state planning agencies across Australia, following a productive session held in 2018. This forum provided an opportunity for the state-based planning agencies to share updates, practices and innovations. The Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines also presented to the roundtable, discussing the Committee’s work and providing information on the Committee’s findings in relation to the measurement of wind turbine noise including explaining different types of noise measurements, levels and studies.

Universities and Experts

The Commissioner has continued to liaise with experts and university researchers to understand their respective roles in providing advice and research regarding wind farm design, compliance testing and health effects. Where necessary, the Commissioner also consults with experts and researchers to assist in assessing and addressing issues and complaints.

In 2019, the Commissioner undertook the following activities:

 appointments with academics from Flinders University and the University of New South Wales to discuss updates in relation to the progress of research being undertaken by two National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funded studies regarding wind farms and health

 consultations with universities in relation to research projects on matters related to renewable energy projects, transition of communities and best practice community engagement

 guest lectures at Monash University in relation to the development and operation of renewable energy projects industry and the importance of community engagement

 meetings with academics from Flinders University to discuss recently released noise studies related to amplitude modulation and vibration resulting from wind farms

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

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 meetings with the Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines in relation to wind turbine noise standards

 meeting with the Chief Executive Officer of the NHMRC to provide an update and briefing on the Office’s activities

 presentation to the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines, including updates on the Office’s activities and the Commissioner’s observations and recommendations, and

 various meetings with wildlife species experts to gain perspectives and understandings of potential environmental impacts related to wind farms.

Presentations and Events

In addition to the community group events that the Commissioner has presented to (see page 17), the Commissioner has also formally presented to a variety of other stakeholder groups and forums. These presentations typically focus on community engagement, social licence and best practices as well as sharing experiences and observations within the wind and solar industries.

Events and meetings that the Commissioner presented or chaired in 2019 include:

 Australian Clean Energy Summit 2019 session Time for a plan: How Australia can better coordinate and plan for the energy transition, New South Wales

 Australian National University 'Energy Conversations: role of social licence to operate in a just energy transformation’, Australian Capital Territory

 Clean Energy Council Large-scale Solar Industry Forum, Queensland

 Clean Energy Council Wind Directorate meeting, Victoria

 Clean Energy Council Wind Industry Forum, Victoria

 Guest lecture at Monash University program on Wind Energy and Resources Engineering, Victoria

 Moorabool Shire Council meeting on project construction and other regional matters, Victoria

 National Renewables in Agriculture conference, New South Wales

 New South Wales Department of Planning, Industry and Environment Solar Industry Forum, New South Wales

 State Government Wind Farm Planning Roundtable, Victoria

 Western Victoria Councils Roundtable, Victoria, and

 Various presentations to councils in Tasmania.

Commissioner’s Website

The Commissioner maintains a website which provides a wide range of information about the Office’s activities, including links to publications such as the Commissioner’s presentations, bulletins and previous Annual Reports. The website also includes the Commissioner’s updated observations and recommendations.

The website also includes detailed information on how to lodge a complaint with the Office, as well as the Office’s contact details, policies and procedures.

STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

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The website also provide accessible, independent and transparent information about wind farms, solar farms and energy storage projects. This includes links to resources about these industries as well as information on energy generation, health studies, emergency management, planning authorities and guidelines, compliance authority contact details and community engagement best practices.

The Commissioner’s website is available at www.nwfc.gov.au.

REFORMS AND ADVOCACY

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REFORMS AND ADVOCACY

Throughout 2019, the Office undertook a number of initiatives and advocated for a variety of reforms. Some of these reforms and advocacy are outlined below:

 Worked closely with the Clean Energy Regulator to update their accreditation processes for power stations under the Renewable Energy Target as well as their annual electricity generation return process for participating generators.

 Provided input to the updated NSW Farmers Association Large-scale Renewable Energy Guide for Farmers and Landholders, which was published in 2019.

 Proposed a review and evaluation of the National Airports Safeguarding Framework (NASAG) Managing Wind Turbine Risk to Aircraft guidelines for state planning authorities, with NASAG advising a schedule to formally review the framework in accordance with the Commissioner’s recommendations.

 Facilitated a meeting with relevant government and industry stakeholders to clarify the assessment and regulation of wind farms and aviation safety, including matters relating to aviation impact statements, wind farm aviation lighting, updates to guidance and formal inter-agency processes.

 Worked closely with the Australasian Fire and Emergency Services Authorities Council on their updated Position Paper on Wind Farms and Emergency Management, published in 2019, which provides guidance on risk avoidance measures and emergency management procedures.

 Hosted wind and solar farm planning roundtable for state planning agencies to share updates, practices and innovations. This session also featured a session with the Chair of the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines, who discussed the Committee’s work in relation to wind turbine noise assessment and explained different types of noise measurements, levels and studies.

 Prepared guidance material for landowners that are considering entering into commercial agreements with project developers proposing to use their land for project infrastructure. This is expected to be finalised in the near future.

 Held meetings with various state and federal departments and agencies to discuss long-term grid planning and management of cumulative impacts and other community issues across jurisdictions.

 Ongoing agency and government meetings in Tasmania to discuss proposed projects and long-term energy planning within the state, as well as improvements to current planning frameworks and approval processes.

 Ongoing meetings with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in relation to renewable projects, including debriefing of site visits and updates of project pipelines.

 Continued to advocate for improved oversight of third-party consultant reports following the adoption of the Commissioner’s predictive noise assessment and noise testing recommendations by the Victorian Government in 2018. This includes assessment reports such as Aviation Impact Statements, Environmental Impact Statements and Traffic Management Plans.

 Ongoing consultation with various local government bodies, including a council that has passed motions to support the Commissioner’s recommendations in relation to project site selection and increased lobbying of the responsible authority to include the recommendations in law.

 Ongoing guidance to local government agencies to implement appropriate procedures for handling complaints received about nuisance allegations related to wind farms, such as provided for in the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Victoria).

REFORMS AND ADVOCACY

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 Continued to work closely with a number of wind farm developers to recommend appropriate visual impact mitigation screening solutions and approaches for residences near wind farms.

 Ongoing engagement with industry and government agencies regarding the logistics of transporting turbine components from port to project site, particularly in relation to projects at risk of experiencing significant delays that would affect both industry and communities.

 Continued to work closely with project developers to review and provide advice for best practice internal complaint handling procedures, including advocating for increased transparency and consistency with international guidelines as well as investigate options and solutions for residents, developers and third-party contractors.

UPDATED OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS - 2019

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UPDATED OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS - 2019

In the Commissioner’s 2016, 2017 and 2018 Annual Reports, the Commissioner made a number of observations and recommendations regarding the wind farm industry, largely based on experiences from handling complaints received, extensive site visits and engagement with a wide range of relevant stakeholders. These observations and recommendations covered many topics, including areas for potential improvement in the planning, governance and operation of the industry.

Our observations and recommendations have received significant feedback from stakeholders. Much of the feedback has been very supportive and aligned with the recommendations. Constructive feedback was also received suggesting further refinements and clarifications. Further, many of the recommendations have been duly considered by the relevant stakeholders and a number of the recommendations have now been implemented as a result.

The following sections are based on our 2018 report and have been further updated to include additional observations made during 2019. These updates are based on our experiences from handling new complaints, further site visits and stakeholder meetings, as well as incorporating feedback received on our 2018 report. In addition, observations and recommendations for 2019 include our experiences from the inclusion of large scale solar and storage projects within our jurisdiction.

For consistency, the 2019 report has utilised the same topic areas and numbering system employed in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 reports.

The recommendations detailed below are intended for consideration by the relevant stakeholders. The Commissioner has no formal powers to mandate the implementation of these recommendations. That said, the Commissioner looks forward to the ongoing discussion and adoption of the recommendations in a manner that will facilitate continuous improvement within the large-scale renewable energy industry.

Finally, as noted in previous annual reports, the large-scale wind and solar energy industry is still relatively new in Australia, with the first major wind farm developments commencing in the early 2000’s and large-scale solar projects commencing in the last decade. However, these industries have developed rapidly, with a significant acceleration in new projects in the past few years. Opportunities still exist for further improvement in the governance and operation of the industry, but substantial progress has been made in recent times.

The updated observations and recommendations are also available on the Commissioner’s website.

1. Host Landowner Negotiations

1.1. Observations

Background

Wind turbines and solar arrays are typically located on cleared primary production land owned by a landowner, often referred to as the ‘host’ landowner. The land’s existing use is typically broad-acre agricultural production (for example, livestock or cropping). In general, a relatively small portion of the productive land is utilised for a wind farm’s operation, such as turbine siting, access roads and other related assets such as transmission line easements, electrical substations, transformers and meteorological masts. The landowner usually continues to operate the agricultural production activities on the remaining land. By contrast, a solar array consumes most of the land that it resides on, with limited opportunities for co-located farming activities.

There is typically significant disruption during the construction phase of these renewable energy assets and ongoing access to the assets will be required by the operator for normal operations and maintenance.

UPDATED OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS - 2019

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Landowner Payments

Host landowners for wind farms are typically paid a fixed amount per turbine per year under a long-term agreement that mirrors the life of the wind farm - a term of 25 years with renewal options is common. The fee paid to the landowner may be a flat annual fee per turbine, regardless of size or capacity, or a fee based on the generating capacity of the turbine. The latter arrangement reflects the reality that modern day turbines have much greater capacity (in the order of 4 MW - 6 MW) compared with turbines available previously and, therefore, can result in less turbines being hosted by the landowner than originally envisaged with smaller capacity turbines. Host landowners for solar farms are generally compensated on a fixed amount per hectare leased to proponent.

Fee pricing can become dated, especially if a landowner has entered into a fixed annual fee agreement. At issue, and one that has emerged in more recent times, are wind farm agreements that may have been entered into a number of years ago with a fixed annual fee per turbine, where the turbine capacity may have been in the order of 1.5 MW to 2 MW per turbine. However, given the rapid advancement in wind turbine technology, proponents have updated their designs to take advantage of the new, larger scale and more efficient turbines - changing their wind turbine layout to deploy the contemporary technology and requiring fewer turbines to achieve the same energy output.

Many existing agreements did not contemplate the significant change in turbine capacity that has now occurred. As a result, the agreement fee per turbine payable to the landowner (based on the smaller capacity turbine) may not reflect the fee that may be more appropriate for say the larger 4 MW to 6 MW capacity turbine. Further, the landowner’s payment may well be less than expected due to the reduction in the number of turbines now required. Landowners may wish to check their existing agreements in this regard and also ensure any new agreements have provision to adjust the fees in the event of a turbine capacity increase (and reduction in number of turbines) as well as the ability to escalate fees annually for changes in indicators such as CPI.

There can also be a variety of arrangements regarding when the payment of fees actually commence and cease. While this is a matter for negotiation between the developer and the landowner, it would appear that a fair and reasonable approach would be for payments to commence no later than the start of project construction and cease no earlier that the completion of decommissioning and restoration at the landowner’s property. Fees may also be payable during the development phase in consideration for the option granted to the proponent by the landowner.

Other fee arrangements/agreements may also be required for electrical substations, batteries, transmission line easements, road access, transportation of blades and towers across property boundaries, location of project offices and the like. Landowners hosting these ancillary assets may or may not be wind turbine or solar array hosts.

Emerging issues include ‘blade trespass’, where a turbine blade may need to traverse a landowner’s property boundary when being transported around a bend in the road, and ‘sway easements’, where a powerline may sway over a landowner’s property boundary. The recent increase in blade lengths has increased the possibility of ‘trespass’ occurring. Developers and their contractors need to be cognisant of these types of issues and ensure they have appropriate agreements in place with landowners prior to submitting permit application plans such as the transport management plan or transmission route plan.

Development Process

Potential host landowners are typically approached by a developer very early in the development phase of a potential project in order to obtain the landowner’s agreement to host turbines or solar arrays should the project proceed. Landowners will typically enter into an initial agreement (often referred to as a ‘License Agreement’) that documents their willingness to host the assets and the commercial arrangements that may be agreed to in the event that the development proceeds to the permit

UPDATED OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS - 2019

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application stage. Generally, these initial licence agreements provide the developer with exclusive rights over the landowner’s property for a defined or undefined period of time.

There is a wide spectrum of developers active in the industry, with a variety of skills, resources, experience and business models. Many developers will progress the project to a stage where it is eligible to secure (or has secured) a planning permit, and then sell the project to another entity that will take the project forward through the construction and operation stages. Currently, developers are not licensed to prospect wind or solar farm projects, nor do they require approval to prospect a location for a potential project site.

At the initial stage of the development process, it is not uncommon for a developer to propose more turbines or solar arrays than will be finally approved or installed. As a result, the developer often enters into preliminary agreements with landowners who may ultimately ‘miss out’ on hosting assets or be offered to host a reduced number of assets. Further, even when the final number of wind turbines or solar arrays is confirmed, the planned location of these assets may be further revised, which can also result in landowners hosting less assets, potentially earning less fees than original expectations.

There are many reasons why a proposed project may reduce the number of turbines or solar arrays during the development phase. These may include increases in turbine or solar panel capacity, transmission constraints, environmental and planning considerations and requirements, financial constraints, community or neighbour concerns along with changes to policy, legislation or planning guidelines.

These various scenarios, observed in the Australian industry to date, can create a ‘winners and losers’ situation for landowners that may have had expectations of hosting assets. For instance, a landowner expecting to host say ten wind turbines (and expecting to receive the payments for hosting ten turbines) may become aggrieved if the final approved wind farm has significantly reduced or eliminated the number of turbines to be hosted by the landowner, thereby materially reducing or eliminating the potential income stream to that landowner.

The landowner may not only perceive that they have ‘missed out’ on a significant expected income stream, but may also raise concerns about the potential impacts of turbines located on neighbouring properties, including changes in amenity, audible noise, construction disruption, loss of property value and other effects of the wind or solar farm. The fact that the landowner’s neighbours are hosting turbines or arrays and receiving payments can further aggravate the situation for the landowner that missed out.

This situation can also be exacerbated by developers conducting confidential, individual discussions and negotiations with specific landowners, creating a level of distrust amongst neighbouring landowners and the developer from the outset.

The consequences of these scenarios can be severe, both in terms of fracturing support for the project within the community as well as dividing the community in economic and social terms. Developers need to be mindful of the consequences which may arise from their conduct in landowner negotiations and the magnitude of impact on landowners with regard to changes to proposed solar array areas or the number of turbines and turbine layouts.

There is also a high risk that project prospectors, who may not have fully considered the implications of these scenarios, inadvertently conduct themselves in a manner that can result in long-term resentment to large-scale renewable developments within local and wider communities where the project is proposed. While these actions may lead to difficulties in relation to the success of the specific project, they also have the potential impact of creating difficulties for other project developers who may be undertaking development of neighbouring projects in the region. At times, these situations have brought and still have the potential to bring the large-scale renewable industry into disrepute.

UPDATED OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS - 2019

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The Commissioner has observed some successful methods by developers of working with landowners that have ultimately missed out on some or all of the expected assets to host. Such methods recognise the landowner’s long-term engagement and commitment during the project’s development, including a level of payment that may be based on a range of parameters, including the number and type of assets that the landowner had been originally expecting to host.

Host Agreements

A host landowner agreement is essentially a commercial lease. Significant time and money can be spent by developers in creating draft landowner agreements, which in turn should be reviewed by the landowner and their solicitor before negotiating and executing. Both industry and landowners may benefit from a standard agreement document being produced and available for use that is fair and reasonable, complete and consistent with the relevant laws - similar to in concept, as an example, the Law Institute of Victoria’s Lease of Real Estate (Commercial).

Some landowner agreements observed could be clearer in a number of aspects. Agreements should provide clarity on a wide range of day to day matters, including which party is responsible for paying rates, land taxes, emergency services levies and the like. The landowner agreement also needs to be clear on termination provisions and the responsibilities regarding decommissioning of the wind farm.

Landowner agreements are not limited to hosting wind turbines or solar arrays - they may also be required to allow easements for high voltage transmission corridors, substations, construction facilities, meteorological masts as well as construction and operational access roads for the wind farm. Careful consideration of the approach and fairness to negotiating these additional agreements should also be required of the developer. Landowners should also ensure they seek suitably qualified legal and financial advice before entering into any agreement.

There may also be innovative opportunities for landowners and other community members to have an ownership stake in the project, which could be in the form of a community-owned wind farm through to equity or debt participation in the commercial ownership structure. It is understood that there are some examples of these approaches in Australia as well as in other overseas jurisdictions such as Europe.

Construction

The construction period can be a time of significant disruption for the landowner, with potential long-term effects. Typical issues can range from management of gates - gates being left open during construction activities can quickly lead to unplanned migration of livestock, often with challenging consequences - through to the impact of new roads and trenches being built throughout the landowner’s property.

Firstly, construction itself can be a messy activity, particularly for wind farms. There is significant amount of civil works, components waiting to be assembled, equipment moving around and a large number of construction staff requiring temporary office and toilet facilities. Construction typically consumes a material portion of the land area - a much greater area than when the project is completed. It is advisable to plan for removing any livestock or ceasing farming activities during the construction phase.

Landowners may also be well advised to visit an actual wind or solar farm site under construction to experience first-hand the extent of the works and impacts on the land.

A common frustration for landowners can be last minute changes to the location and routing of internal roads and underground cabling. Project contractors and sub-contractors may inadvertently select a different route to the one that had been agreed to with the landowner, causing an unexpected loss of pasture or cropping capacity. Gates being left open by construction workers can also be problematic if livestock are grazing on the land.

UPDATED OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS - 2019

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Internal road construction in hilly and ridge terrain may lead to large roadway cuttings and embankments that can make it difficult or impossible to move livestock around the remaining paddock areas.

Best practice gate management is to design the road access and fencing in such a way to minimise or eliminate the need for gates. Project roads should also be designed to minimise the need for ‘cut and fill’ and vegetation removal, using the natural landscape wherever possible.

A construction project typically has multiple contractors and sub-contractors. It is not always clear who the landowner should contact to resolve issues as they inevitably arise during construction. Developers should ensure there are clearly defined points of contact for landowners to raise and resolve issues during construction, as well as the ability to escalate concerns that remain unresolved. Regular meetings between the developer and the landowner during construction can also provide a forum to discuss and resolve the inevitable changes and issues that may arise.

Outgoings

The addition of a wind farm to a rural property is likely to incur increases in outgoings such as Council Rates, Land Taxes, Insurances and other levies. For instance, a landowner may not be aware that primary production land may be re-assessed as industrial use land once turbines or panels are installed, may attract increased valuation rates, levies and may no longer be exempt from land tax. As discussed earlier, landowner agreements should be precise and clear on which party is responsible for the cost and payment of outgoings and any increase in the outgoings due to the wind farm. Ultimately, the landowner is usually ultimately liable for the payment of outgoings in the event the wind farm operator defaults.

Approaches to calculate and levy items such as council rates, land taxes and other levies appears to be ad-hoc across various state jurisdictions. The lack of a consistent approach may result in a number of consequences, including revenue leakage through to surprises in unforeseen levy charges. Some actions to clarify these matters are being taken, such as the NSW Valuer-General policy Valuation of Land Used as a Wind Farm (New South Wales Government, June 2019) but there may well be opportunities for tighter and consistent processes to correctly calculate, levy and collect these outgoing payments as a result of the deployment of wind turbines, solar arrays and other associated assets on the land.

Decommissioning

At the end of the project’s operating life, the clear expectation of all stakeholders is that the wind or solar farm will be decommissioned and all turbines, arrays and other infrastructure will be removed from the property, with the property returned to its original condition - to the extent that can be done.

These responsibilities to ‘make good’ should rest with the project owner. However, in the event of default or breach of the agreement by the project owner, the liability for decommissioning ultimately may rest with the landowner. Further, the landowner typically does not have title or ownership of the project’s assets and, as a result, may be unable to recover the costs of any decommissioning activities by selling the assets remaining on the property. Project operators/owners may also change many times during the life of the project.

From a landowner’s perspective, it is imperative that any commercial agreement to host assets and the related infrastructure clearly sets out the responsibilities for decommissioning and restoring the site and provides for security of the funding to enable decommissioning.

A landowner may therefore also wish to seek ongoing evidence that the project owner has the capacity to fund the decommissioning activity and that such funds are properly set aside securely for that purpose. Examples that could be considered include bank guarantees, a sinking fund, a trust fund or a deposit held by the landowner. The Australian Government’s recent Offshore Clean Energy

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Infrastructure Regulatory Framework Discussion Paper proposes that developers lodge a decommissioning for infrastructure as a licence requirement.

While there are no documented examples of costs to decommission a contemporary wind turbine or farm in Australia, some published decommissioning plans have calculated costs that are close to $400,000 per turbine. Many of these decommissioning plans are reliant on balancing decommissioning costs by recycling the recovered materials - however, there appears to be a lack of sufficient evidence to confirm this approach. To put these costs into perspective, the fees earned for hosting the turbine for 25 years could be in the range of $250,000 - $625,000 (depending, typically, on the turbine capacity and when the wind farm commenced operations). It is therefore possible that the costs to decommission a turbine could be equal to greater than the total income generated for the landowner over the 25 year lease period.

We are about to enter a period where, for some of the initial wind farm projects around Australia, decommissioning activities will commence in the next few years. There will likely be increased concerns about this topic, particularly from host landowners.

1.2. Recommendations

1.2.1. The developer should ensure that landowner expectations are properly managed from the outset of negotiations and that potential host landowners are made fully aware of the risks of potential reduction in turbines or solar arrays and relocation of these assets during the long development process life-cycle. Agreements that enable the developer to have the exclusive rights to the landowner’s property should have fair and reasonable provisions for the landowner to terminate the agreement if the project has not met expected milestones after a reasonable period of time. Prospective milestones set out in the agreement should have clearly stated expected dates for those events - such as submission of permit application, financial close, commencement of construction works and expiry of planning permit.

1.2.2. Where practical, developers should consider discussing the proposed project and negotiating with all potential host landowners together as a group in an inclusive and holistic manner, rather than individual discussions with landowners. A standard template agreement with consistent commercial terms and conditions should be considered by developers and supported by industry and the relevant legal association in each state.

1.2.3. Further to Recommendation 1.2.2, developers should consider offering some level of payment to all engaged potential host landowners if the project proceeds, regardless of final allocation of assets on individual properties.

1.2.4. Host landowner agreements should be fair, reasonable and written in plain English. The landowner should have access to and obtain appropriately skilled legal and financial advice before entering into any agreement. The New South Wales Government’s Wind Energy Guideline for State Significant Wind Energy Development (New South Wales Department of Planning, December 2016) provides some discussion on this topic, particularly within Attachment B of the publication. NSW Farmers’ Federation have also produced a Renewable Energy Landholder Guide (GHD Pty Ltd, updated in 2019) covering a range of relevant topics related to host landowner agreements. Specific areas of agreements requiring clarity in landowner agreements include:

 fees payable to the landowner during the project development stage (pre-permit), financial close stage (post-permit), construction, operational and decommissioning stages

 timing of payment of fees and due dates for payments

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 escalation of fees during the agreement, such as a fixed annual increase or CPI increase, and method of calculation

 considerations if the project is cancelled or materially delayed

 considerations if the project scope materially changes, particularly if the changes result in negative impacts for the landowner

 variations to fees in the event of changes to turbine layout, turbine specifications, turbine capacity and number of turbines or solar arrays to be hosted

 agreed internal road and other infrastructure locations (cabling, construction offices, substations, transmission lines etc.)

 process for making changes to location and routing of project infrastructure to the landowner’s property (e.g. access roads, cabling) and responsibilities for maintenance of such infrastructure

 responsibility for costs and payment of additional council rates levied on the landowner as a result of the project

 responsibility for costs and payment of additional land taxes levied on the landowner as a result of the project

 responsibility for costs and payment of additional emergency services or other levies as a result of the project

 required insurances to be taken out by the project operator in respect of the landowner

 required insurances to be taken out by the landowner in respect of the project

 additional insurances that may be required to be taken out by neighbours to the project (such as liability insurance)

 responsibility for the costs and payment of the various insurances

 landowner’s responsibilities in regard to renting out the property and/or residence(s) to a third-party tenant

 sale or transfer of the land by the landowner

 any restrictions on further development on the property

 provisions in the event of subdivision of the property

 term of the agreement, options for renewal of the agreements and termination provisions

 assurance provisions to protect the landowner in the event the project defaults (such as a deposit or bank guarantee)

 decommissioning provisions, responsibilities of the parties and arrangements to ensure funding is assured and protected

 remedies available to the landowner in the event of default by the developer, and

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 key contacts at the developer for the raising and escalation of issues and potential breaches of agreement.

The above items could be set out in a standard template of a commercial lease agreement that is managed and maintained by an appropriate legal, industry or government body. Finally, landowners should be provided with an opportunity to visit a relevant project that is under construction to experience first-hand what is involved.

1.2.5. Councils and state jurisdictions should examine and audit current processes in place for the re-rating of properties that host wind and solar projects as well as related infrastructure and clarify how those properties are valued for the purpose of calculating land taxes and council rates. A similar activity should be undertaken for the calculation of applicable emergency services and other levies. The process and calculations should be transparent to relevant stakeholders and be subject to audit and be auditable.

1.2.6. Other landowner agreements (such as agreements for transmission line easements or road access) should also be negotiated and finalised with the landowners in a fair and reasonable manner, with appropriate consultations engaging affected landowners and neighbours in determining the final approach and routes to be taken.

1.2.7. Developers may wish to consider other forms of engagement with landowners (as well as neighbours and community members) that may allow for equity and/or debt participation in the ownership of the project.

1.2.8. The project’s construction plan, transportation plan and overall project design should be developed in close consultation with the landowners and designed so to respect the landowner’s need to be able to continue primary production operations during and following construction where applicable. Particular attention should be given to paddock/gate management and the impact of access roads to ongoing farming activities. Key contacts at the developer and/or its contractors should be provided to landowners to allow landowners to raise and escalate issues that arise during construction. Developers should also meet regularly with landowners during construction to discuss and resolve issues as well as keep landowners informed of the project’s status.

1.2.9. To ensure that professional conduct and standards are consistently adhered to by project prospectors and developers, state governments should develop mechanisms to promote and motivate best practice behaviour by prospectors - both in terms of preferred site selection for prospecting and the engagement with landowners and community. Some examples include the NSW Government’s ‘Renewable Energy Zone’ (REZ) designations, the Victorian Government’s ‘VRET’ program, ACT’s ‘Reverse Auction’ program and Queensland’s ‘RE400’ program. A further approach would be the accreditation of developers (or adherence to an appropriate code of conduct) this is overseen by an appropriate industry or regulatory body.

2. Neighbour Consultation and Agreements

2.1. Observations

Background

Most large-scale renewable energy projects will have neighbours. Neighbours are residents or owners of the neighbouring properties next to the host landowner’s properties, either in adjoining properties or properties within proximity to the project. There may also be neighbours that are not in direct proximity to the project that could be affected by other related project infrastructure, such as high voltage power lines and roads used for transport to and from the project.

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Neighbours may also include functional facilities, such as an airfield, where a proposed wind farm could have significant impact on the ongoing operation and safety integrity of the facility.

Neighbours can be materially impacted by the development, construction and operation phases of the project. Impacts can include dust, disruptions, road damage, blocked roads, visual amenity, noise, shadow flicker and economic loss - both the fear in anticipation of these impacts as well as actual impacts once the project commences construction or is operating.

Consultation

While developers have generally engaged and consulted well with potential host landowners, developers have not always understood the importance of consulting and working with neighbours in proximity to a project. Typical complaints that the Office has received from project neighbours is that they were not consulted by the developer and only heard about the project from third parties. Often there is limited evidence to verify the degree and level of consultation and interactions between the developer and neighbours to the project.

Consultation may include a wide range of topics, such as:

 consulting with neighbours on the project’s design and layout, especially during the early scoping and design stages, so to enable a fact-based discussion about landscape/amenity impacts

 consulting with neighbours to explain the planning process and opportunities for neighbours to engage in that process

 consulting with neighbours on the process and oversight of specific activities, such as predictive noise assessments, post construction noise testing, environment, aviation, transport management plan, shadow flicker and visual amenity assessments

 advising and consulting on subsequent proposed changes to the project’s design, layout and equipment selection

 ensuring background and operating noise testing (for wind farms) is properly undertaken and results are provided in a timely fashion and appropriate format to neighbours

 providing factual information to address questions and concerns raised by neighbours, and

 facilitating site visits for neighbours to existing operating projects to allow the neighbour to experience a completed project farm first-hand.

 alternately, devices such as wind farm noise simulators are available to enable neighbours and other stakeholders the opportunity to experience noise outputs of a wind farm in a wide range of scenarios.

Lack of effective consultation with neighbours can lead to a range of material issues for a project, including conspicuous opposition to the project (and any modifications to the proposed project), formal objections that may lead to planning/approval delays and appeals, legal actions against the project or planning authority, the project (or elements of the project) not being approved as well as widespread negative media coverage about the project and the industry more broadly.

Neighbour Agreements

In addition to more effective consultation with neighbours throughout the life-cycle of a project’s development, some developers have introduced the concept of ‘neighbour agreements’. These agreements can provide a commercial arrangement between the project and neighbour that recognises the possible impacts of the project on the neighbour and to gain the neighbour’s support.

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Agreements may also be mandatory to gain a permit approval in the event the neighbour is at a risk of experiencing impacts from the project that exceed permit/standards limits or if they reside within a default setback distance zone.

The content of a neighbour agreement is typically confidential to the parties, but may include one or more of the following:

 annual payments to the neighbour for the life of the project (including payments during the development, construction and operating phases of the project)

 a one-time payment at the commencement of the agreement

 reimbursement of reasonable legal fees incurred by the neighbour for the review of the agreement

 reimbursement for, or provision of, items such as visual screening, insulation, double-glazing, air-conditioning, energy efficiency programs, solar panels, electricity consumption, increased insurance premiums

 reimbursement for any increased insurance premiums levied to the neighbour as a result of any increases to the sums insured for public liability due to the presence of the wind or solar farm

 an option for the neighbour to request that the developer acquire the neighbour’s property, and

 ability for a neighbour to terminate an agreement without penalty.

Most neighbour agreements are voluntary and it is up to the developer to propose and negotiate such an agreement with the neighbour. Some developers have designed neighbour agreement payments based on a formula of distance from a residence to the turbine(s) and the number of turbines located within that distance.

The Office has observed some proposed neighbour agreements that contain clauses which may not be fair and reasonable to the neighbour. Such clauses observed include the right for the project not to conform to the permit conditions that would normally apply to the neighbour (including noise levels and shadow flicker), the ability for the developer to terminate the agreement while the project is still operating - either without cause or with questionable cause - as well as clauses that could be construed to restrict the neighbour’s right to make a complaint.

Further, some neighbour agreements seek to impose stringent planning restrictions on the neighbour for any new development or construction on the neighbour’s property. The Commissioner’s view is that these clauses are unnecessary and the neighbour should simply be required to comply with the planning rules and laws of the jurisdiction.

Inclusion of perceived unfair clauses by the developer can significantly impair the ability to negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement, creating distrust and anxiety amongst neighbours towards the proponent.

Similar to host landowner agreements, all parties may benefit from a standard template agreement for ‘neighbour agreements’ that is established and maintained by an appropriate body and available for use by industry.

Visual Screening

Screening of the visual impact of the wind or solar farm by planting trees is commonly proposed by developers to project neighbours and may also be a mandatory requirement of the permit. A common issue is the length of time for a newly planted tree to grow to provide sufficient screening, bringing into question the effectiveness of such mitigation. It should be noted that Appendix 2 of the New South

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Wales Government’s Wind Energy: Visual Assessment Bulletin (NSW Department of Planning, 2016) outlines a range of potential mitigation measures that may be applied.

Further, the process of conducting visual screening assessments and designing and implementing the program can be a significant task and results of the program may not meet perceived expectations. An alternative approach is to provide the neighbour with the option of taking a cash payment in lieu of the screening program, thereby empowering the neighbour to decide how best to apply the funds to address the situation. This approach can also alleviate potential difficulties within a community, for instance if some residents have already, proactively, planted trees of their own accord and may now not be eligible for screening assistance.

2.2. Recommendations

2.2.1. Developers of projects should, where practical, proactively identify all potential neighbours at the commencement of the development activity and implement an effective, ongoing consultation program with all contactable neighbours throughout the project’s development. While it may vary by project and geography, neighbours affected may include residents and landowners in a proximity range of 0 km to 5 km from potential project asset locations, as well as residents in close proximity to other project related infrastructure, such as power transmission or supply infrastructure. This indicative distance range for consultation may need to be greater in situations where, for instance, wind turbines are proposed to be erected on an elevated ridge.

2.2.2. Key stakeholders in the development of a project (for example, project buyers, planning authorities, investors, debt providers, local councils, regulators) should seek and consider evidence of neighbour identification and effective neighbour consultations as part of any due diligence and approval criteria.

2.2.3. Developers should consider the merits and use of appropriate neighbour agreements as a potential component of its overall neighbour and community consultations and project strategy. If utilised, neighbour agreements should be negotiable, fair and reasonable, written in plain English and the neighbour should have access to and obtain appropriate legal and financial advice before entering into any agreement. Standard agreements should not restrict the neighbour from being able to raise issues and concerns about the project, including subsequent proposed changes to the project design. Neighbours should be able to make complaints about the project and not be subjected to conditions that exceed normal planning standards and permit requirements. There may be existing, operating projects where a retrospective neighbour agreement should be considered. Developers may, alternately, opt for a broader community support model that benefits a wider group of community members that may not include specific neighbour agreements.

2.2.4. Screening solutions proposed by developers should be realistic and effective. If trees are proposed, trees should be planted in a timely fashion and well maintained to provide effective visual screening within a reasonable timeframe. Other screening solutions, such as structures or shutter blinds, should also be considered when proposing and negotiating a visual screening agreement. Neighbours may also prefer a cash payment option in lieu of the developer designing and installing the screening solution.

2.2.5. The developer should recognise that some neighbours may have been potential host landowners for the project’s initial design and should take the time to understand the neighbour’s history of involvement with the project. Developers should document all conversations and interactions with neighbours and maintain such records in an appropriate system for future reference. Equally, neighbours who have been approached by developers to offer an agreement should also ensure that they have documented all offers and agreements presented to them.

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2.2.6. Neighbours should be appropriately represented in any project related committees, such as Community Consultative Committees and Community Engagement Fund Committees, to help ensure that neighbours have a voice, as well as the opportunity to be positively engaged with the many and various aspects of the project across the community.

3. Community Engagement

3.1. Observations

Background

Effective community consultation and engagement is essential for large-scale renewable energy projects to gain widespread support and earn the ‘social license’ to operate within the community. To be effective in community engagement, it is vital to actually ‘engage the community’ and involve the community wherever possible in the design and execution of programs related to the project.

The level of community engagement by developers varies widely across projects observed to date. A key observation is that initial project developers, that intend to ‘on-sell’ the project to a long-term developer or operator, may not invest sufficient time and resources in community engagement or neighbour relations to be effective. These limited efforts can result in lower levels of community support and more divided communities, compared with projects where the project developers appropriately focus on effective community engagement from the very start of the development activity.

Community Committees

In some jurisdictions, such as New South Wales, the planning guideline framework has provided for an early and continuing focus on community engagement, including the establishment of a Community Consultative Committee (CCC) that is maintained throughout the life of the project. Further, recent feed-in tariff arrangements established by the ACT and Victorian Governments, place a significant weighting on selecting developers and projects that have proposed and demonstrated effective community engagement programs, subscribing to community engagement as a high priority.

Many projects also establish Community Engagement Funds, funded by the developer, to support a wide range of initiatives that benefit the local community. In some cases, such funds are a condition of the permit approval, but largely these are voluntary arrangements proposed by the developer.

Community Committees appear to be most effective when there is appropriate balance in the committee membership, an independent chair and appointments are made by an independent body where practical. Committees can play a vital role in the provision of factual information about the project, identifying and resolving issues that arise that require multi-stakeholder cooperation to resolve and dispensing with inaccurate perceptions about the project and related events.

Communications

The quality of and information provided by project websites vary from project and/or developer. In general, there is more work to be done by developers to provide up-to-date websites with clear transparency of information about the developer, the project, current news, how and who to contact in the organisation, how to make a complaint and access the complaint process procedure - along with access to all relevant project documents. While most projects and developers now maintain effective project websites, some project websites remain difficult to find, are out of date or lack sufficient information and easy navigation.

Coordination

Some regions of Australia are experiencing increased clustering of proposed and approved projects, which may result in multiple projects infiltrating and ’surrounding’ communities. As a result, there is both the need and opportunity for individual project developers to communicate more effectively with each

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other and better coordinate engagement with the broader affected community. These activities could range from combined community engagement initiatives by developers through to coordination of construction programs in order to minimise cumulative impacts on residents and townships.

Developers should also be aware of other key infrastructure projects that may be taking place within the region and ensure that project activities and schedules are planned and coordinated to minimise impacts to communities.

Guidelines

During 2018 and 2019, a number of community engagement publications were issued or updated, including publications by the Clean Energy Council and the Victorian Government. These guidelines are very useful resources to assist developers prepare and execute effective engagement programs. Community engagement plans are now also required in some planning permits as a pre-requisite condition. Other stakeholders may also mandate the requirement for a well-designed and executed community engagement plan.

Overall, there continues to be a wide range of opportunities for developers to further broaden and improve their community engagement. A number of suggestions gained from observations of various practices across the industry are listed below.

3.2. Recommendations

3.2.1. The developer should ideally commence and invest early in community engagement - well before the commencement of the permit approval phase. An acquirer of a project still in development should conduct detailed due diligence on the extent and effectiveness of community engagement activities undertaken by the previous developer prior to finalising purchase of the project and be prepared to make the necessary investments in community engagement going forward.

3.2.2. The developer should proactively identify and establish effective working relationships with key community stakeholders, including stakeholders that may be opposed to the project.

3.2.3. The developer should, in consultation with the responsible authority and the community, consider establishing a CCC (or equivalent) with an appropriate charter and membership (noting that in some jurisdictions, a CCC may be mandated). The CCC Chair should, where practical, be a respected and representative member of the community at large as well as independent of any direct impact or beneficiary of the proposed project. Ideally, the CCC should meet monthly during critical stages of the project’s development, approval, construction, post-construction testing and initial operations.

3.2.4. Many developers provide a range of information and education opportunities for community members to better understand the benefits and impacts of wind or solar farms as well as address any questions and concerns raised. Initiatives to consider include:

 establishing a ‘shop front’ in the community town centre that provides project/permit information, a map and model of the project, information about wind and solar farms and an ability to address questions or concerns raised by community members

 providing an informal channel for community members to ask questions and provide feedback about the project, and be able to do so anonymously if required

 providing opportunities for community members to visit operating projects

 providing access to a wind farm noise simulator to demonstrate wind farm noise to community members and enable them to experience simulated noise scenarios

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 maintaining an easily found, up-to-date project website with full transparency on contacts, complaint process, project details, the project’s current status along with planning permit details and documentation

 briefing local members (federal, state and local government) on the project and providing them with timely updates and information

 developing effective relationships with local media and providing the media with factual information to assist their reporting of the project and any impacts

 providing information sessions about the project, as well as wind farms and/or solar farms more generally, at convenient locations for community members, including presentations from key stakeholders, along with regular project newsletters and updates

 publishing the minutes, where applicable, of CCC (or equivalent) meetings and allowing observers to attend CCC meetings, and

 understanding and assessing the impacts on local accommodation during construction. Opportunities may exist for developers to construct accommodation which may, in turn, be utilised for long-term accommodation for people in need of housing arrangements.

3.2.5. The developer should establish a formal complaints/enquiry process, including a system to record and manage complaints, as well as provide a transparent register of complaints/enquiries information (note: actual complainant details can be masked for privacy). The complaints process should ideally commence at the initial stage of the development activity to allow community members to formally raise concerns and have those concerns addressed in a timely, consistent and transparent manner.

3.2.6. The developer (and CCC if it exists) should consult widely and communicate effectively and extensively on the proposed construction and related transport plan. The developer should also ensure appropriate restoration and ‘make-good’ actions are in place to remedy damage that may occur and seek, where practical, to leave local infrastructure in the same or better condition than prior to the construction. The developer should also proactively provide communications during construction using all forms of relevant channels, such as text messaging, to advise community members in advance of impactful activities. Where more than one construction project is occurring in the same area, collaboration should occur between the projects to proactively identify and resolve issues, such as constrained supplies such as gravel, tradespeople, accommodation as well as road access issues.

3.2.7. Further to Recommendation 3.2.6, the developer may wish to seek out opportunities to help facilitate improvements to other related community/local infrastructure. Initiatives could include improving mobile phone coverage, utilising the ‘imported’ project workforce to help upgrade local facilities (such as parks, playgrounds) and other practical activities which could benefit the overall community for years to come.

3.2.8. Local council(s) should proactively engage with the project and community, clearly communicating the council’s support for the project as well as its role in facilitating and promoting effective community consultation. Council should participate in any CCC or equivalent. If there are multiple large-scale infrastructure projects located in a council’s jurisdiction, it would be advisable to appoint a council liaison resource to coordinate relations and issue resolution between community and developers.

3.2.9. Where possible, the developer should engage staff locally (or relocate them locally) to lead community engagement activities and respond to community concerns and complaints. The developer should also seek to hire local tradespeople and contractor staff where practical.

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3.2.10. Once a project is in operation, the developer should continue to proactively provide information and updates about the project and provide opportunities for the community to visit the project site (such as an ‘open day’).

3.2.11. The developer should consider establishing and maintaining a community engagement fund and ensure there is appropriate community involvement in the governance and management of the fund. In some jurisdictions, such a fund is mandated. The fund should allow for appropriate opportunities for community originated submissions to obtain funding for project proposals. Prioritisation of funded projects that may be of benefit to those community members more directly affected by the presence of the project should be encouraged. The community fund should clearly include and benefit community members that live in proximity to the wind or solar farm rather than only supporting projects related to a regional centre. Developers may wish to consider providing offers for community members to become shareholders in the project, which can provide a practical sense of ownership within the community. Developers may also decide to offer deals on electricity costs, gift cards or other benefits to the local residents within the immediate community.

3.2.12. Stakeholders to the project, including the responsible authority, council, bankers, investors and regulators, should seek relevant evidence of both the project’s community engagement plan and outcomes from the plan’s execution as input to decisions or conditions the stakeholder may wish to place on the project and developer.

3.2.13. Industry bodies, such as the Clean Energy Council (CEC) and the Australian Wind Alliance (AWA), should continue to promote effective community engagement and publicly recognise those industry members achieving excellence in positive community engagement outcomes. Appropriate priority should continue to be given to this topic when designing industry forum agendas.

3.2.14. State governments can continue to play a key role by prioritising the promotion of effective community engagement in projects. Examples include initiatives such as community engagement plans as a key selection criteria for eligibility to be awarded state government ‘feed-in tariff’ programs as well as utilising formal permit conditions to mandate preparation and endorsement of the plan.

3.2.15. Project developers should ensure that all contractors and other project stakeholders are aware of their responsibility to engage well with the community and minimise community impacts. If there are multiple infrastructure development projects occurring in a region, developers should also be aware of potential cumulative impacts to a community and should liaise with local councils and other developers to proactively plan ahead so to avoid or minimise unnecessary impact on the community.

4. Planning Permits - Time Limits and Scope Changes

4.1. Observations

Background

Once approved, a project planning permit is typically granted for a period of five years. The developer then has that period of time to fulfil and complete the various plans and assessments required by the permit in order to commence construction of the project, consistent within the permit conditions. It is quite common that construction is not completed within this five year period (or even commenced), where the developer then applies for an extension or renewal of the permit.

There have been numerous cases of projects where the permit has been extended or renewed for further periods, often with changes to the project’s design due to the ongoing technological evolution of wind turbines and solar arrays.

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Elongated Time Frames

As a hypothetical example, design and development activities for a proposed wind farm may have commenced in the 2001-2002 timeframe. In 2005, an approved planning permit with a five year expiry may have then been issued to the wind farm. If construction of the wind farm had not commenced or been completed by the time the approved permit expired in 2010, upon request by the developer, the planning authority may have then approved the permit to be renewed for a further five years until 2015, with the renewal approval usually based on some level of commencement of the project. If the wind farm construction was then completed in 2015, the results of post-construction compliance testing (such as noise-testing) may not be known until the 2016-2017 timeframe.

Therefore, it is feasible that a period spanning 15 years or more can occur between the original prospecting at the wind farm site and the wind farm being fully operational with post-construction testing activities and other compliance reporting complete.

Delays between the time of obtaining a permit approval for a wind farm and the actual commencement of construction works can occur for a variety of reasons. Typical reasons include undertaking and obtaining approval for the various reports and plans required by the permit prior to construction commencement, changes in turbine selection and turbine layout (which may be a consequence of issues uncovered by fulfilling the permit conditions), delays in obtaining financial close and changes in government policy.

These lengthy timeframes for a wind farm project are significant and can raise a number of issues for consideration, including:

 Standards, such as noise standards, which may change over the course of the development process. For example, at the time of initial project development, the project and permit conditions may have been based on the NZS 6808:1998 noise standard. Although the standards may have been revised in the ensuing period, the project and permit will still be based on the 1998 standard, rather than the updated NZS 6808:2010 noise standard - even though the wind farm may have been built more than 15 years after the initial project’s development and well after the more recent standard came into effect.

 Setback distances policies (the minimum distance between a turbine and a residence) can also vary over time. As an example, a number of Victorian wind farms with current, renewed permits have no default setback distance provisions as the original permit was approved in the previous decade. Prior to 2011, there were no default setback distance requirements in Victoria. In 2011, a 2 km setback distance was introduced. The current default setback distance on Victoria is 1 km.

 Changes in standards and planning guidelines could therefore conceivably take many years from the time they are introduced to when they are written into planning permits for proposed wind farms.

 Technology, such as wind turbines, may also change over the project timeframe. The original project design and permit conditions may have been based on turbines of a certain energy capacity (for example, the original proposed turbine may have been 1.5 MW, whereas the developer now wishes to deploy 4.5 MW turbines) with changes to physical size dimensions (for example, higher turbine hub heights and longer blade diameters). As a result, the developer may decide to take advantage of the new technology and propose to change their turbine selection during the elongated time period. This change may potentially alter a number of material characteristics and impacts of the wind farm, including turbine layout, visual amenity, noise and shadow flicker. Such changes will likely result in the need for a formal modification (or endorsement) to the planning permit, re-opening the wind farm to potential objections and community concerns about the proposed changes.

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 An emerging issue in the last two years has been the impact of the significant increase in wind turbine dimensions on transport routes and vegetation clearance along roadways - often leading to the need for a planning modification. The modification process may well reignite original debates and issues with the project, and add further delays to project start or completion.

 The transport plan itself also needs to be holistic and be carefully planned and mapped from port to project, with appropriate consultation with all relevant stakeholders that have jurisdiction along the proposed route. This consultation will need to be repeated if there is a change to the route and/or the impacts on related matters such as vegetation clearance and property access.

 The requirements on the developer to qualify for the ability to request a renewal of the permit for a further period may be minor relative to the total project scope (for example, the building of a simple shed or road access to the site) so to demonstrate some level of commitment to construct the project. These relatively minor works, when compared to the total proposed project, may be viewed as not substantial enough to warrant that the project has materially commenced within the permitted timeframe nor obligate the project in a way that it has no choice but to proceed.

 The community affected by the wind farm (including host landowners and neighbours) can be subjected to very long periods of uncertainty as to whether or not the project will proceed. This uncertainty can affect a range of individual landowner and stakeholder decisions as well as discourage or prevent other potential development within the wind farm’s planning envelope.

 Community engagement may also not be sustained by the developer over long periods of uncertainty and may deteriorate during the elongated time frame.

 During an elongated development cycle, other wind farms may have been subsequently planned and/or constructed in the area, which may result in possible unforeseen cumulative impacts for nearby residents.

Precedence

Depending on the jurisdiction, a developer may not need to assess a dwelling that is yet to be constructed, even though the dwelling has a valid, current planning permit and building permit. In effect, the layout of a potential wind or solar farm may take precedence over existing planned dwellings, resulting in the possibility of the planned dwelling being too close to turbines to meet noise limit and other setback requirements.

It would seem reasonable to expect that a proposed dwelling that has proper and current permits in place needs to be considered as a dwelling for project planning purposes, where the dwelling permits are already approved and in place prior to a wind farm permit application being submitted.

If the dwelling is subsequently not constructed and/or the permits expire, then the developer may choose to adjust the wind farm design accordingly.

Further, once a wind farm development is approved or constructed, persons wishing to build a dwelling or infrastructure within proximity of the wind farm should have their plans referred to the wind farm to check whether or not the dwelling is within compliance zones for matters such as noise and shadow flicker.

Other Infrastructure

In some jurisdictions, planning permits are not required for transmission and other associated infrastructure to connect the wind farm to the grid. This lack of review and oversight can lead to a wide range of community issues related to the design, routing and installation of the transmission line and related assets. The prospect also exists for duplicative assets connecting each wind or solar farm to the

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grid, with no mandatory requirement to seek consolidation of such assets to minimise community impact and promote a more efficient use of capital.

Responsible Authorities

In general, state governments are the designated responsible planning authority for large scale renewable projects. However, some exceptions exist. For example, Tasmania’s responsible authority for approval of wind farms is currently local government (although there are some proposed planning reforms which may affect this framework). Queensland also has delegated large-scale solar farms to local government as the responsible authority, as was the case in Victoria until recent changes.

Given the skills, resources and expertise required to properly assess and manage the planning process for these large-scale energy assets, it is strongly preferred that state governments retain responsibility for the planning process and approvals, along with compliance enforcement. Further, council’s may avoid decision making by simply declining the proposed project, resulting in an appeal to the appropriate state planning and environment court, adding further delays and costs in the process, with the state effectively being the planning authority in any case - via the court system.

4.2. Recommendations

4.2.1. A wind or solar farm planning permit should only be renewed for one further term as a maximum, unless there are exceptional circumstances that have caused a delay in commencement. Approval of permit renewals should require the developer to demonstrate the likelihood of the project commencing and being completed prior to the end of the requested/approved renewal period.

4.2.2. Requests for material changes to a wind farm’s proposed design and technology need to be scrutinised through an appropriate and rigorous process by the responsible authority. The process should be transparent to all stakeholders and include re-assessments of key impacts such as noise, visual amenity, environmental considerations, aviation, transport route, transmission requirements, shadow flicker and construction impacts.

4.2.3. The responsible authority should be able to reasonably introduce and apply current/updated planning guidelines, applicable standards and updated permit conditions when assessing a request to renew and approve a planning permit or modifications to the permit. For example, a developer seeking to renew a permit issued on 1 January 2015, expiring 31 December 2019, may be required to comply with any contemporary guidelines and standards currently in force that could be reasonably expected to be complied with and prepare the renewal submissions in accordance with those guidelines and standards.

4.2.4. Evidence of ongoing community engagement for the project should be submitted to the responsible authority when seeking a renewal approval or permit modification request. Submissions should include evidence of current community consultation efforts with regard to any proposed changes in the project design and layout subsequent to the original permit approval.

4.2.5. In considering a renewal or modification application, the responsible authority should assess any compounding effects of other proposed or constructed wind farms in the vicinity, in particular with respect to residents who may experience cumulative effects that may be exacerbated by the proposed wind farm that is seeking permit renewal approval.

4.2.6. Further to Recommendation 4.2.5, the responsible authority should assess the impacts of any other planning approval requests/approvals in the vicinity that have arisen subsequent to the original permit approval when considering the permit renewal application. These could include dwellings that had legitimate planning approvals prior to the project’s original permit being approved that have subsequently been built and are inhabited.

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4.2.7. In the event that the project is seeking a renewal/extension of the permit period to allow a commenced project further time for construction completion, the responsible authority needs to be fully satisfied that material construction has already commenced and provide extensions only for the period where it would be reasonably expected for the remaining construction to be completed.

4.2.8. State governments should consider including relevant questions for prospective rural property purchasers to ask about potential wind or solar farms, in the vicinity of the property, in any due diligence ‘checklist’ that may accompany a contract of sale or vendor statement document.

4.2.9. Planned dwellings within proximity to a proposed wind or solar farm that have existing, approved and current planning and building permits, should be treated as an existing dwelling when preparing and submitting permit applications. Planned dwellings that subsequently are not constructed within the specified time limits, or have expired permits, can be removed as a constraint to the planning layout. See also recommendation 4.2.10 regarding development plans subsequent to a project planning permit being approved.

4.2.10. Neighbours to projects, where the project is in either development or in operation, should be allowed to submit development plans to the responsible planning authority for new development on their property, such as a dwelling or a shed. Development proposals within at least 1.5 km of a proposed or operating wind turbine, should be referred to the wind farm developer by the responsible authority for consultation and to verify impact levels of the wind farm at the proposed neighbour’s development site. Development proposals in locations where the wind farm is likely to exceed prescribed standards and limits may require written agreements to be reached between the neighbour and the wind farm before the neighbour’s development can be granted final approval by the Responsible Authority.

4.2.11. Transmission lines, substations and other related electrical infrastructure should all be subject to and require an appropriate and detailed planning permit, ideally as part of the overall permit for the project. Careful consideration should be given to the design and routing of the powerline. Proponents should collaborate wherever possible to optimise use of shared transmission facilities. Relevant governance bodies (transmission planning, electrical safety, road safety, local councils etc.) should be properly consulted on the project and exercise their oversight responsibilities accordingly.

4.2.12. State governments are best placed to be the responsible authority for large-scale renewable energy and storage projects. Local governments have a very important role to play in the planning process, road access, community engagement, construction and operation of the project, but should not be burdened with the overall planning and compliance responsibilities.

5. Governance and Compliance of Standards and Permit Conditions

5.1. Observations

Background

The design and governance of large-scale renewable energy projects relies on a range of standards and various compliance mechanisms to monitor and enforce those standards.

Standards are often set and maintained by the responsible authority (for example, a state planning department or environment department) and there are a variety of arrangements in place for enforcing compliance with the standards. Standards may be ‘borrowed’ from other jurisdictions (for example, Victoria uses the New Zealand (NZ) noise standard, the NSW noise standard is based on the South Australian standard), set by the planning function or set by the state agency responsible for environmental management and regulation.

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Enforcement of standards and permit conditions also varies by jurisdiction and the type of standards. Generally, there are no proactive audit regimes in place - rather, compliance relies on receiving complaints or alleged breaches of permit conditions. The pathway to make a compliance complaint or allegation again varies by jurisdiction and type of complaint - in some cases the state environmental regulator can receive and investigate noise or environmental complaints, in other cases it may be a local council, state planning department or the relevant Australian Government department.

Compliance Complaints

It is often unclear to community members where or who they should lodge a complaint to regarding construction or operating compliance. Planning permits may not clearly state the accountability and responsibilities with regard to compliance oversight, nor may they prescribe a process for handling potential or actual non-compliance. Further, local councils and state planning functions may not have the necessary skills and expertise to handle and investigate a compliance complaint. Federal agencies, such as the Clean Energy Regulator, rely on a clear understanding of the responsible compliance authority and the authority’s advice if the Regulator is to consider acting on allegations of non-compliance or breach of a law.

Interpretation and Consistency of Standards

Borrowed standards can also be difficult to administrate or enforce if a protocol has not been developed for the local jurisdiction. As an example, the NZ noise standard (used in Victoria and Tasmania) has a concept of low and high amenity areas for determining the appropriate noise limits for a wind farm. Victoria’s planning scheme does not define such areas, making it difficult to interpret and apply the NZ standard ‘as is’ in the Victorian context (see Cherry Tree Wind Farm Pty Ltd vs Mitchell Shire Council - VCAT - P2910/2012).

Issues have also arisen regarding the application of tonal noise penalties provided for in the NZ standard. The application of the standard is open to interpretation in that regard, and Victoria must rely on interpretations from New Zealand court proceedings to attempt to clarify the standard. This can be a difficult matter to resolve, particularly in the event the interpretation has also been a topic of debate in the home country (see Decision of Hearing Commissioners re Palmerston North City Council v New Zealand Windfarms Ltd - November 2017).

Typical standards and permit requirements relevant to a project’s development and operation can include matters such as audible noise, shadow flicker, visual amenity impacts, setback distances, environmental matters related to flora and fauna, vegetation clearance as well as noise and dust levels during construction.

Noise Standards

Noise standards relating to wind farms currently vary by state. For example, the wind farm noise limit standard in Victoria and Tasmania is 40 dB(A)* measured outside the residence. South Australia varies between 35 dB(A)* and 40 dB(A)* based on the location of the wind farm, Western Australia is 35 dB(A)*, New South Wales is 35 dB(A)* and Queensland’s standard is 37 dB(A)* during the day and 35 dB(A)* during the night. The approach to measuring the noise emitted from a wind farm can also vary by project and jurisdiction which can lead to debate over the veracity of the noise assessment results.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest noise guidelines recently recommended a 45 dB (Lden) limit for wind farm noise, as measured outside the residence, to prevent negative effects on sleep and health. However, the report noted the lack of research or evidence available to conclusively support this new guideline limit. Previous WHO guidelines were based on an inside measurement limit of 30 dB(A),

* or background noise plus 5 dB(A), whichever is the greater amount. Measurements of A-weighted sound pressure level are generally taken on the basis of LA90, 10-min.

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although it can be difficult and intrusive to carry out wind farm noise testing inside a residence, particularly over a long period of time.

Current noise standards therefore rely on the effects of attenuation of the noise by the residence structure and would assume that a noise level of say 40 dB(A) measured outside the residence should be less than 30 dB(A) measured inside, based on an expected attenuation in the order of 10-15 dB(A). This attenuation may be greater if the windows are closed and the residence is of solid construction and well insulated, however, the effective attenuation may be less if windows are open and/or construction and insulation of the residence is less robust.

Issues can also arise where a wind farm is tested for noise and the result exceeds the limit by a marginal amount, for example 40.2 dB(A) against a limit of 40 dB(A). The Commissioner’s understanding is that the 0.2 dB(A) difference would not be discernible by the human ear and is the result of the complex mathematical calculations that assess multiple noise data points. There may be some merit in allowing for a small, reasonable tolerance level to avoid wind farm’s unnecessarily being in technical breach of compliance.

Debate continues as to whether or not a low frequency standard should also be introduced, such as a dB(C) and/or dB(G) weighting. The prevailing argument to date is that the ‘A-weighted scale’, which has been designed to replicate the human ear’s sensitivity to noise, accommodates a sufficient proxy for low frequency noise - noting that low frequency noise can be difficult to detect at levels that would breach threshold targets.

However, based on complaints received, the possibility remains for annoyance for some people living in proximity to a wind farm and perceiving low frequency noises or vibrations while inside their residence. More work is still required to determine whether or not the noise or vibration source in question is the wind farm or some other source. The Office’s complaint data has seen a significant reduction over time in complaints citing concerns about low frequency noise or vibrations emanating from operating wind farms.

There may be other sources of noise as a result of the project’s operation, in particular noise that would emanate from the electrical infrastructure, including power substations, transformers and back-up generators. The impact of such noise sources should be assessed during the design phase and tested for compliance during any post-construction noise testing.

The Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines has derived a suggested wind turbine noise limit of 35 dB(A) (LA90,10-min) to ensure minimal annoyance. This suggested limit approximately equates to a LAeq,10-min of 37 dB(A) or a Lden of 43 dB(A).

Setback Distances

A setback distance (also known as a ‘veto’ distance) is a default distance that, if a residence (dwelling) is within that specified distance from a proposed infrastructure, such as a wind turbine or solar array, the resident can either veto the asset or enter into a commercial agreement with the developer to allow the asset to be sited within the setback distance limit.

Setback distances from an asset to a residence also vary across states. For example, Victoria originally had no setback distances for wind turbines, then introduced a 2 km setback distance in 2011 and subsequently amended it to 1 km in 2015. Queensland has introduced a setback distance of 1.5 km, while the New South Wales framework is based on a merit assessment of each project against the criteria and performance standards in the framework. Western Australia has recently recommended a 1.5 km setback in their Position Statement: Renewable Energy Facilities (Western Australian Planning Commission, March 2020). Turbines can be closer to a residence than the default setback distance, however typically require an agreement to be reached between the resident property owner and the developer.

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Current setback for wind turbines have been predominately set based on legacy turbine dimensions and expected outcomes from noise standards. As a rough rule of thumb, a 40 dB(A) noise contour should be just less than about one kilometre from the turbine(s), whereas 35 dB(A) noise contour is typically less than 1.5 km from turbines, although these distances can vary with topography and terrain. Turbines installed during the last decade have mostly been at tip heights in the order of 150 metres and around 2 MW to 3 MW in capacity.

New projects are now proposing turbines with tip heights in excess of 220 metres and capacity of up to 6 MW per turbine. Improvements in turbine design have mitigated the noise effects and, generally speaking, the noise contours have not materially changed for these larger turbines, despite increased hub and tip heights as well as generating capacity. However, there may well be effects of increased visual amenity and shadow flicker impacts that may give rise for a need to revisit current set back distances and increase them accordingly.

While setback distances are typically based on the distance from the wind turbine to the residence, there may also be circumstances where the distance of the turbine from the neighbour’s property boundary should also be a consideration. Such circumstances could include the potential effect of wind turbines on animals such as horses, driving distractions on nearby roads or other situations where turbines may impact neighbouring properties due to their proximity to land use activities on a property.

The British Horse Society recommends a minimum setback distance from wind turbines to horses of 200 metres or three times the blade tip height - whichever is greater - on the basis that horses could potentially react to noise, blade rotation and shadow flicker impacts from wind turbines (see the Society’s Wind Turbines and Horses - Guidance for Planners and Developers, 2015). The Society’s report notes that, while there have been anecdotal reports of livestock such as horses being impacted by turbines, no formally recognised studies have established demonstrable causality.

Upper Lachlan Shire’s Development Control Plan specifies that turbines shall not be located within a distance of two times the tip height of a turbine from a formed public road or a non-involved property boundary. For example, a tip height of 150 metres would require a setback of 300 metres from a road or property boundary according to these guidelines (see Upper Lachlan Development Control Plan 2010, page 93).

Electrical infrastructure required for the project, such as transmission lines, may also cause a change in visual amenity for community members. Consideration should be given for those impacts and setback distances as they may also be appropriate to mitigate visual amenity loss and noise issues arising from the infrastructure.

Harmonisation of Standards

The opportunity exists for a clearer framework of standard setting and enforcement of standards, whereby there is independence in the setting and enforcement of standards from the planning function. Such independence allows for increased community confidence in the objectivity of setting standards and assessing compliance. It also allows the relevant independent agency to acquire and maintain the appropriate skills and expertise to fulfil its standards and compliance responsibilities.

The opportunity also exists for increased harmonisation of key standards across state jurisdictions, such as noise, visual amenity, shadow flicker and setback distances, providing a consistent approach and expectations for governments, industry and the community. Consistency across the states will not only provide a more equitable outcome for residents potentially affected by projects, but may also result in the additional benefit of driving improvements in the technology across the entire market based on the more stringent, while appropriate, standard.

While there may be a number of ways to address these issues, best practice appears to be assigning responsibility for the setting and compliance oversight of environmental-related standards with the state environmental regulator, while the application of the standards to specific projects rests with the state or

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local government planning authority. The current arrangements in place in New South Wales and South Australia generally reflect practices along these lines.

Deemed Compliance

Finally, once a wind or solar farm commences operations, it may not have achieved formal compliance of all conditions until all of the post-construction compliance testing has been completed and accepted. Typically, formal post construction testing, such as noise testing of a wind farm, can only commence once all turbines are operating. The testing itself may take up to 12 months to complete and report. Therefore, there may be a period of two or more years where the wind farm is partially or fully operating, but is yet to be confirmed as complaint.

A wind farm may therefore effectively be ‘deemed’ to be compliant in some jurisdictions even though post-construction assessments have not commenced or been completed, relying on the predictive assessments undertaken prior to construction. There may be an opportunity to introduce more formal processes to properly clarify the deemed compliance period and then confirm when a wind farm is actually compliant (once all of the required testing is complete) and the timeframes for which that must occur. This period of uncertainty of compliance can cause a range of community concerns and also be costly for governing bodies, particularly for larger wind farms that may have a two year plus construction cycle.

Anecdotally, some wind farms have been described as being ‘not non-compliant’ when unable to confirm compliance with required permit conditions, highlighting the difficulty of declaring a wind farm to be ‘non-compliant’ when its default status is compliant. In addition, it may be appropriate to consider that a wind farm is deemed to be operationally compliant during the construction, commissioning and testing periods, but ongoing compliance is subject to final confirmation by the responsible or regulatory authority after compliance testing is completed.

From the Commissioner’s observations, one solution to this issue is for a wind farm to be licensed by the appropriate environmental regulator. Under this scenario, the wind farm would need to confirm and maintain its compliance with the applicable license and permit conditions or risk losing its license to operate in the event of unrectified material breaches of the license and/or permit conditions. The license conditions could include conditions to be met during the period prior to post-construction testing, particularly with regard to handling abnormal or mechanical noise issues.

Measurement approaches for measuring compliance with the standards can also vary between projects and jurisdictions. Given the extraordinary number of variables to be measured, consideration needs to be given to the consistency of measurement, calculations and reporting for assessing environmental measures such as noise and flora and fauna impacts when setting permit or license conditions.

For example, there is much scope for variability when selecting the noise data points to be included and also determining the ‘line of best fit’ for those set of noise data points - such variances could mean the difference between compliance or otherwise when assessing the results of a noise testing program.

5.2. Recommendations

5.2.1. State governments should review and clarify their current arrangements for the setting of environmental standards, along with the arrangements for oversight and confirmation of compliance with those standards. It is strongly preferred that the department or agency setting and maintaining the various standards is independent of the department or agency responsible for planning and applying those standards. In addition, the compliance authorities for a project should be clearly defined, transparent, accessible to the community and able to receive and investigate allegations of compliance breaches. Where compliance oversight currently rests with local government, appropriate support and resources should be made available to the council/shire to enable them to effectively perform their compliance

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and investigative responsibilities, including being equipped with the appropriate policies and procedures to handle alleged breaches of permit/license compliance and/or laws.

5.2.2. Based on the outcome of the review outlined in Recommendation 5.2.1, state governments should consider whether or not the current arrangements are appropriate, effective and consistent with best practices for the independent development, maintenance, compliance management and governance of environmental standards applicable to wind and solar projects. If planning functions or local councils are designated as the responsible compliance authority, they should be provided with appropriate support and resources to assist them in carrying out their responsibilities.

5.2.3. In considering the above recommendations and possible reforms, the potential roles of an appropriate independent, state based, standards and compliance agency (such as a state environmental protection or regulatory authority) could include responsibility to:

 Set and maintain the environmental standards applied to wind and solar farms, including setback distances, noise, shadow flicker, visual amenity, flora and fauna, environment and heritage (noting the role of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 with regard to Matters of National Environmental Significance including protected flora and fauna), along with specifying the methods and procedures for measurement of the prescribed standards.

 Review planning applications for projects and recommend/require permit conditions related to the environmental standards. Environmental standard conditions in permits should clearly state the process for how the measurements are to be undertaken and reported as well as provide the opportunity for peer review of the process, calculations and results.

 Provide or facilitate peer review and audit of expert reports, including review of testing and modelling programs, submitted by the developer related to permit requirements (see also Section 6).

 Where appropriate, license the facility once it is constructed and issue and monitor license conditions for the operation of the asset that may be subject to review and renewal. State governments should also receive and review regular reporting against those licence conditions from the project operator and may withdraw licences in the event of unrectified material breaches of applicable license and permit conditions.

 Receive and investigate complaints related to environmental standards, including alleged breaches of non-compliance with permit requirements or relevant laws.

 Confirm as required the compliance or non-compliance of an operating project with regard to environmental standards, related permit conditions and relevant laws.

 Report material breaches and investigations to the Clean Energy Regulator and other relevant agencies.

 Liaise with other agencies (e.g. Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment) on assessments and compliance matters that involve such agencies.

5.2.4. Planning permits (and/or applicable licenses) for projects should clearly state:

 The oversight organisation(s) or person(s) accountable for determining compliance of a wind farm with its permit (and license) conditions, both at post-construction and ongoing operational stages.

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 The process and contact details for lodging a complaint or alleged breach of permit (and/or license) compliance.

 The process to be followed in the event that an operating project is found to be non-compliant with one or more of the permit (and/or license) conditions.

 A requirement for the developer or operator to publish transparently, on the project website, the process and contact details to make a complaint or alleged compliance breach to the designated oversight organisation.

5.2.5. During the period between the commencement of a project’s commissioning/operation and the completion of any required post-construction assessments, the project could be designated to be in ‘provisional’ or ‘deemed’ compliance, pending the results of the assessments. In this scenario, a project can only move from ‘provisional compliance’ status to being confirmed as ‘compliant’ once the responsible authority (or regulatory authority) has confirmed it is satisfied that the project is compliant as a result of any post-construction assessments. While the project is in ‘provisional compliance’ it is deemed to be compliant. Once a project has completed its post-construction assessments and confirmed to be compliant by the responsible authority, ongoing compliance is then overseen by the designated agency or responsible compliance authority. For the avoidance of doubt, a project that has been constructed in a way that is consistent with the requirements of any predictive noise assessments is deemed compliant unless proven otherwise.

5.2.6. If a project’s facilities are deemed by a responsible authority to be in an unrectified material breach of compliance, the project should be required by the responsible compliance authority to cease operating or curtail the non-compliant facilities until compliance is achieved.

5.2.7. The Federal Government should review the compliance enforcement powers and actions that may be taken by the Clean Energy Regulator in the event of a suspected or confirmed unrectified material breach of compliance.

5.2.8. Governments should consider reviewing the primary standards across all jurisdictions for noise limits and setback distances. The following relate to wind farms only:

5.2.8.1. Based on current observations and the findings of the World Health Organization, it would appear that an appropriate level for a consistent wind farm noise limit would be 35 dB(A)*, measured outside of the residence. Noise standards that specify ‘high’ and ‘low’ amenity noise level limits must have clear guidance that define where those limits are applicable.

5.2.8.2. Applied penalties for specific noise conditions such as tonality and special audible characteristics continue to be set at 5 dB(A), however such noise complaints should also be assessed on a subjective and reasonableness test by an approved, independent expert. Protocols should be developed and in place to clarify interpretation of ‘borrowed’ noise standards from other jurisdictions.

5.2.8.3. A default setback distance of 1.5 km between a residence or dwelling and the nearest turbine (note: for turbines with a tip height of 200 metres or greater, a variable setback distance may be more appropriate to consider any increased visual amenity impacts). Local topography, existing trees and vegetation as well as terrain need to be also considered when applying any default setback measures.

5.2.8.4. In addition to a setback distance between a turbine and a residence, a minimum setback distance of 200 metres (as measured at ground level from the centre of the

* LA90, 10-min; or background noise plus 5 dB(A), whichever is the greater amount

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tower or 150 metres from the extended horizontal blade tip, whichever is the greater) and a neighbour’s boundary fence line or public road carriageway, should also be considered.

5.2.8.5. Consideration should be given to setback distances between a wind farm and a materially populated township or city boundary. A distance of 5 km may be appropriate to preserve amenity and provide some flexibility for planning growth of the township (note - consideration of reducing these suggested setback provisions may be appropriate in the case of a small-scale, community-supported and owned wind energy facility).

5.2.9. The noise assessment design and compliance testing conditions should include assessment and testing of the wind farm’s electrical infrastructure (transformers, substations, back-up generators etc.) and noise levels from these sources need to be compliant with the applicable standards.

5.2.10. A setback distance between a residence and other infrastructure associated with the project, such as transmission lines, should also be considered to help alleviate visual amenity impacts and noise considerations. This would include a setback distance between a residence and major transformer or generation infrastructure, such as a terminal substation. Where possible, transmission infrastructure should be placed underground and/or well away from residences and road reserves. If this is not possible, a minimum setback distance of 100m between a rural residence and powerline infrastructure should be considered in planning guidelines for powerlines of 66 kV or greater.

5.2.11. Power poles installed in the road reserve must comply with relevant standards and guidelines for setback distances from the carriageway, comply with any road safety requirements and road safety barrier specifications, and pole locations must be pre-approved by the responsible authority.

5.2.12. Consideration should also be given to the current standards for wind turbine shadow flicker. A typical standard at present is a limit of 30 hours of shadow flicker per year at a resident’s external window or garden area. This standard, used across Australia, has been sourced from shadow flicker standards developed and used in Europe, where setback distances to residences are typically less restrictive. At, say, a 1 km distance from a turbine, the residence would be very unlikely to receive 30 hours of actual shadow flicker. A more appropriate standard in the Australian context may be no more than a total 15 hours of actual shadow flicker per year at a residence and no more than 30 minutes of shadow flicker should be experienced on a given day. Neighbours experiencing (or likely to experience) shadow flicker that is annoying should also be provided with the opportunity for having visual screening installed. To date, shadow flicker complaints have been minimal.

5.2.13. Final siting adjustments for turbines during construction (‘micro-siting’) should be limited to a distance of no more than 100m from the approved site location, be no closer to a residence (or property boundary per Recommendation 5.2.7) and be properly documented, including the reasons for the change. Micro-siting of a distance greater than 100m should require written approval from the responsible authority. Power poles installed in the road reserve must comply with relevant standards and guidelines for setback distances from the carriageway, comply with any road safety requirements and road safety barrier specifications, and pole locations must be pre-approved by the responsible authority.

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6. Use and selection of Experts

6.1. Observations

The design and approval of a proposed wind or solar farm relies heavily on third-party consultants (or ‘experts’) to prepare a range of reports including assessments related to noise, visual amenity, shadow flicker, aviation, flora and fauna, hydrology, vegetation and various other environmental assessments.

Experts are selected and paid for by the developer. The expert reports are typically included with the developer’s planning permit submission to the responsible authority when seeking approval for the project. Many of the assessment reports rely on complex calculations or results from predictive computer modelling. These reports also rely on assessing the project against standards that are not always clearly defined.

The accuracy of the assessment reports and recommendations is therefore highly dependent on the quality and precision of the assumptions used, correct application of calculations, the integrity of computer modelling applications, the accuracy of the data used and the skills of the expert in interpreting the output of the resulting analysis.

Once the wind or solar farm is built, experts are engaged to carry out any required post-construction assessments. These assessments, and resulting reports, utilise actual data from the operating project, however may still rely on assumptions and modelling to collect and analyse the data and to then present in a format to support the conclusions.

It is very common practice that experts engaged to perform the design and predictive assessments during the planning phase are the same experts engaged by the developer to perform the post-construction assessments. Developers may also often use the same experts on multiple projects, establishing a long-term relationship between the parties.

The selection and use of the same expert in both the design and then post-construction phases of a project may give rise to perceived or real conflicts of interest between the developer and the expert as well as expectations effectively placed upon the expert to confirm the project’s compliance.

As a hypothetical example, an acoustician engaged to assess a proposed wind farm’s design for compliance with the noise standard - is then engaged to assess the constructed, operating wind farm to confirm compliance with the noise standard. The expert acoustician may then be placed in a difficult situation if the acoustician discovers some aspects of the operating wind farm are potentially non-compliant, particularly if those areas of non-compliance may be a result of errors or assumptions made in the original acoustician’s design assessment. There may be enormous pressure on the expert acoustician to measure and/or interpret the operating noise data in such a way that would demonstrate compliance, rather than non-compliance, of the operating asset.

There is certainly scope for a clearer separation between the experts used for the predictive assessments used in the design/application stage versus the experts used for the post-construction assessments of a project, along with the inclusion of independent audits of the expert’s reports. A more rigorous process would yield a range of material benefits including minimising costly expert errors during the assessment phase, minimise or eliminate perceived or real conflicts of interest and give all stakeholders greater confidence in the integrity and reliability of the expert assessment process.

Best practices that has been observed or implemented are as follows:

 A suitably qualified expert be appointed by a developer to carry out the relevant assessment during the planning application and project design activity. The appointed expert must be free of any real or perceived conflicts of interest.

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 Before approving the design or planning application, an independent, accredited auditor be appointed to scrutinise and review the expert’s assessment/design report. The auditor’s report and findings/recommendations are provided to the developer, the developer’s expert, the responsible planning authority and other relevant agencies for the subject matter (e.g. Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Country Fire Authority, Environment Protection Authority, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment etc.).

 Once the project is constructed, a different expert (that is, different and unrelated to the ‘predictive assessment’ expert) be appointed to carry out any required post-construction compliance assessments, as specified by the planning permit or equivalent instrument.

 The post-construction compliance report is then reviewed by a different (that is, different to the auditor of the ‘predictive assessment’ report), independent, accredited auditor to confirm the accuracy and integrity of the post-construction report. The auditor’s findings/recommendations are issued to the developer, responsible authority and other relevant agencies.

 Project compliance is confirmed once the responsible authority is satisfied with the findings of the experts, accompanied by unqualified audit reports.

These additional steps and appropriate separation of experts and auditors will go a long way to facilitate confidence for all stakeholders in the significant decisions that are made on the basis of expert reports. The process will also provide better protection for industry from very costly errors and risks of subsequently being found to be non-compliant.

This type of approach for noise assessments was piloted, on a voluntary basis, at a proposed Victorian wind farm. In applying a more conservative approach than the initial assessment, the process found that a material number of turbines at that wind farm were at risk of breaching compliance if deployed as planned. Early identification of these issues allowed the proponent to adjust the operational design and parameters accordingly to ensure compliance - before construction commenced.

The Victorian Government has now formally adopted the accredited noise assessment auditor framework for all new and modified wind farm planning permits. Other states have implemented or are considering implementing variations on the above. In some cases, industry proponents have also adopted some or all of these best practices, even if not required, to ensure integrity and accuracy of the expert reports they are relying on.

In addition to noise assessments, other expert disciplines that have led to material issues in recent times included aviation safety assessments and vegetation clearing assessments for transportation routes. Errors and/or omissions in those assessments lead to either significant project cost overruns or cancellation of the project as a result.

Finally, it is expected that these reforms will increase the market opportunities for additional experts and auditors as well as help facilitate growth of skills and firms in the relevant disciplines.

6.2. Recommendations

6.2.1. Given the heavy reliance on advice and assessments provided by experts in a project’s design, planning, construction and compliance decision-making, qualified experts used for assessment engagements should be ideally selected from an accredited panel or list. The panel or list could be maintained by the relevant responsible authority (or environmental regulator). Alternately, the panel or list could be maintained by a relevant industry body or association.

6.2.2. To ensure independence and remove any real or perceived conflicts of interest, the expert organisation (or expert) selected to perform post-construction compliance assessments of a

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project should be a different expert organisation (or expert) to the one engaged for the design/planning phase of that project.

6.2.3. Expert reports, assessments and techniques used for planning submissions, such as the predictive noise assessment, should be reviewed and assessed by an independent auditor, appointed or accredited by the responsible authority and/or relevant regulator. Further, expert reports prepared with respect to post-construction compliance should also be reviewed and assessed by a different, independent auditor, also appointed or accredited by the responsible authority and/or relevant regulator.

6.2.4. The appointed independent auditors (refer to Recommendation 6.2.3) should be suitably qualified, experienced and accredited, have the ability to assess the integrity and accuracy of the expert’s report and be able to identify and confirm compliance or non-compliance with the relevant permit conditions and/or prescribed standards.

6.2.5. Planning approval processes should carefully take into account the advice of independent auditors and/or referral agencies, such as CASA, before deciding on whether to approve a project. Where appropriate, designated authorities (e.g. the relevant road authority), may be deemed to be a statutory referral agency, whereby their advice and recommendations must be adhered to by the responsible planning authority.

7. Complaint Handling and Emergency Procedures

7.1. Observations

Complaint handling

Wind and solar farms are typically required to establish a complaint handling procedure, together with supporting systems and processes, to comply with planning permit conditions. It is also common sense that the project be able to properly receive, investigate and resolve complaints as part of normal facility operations and effective community engagement.

Complaint handling procedures are generally required to be submitted and endorsed by the responsible authority. However, currently, requirements for complaint procedures are often limited to noise and construction complaints only. In many cases, limited guidance is provided in permit conditions as to the process, scope, requirements and standards that the complaint handling procedure should adhere to.

While many projects are likely to be compliant with the requirement to submit and have an endorsed complaint handling procedure, our observations have been that a number of projects (or proponents) have not published the procedure or communicated the procedure to the community. This lack of transparency can make it difficult for community members to know how to make a complaint and the process by which they should expect their complaint to be handled.

It is pleasing to see that many projects have adopted the Commissioner’s suggestions, making their complaint handling procedures transparent and available and demonstrating compliance with their processes for complaint handling. However, there are still further opportunities for proponents to ensure they are following their own documented procedures when handling complaints and avoid situations including:

 projects not following their own published procedure for handling complaints

 projects failing to internally escalate the complaint for review when the complaint has not been resolved

 multiple complaints from a resident about the same issue or issues - with no visible action being taken by the proponent to investigate or resolve

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 a lack of rigour or process in complaint investigations and absence of or poor clarity in correspondence

 complaints remaining open when they should be closed, and

 a lack of clarity regarding next steps in the complaint handling process - leading to numerous complaints that remain unresolved and/or not closed.

There is also a wide range of project complaint handling procedures in place that vary by proponent and project, often resulting in a mix of consistency in the quality and effectiveness of the procedures. Also, project operators may possess varying degrees of complaint handling skills. As such, there continue to be further opportunities to improve the capability of staff and effectiveness of the industry’s complaint handling procedures.

The Commissioner has encouraged a number of developers and operators to voluntarily publish their complaint handling procedures on their project website. Many proponents have now complied with this request. Some proponents have also revised their complaint handling procedures as a result of discussions with the Office. The Commissioner continues to make suggestions to improve existing complaint handling procedures to the many industry members who have sought assistance from the Office. Proponents also often seek assistance from the Office on suggestions for handling specific complaints that they may be dealing with.

Noise considerations

While objective measures and standards are used to determine compliance with noise restrictions, it is also evident that there is further scope to investigate complaints relating to noise emissions from turbines and other infrastructure. In assessing noise-related complaints, the objective ‘tests’ currently in place do not necessarily capture the tonal character of noise emissions that a complainant may be experiencing. For instance, maintenance or operating issues with infrastructure (such as a turbine or a substation transformer) may lead to harmonic frequencies that produce a harsher tone to the human ear. While this is not typically represented in noise assessment data, contemporary noise measurement or recording devices can be used to indicate that the tonal character of a particular noise emission may reasonably be considered to be disturbing or offensive to a complainant.

Other events can cause abnormal noise annoyance from wind turbines. These include loose bolts, lack of greasing of the rotating nacelle during the yaw process and lightning strike of a blade (piercing a hole in the turbine blade that causes a high-pitched whistling sound). These situations require a rapid response to a complaint and it is in everyone’s interest that the asset be repaired and the noise emission rectified.

Permit requirements

Following the Commissioner’s discussions with the relevant Minister and Department, the Victorian Government moved quickly to introduce additional permit conditions related to complaint handling procedures and transparency based on the Commissioner’s initial observations and recommendations. It is understood that these additional conditions have been applied to both new, renewed and modified planning permits issued for wind farms in Victoria.

There may also be other avenues for complaints to be lodged by residents in proximity to a project. In Victoria, complaints about ‘noise nuisance’ can be lodged to local government under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Victoria). Council’s need to be fully aware of their responsibilities under this Act and ensure they have appropriate documented procedures to receive and handle complaints in the case they are lodged under this legislation. Further, the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018 (Victoria) will come into force in 2020 and may provide additional options for residents to raise complaints about ‘unreasonable noise’ and allege breaches of the general environmental duty that is central to the legislation.

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Finally, industry bodies such as the CEC may have a key role to play in leading the development and promotion of consistent, best practice complaint handling models and procedures for the renewable energy industry that can be adopted by industry members, configured for their specific operations.

Emergency procedures

The Commissioner has also observed opportunities for clearer protocols to be put in place between project operators and emergency response agencies, in particular as they relate to ground and aerial firefighting and the ability to direct a rapid shutdown of assets such as wind turbines and the positioning of turbine blades during a shut-down to minimise the obstacle.

Not all turbine manufacturers or specific turbine models, have the ability to remotely lock the turbine blades into the required position for safe aerial firefighting. Some blades will continue to drift with the wind, further increasing the risks to pilots and reducing the workable airspace between turbines to fly and drop retardants.

Other potential obstacles to aerial firefighting, such as meteorological masts, radio towers and powerlines may also exist around the project site and pilots need to be well aware of this infrastructure. A consistent standard for the visible identification of meteorological masts should be considered and adopted into planning guidelines and aviation safety assessments.

7.2. Recommendations

7.2.1. Planning permit conditions for wind and solar farms should stipulate that the complaint handling procedures should support all types of complaints raised about the project and also meet minimum best practice standards for complaint handling procedures (such as the Australian/NZ Standard for Complaint Handling - AS10002:2014). The developer should implement appropriate systems and processes to support the procedures and maintain an appropriately detailed complaint register.

7.2.2. Planning permits should include a condition requiring the endorsed complaint handling procedure and the complaints register to be published on the project’s website. The website should include a toll-free number and an email address to contact the project operator to make an enquiry or complaint. Developers should also proactively implement these provisions from the very commencement of development as part of best practice transparency and community engagement.

7.2.3. Planning permits should include a condition requiring that the endorsed complaint handling procedure be followed and complied with by the proponent. Failure to comply could be deemed as a material breach of permit compliance.

7.2.4. The responsible authority should have the powers and capability to enact and audit a project’s complaint handling activities and complaints register to monitor compliance with the procedures and the planning permit conditions.

7.2.5. The complaint handling procedure and the project operator should have the capacity to accommodate handling of urgent or emergency complaints. These complaints may be related to safety issues as well as unacceptable environmental conditions, such as damage to a turbine caused by external events such as lightning strike or mechanical failure resulting in unacceptable noise emissions. The project operator should respond immediately, on-site, to assess, address and rectify such issues. While objective measures and standards may be in place for assessing matters such as noise emissions, a subjective, reasonableness test should also be applied when assessing environmental conditions, such as abnormal noise emissions, tonality, special audible characteristics and low frequency noise.

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7.2.6. Complaint handling bodies such as developers, local councils, state governments and compliance authorities should ensure their complaint handling procedures are relevant for wind and solar farm matters. Further, complaints need to be closed out at the appropriate time with the complainant being advised accordingly.

7.2.7. For extreme emergency conditions, such as a bushfire, the project operator should have appropriate controls, protocols and procedures in place, consistent with the emergency response requirements, to ensure the assets can be rapidly shut down. Power network operators should be aware the wind or solar farm capacity may need to be shut down quickly in the event of a bushfire.

7.2.8. Projects should also work closely with the relevant firefighting (and/or emergency services) agency to review and agree on protocols and procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency.

7.2.9. The project should also use appropriate marking devices to ensure transparency of other aerial obstacles such as meteorological masts, radio towers and powerlines to the firefighting agency. Material obstacles should require planning permits. If the obstacle is a risk to aviation safety, a referral should be made to CASA and the obstacle should be assessed as part of the overall aviation impact assessment.

7.2.10. Wind turbine design standards should be reviewed in light of their capability to remotely position and lock turbine blades in the event of a bushfire. Developers should strongly consider selecting turbines that conform to this standard going forward. There would also be a strong advantage if turbines were delivered with the capability to install aviation lighting even if this is not a permit requirement or intended for use under normal conditions, as the capacity to utilise these assets may assist greatly in the event of any bushfire or emergency.

7.2.11. The industry peak body (CEC) should continue to provide leadership to the industry by developing and promoting best practice standards for complaint handling, along with community engagement and quality assurance of member companies. The CEC could also encourage or mandate (via a code of conduct) that its industry members voluntarily publish their project’s complaint handling procedure and contact details, and that members are properly trained and skilled in effective complaint handling.

7.2.12. Policies and procedures for handling noise and other environmental complaints lodged with government agencies, including local councils, should be in place where the possibility exists for complaints to be made either as an alleged breach of compliance and/or under other governing legislation, such as the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 and the Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018. Overlapping legislation may well need to be revisited to avoid unnecessary duplication of process and the prospects of vexatious complaints and litigation.

8. Site Selection

8.1. Observations

Background

The selection criteria for a potential site for a proposed project may be based on a range of factors including the available wind or solar resource, proximity to existing transmission infrastructure, potential for securing landowner arrangements and other approved development in the area.

Current transmission infrastructure was originally designed and built many years ago based on the location and availability of existing energy resources (such as coal, gas, pumped hydro) which, at that time, did not envisage the significant shift to large-scale renewable resources such as wind and solar

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energy. These relatively new resources are often optimally (in all other respects) best located in different geographies and often well away from existing grid infrastructure.

Prospecting developers are not generally restricted in initiating a new project on a particular site and almost always pursue sites that are very close to existing transmission infrastructure. Developments often commence by prospectors initiating discussions with adjoining landowners at a transmission optimal site to seek their agreement to host the project. However, because existing transmission infrastructure is often located near communities, lifestyle dwellings and primary producers, prospective and developed wind and solar farms are more likely to be located in areas that will cause friction with non-involved neighbours and communities.

Site impacts

The Commissioner’s experience to date indicates that there is a much higher likelihood of community issues and concerns to contend with when a proposed or operating wind or solar farm is located near or amongst more populated areas. Often, the more populated areas correlate with the proximity and availability of transmission infrastructure, however, they can also result in a very large number of neighbours who will reside in close proximity to multiple turbines or solar arrays.

Further, there may be multiple proposed (and/or existing) projects in a given area, with the potential for residents to be ‘surrounded’ by wind turbines and/or solar arrays if such projects proceed. These scenarios could lead to a range of compounding issues for residents including noise, visual amenity and potential economic loss. A further complication may occur if project construction timeframes overlap, placing enormous pressure on local resources and infrastructure, in addition to the usual annoyances such as construction noise, traffic and dust.

Based on our complaint handling experiences, the Commissioner has found that locating wind turbines on the top of hills or ridges, while optimum for capturing the wind resource, can have greater impacts on visual amenity, may lead to specific noise and shadow flicker scenarios for residents in the valley beneath and may have other dislocation impacts on the community. Access roads for hill and ridge wind farms can also be obtrusive and significantly damage and constrain the remaining available farming land in the area.

Conversely, there appear to be minimal issues raised to date about wind farms that are located on large land holdings, or on flat or slight to moderate undulating land and sites that are well away from neighbours and towns (noting comments made earlier regarding landowner and neighbour agreements in subsections 1 and 2).

Location and capacity of transmission grid remains a significant challenge for the renewable energy industry. A number of more recently completed projects have discovered, upon connection to the grid, that there is insufficient capacity in the existing transmission line for the project’s generational output to be delivered - resulting in significant curtailment of the generation capacity of the project. In particular, a number of large-scale solar projects have experienced this situation, as these projects tend to be in more remote locations in order to capture the solar resource. Again, it may be prudent for developers to engage early with AEMO and transmission operators to ensure that the project’s output can be accommodated.

Optimising site locations

There may be opportunities to select and prioritise wind and solar energy projects in the current pipeline based on an increased likelihood of acceptance of the project by the surrounding community. With the increase in development and construction costs, the ongoing grid connection issues and the declining value of large-scale generation certificates, not all projects in the development pipeline are expected to go ahead. There is an opportunity to select projects that meet other key parameters, including economic and regional development goals, while also selecting sites that are optimal from a community impact perspective.

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Recent state and territory government initiatives, such as Renewable Energy Zones (NSW), VRET Program (Victoria) and Reverse Auction Program (ACT) have enabled governments to become involved in selecting projects that are located in more optimal sites. These administrators also have a level of control to mandate community support programs through to ensuring minimal or no cumulative effects from neighbouring projects. Upgrades to the grid system at a national level may also provide opportunities to explore new locations for renewable projects.

There can be great variances in the final design and layout from the project’s original design and approved permit conditions. As these changes occur, there are not necessarily sufficient processes in place to re-assess other nearby projects for potential compounding impacts on residents and whether or not projects with such compounding impacts should proceed. There can also be severe cumulative effects during construction of more than project in a specific locality, placing enormous pressures on roads, resources (such as gravel), accommodation and skilled tradespersons.

Given that existing projects have most likely already selected optimal sites for their location, management and selection of appropriate new sites from remaining site options may become more difficult. A more ‘top-down’ approach to selecting projects, together with appropriate long-term planning and augmentation of the grid, should assist greatly in managing this challenge going forward.

8.2. Recommendations

8.2.1. State/Territory and local governments should consider assessing proposed wind and solar energy projects on a wider range of criteria (including ability for power output to be transmitted and consumed, the suitability of a location from a community impact perspective and the degree of community support) and then prioritising projects for approval or progression accordingly. ‘Reverse auction’ feed-in tariff schemes such as the schemes deployed by the ACT and Victorian governments, could be an example of how to prioritise and incentivise projects to be developed in preferred locations. These schemes can also promote best practice community engagement. Visual amenity guidelines such as the Wind Energy Visual Assessment Bulletin for State Significant Wind Energy Development introduced in New South Wales in 2016 can also restrict development in more populated areas, including assessing the acceptability of multiple wind farms in a given location.

8.2.2. State and local governments may also consider other criteria in assessing and prioritising wind and solar energy projects, including economic development and the ability to both support regional and industry development through improved local electricity supply and infrastructure in regional communities. Appropriate zoning for renewable energy development and overlays for clarifying where it would be appropriate or not appropriate to build and operate projects should also be considered.

8.2.3. Prospecting for new wind and solar farm development sites could be subject to an ‘approval to prospect’ requirement issued by the responsible authority before formal prospecting commences. The approval to prospect a specified potential site would be granted on a range of criteria, including the suitability of the proposed site, alignment with the State’s renewable zone strategy, transmission capacity as well as the credentials of the developer and key personnel. See also Recommendation 1.2.9.

8.2.4. As part of the assessment suggested in Recommendation 8.2.1, the responsible authority should have processes in place to obtain and verify clear evidence of the developer’s consultations with affected landowners and residents and be able to assess the likelihood of strong community support for the project.

8.2.5. Once an approved project has materially commenced construction, the responsible authority may need to check other approved projects in the area which are yet to commence construction, to ensure any compounding effects on residents, including noise, shadow

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flicker and visual amenity, have been properly considered in those applications/permits. If necessary and where reasonable, the responsible authority should also have the ability to require a modification to the approved planning permit and layout of those projects that have not already materially commenced construction. Background noise levels should exclude any noise contribution from a neighbouring operating wind farm for the purposes of applying the noise standard.

8.2.6. State governments should publish and maintain a map of all operating and proposed wind and solar farms, including the location of the project, location of wind turbines or solar arrays, the status of the project (proposed, permitted, in construction or operating) as well as information about the project’s design, including number and size/rating of wind turbines or solar arrays and information about the proponent.

8.2.7. State governments, in conjunction with the appropriate Australian Government departments/agencies and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), should review current and planned transmission infrastructure to ensure it allows for new large-scale renewable generation facilities to be connected in the most optimal locations for renewable resources. AEMO’s Integrated System Plan has identified a number of potential renewable energy zones that provides insight and direction transmission planning. The resulting new and/or augmented transmission infrastructure needs to be commissioned and in place in a timely manner.

9. Health Matters

9.1. Observations

Much has been and continues to be written and researched on the topic of wind farms and health effects. Debate continues around the world as to whether a wind farm causes physiological harm to residents living within its vicinity.

In 2016, the NHMRC announced the funding of two research studies into wind farms and health. One study is focused on the effects of wind farm noise on sleep and is led by Professor Peter Catcheside at Flinders University. The other study is focused on measuring the effects of infrasound and is led by Professor Guy Marks at the University of New South Wales.

In addition, in late 2015, the Australian Government established the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines to provide advice on a range of matters including wind farm noise levels and the relationship to health effects.

A number of complaints about wind farms received by the Office include references to health impacts as a result of wind farm operations. Health conditions cited in complaints include sleep disturbance, headaches, ear-aches, ‘pounding’ in the ears, tinnitus, tachycardia, high blood pressure, sight impairment, diabetes, chest-tightening, nausea and general fatigue. The complaints generally state that such conditions are caused by audible noise and low frequency noise, including infrasound, along with vibration sensations attributable to the operation of nearby turbines. In some cases, complaints have stated that some health conditions are persisting even when the turbines are not operating.

Numerous invitations have been extended to complainants to provide evidence of their medical conditions. Complaints regarding health concerns received by the Office have, in the main, provided only anecdotal evidence regarding stated health issues and perceived causality. It has therefore been difficult to form an opinion on whether or not the stated health conditions reported by complainants are valid and, if valid, whether or not the health conditions are possibly a result of the wind farm’s operations or from some other known cause.

The Office will continue to handle complaints, with supporting evidence, from community members regarding potential health effects from operating wind farms. Since the Office has commenced,

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70 complaints about operating wind farms have been received. These complaints relate to 14 operating wind farms out of a total of more than 80 operating wind farms across Australia. Of these 70 complaints, approximately half of the complainants cited concerns about health impacts from the operating wind farms. Of these, a very small number of complainants agreed to work with the Office and provide evidence of the stated health issues. In all of these cases, the root cause of the stated health issue was not attributable to the wind farm.

Further, in 2019, only five complaints about operating wind farms were received. The clear majority of complaints received have been about proposed wind farms. On the basis that a wind farm has to be built and operating before it could possibly cause a physiological health effect, the potential cohort of potential physiological health complaints is very small.

It should also be noted that, for the last two years, the Office has not received any complaints regarding allegations of vibration sensations being caused by a wind turbine’s operation. The Office’s findings could not confirm any actual evidence of vibrations at a residence with causality from a turbine, findings which are consistent with advice received on this topic from Flinders University. The Office’s complaint data further substantiates these findings.

It is possible that stated health conditions that exist may be as a result of other known causes not related to the wind farm’s operations. Of material concern is the potential situation whereby a resident may fail to seek and obtain appropriate medical advice and treatment for a treatable health condition, due to the possibly incorrect assumption that an operating wind farm is the perceived cause of the condition. For example, if a resident is experiencing sleep difficulties, they may be advised by their general practitioner (GP) to consult a sleep specialist for a proper diagnosis of the root cause and advice on treatment to remedy the condition. If the GP’s advice is not followed, the cause of the condition may persist unnecessarily.

Health conditions may also arise as a result of stress, annoyance or anxiety related to the presence of an operating wind farm or concerns about the effects of a proposed wind farm. Further, uncertainties in relation to whether a proposed wind farm will actually proceed (a period which may extend for several years) may also contribute to stress and anxiety. Again, affected residents may need to seek appropriate medical treatment for these ancillary health conditions as well as seek ways to resolve their concerns.

In November 2019, the South Australia Supreme Court handed down its decision in relation to the proposed Palmer Wind Farm. The Court concluded that claims that the turbines would cause sickness and health issues for residents were unsubstantiated. Of note, the objectors did not provide sufficient evidence of causality from any expert medical witness. The Court’s finding has been consistent with the Commissioner’s observations and recommendations based on actual complaint experience.

The Office will continue to monitor relevant decisions that explore evidence about wind farms and health in consultation with the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines, such as the recent guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, as well as hearing outcomes, such as the Palmer Wind Farm decision and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision in Waubra Foundation v Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. The Office will also monitor and continue engagement regarding any results of the NHMRC funded studies and the work of the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines, as well as assessing any further evidence gathered through its complaint handling activities.

The Office has also observed the need for clearer, streamlined legislation that provides a balance of protecting the community while also providing a degree of certainty for the proponent. In Victoria, complaints made under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Victoria) have utilised the nuisance provisions under the Act to allege that wind farms are creating a ‘noise nuisance’, even when a wind farm has been deemed compliant with its permit conditions. Council’s should have in place clear

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procedures for investigating and determining whether or not a wind farm is causing a noise nuisance under the Act.

9.2. Recommendations

9.2.1. Federal and state governments should continue to assess the outcomes of research into wind farms and health, including outcomes of the two NHMRC funded wind farm health studies and findings of the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines. Environmental standards, such as noise standards, should be monitored and reviewed in line with any recommendations arising from these programs.

9.2.2. Residents living in the vicinity of an operating or proposed wind farm that are experiencing health conditions should be encouraged to seek appropriate medical advice to properly diagnose and treat any health-related conditions accordingly. GP's receiving patients from wind farm locations should maintain an awareness of wind farm and health matters through bodies such as the Australian Medical Association and assist patients in understanding the need for appropriate testing, diagnosis and remedies for the presented health conditions or concerns.

9.2.3. Medical practitioners who identify potential causational links between a patient’s health condition and their proximity to the operation of a wind farm should report such incidences in an appropriate way to the relevant professional body, association and/or government agency.

9.2.4. Residents who are experiencing unacceptable noise levels from a wind farm should be encouraged to report such incidents to the wind farm operator, the compliance authority and/or the appropriate regulator to initiate the appropriate investigation and resolution of the noise incidents.

9.2.5. Residents lodging health-related complaints with the Office should assist with providing and sharing any evidence regarding their stated health conditions and any medical assessments that identify possible causality of the wind farm as a contributor to the health conditions.

9.2.6. State governments may need to identify and address potential overlapping regulations and/or legislation with regard to noise emissions from a wind farm and ensure clear procedures are in place to handle, investigate and resolve such complaints raised under the various avenues.

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GLOSSARY

A-weighted scale A scale that is applied to instrument-measured sound levels to replicate the relative loudness perceived by the human ear. Amenity The visual impact a wind farm has on the landscape.

Australian Government The Government of the Commonwealth of Australia (also referred to as Federal Government). Australian Wind Alliance (AWA)

A not-for-profit organisation that supports the wind energy industry in Australia, with the objectives of boosting regional economies and reducing pollution and greenhouse emissions. Clean Energy Council (CEC) The peak not-for-profit organisation supporting the clean energy industry in Australia. The CEC represents a range of clean energy sectors and works with governments and other organisations to promote the industry. Community Consultative Committee (CCC) A CCC is a membership that is set up to facilitate consultation between wind farm developers, the community, local councils and other stakeholders that may be involved in the development phase or operation of a wind farm. Community Association A non-government association of participating members of a community who facilitate representative community engagement in the development process. Community Engagement The consultative process of wind farm developers supporting the participation of community members in the development process. Commercial Dispute An issue regarding the contractual goods or services of a wind farm whereby financial compensation has been sought by a party (for example, a host or a neighbour). Complainant One or more resident(s) from a residence who has contacted the Office for the purpose of making a complaint. Concerned Resident A person who resides in a dwelling within proximity to a proposed or operating wind farm facility, who holds concerns about potential impacts of the proposed or operating wind farm and may make a complaint to the Commissioner. Construction The stage in which the wind farm including access roads is being built. The construction stage may last a number of years. dB Decibels, a measurement unit used to describe the level or intensity (loudness) of a

sound.

dB(A) A-weighted decibels, a measurement unit that used to express the relative

loudness of sounds in air as perceived by the human ear.

dB(C) C-weighted decibels, a measurement unit that is used to measure low-frequency noise. dB(G) G-weighted decibels, a measurement unit that is used to measure to infrasound. Economic Loss The potential negative economic impact that a proposed or developed wind farm

may have on a particular community or individuals within a community. This is typically the loss or perceived loss of property values or business within proximity to a proposed or operating wind farm. Expert A person who has special skill, knowledge or authority in a particular field of study.

Health General physical or mental condition of a concerned resident.

Hz Hertz, a unit which measures the frequency of sound waves, perceived by the

human ear as pitch. The typical range of human hearing is 20-20,000 Hz. Industry Association An organisation founded and funded by businesses and other parties that have an interest in the wind energy industry. Industry Member Employee or other party who is involved as a member of an industry association. Infrasound Sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz or cycles per second, the ‘normal’ limit

of human hearing.

Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines An independent, multidisciplinary, expert group established in 2015 by the then Minister for the Environment, the Hon Greg Hunt. The Committee was primarily

established to investigate and provide advice on the potential impacts of sound from wind turbines on health and the environment. LA90,10min The A-weighted sound pressure level, obtained by using the fast time-weighting, that is equal to or exceeded for 90% of a 10 minute time interval. The values for

individual 10 minute time periods are highly variable and a function of the hub height wind speed. The actual value for a particular hub height wind speed is determined by best fitting a polynomial function of hub height wind speed, which can be up to fourth order, to the individual 10 minute time period LA90,10min values when the wind turbines are operating. It is corrected to remove the effect of the background noise by subtracting a background noise function determined in the same way when the wind turbines are not operating.

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For example, for a particular hub height wind speed, the LA90,10min function determined as described above must be less than the greater of 35 dB and the background noise function determined as described above plus 5 dB. Micro-siting The process whereby the specific location of a wind turbine is determined. National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) An independent statutory agency and expert body that promotes the development and maintenance of public and individual health standards. NHMRC provides research funding and development of advice, drawing upon a broad range of resources. Natural Environment The land, water, biodiversity, flora and fauna and the naturally occurring ecological processes that may be impacted by the development or operation of a wind farm. Neighbour A resident of a property that is within close proximity to wind farm turbine/s, but does not host the turbine. NZS 6808:1998 A recognised standard in New Zealand introduced in 1998 that provides methods for the prediction, measurement and assessment of sound from wind turbines. This standard was based on the United Kingdom 1996 Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU) report The assessment and rating of noise from wind farms (ETSU-R-97, 1996). However the New Zealand standard introduced the L95 measurement used to describe background sound in New Zealand. The standard limit was 40dB, with a ‘background +5 dB’ variable. This standard was used for all wind farms in New Zealand until the introduction of the 2010 standard and was also adopted in Victoria prior to 2010. This standard is now succeeded by NZS 6808:2010. NZS 6808:2010 A recognised standard in New Zealand introduced in 2010 that provides methods for the prediction, measurement and assessment of sound from wind turbines. This standard succeeded the 1998 version (NZS 6808:1998). While the 1998 version was introduced prior to significant wind farm development in New Zealand, a number of technical refinements and incremental enhancements were included in the 2010 standard. Notably, the standard also provided for a more stringent ‘high amenity noise limit’ in special local circumstances. Ombudsman Appointed authority to assist the public by investigating and resolving complaints on a specified issue. Planning Process A local, state or Federal Government process to determine whether a proposed project will be approved. Responsible Authority The planning authority responsible for the project from a planning/approval/compliance perspective. Safety The potential for the wind farm to cause danger, risk or injury to residents of a

community within proximity to a wind farm. May include issues such as sleep deprivation, fire hazard, or any personal well-being. Shadow flicker The shadow cast by the sun over the rotating blades of a wind turbine that results in a rotating shadow affecting neighbouring properties. Supportive Member A member of the community that is in favour of a proposed or operating wind farm,

including persons who reside in a dwelling within proximity of a proposed or operating wind farm Terms of Reference The specifications that outline the scope and limitations of the Office of the National Wind Farm Commissioner. See Appendix A. Vibration The oscillatory motion of an object or parts of an object. One of its possible causes

is infrasound from a wind turbine.

Wind Farm Maintenance/Operations Related to the ongoing process of ensuring the upkeep of the wind farm turbines for the life of the project.

Wind Turbine Device with at least one moving part called a rotor assembly, which is a shaft or drum with blades attached, which is used to convert the wind's kinetic energy into electrical power.

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APPENDIX A - TERMS OF REFERENCE 2018-21

National Wind Farm Commissioner Terms of Reference 2018-21

The National Wind Farm Commissioner has been reappointed for three years due to the ongoing growth in

renewable energy and the Government’s continued commitment to ensure community concerns are

acknowledged and addressed.

The Commissioner will work collaboratively with all levels of government, scientists, experts, industry and

the community to resolve complaints from community members about proposed and operational wind

farms, large scale solar farms (5 MW or more) and storage facilities, such as large scale batteries (1 MW or

more).

The Commissioner will refer complaints about wind farms, large scale solar farms and storage facilities to

relevant authorities and help ensure that they are properly addressed.

The Commissioner will lead efforts to promote best practices, information availability, and provide a central,

trusted source for dissemination of information.

The Commissioner, supported by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy

will report to the Minister for Energy and provide an Annual Report to the Australian Parliament on

delivering against these Terms of Reference.

The Commissioner’s role will not duplicate or override the important statutory responsibilities of other

jurisdictions, such as those relating to the planning and approval of wind farms, large scale solar farms and

storage facilities.

The Commissioner is to draw on the work of the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines.

The role of the National Wind Farm Commissioner will be extended for a period of three years, until

October 2021, and will be re-evaluated by the Australian Government prior to that date.