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5.1 Assessing wind energy facility proposals – matters for consideration
Proposals for wind energy facilities must be assessed against state planning policy, local planning policy and other matters specified in section 60 of the P&E Act.
These guidelines provide a responsible authority with assistance in assessing a wind energy facility. The extent and breadth of issues that arise and require assessment will differ between proposals and will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. A responsible authority should balance environmental, social and economic matters in favour of net community benefit and sustainable development.
An explanation of matters to be considered by a responsible authority in assessing permit applications for wind energy facilities follows. Some suggested impact reduction measures specific to wind energy facilities are outlined below.
5.1.1 Contribution to government policy objectives
The PPF requires that a planning authority make decisions based on fair, orderly, economic and sustainable use and development of land. In this context, the PPF contains a specific policy position regarding renewable energy in clause 19.01-2, Renewable energy. This is the overarching policy statement regarding wind energy development, which states:
To promote the provision of renewable energy in a manner that ensures appropriate siting and design considerations are met.
Facilitate renewable energy development in appropriate locations.
In considering proposals for renewable energy, consideration should be given to the economic and environmental benefits to the broader community of renewable energy generation while also considering the need to minimise the effects of a proposal on the local community and environment.
In planning for wind energy facilities, recognise that economically viable wind energy facilities are dependent on locations with consistently strong winds over the year.
5.1.2 Amenity of the surrounding area
A wind energy facility can affect the amenity of the surrounding area due to noise, blade glint, shadow flicker, visual impact, and electromagnetic interference.
A wind energy facility can create noise due to the:
- mechanical noise produced by the wind turbine generators
- movement of the rotor blades passing the tower
- electrical transformers and substations
- construction noise.
The impact of the noise depends on the sensitivity of the surrounding land uses, existing background noise levels, topography, wind speed and direction, power output from the turbines and any special auditory characteristics present – refer to Section 5.4, Page 23 of the Standard for further information.
This is why clause 52.32-4 requires a pre-construction (predictive) noise assessment report for a permit application.
A wind energy facility must comply with the noise limits in the New Zealand Standard NZS 6808:2010 Acoustics – Wind Farm Noise (the Standard).
The ‘A-frequency-weighted L90 centile level’ is the metric used in the Standard to assess wind energy facility noise. This is expressed as dB LA90(10mins), and in effect, means a sound level measurement will be the decibel that was equalled or exceeded for 90 per cent of the time over a 10-minute period.
The Standard specifies a general 40 decibel limit (40 d B LA90(10min)) for wind energy facility sound levels outdoors at noise-sensitive locations, or that the sound level should not exceed the background sound level by more than five decibels (referred to as ‘background sound level +5 dB’), whichever is the greater.
Noise-sensitive locations are defined in the Standard as, “The location of a noise sensitive activity, associated with a habitable space or education space in a building not on a wind farm site”, and include:
- any part of land zoned predominantly for residential use
- residential land uses included in the accommodation group at clause 73.03, Land use terms of the VPP and all planning schemes
- education and childcare uses included in the child care centre and education centre groups at clause 73.03 of the VPP and all planning schemes.
For further information on types of locations included, refer to Section 2.4 (Definitions) of the Standard.
A 45-decibel limit is recommended for stakeholder dwellings. A stakeholder dwelling is a dwelling located on the same land as the wind energy facility, or one that has an agreement with the wind energy facility to exceed the noise limit.
Under Section 5.3 of the Standard, a ‘high amenity noise limit’ may be justified in special circumstances. All wind energy facility applications must be assessed using Section 5.3 of the Standard to determine whether a high amenity noise limit is justified for specific locations, following procedures outlined in 5.3.1 of the Standard. Guidance can be found on this issue in the VCAT determination for the Cherry Tree Wind Farm – see Cherry Tree Wind Farm v Mitchell Shire Council (2013).
Measurement and compliance assessment methods are set out in the Standard. The assessment must be made without relying on noise reduction operation modes to achieve compliance.
What is a verification report by an EPA-appointed auditor?
Clause 52.32-4 requires an environmental auditor appointed under Part 8.3 of the Environment Protection Act 2017 to prepare a report that verifies if the acoustic assessment undertaken for the purpose of the pre-construction (predictive) noise assessment report has been conducted in accordance with the Standard.
The report issued by the EPA appointed auditor is a declaration that the noise assessments have been conducted in accordance with the Standard.
This report should be thorough but concise. The report must have adequate detail including an annexure listing all documents examined or relied upon to permit any reader to follow the deliberations that the auditor undertook in forming their view.
An EPA-appointed auditor is expected to undertake any function to apply sound engineering and audit practices, behaving in an ethical manner upholding the reputation of the “audit system” and adhere to the wording and intent of relevant guidelines. EPA has guidelines detailing the duties and responsibilities of an EPA-appointed auditor. Please visit the EPA website to learn more about the roles and responsibilities of an EPA-appointed auditor. A good starting point is EPA publication 865 Environmental Auditor Guidelines for Appointment and Conduct.
Wind energy facility noise compliance
From 1 July 2021, the Environment Protection Act 2017 introduced a general environmental duty and unreasonable noise provisions, which apply to all industries in Victoria, including wind energy facilities. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) will be Victoria’s primary regulator of wind turbine noise.
Amendment VC206 to the VPP and all planning schemes supported these changes by removing planning requirements for regulating operational wind turbine noise for a wind energy facility.
Planning permits for wind energy facilities issued after 1 July 2021
Permits issued after 1 July 2021 will not have conditions regulating operational wind turbine noise, as this will be covered under the Environment Protection Regulations (regulated by the EPA).
Permit application requirements for wind energy facilities will remain, including the requirement to conduct a pre-construction (predictive) noise assessment to demonstrate that the facility can comply with the New Zealand Standard.
Existing planning permits that have conditions for operational wind turbine noise
Wind farm operators are required to comply with the conditions of permits, including conditions that regulate operational wind turbine noise. Responsible authorities, such as councils, will continue to be responsible for enforcement of permit conditions.
To avoid duplication of requirements, wind farm operators can apply to amend existing permits under section 72 or section 97I of the Planning and Environment Act, 1987.
Blade glint can result from the sun reflecting from turbine blades.
Blades should be finished with a surface treatment of low reflectivity to minimise glint.
Shadow flicker results from the sun’s position in relation to the wind turbine blades as they rotate. This occurs under certain combinations of geographical position and time of day. The seasonal duration of this effect can be calculated from the machine’s geometry and the site’s latitude.
Shadow flicker can be modelled in advance, and siting and design can mitigate the problem. This is more likely to be an issue for turbines located to the east or west of a dwelling.
The shadow flicker experienced immediately surrounding the area of a dwelling (garden-fenced area) must not exceed 30 hours per year as a result of the operation of the wind energy facility.
The effect of wind turbines on electromagnetic waves will usually be limited. Potential electromagnetic interference effects can be calculated from information about affected telecommunications transmitting or receiving stations, local conditions, turbine design and location.
The potential for electromagnetic interference from electricity generation from a wind energy facility should be minimised, if not eliminated, through appropriate turbine design and siting.
The siting of wind turbines in the ‘line of sight’ between transmitters and receivers should be avoided.
5.1.3 Landscape and visual impact
The degree of visual impact of a wind energy facility depends on the extent of the change to the landscape caused by the development, taking into account:
- the visibility of the development (including all components: turbines, office compound, construction compound(s), substation(s) and power lines to connect to the electricity network)
- the locations and distances from which the development can be viewed
- the significance of the landscape as described in the planning scheme (including in an overlay, a relevant strategic study or landscape features referenced in the planning scheme)
- landscape values associated with nearby parks described in a schedule to the National Parks Act 1975 or Ramsar wetlands
- landscape values associated with nearby land included in the schedule to clause 52.32-2 of the planning scheme, such as specified areas of landscape and environmental significance, specified coastal locations and areas identified to accommodate future population growth of regional cities and centres
- the sensitivity of the landscape features to change. The visual impact of the development relates to:
- the number, height, scale, spacing, colour and surface reflectivity of the wind turbines
- the quantity and characteristics of lighting, including aviation obstacle lighting (subject to CASA requirements and advice)
- avoidance of visual clutter caused by turbine layout and ability to view through a cluster or array (visually well-ordered series) of turbines in an orderly manner
- the removal or planting of vegetation
- the location and scale of other buildings and works, including power lines and associated access roads
- proximity to sensitive areas
- proximity to an existing or proposed wind energy facility, regarding cumulative visual effects.
The features of the landscape include:
- the topography of the land
- the amount and type of vegetation
- natural features such as waterways, cliffs, escarpments, hills, gullies and valleys
- visual boundaries between major landscape types
- the type, pattern, built form, scale and character of development, including roads and walking tracks
- flora and fauna habitat
- cultural heritage sites
- the skyline.
Wind energy facilities will have a degree of impact on the landscape.
A responsible authority needs to determine whether or not the visual impact of a wind energy facility in the landscape is acceptable. In doing so, they should consider planning scheme objectives for the landscape, including whether the land is subject to an Environmental Significance Overlay, Vegetation Protection Overlay, Significant Landscape Overlay or a relevant strategic study that is part of the relevant planning scheme.
The visual impact of a proposal should have regard to relevant state, regional and the planning policy framework.
The following measures are suggested to reduce the visual impacts of wind energy facilities:
- siting and design to minimise impacts on views from areas used for recreation and from dwellings
- locating arrays of turbines to reflect dominant topographical and/or cultural features, such as ridgelines, the coastline, watercourses, windbreaks or transmission lines
- using turbine colour to reduce visual impacts from key public viewpoints
- limiting night lighting required for the safe operation of a wind energy facility and aviation safety
- reducing the number of wind turbines with obstacle lights while not compromising aviation safety
- mitigating light glare from obstacle lighting through measures such as baffling (fittings that absorb or screen light glare)
- selecting turbines that are consistent in height, appearance and rotate the same way
- spacing turbines to respond to landscape characteristics
- undergrounding electricity lines wherever practicable
- minimising earthworks and providing measures to protect drainage lines and waterways
- minimising removal of vegetation
- avoiding additional clutter on turbines, such as unrelated advertising and telecommunications apparatus.
5.1.4 Flora and fauna
A responsible authority should consider the effects of the proposed wind energy facility on flora and fauna at the site and in the surrounding area.
Consideration should be given to:
- whether the species and communities are protected under the EPBC Act or the FFG Act
- the sensitivity of any protected species to disturbance
- the potential loss of habitat of species protected under the EPBC Act or the FFG Act
- measures to minimise the impacts on any native species.
If the proposal is likely to have significant impacts on listed species, the responsible authority should consider whether the applicant has provided appropriate survey work (refer to Section 4.3.3 of these guidelines for more detail). A responsible authority should consider whether to impose planning permit conditions requiring monitoring of flora and fauna, including further survey work, after construction of the wind energy facility. An environmental management plan may provide for the development of reasonable and cost-effective steps to minimise any ongoing risks.
If native vegetation is proposed to be removed, a responsible authority must have regard to Guidelines for the removal, destruction or lopping of native vegetation (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning 2017). In applying the policy, there are three key steps for land managers and owners to address when considering vegetation clearing (as addressed in clause 12.01-2S of the PPF):
- as a priority, avoid the removal of native vegetation
- if the removal of native vegetation cannot be avoided, minimise the loss of native vegetation through appropriate consideration in planning processes and expert input into project design or management
- identify appropriate offset actions.
Details regarding removing native vegetation can be found on the native vegetation page at environment. vic.gov.au or contact the relevant regional office at the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA).
5.1.5 Aircraft safety
The height of wind energy turbines can be substantial, resulting in potential impacts on nearby airfields and air safety navigation. A responsible authority should consider the site’s proximity to airports, aerodromes or landing strips, and ensure that any aircraft safety issues are identified and addressed appropriately.
Although the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is not a formal referral authority for wind energy facility permit applications, a responsible authority should nevertheless consult with CASA concerning aircraft safety impacts of a wind energy facility proposal, particularly proposals that:
- are within 30 kilometres of a declared aerodrome or airfield
- infringe the obstacle limitation surface around a declared aerodrome
- include a building or structure, the top of which will be 110 metres or more above natural ground level (the height of a wind turbine is that reached by the tip of the turbine blade when vertically above ground level).
Other private airstrips may not be identified by consultation with CASA. These may be determined using aerial photographs, discussions with the relevant council, or consultation with local communities.
A responsible authority should ensure that the proponent has consulted appropriately with CASA about aircraft safety and navigation issues. It is recommended that the proponent consults and receives approval from CASA before lodging their application for ease of process. Refer to Section 4.3.5 of these guidelines for more detail.
CASA may recommend appropriate safeguards to ensure aviation safety. These may include changes to turbine locations, turbine heights and/or the provision of aviation safety lighting. A responsible authority should ensure that any concerns raised by CASA are appropriately reflected in permit conditions.
Aviation safety lighting can impact the amenity of the surrounding area. Responsible authorities may consider the following impact reduction measures (subject to CASA requirements and advice):
- reducing the number of wind turbines with obstacle lights
- specifying an obstacle light that minimises light intensity at ground level
- specifying an obstacle light that matches light intensity to meteorological visibility
- mitigating light glare from obstacle lighting through measures such as baffling (fittings that absorb or screen light glare).
5.1.6 Construction impacts and decommissioning
As outlined above, the construction of a wind energy facility and associated infrastructure (access roads and transmission lines) must be managed to minimise on and off-site adverse impacts on nearby residents and the environment. An Environmental Management Plan (EMP) must be provided as part of every planning application, setting out how environmental impacts will be managed through construction and providing future operational and maintenance specifications. Refer to Section 4.3.4 of these guidelines for more detail.
The approved EMP should be endorsed by the responsible authority and form part of the planning permit. A responsible authority should consider imposing a permit condition requiring that the use and development be conducted in accordance with the endorsed EMP.
Page last updated: 13/09/23