Clear and efficient wind farm assessment a windfall for all

The Victorian Government has established ambitious targets for renewable energy generation of 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025.  Wind farms will be a key form of renewable energy infrastructure that will help meet these targets.

Given our extensive experience in the assessment and facilitation of planning approvals for several wind farms, as well as in the establishment of planning policy/guidelines for wind farms in South Australia, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) engaged URPS to review the planning permit process.

This involved extensive engagement with key people in DELWP, statutory and non-statutory referral authorities and local councils, as well as wind farms proponents and their consultant specialists. We were then able to build a flowchart that can be used as a communication tool within and external to government to explain the key steps in the entire planning assessment process. This clarifies the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders, the timing of various steps and the ramifications of different decisions during the assessment process.

Some strengths of the existing system include “one-stop-shop meetings”, which is a forum coordinated by the DELWP wind farm team that includes agencies who provide expert advice in the planning assessment process. Such meetings help to streamline the assessment process from pre-lodgement to permit determination.

Having a centralised planning assessment team within DELWP is also typically more efficient and less resource intensive that relying on regional offices or the local Councils to lead the assessment process. As with any review project like this, the stakeholder engagement and process flowchart revealed some opportunities for the improvement to the system. For example, limited fast-track options for planning permit amendments has meant often very time consuming planning panel processes for relatively straight forward amendments to existing permits. This is an issue for most existing planning permits given the rapid changes in wind farm technology being embraced by proponents. The recent Planning and Building Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability and Other Matters) Bill 2017 is likely to improve this situation.

Model documentation has also been created as part of this project in the form of planning reports for full planning permit applications, a planning application checklist, a secondary consent planning report, plans to comply report and extension of time request.

We look forward to this project maximising the clarity, robustness, efficiency and certainty for all participants in the planning permit process for wind farms in Victoria.