The Planning Assessment Commission which has investigated the non-compliance by Goldwind developers of the Gullen Range wind farm has come down heavily against the developers.
In its findings released today, Friday October 3, 2014, the Commission declared the application for modification of the original approval was “inconsistent with the intent and spirit of the Draft NSW Planning Guidelines.”
Further, the Commission found that “the application, if approved, would have significant visual impact on the non-associated residences and the proposed vegetation screening would not be able to mitigate the impact on all affected residences to an acceptable level.”
The Commission’s findings were signed by chairman Mr. Garry Payne AM and Mr. Richard Thorp.
In its finding, the Commission stated “it does not consider the benefit of the proposed modification outweighs the potential adverse impacts on the community, the rural and natural environment or on non-associated properties.”
The Gullen Range Wind Farm was originally approved by the Department of Planning in June, 2009.
This decision was upheld in an appeal to the Land and Environment Court.
However, the developers placed 69 of the 73 turbines away from the originally approved plan, 68% by less than 50 metres, others of significant distance, up to 187 metres.
An Environmental Assessment of the changes made to the positions of many of the 70-some turbines recommended that approval for modification for most be given, with one to be the subject of negotiations with a neighbouring landholder, and another to be moved back to its approved position – 187 metres away.
Most of the turbines have already been commissioned, and the remainder are currently being wired for operation.
In the finding, Mr. Payne said the commission had to consider every modification application on its merits “even if a breach has occurred – which means the Commission must consider the application in the same way it would have done if the turbines had not yet been erected.”
During its investigations, the Commission met with the developers, who claimed that project approval only provided an indicative turbine layout, and that the final layout is consistent with the approval.
The Commission had meetings with the Department of Planning, with individual owners of land affected by the wind farm, with Upper Lachlan Council, as well as calling a public meeting at Crookwell, where they heard from 39 speakers.
One argument put to the Commission at the Crookwell meeting urged refusal of the application arguing that a proponent who breached the planning legislation “should not be rewarded for committing that breach by validation of the wrongdoing.
It was argued that the turbines had been erected in breach of the original approval, and this breach should be remedied before any consideration given to any application.
The Commission met with non-host landowners Mr. and Mrs. Sam Hyde, who raised concern about the impact of turbines on their property value and noise.
“The background noise level of 48 dBA was regarded as unreasonable on a rural property,” the Commission noted.
The Hydes had been unable to sell their property, even at a 33% deduction in price.
Mr. Humphrey Price-Jones had told the Commission that the independent environmental representative had actually worked on the project and therefore was not independent.
Upper Lachlan Council advised the erected turbines were impacting radio frequencies, and public roads damaged in the construction phase should be repaired in their entirety as patch fixing caused ongoing issues.
In making their decision against the wind farm developers, the Commission noted the original wind farm approval had up to 49 non-associated residences within 2 kilometres of a turbine.
“However, the current modification seeks to locate many of these turbines even closer to non-associated residents.”
It found the developer’s proposal was inconsistent with “the intent and spirit of the draft guidelines, which proposes a 2 km distance between turbine and non-associated residence unless agreed to be the landowner or a site compatibility certificate issued.”
The Commission agreed that the increased proximity of the turbines to non-associated residences would result in visual impact on these properties.
“The proposed vegetation screening may in some instances by ultimately sufficient to reduce/block the view, but the vegetation screen itself will change the outlook and vista of the residence.
“In other cases the screen will not be adequate to mitigate the imposing view of a close-by turbine.”
On depreciated land values, the Commission noted that this was not a planning issue, but this aspect require further research and consideration..
The noise factor was a matter for the Environmental Protection Authority, not the Planning Department – “the EPA, with technical specialists in the field, is equipped the ensure the wind farm complies with noise conditions.”
In making its determination, the Commission declared it had “carefully considered the proposal, its associated impacts, the Assessment Report, stakeholders’ submissions and views expressed at various meetings, including the public meeting (at Crookwell).”