Voluntary planning agreements (VPA) with energy sector proprietors should be vetted, says the Association of Mining and Energy Related Councils (MERC).
The sector’s peak body was in Crookwell on Thursday November 8 for a workshop that hosted representatives from across the state, including the councils of the Upper Lachlan Shire, Yass Valley, Goulburn Mulwaree and Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional.
MERC executive committee members Owen Hasler, Sue Moore and Michael Banasik, with chair Peter Shinton (second from right) met with LGA representatives Thursday.
MERC’s stated vision is “empowering, resourcing and advocating on behalf of local councils impacted by mining and energy production”.
It advocates on behalf of councils to state and federal agencies.
MERC executive committee member Sue Moore, present with three fellow members and chair Peter Shinton, addressed the gathering about the vetting of VPAs.
Ms Moore, who is also the mayor of Singleton Council in the Hunter region of NSW, said councils that ended up with significant developments really needed to drill down into modelling of impacts.
“There is no doubt that all windfarms should be making a contribution back into the community,” Upper Lachlan Shire Council, general manager, John Bell said.
ULSC VPAs are now used as the industry standard, he added.
Recent figures from the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) had shown the progress of wind farm developments would produce 5923 megawatts in southern NSW and New England.
This was seven times more than what wind farms produce now, with potential for long-term, localised social and infrastructure impacts.
Energy companies are aware of the process, Mr Bell said.
The planning agreements should be mandatory not voluntary, local government needs to ensure that the community hosting the development is ensuring the appropriate community benefits, Mr Bell said.
The general manager of Forbes Shire Council, Steve Loane, said the management of VPA applications within the energy sector were often beyond the capabilities of local government organisations.
Mr Loane is also an executive committee member of MERC.
He added that councils would often tap into their own reserves to complete the work, or appeal to the proprietor of the development.
In the past 12 months, MERC has looked to include the renewable energy sector after 39 years focused on coal and metal mining.
MERC could ensure that councils got a better opportunity to scale VPA impact assessments, and that the related community could have an input, said committee member Owen Hasler.
Twenty-one regions in NSW have wind farms that are either operational or in development stages, including:
- Broken Hill
- Glen Innes
- Hanging Rock
- Steeple Flat
- Wellington, and