The Inquiry into rural wind farms has provided an opportunity for the Committee, as well as communities, industry and government agencies, to consider the development of rural wind farms across NSW. It has been challenging and rewarding to investigate the many issues surrounding the development of wind farms in NSW.
As a readily available and commercially deployable energy generation technology wind farms have an important role in Australia’s 2020 Renewable Energy Target. Wind farms are a central component in Australia’s developing clean energy infrastructure and portfolio, essential to addressing the challenges of anthropogenic climate change and energy security. However, during the investigation of the Committee, significant community angst and concern about the establishment, project design and monitoring of rural wind farms became apparent.
NSW has recently witnessed many instances where local communities have opposed large scale residential, commercial or industrial developments. The basis of opposition varies significantly, but the one constant justification appears to be a concern that particular developments alter the very character of the community. Rural wind farms, like all other developments requiring approval under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (NSW) are not immune from public opposition. Not all people marvel at the graceful but imposing symbols of alternative energy. To some, rural wind farms are ‘environmental statues of liberty’, a step away from carbon intensive coal fired power electricity generation. To others rural wind farms are a noisy and unsightly blot on a sculptured natural landscape.
Beyond the personal, subjective views on the relative merits of rural wind farms, the Inquiry had to wrestle with the problem of systemic deficiencies inherent in the NSW planning framework aggravating community concerns about rural wind farms. The legislative requirements currently in place have the potential to leave local communities disenfranchised and effectively erodes community support for the environmental imperatives central to renewable energy targets.
The recommendations of the Committee reflect a partial way forward to address a more general community discontent with the environmental planning and assessment framework in NSW and in particular, processes under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Considering the fundamental role of wind farms to clean energy development in NSW there is pressing need to ensure community consultation and project design are not prejudiced or compromised by broader planning law deficiencies. The recommendations are geared to ensure local communities can participate in designing NSW’s renewable energy future and to encourage clean energy developments of which communities can be a part. Adoption of the recommendations will put planning processes for rural wind farms well ahead of deficiencies plaguing other major developments evaluated and approved under Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
I hope that the recommendations play a part in developing best practice for wind farm project assessment and community engagement. It is imperative that government and developers listen to real lifestyle concerns and move forward with respect for both the physical and social environment.
The Committee appreciates all those that participated in and provided information to the Inquiry. The Committee was confronted with contradictory and polarised views and reconciliation has been difficult. I hope that all participants feel that they have been able to make representations to the report allowing adequate ventilation of a diversity of views.
In conclusion I would like to thank Committee members for their efforts and goodwill in reaching unanimity in by far the majority of issues. Given the truly monumental task in what was a savagely short time frame I give particular thanks to Rachel Callinan, Beverley Duffy, Emily Nagle, Kate Mihaljek and Rhia Victorino for their assistance and hard work in bringing this report to fruition before the end of the year.