MELBOURNE University research describing Victoria’s new planning laws as too local-centric and restrictive for wind farm development has stirred up a storm.
The law school study released yesterday warns national clean energy goals could be thwarted and fossil fuel energy production entrenched because of state government planning amendments adopted on August 29 last year.
It said the state’s planning laws were biased towards local interests and ill-equipped to resolve competing local, state and national interests.
However, Moyne Shire mayor Jim Doukas and the Baillieu government slammed the report.
Cr Doukas challenged the researchers to “step into the real world” and visit the south-west to see wind farm projects in action.
“There’s nothing wrong with local councils handling wind farm permits,” he said yesterday.
“Local government knows the local situation better.”
The government dismissed the report as “political opinion”.
The study was published in the Journal of Environmental and Planning Law.
It criticised the two-kilometre set-back for turbines from houses and the power of local councils to make planning approval decisions on wind projects, rather than having them referred to the planning minister.
“This gives landowners veto power, which is an extraordinary change that is very unusual in the context of planning law,” said Lisa Caripis of Melbourne Law School’s centre for resources, energy and environment law.
“Planning law is meant to balance competing interests,” Ms Caripis said.
“However, we found that the current framework is biased towards local interests, such as land values, over more global issues such as clean energy goals, while at the same time extending wind farm “no-go” zones.”
She said media reports showed there had been no new wind farm applications since the planning changes were introduced.
However, Cr Doukas said several companies were doing preliminary work and he anticipated they would lodge planning applications “at some point in time”.
A state government spokeswoman said the university’s report “wilfully ignores the fact that there are 1000 turbines with permits that have not been built, many of which cannot get finance to begin construction”. “It is a shame the university study ignored these facts and chose to publish a paper based on political opinion,” the spokeswoman said.
Ms Caripis said wind energy was one of the most technologically mature and commercially viable of renewable technologies.
The study suggested the planning framework should have included specific planning controls to support wind farm development, as Germany has.
“Like Australia, Germany has a national renewable energy target and a federal system of government, but local planning decisions in Germany must take account of federal renewable energy policies,” Ms Caripis said.
“This means that renewable energy priorities are well integrated throughout the German planning system and is one reason why it has been so successful in moving to a low-carbon energy sector.”