15/09/2021

The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has released a draft planning policy that will limit development of wind and solar farms in the vicinity of key regional cities in NSW. See attached Explanation of Intended Effect (EoIE) to amend the Infrastructure SEPP.

If any company is considering developing any wind or solar projects (incl. the expansion of any existing projects), or the acquisition/divestment of wind or solar assets, in the vicinity of Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Dubbo, Griffith, Orange, Tamworth or Wagga Wagga (Key Regional Cities) it will be important to consider the implications of the proposed changes.

The last date for any submissions on the proposed changes to the Infrastructure SEPP is 11 October 2021.

Key Changes – Infrastructure SEPP Amendments

The NSW Government has implemented Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) to (among other matters) mitigate the risk of land use conflicts with expanding regional areas. However, the NSW Government acknowledges that the majority (approx. 70%) of existing solar and wind projects are currently located outside the REZs – and further projects outside of the REZs will be required to support the NSW Government’s objective of Net Zero by 2050.

The NSW Government proposes to address the above risk by requiring consent authorities to consider specific land use conflict matters in their assessment of wind or solar projects that are located within  5 km of any residential zoned land, or 10km of the commercial centre zoned land, in the vicinity of the Key Regional Cities.

If the above triggers apply, then the additional matters for consideration include:

  • whether the development is located to avoid land-use conflicts with existing and approved uses of land;
  • whether it is likely to have a significant impact on, or conflict with, land that would be required to support the growth of a regional city having regard to any future growth areas identified in Regional Plans and Local Strategic Planning Statements and advice from Council; and
  • whether it would significantly affect the scenic quality and landscape character of a regional city, including the approaches to it, taking into consideration any values identified by the community and Council.

Implications and Next Steps

It will be important for wind and solar farm proponents to determine the potential application of the changes to existing or proposed wind or solar farm projects (or any acquisitions/divestments in this space). This will require consideration of the location of the projects to existing commercial centre and residential zoned land – and also consideration of Regional Plans, Local Strategic Planning Statements that has identified land for future residential or commercial centre growth – or any planning proposals that are already actively seeking to rezone land for those purposes.

The requirement to consider future growth areas identified in Regional Plans, Local Strategic Planning Statements (and advice from Council) gives rise to potential land use constraints for wind and solar farms – particularly in circumstances where strategic planning policies such as Local Strategic Planning Statements are typically broad brush in terms of identifying ‘future growth areas’.

Another head of risk arises from the broadening of visual impact considerations to require consideration of the scenic quality and landscape character of the Key Regional City – including on any ‘approaches’ to the city (together with any values identified by the community and Council). That position may give rise to significant increases in submissions objecting to projects (and associated approval pathway, time delay and cost implications).

The last date for any submissions on the proposed changes to the Infrastructure SEPP is October 11.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss – or if you would like any assistance with a submission to the Department.

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