By Jenelle Cramer, Senior Associate.
The recently released DELWP Draft Solar Energy Facilities Design and Development Guidelines (Guidelines) outline the assessment and development process for new large scale solar energy facilities and provide advice on the avoidance of potentially detrimental impacts. These Guidelines are the product of a review of existing guidelines and requirements applied both interstate and internationally.
In the site selection process, proponents are advised to have regard to the proximity of sites to the five Victorian Renewable Energy Zones identified in the Integrated System Plan released by the Australian Energy Market Operator in July 2018.
Planning assessment occurs pursuant to the Planning and Environment Act, and relevant parts of the applicable planning scheme, including Clauses 19.01-1S (Energy supply) and 19.01-2S (Renewable Energy). It also requires consideration of regional growth plans and DELWP’s guide entitled Community Engagement and Benefit Sharing in Renewable Energy Development. Assessment generally occurs by the local Council as responsible authority, although the Minister for Planning may be the relevant responsible authority in some instances.
In addition to setting out a suite of relevant planning legislative and policy considerations, the Guidelines also highlight other relevant considerations, including:
- Heritage and Aboriginal cultural values;
- Protection of agricultural land;
- Biodiversity and native vegetation;
- Electricity grid connection and transition and distribution infrastructure;
- Cumulative effect of solar energy facilities in an area;
- Victorian and Commonwealth environmental effects assessment processes;
- Fire management; and
- Infrastructure connections and licences.
In its best practice guidance for proponents to apply in the process of developing a solar energy facility, the Guidelines expressly stipulate that the principles are recommended, not mandatory. These principles include recommendations around:
- Community engagement and stakeholder consultation, including the development of a benefit sharing program for the community;
- The design stage, including
- Landscape and visual recommendations connected with screening, glint, glare and light spill management and design of security measures; and
- Potential offsite impacts considerations around noise, electromagnetic radiation and interference, heat, co-location and dual use with agriculture and biodiversity; and
- Construction, operations and decommissioning stages.
The consultation period for the draft Guidelines is open until 1 March 2019.
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