30 August 2011 – The Victorian Coalition Government has bowed to pressure groups and announced it would scale back wind farms in a move that the clean energy industry said could cost the state $3 billion in lost investment.

Planning minister Matthew Guy said the government had approved Amendment VC82, which prohibits a wind turbine being constructed within two kilometres of an existing dwelling unless there is written consent from the owner of the dwelling.

“I have already given planning control on wind farms back to local councils and have made available resources through the planning department to assist councils to make their own decisions on wind farm applications, ” Mr Guy said.

All national and state parks will be no-go zones for wind farms, as well as the Yarra Valley, Dandenong Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, Bellarine Peninsula, Great Ocean Road region, the Macedon and McHarg Ranges, and the Bass Coast.

Wind farms would not be permitted within five kilometres of regional growth areas, as specified in the Regional Victoria Settlement Framework.

“It is important that while wind energy develops, it does not do so to the detriment of rural and regional Victorians,” Mr Guy said.

However the clean energy industry has warned it will invest away from Victoria, potentially costing the state $3 billion, according to a report in The Age on 30 August.

The Clean Energy Council told the newspaper the change would cost hundreds of new jobs in regional areas and billions of dollars in investment.

An analysis for the council by consultants Carbon Market Economics before last year’s election estimated that between 50 and 70 per cent of proposed wind farms, worth up to $3.6 billion, would not be developed under coalition policy.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren was quoted as saying the policy meant landholders could in effect hold developers to ransom.

“If Victoria is prepared to impose mandatory setbacks on technology as quiet, safe and clean as wind turbines . . . what will they do to more imposing infrastructure like roads, fossil fuel power stations, factories or mines?”

The new rules affect future wind farm proposals, not those already approved. A total of 1107 turbines, with 2629 megawatts of generating capacity, have been approved for Victoria, but not yet built.

But Mr Guy rejected claims of a multibillion-dollar impact according to The Age report.

“There are still 1000 turbines permitted in Victoria, there are only 400 built,” he said. “There is still a long way to go for those turbines to be built and I do not believe that this will scuttle wind investment in the state

Renewable energy company Pacific Hydro said it remained committed to building three farms approved under Labor, but it did “not envisage” developing more in Victoria.

“Unfortunately these new wind farm rules will hold Victoria back while other states power ahead,” general manager Lane Crockett said.

Freehills environment and planning law partner Tim Power said many of the eight firms he represented in the industry agreed with Pacific Hydro.

The communications director at clean energy company Acciona, Tricia Kent, said it would re-examine its future portfolio on a national basis.

Mr Guy denied his decision was based on a link between turbines and poor health.

“I haven’t seen any evidence either in favour or against that’s definitive,” he said.

The National Health and Medical Research Council last year found there was no published scientific evidence linking wind turbines with health problems, the newspaper reported.

A senate committee has urged the government to investigate whether there is a link.

Mr Guy said the two-kilometre buffer for households was long-standing Coalition policy, chosen after studying planning schemes in New Zealand and Britain.

Opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said wind farm development had been crushed.

“The price will be paid by the loss of regional jobs, the environment and our children, who will be locked out of a green future,” Mr Tee said.

Greens MP Greg Barber said Mr Baillieu had close links with anti-wind farm groups. He said there was “not a single thing” they had asked for and not been given.

“Wind farms are one of the biggest growth areas for regional Victoria over the past 10 years and they would have been for the next 20 years, but he has killed that off,”  The Age said.

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