Thinking | 20 September 2019
Amendment VC161: Changes to Victoria Planning Provisions
Arising from the Victorian Government’s broad support for renewable energy and transition to a low-carbon economy, Amendment VC161 (VC161) was gazetted on 17 September 2019 amending the Victorian Planning Provisions.
VC161 will implement the Victorian Government’s commitment to support renewable energy facilities through the planning framework and assist in meeting legislated renewable energy targets. The Victorian Government has committed to targets of 25% renewable energy generation by 2020 and 40% by 2025.
The amendment is relevant to developers intending to develop renewable energy facilities in Victoria. Key features of VC161 are:
- specifying the Minister for Planning as the responsible authority in relation to planning approvals for large-scale renewable energy facilities;
- introduction of the Solar Energy Facilities Design and Development Guideline (Solar Development Guideline) as a decision guideline for planning permit applications for solar energy facilities; and
- introduction of a referral requirement to the Secretary for the department administering the Water Act for applications for renewable energy facilities in declared irrigation districts.
VC161 specifies the Minister for Planning as the responsible authority for:
- renewable energy facilities with an installed capacity of 1 megawatt or greater; and
- utility installations used to store, transmit or distribute electricity generated by a renewable energy facility with an installed capacity of 1 megawatt or greater.
If a development application is for a facility of below 1 megawatt installed capacity, the responsible authority will remain the relevant local council.
Solar Development Guideline
The Solar Development Guideline provides information for proponents considering developing ground-mounted solar facilities to export electricity generated onsite to the National Electricity Market, either directly or via battery storage.
The Development Guideline describes:
- the planning permit and application process for solar energy facilities;
- policy considerations and legislative requirements for siting and design of solar energy facilities; and
- best practice approach to site selection, design, construction, operation and decommissioning of a solar energy facility.
Under the Solar Development Guideline, solar energy facilities should have minimal impacts on surrounding communities, the environment and other land use activities. Ideally, the site should be located:
- on land with topographical conditions, avoiding the need for unnecessary earthworks or changes to the natural landscape;
- to avoid or minimise the loss of native vegetation and biodiversity (losses can be offset);
- close to the electricity grid with ready access to main roads and away from the floodplain of a major water course or wetland;
- a sufficient distance from existing urban areas or designated urban areas; and
- with adequate space between facilities to avoid cumulative impacts of built form concentration.
Key design considerations under the Solar Development Guideline include:
- boundary setbacks to minimise visual and noise impacts and support emergency management;
- landscape screening to reduce visual impacts;
- glint and glare management;
- earthworks, hazard risk management and flooding; and
- security, traffic and noise impacts.
Construction and Operation
Key construction and operation considerations under the Solar Development Guideline include:
- the requirement for an Environmental Management Plan as a permit condition addressing:
- construction methods including management of construction zones, site preparation, schedule and timing of works;
- management structure and environmental audit processes; and
- environmental management or mitigation requirements;
- risk and emergency management planning;
- site access and traffic management;
- construction noise and dust management; and
- decommissioning – lifespan of equipment, responsibility for removal, disposal of equipment and site restoration.
Referral arrangements in declared irrigated districts
VC161 introduces a referral requirement to the Secretary to the Department administering the Water Act for proposals located in declared irrigation districts under Part 6A of the Water Act (to ensure the siting and design of these facilities does not impact on the agricultural use and productivity of declared irrigation areas.
What does VC161 mean?
For developers, making the Minister the responsible authority for large-scale renewable energy facilities should reduce the burden on Councils and create a more streamlined planning permit assessment process, reducing delays and costs associated with the permit application process and improving consistency of decision making.
Similarly, the introduction of the Solar Development Guideline will provide better guidance on best practice site selection, design, construction, operation and decommissioning of solar energy facilities.
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