The Clean Energy Council has responded to the planning conditions imposed upon the Willatook Wind Farm, warning that it may be setting a dangerous precedent that could pose a risk to the state’s renewable energy and climate goals.
The conditions, released by the Victorian Government, are intended to conserve the future of the brolga, a threatened species of indigenous crane, and the southern bent-wing bat, a tiny cave-dwelling species that is critically endangered.
On 21 July, the Victorian Minister for Planning, Sonya Kilkenny, completed an assessment under the Environment Effects Act 1978.
In the concluding statement of her assessment, Ms Kilkenny concluded that the environmental effects of the project as proposed in the environmental effects statement (EES) has the potential for unacceptable residual impacts on listed threatened species, specifically Brolga and Southern Bent-wing Bat.
“However, the project’s impacts can be acceptable if it is modified, constructed and operated in accordance with the recommendations of my assessment, particularly those relating to appropriate buffers and mitigation measures for Brolga and Southern Bent-wing Bat,” Ms Kilkenny said.
“The recommended project modifications and mitigation measures set out within this assessment are essential for achieving acceptable environmental outcomes.”
Clean Energy Council Director of Energy Generation and Storage, Dr Nicholas Aberle, said that the decision reveals the urgency of reform to address broader challenges affecting the confidence of investors and industry in responsibly developing new projects critical to climate action and the energy transition.
“The decision relies on draft brolga standards which have not been finalised or approved by the government, and European standards developed for European bats.
“The arbitrary requirement for a five-month window in which construction is not allowed to proceed has been imposed without being evaluated through an already time-intensive Environmental Effects Statement process. This is not supported by evidence and is simply not workable in practice for any wind farm.”
The CEC said unpredictability from planning processes creates unnecessary risk for investors, which will affect decisions to support future project development, particularly where other jurisdictions are taking supportive action to expedite approvals processes.
“Industry are conscious of the importance of minimising the environmental impacts of clean energy projects, but without reform to approvals processes for these projects, we cannot effectively address the climate crisis that is threatening every single species and ecosystem on the planet.”
“The Clean Energy Council is in ongoing discussions with the Victorian Government to discuss how these challenges can be solved, so that this unfortunate outcome does not occur again, with little or no forewarning.”