Draft NSW guidelines released by the NSW Planning Department on Tuesday, November 14 2023 effectively rule out wind energy projects within the New England Renewable Energy Zone (REZ).
The guidelines, the first since 2016 include a map that declares almost the entirety of the New England REZ 'less suitable' for wind projects, despite hundreds of millions of dollars being set aside to construct new electricity transmission infrastructure.
Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall has called on the state government to 'please explain' what he cites as a contradiction between the Planning Department and the Energy Corporation.
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"It's very clear the left hand of government does not know what the right hand is doing," Mr Marshall said.
"The Planning Department declares us 'less suitable' for wind projects while at the same time, the government's Energy Corporation is working to expend hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars constructing new high voltage transmission lines across our region for new projects to connect to," he said.
"This massive contradiction leaves our communities even more confused about what the future looks like."
The state government map shows sites west of Goulburn to the only ones classed as "suitable".
The suitable sites are highlighted in yellow, with 'desirable' highlighted in red and 'less suitable' in green.
Despite the parameters for wind farms, suitability mapping for solar does indicate large regions around New England and other renewable zones as either suitable or desirable.
The document notes that "it is challenging" to find any sites for wind energy that do not have "significant conflicts".
"Projects must also be designed in a cost-effective manner to provide benefits to energy consumers and reduced electricity costs.
"Overall, the site selection process should avoid impacts as far as possible. Projects should then be designed to strike an appropriate balance between competing environmental, commercial, and social factors."
The Winterbourne Wind Farm development near Walcha, NSW, has caused tension and conflict in the area, with the above concerns being raised at several community meetings.
In a statement sent later, the state Department of Planning and Environment said the draft wind energy guideline maps indicate the most desirable areas for wind energy development taking into account a range of technical, economic, and environmental factors.
"This is a tool which provides an indication of where development is likely to be located (particularly the distance from existing or planned transmission and access to good quality wind resources)," the statement said.
"The mapping does not preclude development outside of the mapped areas, nor does it affect the assessment process for projects in these areas.
"Wind energy development is much more constrained than solar because the wind resource is less prevalent.
"Therefore, it is more difficult to find suitable sites for wind energy across the state when directly compared to solar."
According to a report prepared for the Office of Energy and Climate Change (OECC) in August 2023, the first stage of the proposed REZ in New England is expected to be completed by the end of the decade.
However, according to Mr Marshall, community confidence in key government agencies is essential in ensuring a smooth energy transition away from dependence on fossil fuels towards the development of new renewables in harmony with local communities.
"Threading the needle to ensure a smooth energy transition, developing new renewables in harmony with our local communities, is difficult enough without this sort of carry-on which shatters any confidence we had in the key government agencies," said Mr Marshall.
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