Planning law update to promote new renewable energy investment
New South Wales
In an effort to advance the renewable energy sector in NSW, amendments to the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007 (ISEPP) have been made which enable:
(a) the installation of larger-scale solar systems on residential and commercial buildings without the need for development consent from the local council in certain circumstances;
(b) a public authority can now construct development for the purposes of a solar energy system without the need for development consent if the development is ancillary to an ‘existing infrastructure facility’ or an ‘educational establishment’;
(c) utility providers can construct infrastructure for ‘electricity storage’ which is associated with the electricity transmission and distribution networks without development consent; and
(d) large-scale battery storage systems can be built in permitted zones, where such development may otherwise be prohibited.
It is hoped that the ISEPP amendments, which seek to cut some of the red tape associated with undertaking such projects, will encourage further investment in innovative renewable energy projects in NSW. Planning and Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes has commented that the amendments ensure planning requirements are aligned with advances in technology and enable emerging energy projects to progress through the planning system more efficiently.
Proponents of proposed renewable projects should consider working closely with relevant public authorities and utility providers to utilise these streamlined approval pathways for energy storage infrastructure.
The amendments also compliment the NSW Government’s $75 million Emerging Energy Program which aims to support the development of large scale electricity and storage programs by making it easier to invest in emerging technologies. Under the Emerging Energy Program a number of funding streams are available which offer grants to speed up project development for activities that will lead to development of a dispatchable electricity project (i.e. projects involving sources of electricity that can be used on demand and dispatched at the request of power grid operators, subject to what the market requires) or where the funding is needed to assist with the construction of a dispatchable electricity project.
With increases to wind and solar electricity generation over recent years (as more residents and businesses install smaller-scale solar panels on their properties), it is anticipated that the new changes will increase this trend towards the development and use of renewable energy sources.
In Queensland, there has not been a significant change to planning rules for renewable energy in recent times. The position remains that:
(a) small scale (domestic) solar installations are subject to State building codes and local planning approval (if applicable);
(b) large scale solar energy projects are subject to local government planning approval; but
(c) wind farms are not within the scope of local government planning schemes, and are instead approved by the State Government. Local Governments have no direct role in approving wind farms (although can be involved tangentially, including through agreements about using local roads and facilities).
While a defined use of ‘renewable energy facility’ was introduced in the State legislation in 2017, the wording (which speaks to the ‘generation’ of electricity) does not neatly cover the emerging battery storage component of the renewable energy industry (particularly for standalone facilities removed from the generating component). This emerging issue is likely to receive further consideration in the future.
In Queensland, a review of the State’s energy laws is currently underway in light of the changes to the energy sector and to address suggestions made by key stakeholders. The specific laws under review are the Electricity Act 1994, the Gas Supply Act 2003, the Energy and Water Ombudsman Act 2006 and the Liquid Fuel Supply Act 1984.
Amongst other things, the review aims to ensure that Queensland has a regulatory framework in place which provides for emerging technologies and provides support for the State’s Affordable Energy Plan and target of 50 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030.
The ten year review of this energy legislation kicked off in May 2018 when an issues paper was released inviting stakeholders to make submissions. Those submissions have since been compiled and the Queensland Government published a detailed options paper on 25 October 2019, proposing ways to modernise Queensland’s state energy laws. Community consultation on the options proposed closed on 31 January 2020 and the feedback received is currently being considered for the preparation of a decision paper.
In project news, the Queensland Government has announced work will commence on Australia’s biggest solar farm, located in the Western Downs Region of Queensland (approximately 250km north west of Brisbane) in July this year. The Government owned corporation, CleanCo Queensland Limited, is offering support to the project by committing to purchase 320MW of the eventual 400MW output of the project.
This publication covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. It is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.