The NSW Government is committed to a diverse, affordable, modern energy system. Wind energy is a key part of the state’s energy mix and is supported under the government's Renewable Energy Action Plan.
Wind farms promote investment and growth in regional NSW. Plus, they’re a cost-effective, non-rainfall dependent income stream for farming communities.
Interest in the development of wind energy projects across NSW has been strong. This is because wind energy is one of the cheapest forms of new build large-scale energy generation.
NSW has world-class wind resources. The east coast and regions along the higher exposed parts of the Great Dividing Range, like New England and the Southern Highlands, have been identified as some of Australia’s best sites. Why? Because these areas have consistently high average wind speeds and are often close to existing transmission lines.
There are currently around ten large-scale (over 5 megawatts) operational wind farms in NSW, with the potential to generate enough energy to power over 330,000 homes each year. Several of these wind farms have a capacity greater than 100 megawatts. They include:
In 2017, wind energy provided 2.7% of the total electricity generated in NSW (including ACT).
A wind turbine turns kinetic energy into mechanical power. This power can then be used for specific tasks, like pumping water, milling flour or be converted into electricity via a generator. Wind farms typically combine the output of multiple wind turbines sending the energy produced to the electricity grid. Globally, there are many onshore and offshore wind energy projects in the pipeline.
NSW has a strong pipeline of proposed new wind energy projects. As of August 2018, there are over 800 megawatts of wind generation under construction. These projects will almost double our state’s total wind energy capacity.
Sapphire Wind Farm in the New England region is one of those projects under construction – and at 270 megawatts, is set to be the largest wind farm in NSW.
Because of its long coastline and stable continental shelf, NSW has immense potential for offshore wind power generation. Currently no plans are in place to develop offshore wind projects. But that could change in the future.
On top of helping to meet the state’s energy needs, wind farms also provide their local community with a range of social and economic benefits.
Some wind farm developers support community groups to own a share of the wind farm or take ownership and responsibility of one or more turbines. Not only does this empower the community, it also results in greater financial returns, increased business and more council revenue.
Landowners who host wind farms on their properties also receive rent from the developer. Wind farms are environmentally friendly because they are compatible with farming, grazing and they provide an alternative income stream that is not rainfall dependent.
For more information, read the NSW Government report on strategic options for delivering ownership and benefit sharing models for wind farms in NSW.
Australia’s first community co-investment initiative
The government supports community-driven and community-owned renewable energy projects that deliver environmental, economic and community benefits. Sapphire Wind farm includes Australia’s first community co-investment into a large scale wind farm where members of the community are invited to invest in a renewable energy project that’s developed, financed and managed by a third party.
The NSW Government has released a Wind Energy Guideline.
This guideline gives industry and the community greater clarity, consistency and transparency when it comes to assessment and decision-making on wind energy projects.
All new wind farms are subject to appropriate government planning controls and assessment criteria. Both the total capital value and the electrical power output of the project determine which authoritative body will approve the development application. In general, projects with a capital value of:
- less than $5 million are assessed and approved by the host council(s)
- $5-30 million are assessed by the host council(s) but approved by a Joint Regional Planning Panel
- more than $30 million (or $10 million in an environmentally sensitive area) are classified as State Significant Developments (SSD). The NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) assesses these projects, which are then approved by the Minister or NSW Planning Assessment Commission.
Developers proposing to build a wind farm classified as SSD must apply to the Secretary of DPE to obtain a list of environmental assessment requirements.
The information below lists some of the project considerations. Please see the guide for a full list.
Advances in technology have resulted in wind turbines producing less noise.
The strategic placement of turbines and operational management of the wind farm is key to keeping noise levels at a minimum, especially if there are residential areas nearby, which is why standards established through the assessment process are strictly regulated and monitored by the government.
Impact on Health
There is no evidence to support the suggestion that wind farms are harmful to humans. The Australian Medical Association has advised that:
- infrasound and low frequency sound generated by wind farms are well below the level that is harmful to humans
- wind turbine electricity does not involve the production of greenhouse gases, other pollutants, emissions or waste - all of which can have significant effects on our health and well-being.
The National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) has concluded there is no consistent evidence that wind farms can cause adverse health effects. The NHMRC suggests that any further health-based studies should be limited to close exposures (i.e. less than 1.5 km).
The NSW Government’s position is informed by the scientific findings of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the advice of NSW Health. The NSW Government will continue to monitor contemporary scientific research outcomes to ensure its position reflects robust evidence of any health effects, including any advice released from the National Wind Farm Commissioner and the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines.
Hazard and risk considerations
Under normal operating circumstances, it’s extremely unlikely that a wind farm can cause or adversely affect a bush fire. Wind farms are also highly unlikely to start a bushfire by attracting lightning. Should a wind turbine be struck by lightning, built-in control systems divert the voltage safely underground.
Wind farms can operate during fire bans and they don’t impede firefighting operations from the ground or air. The Rural Fire Service does advise people living near wind farms to have a bush fire survival plan.
All SSD wind farm projects are required to develop asset protection and bushfire response procedures in conjunction with the Rural Fire Service.
Wind farm developers throughout Australia are required to liaise with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and the Royal Australian Air Force Aeronautical Information Service. This is because a wind farm proposal may be required to have an aeronautical impact study that is included in the assessment.
Impact on the Environment
Wind farms classified as SSD must follow the 'avoid, minimise, offset' principles. This means developers must try as best they can, not to affect the biodiversity of an area. If this can’t be met, the developer will have to create a conservation area of similar size and biodiversity.
When it comes to managing the visual impact of a wind farm, lots of factors are assessed. These factors could range from wind farm distance to residential areas through to distractive blade glint and turbine flicker.
The manufacturing and construction of wind farms produce emissions, but when fully operational they generate energy with virtually no emissions. One study has shown that the 'carbon payback period' for a 2 megawatt turbine, with a working life of 20 years, is between five and eight months (Haapala & Prempreeda 2014).
Timely decommissioning of turbines that are no longer in use is a standard condition of consent for NSW wind farms.
This does not have to mean that the wind farm is dismantled and removed – it could be that it is repowered with new turbines and given a new lease of life, as is the case with many older wind farms in Europe. The cost of decommissioning should be borne by the developer, not the landowner.
- Community attitudes to wind farms and renewable energy in NSW
- NSW Department of Planning and Environment: Renewable energy web page
- Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council: Wind Farms and Bushfire Operations
- Australian Medical Association: Wind farms and health
- National Health and Medical Research Council: Wind farms and human health
- NSW Renewable Energy Pipeline