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NSW to audit sound of wind farms as new guidelines are finalized

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New South Wales is initiating an independent audit of sound levels around the three existing large-scale wind farms in the state.  While the wind farms have previously been found to be complying with their noise limits, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI) has continued to receive neighbor complaints.  The new audit will commence within a month and is expected to last until August; it will engage an independent noise consultant to determine noise levels, including low-frequency noise, and will also assess other issues that are part of the wind farms’ consent conditions, including visual amenity and any changes in flora or fauna.

The planned audit triggered vehement protest from wind advocates.  NSW Greens Member of Parliament John Kay called the move part of “a holy war against renewable energy,” saying the government response to complaints is “victimising wind farms” that are crucial to Australia’s greenhouse gas reduction strategies. Another wind proponent, Luke Foley, said the government was “pandering to flat-earthers” who are opposed to wind energy and addressing climate change.  The owners of the three wind farms all officially welcomed the audit, though one noted, “Given that these wind farms have already passed the most stringent noise assessment, we can only assume that there must be some political motivation to undertake further testing.”

The audit takes place within a larger context that’s likely responsible for much of the gnashing of teeth: in December, the DPI released draft planning guidelines for new wind farms in NSW, which are currently open for public comment through mid-March, with the results of the audit likely to shape the final version.  The draft proposes that any new wind farm will need to gain the approval of all residents within 2km; this provision is based on the numbers of complaints that have arisen at distances where the noise is quiet enough to meet noise guidelines but still loud enough to spur widespread discontent in local communities.  Victoria passed a similar 2km veto-power law this year, though Minister of DPI Brad Hazzard notes that the NSW proposal is not as absolute, as wind farm proponents can to take their plans to a regional planning panel if community opposition persists. Hazzard also stressed that his department remains committed to meeting the Australian target of 20% renewable energy by 2020; working more closely with neighbors should not preclude successful project development.  There are 17 applications for new wind farms in the works in NSW.

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