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Author: Petra Stock

Some aspects of wind farm development are pretty technical, and you'll somewhere along the line you'll need to hire experts to write reports or give advice. Often, a requirement of the planning application is that you have an expert to 'sign-off' certain parts of your design.

You should hire and work with external consultants to get the expert advice you need during the planning process. But it's worth noting that the quality of work can vary, as can the price you pay for it. This article looks at ways to effectively engage consultants, and the kinds of jobs they might do.

Main topics covered in this article include:

Employing consultants

One way to get the best out of consultants is to provide a detailed scope, clearly outlining your expectations. Your scope should include:

  • specific requirements regarding quality of reporting (so you can expect them to redraft work that's not acceptable)
  • the number of site visits or meetings you expect them to attend
  • any guidelines you expect them to address in their work.

The more detail you include in your scope, the better.

It's also a good idea to get at least three quotes for each study, unless you have an existing relationship with a consultant whose work you were particularly happy with.

Ensuring quality work

There are several strategies for getting the best possible standard of work from consultants. These include:

  • Make sure the project team described in the consultant's proposal is the team who actually work on your wind farm project.
  • Where possible agree a lump sum or upper limit on fees for each study.
  • Link payments to clear results. For example, 75% paid on receipt of a draft report, 25% paid on receipt of the final report with all comments addressed.
  • Look for experience on similar projects. And check the consultant team being put forward have worked on similar projects.
  • Ask consultants for references, or people you can contact to discuss the consultants' previous work before you engage them
  • Try to meet with all potential consultants before you make your final selection.

A detailed consultant selection process involves a significant amount of work. However, finding good consultants to work to a detailed scope with clear expectations, and a limit on fees, will save you considerable time and effort in the long run.

Common pitfalls when working with external consultants include:

  • poorly written and formatted reports
  • inconsistencies throughout reports
  • incorrect project details (for example, number of turbines, distance to nearby towns, height and type of turbines)
  • the project leader and team actually working on the project are different from that detailed in the proposal
  • incorrect calculations (even simple ones).

Typical tasks requiring consultants

The Auswind Best Practice Guidelines and Appendices (2006) and state planning application guidelines are your main points of reference for scoping each study. It's important to keep in mind why you're having a study written and who will be reading it. Make sure your consultant is aware of the planning guidelines of the relevant planning authority, so the report can be tailored to meet the specific requirements of your planning application.

The following table outlines the studies you may need to do as part of a wind farm planning application, an overview of the study content, additional guidelines specific to each study area, and what to look for in a good consultant. Each of the studies below is detailed in a separate article in the Detailed Assessments and development section of the wiki.

 

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Study

Description

Guidelines

Cultural heritage

To assess the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultural heritage significance of proposed wind farm site.

Study usually includes background information on history of the site, identifies known sites from relevant databases, and identifies areas of cultural heritage significance. Satisfying planning requirements may involve obtaining consent or approval from relevant local Aboriginal groups.

May require surveys, excavation and analysis of artifacts and may recommend further investigation prior to construction or monitoring during construction.

NSW - Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Standards and Guidelines Kit (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service 1997)


VIC - Guide to preparing a Cultural Heritage Management Plan For the purposes of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006
(Department of Planning and Community Development 2010)

SA - Aboriginal Heritage Act guidelines (Department of Premier and Cabinet)

Traffic

This study assesses the traffic and transport impacts during construction and operation. The report should estimate the types of vehicles and the number of trips during construction and operation, and identify appropriate routes and likely impact on the road network. It should also involve consultation with relevant state and local road authorities.

 

Landscape and visual

This study assesses the landscape and visual impact of the proposed wind farm.

This study should characterise the visual significance of the local area, identify representative public viewpoints (nearby towns, tourism sites and recreation areas) and describe the potential impact from these viewpoints. It will usually involve photo-montages, which show the expected view of the wind farm from public viewpoints, and some private views if this is necessary for your community consultation work. The report may also recommend mitigation measures such as planting trees to screen views of the wind farm.

Wind Farms and Landscape Values National Assessment Framework (Department of the Environment and Water Resources 2007)

Noise

To assess whether the wind farm complies with noise legislation.

Usually involves background noise monitoring at surrounding properties, and wind farm modeling to predict the additional noise from the wind farm at these properties. This is to determine whether the wind farm will meet the relevant guidelines.

NSW, SA - Wind farms environmental noise guidelines (Environment Protection Authority SA 2009)

VIC - Standard NZS 6808:1998 Acoustics - The assessment and measurement of sound from Wind Turbine Generators (Standards New Zealand 1998)

Shadow flicker

To assess whether the wind farm meets shadow flicker limits.

Shadow flicker depends on the position of the wind turbine blades in relation to the sun, which can cause a flickering effect at residences. This type of report involves computer modeling to predict the number of hours of shadow flicker at surrounding properties.

VIC - shadow flicker experienced at surrounding dwellings must not exceed 30 hours per year.

SA - shadow flicker is not expected to be an issue provided turbines are sited further than 500m from surrounding dwellings.

Economic and
social impact

To assess the wind farm's impact on the local community and surrounding area, impacts on tourism and local and regional economy, and community attitudes towards wind farms.


Note that a study of social impact assessment is not always required, consult closely with regulatory authorities to scope a study that meets expectations but does not go overboard.

Electromagnetic interference

This assesses the impact on nearby television, radio, aircraft safety and mobile phone signals. It involves identifying local transmitters and receivers and modeling interference from wind turbines.

 

Flora and fauna

Assesses the wind farm's impact on local flora and fauna. It involves searching federal, state and local registers to identify flora and fauna, particularly threatened species likely to be on or near the wind farm site. There will also be a flora and fauna survey of the site itself.

Additional surveys and assessments of threatened species, birds, bats and native vegetation may be required as a result of the initial flora and fauna survey or consultation with regulatory authorities.

 

Water, geology
and
environmental management

To assess the wind farm's potential impact on the local environment during construction and operation.

It may involve developing an environmental management plan.

 

Geotechnical

This study assesses the ground conditions of the site to ensure it's suitable for wind turbines and their foundations. The consultant will look for soft or sandy soils, and for underground caves.


Aeronautical

Generally a planning application will not require an aeronautical study, as such. However, you will have to show your wind farm plans to relevant authorities to confirm you're not about to build a wind farm right in a major flight path.

Generally, you need to communicate with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the RAAF.

 

More information

Overview of the planning application process
Wind farm layout design
Cultural heritage
Visual impact assessment
Shadow flicker
Flora and fauna study
Electromagnetic interference assessment
Aeronautical assessment
Geotechnical assessment
Environmental management plan
Water resource assessment
Socio-economic assessment
Traffic management plan