Ref: MG/AF/GG23051
4 September 2023
Hon Dr Steven Miles Deputy Premier

By Email:

Dear Dr Miles
Re: Review of the Wind Farm Code (State Code 23) & Accompanying Guidelines
AgForce is a peak organisation representing Queensland’s cane, cattle, grain and sheep, wool & goat producers. The cane, beef, broadacre cropping and sheep, wool & goat industries in Queensland generated around $10.4 billion in on-farm value of production in 2021-22. AgForce’s purpose is to advance sustainable agribusiness and strives to ensure the long-term growth, viability, competitiveness and profitability of these industries. Over 6,000 farmers, individuals and businesses provide support to AgForce through membership. Our members own and manage around 55 million hectares, or a third of the state’s land area. Queensland producers provide high-quality food and fibre to Australian and overseas consumers, contribute significantly to the social fabric of regional, rural and remote communities, as well as deliver stewardship of the state’s natural environment.
AgForce welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Honourable Dr Steven Miles, in response   to   the   review   of   requirements   for   wind   farm   developments   in   Queensland.    As communicated to the Queensland Government previously in relation to land uses that compete with agriculture, such as renewable energy projects, small-holder mining and access easements through rural properties, AgForce stands by Board-endorsed Land Use Protection Principles (see Appendix 1). In line with these principles, AgForce supports Queensland Government in proactively engaging with impacted agricultural stakeholders.
  1. Acoustic Amenity
AgForce sees that the acoustic criteria contained in State Code 23 (‘Code 23’) is contrary to best practice approaches. The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for community noise recommends that during the night, bedrooms should have less than 30 dB(A) indoors to allow for good quality sleep. Noise pollution can cause significant short and long-term health consequences including fatigue, headaches, elevated blood pressure, irritability, digestive disorders and increased susceptibility to cold and other minor infections.1 However, under Code 23 the permitted maximum noise level from wind turbines on a host property at nighttime is the greater of 45dB(A) outdoors, or the background noise (LA90) plus 5dB(A). On non-host lots the permitted maximum outdoor noise level is the greater of 35dB(A) or the background noise plus 5dB(A).
Ordinarily noise is regulated by the Department of Environment & Heritage Protection (DEHP), however, wind farms are not subject to the same noise regulations that are prescribed by the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (EP Act)/Environmental Protection (Noise) Policy 2019. This is because wind farms are not considered an Environmentally Relevant Activity (ERA) as they do not burn fuel, which AgForce sees to be at odds with the objective of Queensland’s environmental protection framework. Ultimately, this means that the DEHP has no statutory powers in assessing the noise pollution emitted by wind farms and the regulation of wind farms is done solely through Code 23.
AgForce has serious concerns about the integrity of the guidelines adopted by Code 23. In a series of emails exchanged within the DEHP it has evidently ignored concerns from its own staff. In summary:
  • On 24 August 2015, Paul Roff emailed David Cook regarding an enquiry received from the Deputy Premier of the Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Government & Planning (DSDILGP), explaining that the reply letter to the Deputy Premier needs to restate the DEHP’s opposition to wind farms being classified as an Environmentally Relevant Activity (ERA).
  • On 26 August 2015, Dr Antoine David (Technical Specialist (Noise)) from the DEHP, provided to Paul Roff (Manager Environmental Planning at the Department of Environment & Heritage Protection), a bullet point list of technical points on the Draft Wind Farm State Code after his review, which was prompted by a letter from the Deputy Premier. Dr David’s concerns are attached as Appendix 2. Dr David’s conclusion is that the Code 23 acoustic criteria will not protect residents or animals.
  • On 7 September 2015, Tony Roberts, Deputy Director-General Environmental Policy & Planning replied to Greg Chemello, (Deputy Director-General, Planning and Property Group, Department of State Development, Infrastructure & Planning) that the draft code is based on independent technical advice and has no concerns.
AgForce sees that the DEHP should have informed DSDILGP of Dr David’s concerns however, this did not occur and instead, Tony Roberts advised Greg Chemello that there are no concerns with the acoustic guidelines as they were based on independent technical advice.
AgForce takes issues with this as the acoustic consultant engaged by DSDILGP, John Savery, had no known previous experience with wind farm noise other than at the same time being engaged to provide acoustic advice for the proposed Rabbit Ridge Wind Farm at Dalveen. The Rabbit Ridge wind farm was refused by Southern Downs Regional Council in the first instance because it could not meet the requirements set by the former Noise Policy (2008) however, was later approved under the acoustic guidelines in Code 23, which were advised by John Savery. Evidently, Mr Savery had a conflict between his duty to the State of Queensland in setting the acoustic criteria in Code 23 to protect residents and animals and his duty to his client, the Rabbit Ridge Wind Farm, at the time of advising on the acoustic criteria in Code 23 and favoured his duty to his client and set acoustic criteria so that Rabbit Ridge would be approved. It is clear that the interpretation of acoustic data would have been manipulated in such a way to allow wind farms to generate greater noise levels at the cost of human and animal health and well-being.
AgForce is aware that Bryan Lyons, on behalf of Wind Energy Queensland, advised DSDILGP of this serious lack of impartiality in writing on 13 May 2014.2 DSDILGP chose to accept the conflicted advice from John Savery over the independent advice of its own noise expert.
It is bewildering that no response has been provided or no real review of the merits of the acoustic advice informing Code 23 has been performed, even with  the  conflict  of  duty  and  interest  of John Savery being raised to Greg Chemello by Wind Energy Queensland.
Dr Antoine David, in his list of concerns, has also noted that the 1.5km buffer zone from the wind turbine is insufficient as this figure was based on much smaller turbines. With larger turbines being used today it would be apt that the guidelines reflect these changes through the recommended buffer distance.
Dr David has also highlighted that the concept of wind masking has been erroneously applied in Code 23 to justify increasing noise limits at the residences (background noise plus 5 dBA) with increased wind speeds at the wind turbine (at least 1.5km away). There is no guarantee that the same wind speed will be occurring at the receptor to create background noise at the receptor sufficient to mask the noise from the wind turbine. This again undermines the reasoning behind making wind turbines exempt from acoustic quality objectives set in the Environmental Protection (Noise) Policy 2008 (now repealed) and 2019.
Additionally, Code 23 does not consider the cumulative impacts of existing wind turbines to new or expanded wind farm development. Appendix 2 of Code 23 states that the noise criteria is based on the background noise level without the contribution of existing wind farms. This is extremely unacceptable and AgForce sees that the cumulative noise impact should be considered with any application made to the State Assessment Referral Agency (SARA).
AgForce also has issue with the reference to approved sensitive land use receptors with the requirement to include noise modelling and predictions of free-field acoustic levels. Appendix 2 of the Code explicitly states that temporary or mobile habitable building structures on land are not included as sensitive land use receptors. This is a particular issue to AgForce members as often mustering or harvesting contractors will bring their own accommodation with them, either as a caravan or gooseneck and AgForce is concerned that noise levels at these sites should be included otherwise landholders may lose the ability to easily engage contractors.
Furthermore, even where projects are approved, there is little onus placed upon the proponent to perform acoustic monitoring after the initial requirement placed upon approved developments by SARA to undertake operational noise monitoring within the first 12 months of the wind farm being fully operational.3 This is unacceptable as the project could be emitting much greater amounts of noise than what has been approved. It is a flaw of the system that under the Planning Act 2016 (Qld), SARA is charged with enforcement of the acoustic conditions of approval but SARA is set up to carry out assessment of developments, it is not set up to carry out enforcement and it does not have the noise expertise to measure compliance.
Proponents should be cautious following the precedent set by Uren v Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd4 as compliance with Code 23 may not be sufficient to defend a claim in common law nuisance by neighbouring landholders. If anything, the Victorian matter should serve as an incentive for proponents to undertake proper noise monitoring throughout the course of the project’s life.
AgForce is aware of excessive noise complaints at both Mt Emerald and Coopers Gap Wind Farm with a court case on noise nuisance still in progress against the Mt Emerald Wind Farm5.
Complaints are being made to the wind farm company and are being investigated by the wind farm company. In all cases the wind farms have said the noise is compliant with their permit conditions. These complaints support Dr David’s comments that the Wind Farm Code and permit conditions based on the Code would not adequately protect the community from excessive wind turbine noise.
AgForce also has concerns about the impact of wind farms on livestock and the lack of consideration given to this in Code 23. There is little to no evidence rebutting the possibility of impacts to livestock production and the safety of producers using horses to shift stock. Animal behaviour expert from the University of Queensland, Andrew Tribe, stated in a report that both cattle and horses would take time to get used to the noise and movement of a wind turbine and that he would expect greater risk to horse and rider safety near the turbines. The British Horse Society Advisory Statement recommends a setback of at least 4 times the overall height away from the path of horses to minimise safety risk. This means that producers will be at greater risk when mustering on horseback near wind turbines, which is not contemplated anywhere within the code.
    1. 1 Recommendations in Response to Acoustic Amenity
  • That a maximum of 30 dB(A) indoors (with windows open) be the permissible nighttime noise limit averaged over 10-minute intervals as to obtain an accurate average measurement.
  • Ongoing requirement of noise compliance monitoring, recording and reporting.
  • The low frequency noise and infrasound should be assessed as part of the wind farm assessment.
  • An adequate buffer distance that reflects the size of current wind turbines should be included in the guidelines based upon advice from a more appropriate and impartial acoustician. Dr David presented a paper to the 20th International Congress on Sound and Vibration held 7 – 11 July 2013, titled ‘An Underpinning Methodology To Derive Stand-Off Distances From A Wind Farm’, on this issue.
  • A review by an independent acoustician should be obtained to inform the guidelines.
  • Further research as to the effects on livestock be conducted as to allow for adequate and appropriate compensation on impacted businesses.
  • Cumulative noise should be considered when further turbines are built on an existing wind farm.
  • The concept of wind masking should not be used in the Code.
  • AgForce has received information from Les Huson, acoustician, who recommends that the acoustic assessment should be performed on acoustically hard ground, as is the preferred method in South Australia and New South Wales.
  • Ultimately, wind farms should achieve the objectives set out in the Environment Protection (Noise) Policy 2019.
  1. Decommissioning
The Code does consider that at the end of the project the requirement that the wind farm site will be returned, as much as practically possible, to its original condition. However, there is little guidance and protection provided to landholders in this space.
AgForce takes issue with the lack of guidelines surrounding the decommissioning of wind farms within Code 23.
Whilst it is a condition of the development approval that the preparation of an end of operation decommissioning management plan be submitted to SARA before the wind farm is decommissioned,6 we do not see that this is sufficient to adequately protect the interest of landholders.
Although some project operators include a clause in their contracts to create a trust fund to deposit the funds to decommission the project into, this is usually not contemplated to commence until towards the end of the project life, such as year 15, 20 or 25. This opens the landholder up to a number of risks.
The Australian Energy Infrastructure Commissioner has referred to the event where the project owner defaults on the agreed conditions which therefore results in the liability for decommissioning the project falling to the landholder.7 Under section 73 of the Planning Act, the development approval binds the original owner of the premises, the owners’ successors in title and any occupier of the premises. The ramifications of such an occurrence are manifold. The AEIC has also highlighted that the project operator may sell the project to another company over the course of the life of the project, which could easily result in the arrangement to fund the decommissioning being lost and the enforceability of the agreement being eroded over time. There is nothing in the Planning Act to provide for the development approval to bind the wind farm proponent/developer once it transfers the wind farm, or the successors in title to the wind farm or the holding company of the proponent. Often the wind farm proponent/developer is a $2 subsidiary of a publicly listed company with no resources to fulfill the conditions – particularly the decommissioning condition.
The AEIC website states that the cost to decommission each wind turbine ranges from $400,000-$600,000, depending on the size of the turbine.8 This cost could increase vastly if there are structural failures or is unstable, where the AEIC states it could cost millions to remove each turbine from the project site. Concerningly, if the cost to decommission the wind farm did fall upon the landholder, there would likely be no avenue for the landholder to recover the costs of decommissioning the project as they would not have ownership over the project’s assets. AgForce sees that if such a cost was put onto the landholder that this would be overly burdensome and almost impossible to undertake in some circumstances. Plainly, it is completely unacceptable that this is even a possibility with the current guidelines.
  • 2.1 Recommendations in Response to Decommissioning
  • It be mandatory for the proponent/developer to commence funding a decommissioning trust fund from the project’s commencement, as it would be easier to obtain significant funding earlier on in the project life.
  • Developer to organise for a bank guarantee, sinking fund, trust fund or a security bond deposit to be held by the landowner throughout the life of the project, so that landholders can have confidence that funds are being put aside by the proponent/developer.
  • Clarity that any agreement between the original proponent/developer will be carried over to be an agreement between the landholder and any new company that buys the project.
AgForce notes that analogous requirements exist in Queensland’s mining industry legislation, the EP Act9 and federally in the offshore mining space.
AgForce is not recommending any requirements that are not already in existence in similar circumstances, hence it would seem that such a request would be wholly reasonable to impose upon wind farm proponents/developers.
  1. 3. Other Important Issues
With the risk that any omission to comment on what AgForce views to be other issues with the Code to be viewed as AgForce not having any further concerns, we would also like to briefly highlight concerns regarding the below.
  2. 3.1 Aviation
AgForce notes that proponents are required to provide evidence that AirServices Australia, Department of Defence and the district aerodrome supervisor have been consulted with however, there is no consideration afforded to landholders who engage helicopters to muster with. It has come to AgForce’s attention that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is likely to bring in further regulations regarding helicopters flying around wind farms. Some members around Duaringa have advised that if CASA brought in regulations the ferry would take an extra 15-20 minutes, which is an additional burden placed upon landholders. Code 23 does not consider who would wear the burden of a longer ferry to engage in a mustering job. Furthermore, other activities like aerial feral pest control, aerial seeding, aerial baiting and aerial spraying and capabilities to fight bushfires from the air will be impacted. The Code needs to consider the impacts for landholders who rely on aerial activities for the operation of their business, not just the needs of commercial flights, defence force or the wider community.
  2. 3.2 Electromagnetic Waves
The guidelines state ‘wind turbines can block, reflect or refract electromagnetic waves effecting microwave, television, radar or radio transmissions and reception through Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)’. It is also noted that turbines can on-transmit or scatter radio communication signals. AgForce notes that it is a condition of approval for the proponent to prepare a detailed EMI report which outlines mitigation and management measures to ensure the project does not result in unacceptable EMI impacts. AgForce is concerned that what is considered to be ‘unacceptable’ may be in reference to the wider community with no reference to what is unacceptable to host and neighbouring landholders. UHFs and VHFs are a vital resource to landholders, especially during mustering/harvesting. They are critical in communications between workers on the ground and helicopters in the sky, in some cases they can even be lifesaving. Mobile phone use, as it increases in network, is also critical to operating. AgForce would like to see that within the EMI report submitted by proponents it is mandatory to include interreferences with UHF, VHF and mobile devices used by landholders as well as basic communications such as television and satellite internet to be considered and that the term ‘unacceptable’ means unacceptable to landholders, not just the broader community.
  2. 3.3 Natural Drainage, Bushfires, Transport Networks
Code 23 also need to address natural drainage issues as to what regulations apply to drainage basins, who owns overland flow of water and what regulations there are to ensure the flow of water is not disrupted, which could result in serious erosion. The flow of overland water needs to be especially considered if new roads are to be built with the wind farm development.
Bushfire plans also need to be clearly provided and explained to landholders as this can also cause liability issues with staff who are acting on the instructions of the landholder in the event of a bushfire. AgForce has concerns that the regulations, in supporting action P09, only make reference to the construction and operational workforces and that they are appropriately protected in the event of a bushfire.
Additionally, Code 23 does not afford any consideration to agricultural traffic. For example, in some farming areas it is possible to plant and harvest eight times per year, which increases the amount of machinery and trucks on the road during these times.
  2. 3.4 Consultation with Recommended Stakeholders
The Code recommends that prior to requesting pre-lodgement advice from SARA, the applicant consults with a range of stakeholders however, AgForce has serious concerns that farmers and graziers more broadly are not mentioned in the list of stakeholders. It has become evident from other projects that there will often be major pitfalls with the development that the proponent/developer is unaware of which could easily be addressed at the planning stage before such issues become a bigger problem. AgForce recommends that farmers and graziers, other than solely the host landholder, are included in the list of stakeholders to be consulted with.
Furthermore, where there is community engagement, it has been seen that the community gathering is done in a manner that does not allow for open discussion and for other landholders to raise their concerns or their own experiences that other landholders may not be aware of. Often proponents will liaise with the crowd and not provide a seminar or informative information session, in this case there may be opportunities for individual landholders to raise concerns with the proponent however, other community members are deprived of being privy to the discussion, which may be of relevance to their own interests.

4. Conclusion
The above demonstrates not only a lack of effective community engagement, but also a lack, or deliberate omission, to consult with landholders in a broader sense. It would seem easier to discuss with the wider community and their interests, rather than the individual and niche needs of landholders, whose interests are not always aligned with the wider community eg, people in town would have no consideration of low level mustering or VHF/UHF use.
The needs of landholders need to be properly considered as it is the agricultural industry that is impacted by these developments. Furthermore, AgForce is extremely disappointed that the Regional Planning Information Act 2014 (RPI) has not been considered by Code 23 and would recommend that any amendments to the Code are also informed by the RPI Act.
Ultimately agricultural communities are discontent with the lack of common sense being applied throughout the process of wind farm development. Common sense would dictate that the Environmental Protection (Noise) Policy 2019 should apply to wind farms, wind masking should not be used as part of the methodology, a 1.5km set back is inadequate with larger turbines, decommissioning should not fall with the landholder and more broadly, the needs of landholders need to be properly considered as it is the agricultural industry that is impacted by these developments.
AgForce thanks the Minister for the opportunity to provide feedback and looks forward to continued engagement to better practices for all stakeholders involved.
If you have any questions or require further information please contact Anna Fiskbek, Policy Advisor by email: .

Approved by
Michael Guerin
Chief Executive Officer

3 data/assets/pdf_file/0027/83178/for-consultation-draft- planning-guidance-state-code-23-wind-farm-development.pdf
4 [2002] VSC 145.
5 Disley v Mount Emerald Wind Farm Pty Ltd (No 2) [2022] QSC 54.
6 data/assets/pdf_file/0027/83178/for-consultation-draft- planning-guidance-state-code-23-wind-farm-development.pdf
9 Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld), Part 14, Division 2.