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This paper presents background information on wind farms, examines NSW and Commonwealth regulatory regimes, and summarises recent policy developments.

The current NSW Government's "NSW 2021" commits the State to achieving a 20 percent Renewable Energy Target (RET) by 2020. This target has been a major driver of wind farm development proposals across NSW. To assist in meeting this target, a Renewable Energy Action Plan will be released for public consultation.

Wind farms figure prominently in renewable electricity projects in Australia, particularly in South Australia, Victoria and to a lesser extent NSW. Owing to strong economies of scale, wind turbines have grown to several megawatts per device, and given the low cost of wind technology compared to other renewables, it is likely to continue to dominate investment in the renewables sector. Australia has some of the world’s best renewable energy resources, including some of the best onshore wind resources along the southern coast. The potential of wind energy as a significant contributor to total energy supply is proven in South Australia, for example, where wind generation accounted for 31 percent of total electricity production in the March 2012 quarter.

Wind farms have been the subject of much recent public debate. Parliamentary inquiries have been conducted by the NSW Legislative Council and the Senate. In March 2012, a South Australian Legislative Council Select Committee was appointed to investigate wind farm developments in South Australia.

In 2011, the Victorian Government amended planning regulations to ban the construction of wind farms within two kilometres of a home without the written consent of the owner. This ban was adopted in the 2011 Draft NSW Planning Guidelines subject to certain qualifications, including a "gateway" process. The Draft Planning Guidelines also deal with other matters, such as community consultation, visual amenity, noise and health impacts. The Research Service intends to publish an e-brief on wind farms and health issues in the near future.

This e-brief starts by presenting background information on wind farms in NSW and identifying key issues in the debate. This is followed by an account of the NSW and Commonwealth regulatory regimes. The remainder of the paper summarises recent wind farm inquiries and policy developments, and closes with an overview of the 2011 Draft NSW Planning Guidelines: Wind Farms.

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