To improve environmental sustainability the government and communities are seeking new renewable energy sources. Wind turbine farms are proving to be a popular renewable energy source. However, if they are inappropriately planned and developed, they have the potential to adversely affect heritage items including cultural landscapes.
Heritage Council advice on wind farms
The Heritage Council and Heritage Division support the development of sustainable energy production facilities that meet legitimate community needs, and which support and contribute to the cultural and environmental heritage of the people in NSW. The Heritage Council has produced a document providing advice that will assist the Heritage Division, local government, planners and developers in their decision-making processes regarding the siting of wind farm developments.
Wind Farms and Heritage: Heritage Council Advice (windfarms2003.pdf, 286KB)
Blayney Wind Farm. Photo courtesy David Beaver
Understanding wind farms and heritage
What is heritage?
Our heritage includes the places and objects we have inherited from our ancestors, which we value and want to pass on to future generations.
Heritage significance is of aesthetic, historic, scientific, cultural, social, archaeological, natural or aesthetic value of a heritage item for past, present or future generations.
State significance refers to heritage items that are significant to the whole of NSW, and which may be listed on the State Heritage Register.
Local significance refers to heritage items that are significant to a local shire or city, and which may be listed on a Local Environment Plan Schedule.
A Heritage Item refers to a place, building, work, relic, moveable object or precinct of heritage significance listed on the State Heritage Register or in a Local Environment Plan.
It is important to remember that while many heritage items have been identified and listed on the Local Environment Plan or the State Heritage Register, some have not, and penalties can still apply for items destroyed without investigation.
Why is heritage important?
Heritage is important not just because it is old, but because it can tell us about our history and can inform us on how our values have been shaped over time. While heritage can be beautiful to look at, it can also provide a wealth of information about the community that lived there in the past as well as today.
By understanding the decisions that society has made in the past, we are better able to understand the present and make informed decisions for the future.
What is a cultural landscape?
Cultural Landscapes are those areas of the landscape that have been modified by human activity, or have influenced human development. They include rural lands such as farms, villages and mining sites, as well as country towns and landscapes of significance to Aboriginal people. With over 40,000 years of Aboriginal occupation, the precautionary principle suggests that all Australian landscapes are cultural landscapes.
Many cultural landscapes have not yet been formally protected on the State Heritage Register or in Local Environment Plans. The Heritage Division is currently developing a report on the identification and management of cultural landscapes.
Why are cultural landscapes important?
Understanding our cultural landscapes paints a picture of our past. Gone is the idea that heritage is merely a dot on the map. Today we consider the wider settings in which homesteads and important structures were built. The idea that the structure overlooked the scenic landscape, or that the landscape provided shelter from the hot sun, can help us understand the interconnectedness of our current cultural values in our landscapes.
The practices which have shaped our values, stem from us adapting to the landscape as a society. The concept of landscape has provided a context from which to discuss national identity. In understanding our landscape as different from others, we can depict distinctive elements that contribute to our unique culture. It is our sunburnt country, with lands of sweeping plains that we wholly identify as being Australian. Not only is it through poetry that the Australian cultural landscapes have been identified, but through paintings, music, history, and conservation movements to name but a few.
How is heritage protected?
In NSW heritage is protected under the Heritage Act 1977. This act aims to "conserve the environmental heritage of the State" by protecting the cultural and natural significance of heritage items, including cultural landscapes, in NSW.
Who is the Heritage Council of NSW & the Heritage Division?
The Heritage Council of NSW administers the Heritage Act, and is the principal NSW statutory authority on cultural heritage matters. It is also a consent authority and statutory consultee on environmental heritage issues and assessment processes under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 and in relation to issues defined in the Local Government Act 1993, the Strata Schemes (Freehold Development) Act 1973 and the Strata Schemes (Leasehold Development) Act 1986. The Heritage Branch is the government agency supporting the Heritage Council of NSW.
The mission of the Heritage Division and Heritage Council of NSW is 'working with the community to know, value and care for our heritage'.
As the state government body for heritage, it is the role of the Heritage Council to assist stakeholders and the community to determine the identification and management process for heritage items, including cultural landscapes, of state and local significance.
The statutory role of the Heritage Council provides the strength to impose regulations for the management of heritage items including cultural landscapes. Important also is the recognition and promulgation of these important landscapes, and the values attributed to each, within the community.
The Heritage Council and Heritage Division have the role of managing the processes for the identification and management of cultural landscapes, and are responsible for supporting and encouraging the community to value their landscapes.
What is a wind farm?
A wind farm is any land used to generate electricity by wind force. It includes one or more turbines, and any building, or other structures or things used in or in connection with the generation of electricity by wind force.
It does not include turbines principally used to supply electricity for domestic or rural use of the land or anemometers.
Find out more about wind energy
What is community renewable energy?
Community renewable energy is a decentralised model that places ownership of renewable energy projects in the hands of local communities.
Through the Regional Clean Energy Program (RCEP), the NSW Government is creating opportunities for communities to produce their own electricity, using community-owned renewable energy resources.
Find out more about RCEP
Why is renewable energy important?
The need for renewable energy stems from many sources. Of most concern is the effect of carbon emissions within the atmosphere, and land degradation.
In 2009, the Federal Government expanded the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme to ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020. The RET scheme is helping to transform our electricity generation mix to cleaner and more diverse sources, and supporting growth and employment in the renewable energy sector.
Australia has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rates for developed countries in the world, contributing 1-2% of the global greenhouse gas emissions (EPA 1997). This results from number of factors, including (EPA 2000):
- the low population density;
- the use of private motor vehicles;
- the reliance on coal for power generation;
- infrastructure development; and,
- land clearing.
NSW has the highest population and the greatest greenhouse gas emissions for any state or territory in Australia (EPA 2000).
"In 1995 NSW and the ACT's combined emissions of greenhouse gases (excluding the effects of land clearing) totalled 127.1 million tonnes (carbon dioxide equivalent), an increase of 0.2 million tonnes from 1990." (EPA, 2000).
The NSW Government aims to increase its purchase of renewable energy for State agencies from 5% to 6%. Power utilities now offer 'green' power to businesses and households to encourage increased development of renewable energy sources (EPA 2000). Surveys on consumers have consistently found a willingness to pay higher premiums for green energy. In 1995, 58% of domestic customers from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane were willing to pay, on average, an additional AUD$5.20 per week for green energy (Green Power, in EPA 2000).
How can wind turbines & wind farms impact upon heritage, including cultural landscapes?
The construction of a wind farm will change the landscape where it sits. If this landscape is of heritage value, it can be said that the wind farm might Materially Affect the significance of that heritage landscape.
Materially Affect The changes proposed to a heritage item that will have an affect on the heritage significance of the item. This is not restricted to changes to the built fabric.
When the heritage values in a SHR listed landscape could be impacted by a development, the Heritage Division are required to advertise the proposed development, and consider whether the development will jeopardise those values. A similar process operates for LEP listed cultural landscapes with local council.
A wind farm does not automatically have a negative effect on a cultural landscape, but its potential impacts must be considered by consent authorities, and changes in the design of the wind farm to lessen such impacts may be required.
Viewshed: If the values of a heritage landscape lie in the significant views that it offers, a wind farm development can potentially materially affect the views of a place.
A viewshed can be thought of similarly to a watershed, but in terms of what we can see from a set point. A viewshed is an area composed of land, water, biotic and cultural elements which may be viewed and mapped from one or more viewpoints and which has scenic qualities and/or aesthetic values.
What about wind farms & archaeology?
A relic is any deposit, artefact, object or material evidence relating to the settlement of NSW (not being Aboriginal settlement) that is of State or local heritage significance. The archaeological resource has enormous potential to contribute to our knowledge of our history, providing information that is unavailable from other sources. It is important that archaeological resources are adequately investigated and recorded if they are to be disturbed.
Wind farms, like any development, can affect important archaeological sites (including Aboriginal cultural heritage sites).
The NSW Heritage Act 1977 protects the State's natural and cultural heritage and contains measures to protect archaeological resources. The principal legislation which deals with Aboriginal cultural heritage, particularly Aboriginal objects and places, in New South Wales is the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.
The disturbance or excavation of land for wind farms, which might disturb relics, may require approvals from the Heritage Council of NSW, while disturbance of Aboriginal objects may require approvals from the Office of Environment and Heritage.
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Page last updated: 17 November 2014