The NSW government has published an energy guideline document for large-scale solar projects in order to provide the community, industry and regulators with guidance on the planning framework for the assessment and approval of large-scale solar energy development proposals.

The NSW government supports the sustainable development of a solar industry and is establishing greater consistency and transparency in regulation and assessment of solar developments. 

Through the NSW Climate Change Policy Framework, the government has an aspirational long-term objective of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. It is also committed to contributing to national and international targets related to emissions and renewable energy. 

Solar energy is a rapidly growing industry and the government wants to ensure that clear guidance is provided to proponents and the community, to promote better development outcomes and to encourage the smooth integration of the solar industry into NSW regions.

The Large-Scale Solar Energy Guideline is for solar energy development proposals under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act), and is designed for projects that are classified as being of ‘state significant development' (SSD).

Under the EP&A Act, a solar energy development is SSD if it:

  • Has a capital investment value (CIV) of more than $30 million; or
  • Has a CIV of more than $10 million and is in an environmentally sensitive area of state significance. 

The Guideline outlines the key assessment issues for state significant solar energy projects such as land use conflict, biodiversity and visual impacts. It also seeks to encourage genuine and early consultation with the community and stakeholders, consistent with best practice engagement principles. 

The NSW government says the Guideline has been designed to address the potential development impacts of solar energy infrastructure as fully as possible. The Guideline will build the government's renewable energy assessment framework, which commenced by the WindEnergy Guideline, published in December 2016. 

The Guideline is intended to apply to all development applications and modifications for state significant solar energy projects, and while it is not tailored to community or small-scale solar, the principles and key assessment issues are similar, so it may also be of use to councils and Joint Regional Planning Panels for assessing local and regional-scale solar developments.

The Guideline is not enforced through legislation and it does not have a regulatory function, however, it does explain the regulatory assessment pathways that exist for large-scale solar energy developments.

The draft Guideline is now on exhibition until February 16, 2018. The Department of Planning and Environment is seeking feedback on the Guideline.