The Clean Energy Council and its members from the Australian wind farm industry are committed to working respectfully with wind farm communities, during wind farm development, construction, operation and end of life decommissioning.
The Australian wind farm industry takes decommissioning very seriously. No wind farm owner has ever abandoned a wind farm in Australia and the industry does not intend to ever allow this to happen. It is important to emphasise that abandonment of wind farms is not the Australian experience, and that there are no examples in Australia.
A wind farm is expected to have an operational life of approximately 20 to 30 years. After this time, the project owner will either decommission the site, restoring the area to its previous land use, or negotiate with landowners to repower or upgrade the equipment and extend the wind farm’s operational lifespan.
Decommissioning means that the wind turbines, site office and any other ancillary infrastructure is removed from the site, and roads and foundation pads are covered and revegetated, allowing land to be returned to its former use.
Sometimes parts of the wind farm that continue to serve a functional purpose may be left in place, such as the substation or access tracks. What remains will be negotiated and agreed with the landowners. In many cases, access tracks have become a desirable part of the landowner’s property and the landowner wishes for them to remain.
Who is responsible?
The decommissioning of the site is the responsibility of the owner of the wind farm. Generally, Development Approvals and landowner contracts contain clauses explicitly setting out the amount of time between the wind farm’s operational end of life and the decommissioning, and the expectations around rehabilitating the site. Typically, approval conditions also require decommissioning to be undertaken within a given timeframe of operations permanently ceasing to operate.
The Clean Energy Council and our members can ensure fair treatment of landholders after a wind farm ceases to operate. For each wind farm the owner will:
- Consult with each landowner to determine which (if any) roads, hardstands, access tracks, grids, gates and/or fences and other wind farm infrastructure should remain on the land after termination of the lease.
- Create a decommissioning plan which complies with any agreements reached with the landowners and is to the satisfaction of the Secretary.
- In accordance with the decommissioning plan and conditions of approval, remove the parts of the wind farm and restore the land to enable its previous use as agreed between the parties.
Considerations for lease agreements
A simple decommissioning plan should be created at the time at which a lease is signed with the landowner, and prior to construction. The plan should be reviewed in the final years of the lease to add detail around timing and funding, and to update any changes that are agreed between the parties. In the final years of the lease, the wind farm owner will ensure that financial arrangements are made to allow decommissioning to take place as agreed.
The following are relevant considerations for new wind farm developments in creating the decommissioning plan:
- Prior to the termination of the lease, the wind farm company should estimate the decommissioning cost and advise the landowner of the amount determined, as well as the salvage or resale value of the wind farm components, and the difference between these two values.
- In the final years of the lease, the wind farm company should deposit funds into an account and/or provide another form of financial security (including a letter of credit or bank guarantee) set aside solely for decommissioning, and these funds should be enough to ensure decommissioning to the satisfaction of the landowners.
- The fund or financial security could be maintained by an independent agent mutually agreed by the landowners and the wind farm company.
- If requested by a landowner the wind farm company should advise the balance of the account and/or value of any other form of financial security provided by the wind farm company, and the landowner may at their expense review the decommissioning cost assessment and audit the account.
- In the unlikely event that the wind farm company doesn’t commence substantial decommissioning and remediation works within 12 months of turbines no longer generating permanently, control of the decommissioning fund or other financial security should be given to the landowners or to an administrator as agreed between the parties to complete the decommissioning.