Environmental compliance news for business

Appeal looms over solar farm ruling; $300,000 clearing fine; New recycled sand and asphalt plants

Friday, 31 May 2019 11:53am

State government to appeal Supreme Court solar farm ruling

The Queensland government has announced it will appeal a Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a regulation mandating the use of licensed electricians to install PV panels on solar farms.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace yesterday said the state government would also apply for a stay of the Court's decision so that the regulations remain in place until the appeal is resolved.

The Supreme Court's Justice Thomas Bradley on Wednesday declared that s73A of the Electrical Safety Regulation, which took effect earlier this month, is invalid.

The Order had been sought by Maryborough Solar Pty Ltd, which is the proponent of the proposed Brigalow solar farm, and the company's decision to take the matter to court had the support of the Clean Energy Council.

"In our view, this regulation will increase the costs of projects, reduce employment opportunities for local communities, and lead to a downturn in clean energy investment in Queensland, without delivering any safety benefit," said the Council's director of energy generation, Anna Freeman, ahead of the Court's decision.

Section 73A mandated the use of licensed electricians to locate, mount, fix or remove solar panels on projects larger than 100 kW.

But Justice Bradley accepted Maryborough Solar's argument that the requirement went beyond the scope of the regulation-making powers of the parent Electrical Safety Act.

Minister Grace said she had been advised there were "solid grounds" for appealing the decision, noting that it would be on legal aspects of the judgment.

"When it comes to electrical safety there are no second chances," she added.

Cotton farmer admits illegal clearing, fights site rehabilitation order

The NSW Land and Environment Court has fined a cotton farmer $300,000 for extensive clearing that caused significant environmental harm and was carried out for financial gain.

Justice Nicola Pain fined family-run company Swansbel (Pastoral) Pty Ltd for clearing 320 hectares of native vegetation in 2013 on a property near Narrabri to plant cotton.

Swanbel pleaded guilty to the charge of clearing native vegetation contrary to s12(1) of the Native Vegetation Act.

The pastoral company's counsel argued that any fine must take into account the costs of having to fulfil the terms of an Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) rehabilitation order, as this constitutes a form of "extra-curial punishment" that Swansbel must bear.

However, Justice Pain rejected its interpretation of the rehabilitation order.

"Any cost or inconvenience incurred in taking steps to return the land to its former state cannot be viewed as a form of punishment (extra-curial or otherwise), rather it represents the undoing of the detriment caused by Swansbel's conduct," the judge said.

She also noted that the company has separately launched a court appeal over the terms of the rehabilitation order, and that no rehabilitation work has yet occurred.

Swansbel's lawyer also argued that the company hadn't completely ignored the objects of the Native Vegetation Act because it had promoted "intergenerational equity" through farming practices that boost soil health and extend the property's economic life.

But the judge said this argument disregarded the Act's other objectives, including preventing broad-scale clearing unless it improves environmental outcomes, and protecting high-conservation native vegetation.

Justice Pain noted that the cleared vegetation had included an endangered ecological community and resulted in the loss of a type of habitat associated with 52 types of critically endangered, endangered or threatened plants and animals.

The judge also noted that one of the family directors of Swansbel, who lives on the property, knew he needed to seek approval for clearing and deliberately didn't do so.

The $300,000 fine includes a discount for Swansbel's early guilty plea to the clearing charge. The judgment also took into account the company's good character.

Swansbel, which was represented by law firm Webbs and Boland, must also pay OEH costs of $40,000.

Office of Environment and Heritage v Swansbel (Pastoral) Pty Ltd [2019] NSWLEC 69 (29 May 2019)

Alex Fraser Group boosts production of recycled-content sand and asphalt

Construction materials company Alex Fraser Group says new recycled-content construction sand and asphalt plants now operating at its Laverton North (Melbourne) recycling facility will have major sustainability benefits for construction projects.

The multi-million dollar glass recycling plant can produce up to 800 tonnes of construction sand from waste glass fines each day.

The new asphalt plant can produce more than 500,000 tonnes of asphalt each year, incorporating glass fines and other recycled materials.

The two plants were officially opened today by Victoria's Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio.

Alex Fraser managing director Peter Murphy said the plants will supply road base, aggregates, sand and asphalt for projects including the Western Roads upgrade and the state government's level-crossing removal program.

Benefits include a large reduction in waste going to landfill, as well as a significantly lower carbon footprint for construction and infrastructure projects, he said.

Browse more articles on: Biodiversity, EPBC ActRenewables, low emissionsQueenslandNSWCourt cases, finesEnvironmental managementCarbon newsCompliance newsResource efficiency, waste

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