On 22 April 2022, Thynne + Macartney successfully represented the applicant, Quinbrook Asset Management Pty Ltd, in the Planning and Environment Court (P&E Court) in respect of a minor change application to amend its development approval for a peaking power generation plant near Gatton in the Lockyer Valley region.
The proposal, known as the Lockyer Energy Project, is designed to help facilitate a transition in the Queensland energy system away from coal and towards a more sustainable future.
The Development Approval
The development approval the subject of the minor change application was for a gas-fired peaking power generation plant. Peaking power plants only operate to supply power to the grid at ‘peak’ times (such as hot days when people are running air conditioning or are cooking dinner) and are used in conjunction with baseload powerplants, which meet the minimum demand.
The original development application, lodged by Westlink Pty Ltd in 2009, had been refused by the Council and was the subject of a lengthy and well-known series of appeals that resulted in multiple decisions of both the Planning and Environment Court and the Queensland Court of Appeal before it was eventually approved in 2014.
The Minor Change Application
The purpose of the minor change application was to take advantage of advancements in technology in respect of energy generation and storage.
Rather than having up to 1,000MW of gas generation capacity, the minor change sought to reduce that amount to 150MW with the balance 850MW of power to be available from a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS). BESS store energy from renewables such as wind or solar and release it back into the grid at a later time.
This ‘hybrid’ system of gas turbines and BESS will involve both the immediate export of electricity and the storage of electricity for subsequent export at times of high consumer demand, the latter being a technology which, at the time the original development application was lodged in 2009, did not exist at a commercial scale.
The gas turbines themselves are also to be of a modern, ‘fast start aero-derivative’ design, rather than the older, less efficient design contemplated by the development approval. This means the plant will be capable of rapidly providing only the energy needed during peak times and helping to reduce excess energy consumption.
The P&E Court, having considered the supporting affidavit material and written submissions, was satisfied that the change sought was indeed ‘minor’ and made a Judgment with the consent of the parties, amending the development approval to incorporate the proposed changes.
Where development approvals have been overtaken by advancements in technology, design or construction, in appropriate circumstances the minor change mechanism can be used to update the development approval.
Quinbrook’s success in updating their development approval to take advantage of new technology demonstrates the P&E Court can be accepting of such proposals, provided the statutory test for a ‘minor change’ can be met.
Tim has more than 20 years’ experience and leads Thynne + Macartney’s Planning + Environment team. He is a specialist in planning and environment law with expertise in litigation and advice concerning development management and compliance in this complex and changing area of law. With experience in enforcement and prosecution proceedings for development and environmental offences, Tim also drafts and negotiates infrastructure agreements, responds to compulsory acquisitions, Land Court litigation and advises on approvals and compliance with Environmental Authorities. He works closely with his clients to understand their objectives and to guide them through the intricacies of planning and environment law to create the best result with minimal delay or obstruction.
Holly is a lawyer in the Planning + Environment group at Thynne + Macartney. She assists clients to navigate the complexities of planning and environment law at all stages of their projects. Working closely with Tim Quirk who leads the Planning + Environment group, Holly advises developers and local governments.