Solar farms raise land use concern

08 Mar, 2018 12:24 PM
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Natalie Akers: The failure to have a Victorian strategy about the location of solar farms and guidelines sees a scattergun approach to their installation.
I am not opposed to solar developments, but do not believe they should be built on productive land..
Natalie Akers: The failure to have a Victorian strategy about the location of solar farms and guidelines sees a scattergun approach to their installation.

A prominent Tallygaroopna, Vic, dairyfarmer says the planned $300 million investment in Shepparton, Vic, solar farms shows the market is outrunning planning regulations.

Natalie Akers said she was deeply concerned at the plans to build four farms on prime agricultural land.

They were also planned for land with extensive, modernised irrigation infrastructure.

Ms Akers said it appeared solar companies were looking for “cheap and easy options” because Victoria had no solar farm planning guidelines.

“I am not opposed to solar developments, but do not believe they should be built on productive agricultural irrigation properties on the $2 billion irrigation backbone,” Ms Akers said.

“The failure to have a Victorian strategy about the location of solar farms and guidelines sees a scattergun approach to their installation.

“That impacts on the $2 billion irrigation upgrade, where we could very well see stranded water assets.”

The State Government will now make a decision on the four solar farms, valued at about $300 million.

The Shepparton council asked the Planning Minister to determine the suitability of projects, planned for Congupna, Lemnos, Tallygaroopna and Tatura East.

Ms Akers said Shepparton’s irrigation system was modernised in 2007.

“Each farm is going to have one or two outlets and each meter would cost $60,000, on top of the cost of the regulators in the channels," she said.

“Victoria has 60 pages of guidelines if you want to build a wind farm but no guidelines for solar farms.”

Ms Akers said she had found “sensible” guidelines for solar farms in the United Kingdom, where agricultural land was graded from the most to the least productive.

NSW was also in the process of finalising guidelines and had put proposals out for consultation.

She said orchardists had also found research showing solar farms created a heat island, increasing the local temperature by three to four degrees.

Shepparton mayor Kim O’Keefe said the council was pleased the State Government would now make a decision on the proposed projects.

She said 55 objections had been raised about the impact on farming, including the use of irrigation land.

The council needed to look at solar farms as an opportunity, but the projects needed to be built in the right places.

“We are always very mindful of protecting irrigated land,” Cr O’Keefe said.

Planning Minister Richard Wynne said he had convened an independent panel to consider the merits of the proposals.

The panel would also provide advice about how future applications would be assessed.

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