New solar farms raise regulatory questions

Government accused of putting "cart before the horse" on solar farms


Clear guidelines on solar farm planning applications still being developed

PLANNING RULES: Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier, told this year's Victorian Farmers Federation conference any change in land use required a comprehensive plan.

PLANNING RULES: Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier, told this year's Victorian Farmers Federation conference any change in land use required a comprehensive plan.

The State Government has been accused of putting the cart before the horse, after it announced another  three solar farms would be built in Victoria, before it released planning guidelines for new projects.

The government has announced six new solar and wind farms will be built, following Victoria’s first renewable energy auction.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the solar and wind farms would produce more 900 megawatts (MW) of clean energy.

“It’s simple – greater supply of renewable energy means lower power prices and more jobs for Victorian families,” Mr Andrews said.

Solar farms, approved as part of the reverse auction, are at Carwarp, near Mildura, at Cohuna and Winton, near Benalla.

But National Party State president and Campaspe Shire councillor Neil Pankhurst said he wondered why the Premier was so keen to make the announcement, while the government remained incapable or unwilling to release planning guidelines for solar plants.

The government has appointed an independent planning panel to consider four Greater Shepparton solar farm applications.

The panel was set up after Planning Minister Richard Wynne “called in” applications for solar farms planned for Congupna, Lemnos, Tallygaroopna and Tatura East.

It  was also expected to develop clear guidelines for the assessment of solar farm applications.

READ MORE: State Government solar farm guidelines due out in September

Cr Pankhurst said the council didn’t have a clear direction as to how solar farms were to be rated, despite already having assessed several applications.

“I really don’t understand it,” Cr Pankhurst said.

The shire had considered several applications for solar farms.

“One is on an area that was part of the Connections irrigation project, but has been decommissioned

“That was a relatively easy decision, as the land is less productive.

“The other one we considered, while it hasn’t been upgraded, was still connected to the irrigation network, which raises some concerns.”

The government appeared to be putting the cart before the horse, in announcing new projects, before the guidelines were finalised or released.

“You just wonder what they are basing their decision on,” Cr Pankhurst said.

Tallygaroopna dairy farmer Natalie Akers has lobbied against the siting of the Shepparton solar farms on irrigated land in the region.

READ MORE: Shepparton solar farms raise irrigation concerns

“I guess I would have liked to have seen guidelines out before they were approving any further solar developments,” Ms Akers said.

 “That would have been helpful.”

After productive discussions with Planning Minister Richard Wynne and Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford, she said she’d assumed the guidelines were close to being finalised, or in the drafting stage.

“We still don’t know the outcome of those four Shepparton projects, we are sitting here waiting.”

Concerns about solar farms were raised by delegates at this year’s Ballarat Victorian Farmers Federation conference.

READ MORE: Victoria’s peak agricultural lobby is turning its attention to solar farms

Delegates supported a motion that building them on land that could be connected to the irrigation system denied agriculture the opportunity to grow and maximise production.

Mr Andrews told the conference, solar farms needed to be put in the right place, where they did not compete with productive land use.

“With any large-scale development and a change in land use, you need to have a comprehensive plan,” Mr Andrews said. 

”Never forget there are already users and owners of that land and we should empower you, just as we have on fracking decisions and a range of other policies.”

A spokesperson for Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the government was developing clear guidelines for the assessment of solar farm applications, in Victoria, to give locals certainty and support jobs.

“The Minister is considering a report from an independent planning panel on the four Greater Shepparton applications and will release its report soon,” the spokesperson said.


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