Solar farm applications totalling more than $300 million will be addressed at a Greater Shepparton City Council meeting this month.
But two councillors say the proposals are problematic for the council to determine and fear a situation where whatever the resolution, the matters may end up at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Victoria’s Planning Minister has yet to decide whether he will determine the projects, estimated to produce a total 200MW of power for the region.
The council had in November voted for its chief executive to request the minister to decide on the solar farm planning applications in Greater Shepparton and establish a process providing an opportunity for affected stakeholders to be heard.
The council is keeping quiet on the matter for now and did not shed light on what would specifically be considered.
Councillors will be briefed next week ahead of the meeting.
The council declined to comment on the matter, and Mayor Kim O’Keeffe, when contacted, also declined to comment.
Five solar farm proposals — located in Tatura East, Tallygaroopna, Lemnos, Congupna and Mooroopna — were detailed in a council report last year. These projects are expected to produce an estimated output of 217MW and cost a total $316 million, according to council projections.
The council’s main concern with the applications is ‘‘whether the loss of productive agricultural land ... for a solar farm produces acceptable planning outcomes’’.
Officers would need to consider conflicting policies and decide on net benefit.
Cr Dennis Patterson said the council needed guidance from the Victorian Government on the applications, arguing it constituted new territory to decide on.
‘‘These are the things we have to be careful on,’’ he said, adding it wouldn’t be ideal for the matters to be decided at VCAT.
Regarding uncertainty around the impact of solar farms on orchards, Cr Patterson said it was a ‘‘complicated scenario’’ where facts needed to be found.
Cr Chris Hazelman said: ‘‘We’ve heard the relevant objections from people nearby, which indicates concerns about the science, about amenity, about the alienation of agricultural land.
‘‘And in the absence of those guidelines, it would appear that regardless of what decision council makes, either for or against ... it will inevitably end up in VCAT. It’s going to make it difficult.’’
Asked about the Greater Shepparton solar farm applications, a spokesperson for Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning had prepared advice for the minister to consider, and he would make his ruling in due course.
Guidelines assisting solar farm proponents with navigating social and environment-related matters in the planning permit pre-application and application processes are in their final stages, The News understands.
OBJECTORS CONCERNED OVER PROJECTS' FARM LAND LOCATION
Objectors of solar farms across the Shepparton district are concerned about the location as all five projects are set be on irrigated agricultural land.
Concerned residents expressed their frustrations to Greater Shepparton City councillors this week and Mooroopna orchardist Peter Hall said the location was ‘‘illogical’’.
‘‘Given there’s ample dry land not connected to the irrigation system, it seems illogical,’’ he said.
‘‘I think if these projects were to go ahead, ratepayers would challenge the decision.’’
Tallygaroopna dairy farmer Natalie Akers said the proximity to other farming land was also concerning.
‘‘The proximity of dwellings to these large-scale projects is also an issue,’’ she said.
Mrs Akers said the fact there were a number of people concerned at the project was a major takeaway from the meeting.