Balance of farming, solar

May 16, 2018

Solar farm investment is welcome, but not at the cost of the region’s best agricultural land, State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed has said.

Ahead of a planning panel on Monday, Ms Sheed said while she was in favour of renewable energy production, a balance needed to be struck to make sure the interests of the city’s food production were supported in the process.

Ms Sheed was confident there was land more ideal for solar developments in the region away from irrigated agriculture.

Solar farms ‘‘must not come at the cost of prime agricultural land,’’ she said.

‘‘We are lucky to enjoy so many days of sunshine in Shepparton district and our potential to become Victoria’s solar city has been touted for several decades.

‘‘We all want to see investment in solar power, but agriculture is at the heart of our community and our regional economy, and it is important that this is protected so we can continue to do what we do best, and that is produce clean, green, high-quality food.’’

The panel will provide advice to the Victorian Energy Minister about how future solar farm applications should be assessed in Victoria, the News understands.

Planning Minister Richard Wynne in February said renewable energy created jobs, drove down power prices and boosted regional communities, ‘‘but that doesn’t mean they deserve a rubber stamp.’’

Ms Sheed wrote to the state planning, water and energy ministers last year, voicing her concerns on an existing lack of guidelines to help local councils decide on solar projects.

‘‘It is pleasing to see the government taking action on this,’’ Ms Sheed said.

She was concerned large-scale solar farms near productive irrigated land could have impacts similar to water buybacks.

‘‘It has become clear to me that there is a range of available land in our region that is away from irrigated infrastructure and close to the grid, which would be much more suitable for solar developments that we could all welcome,’’ Ms Sheed said.

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