Solar vies with rural

May 18, 2018

A panel considered the merits of Shepparton area solar farm proposals yesterday.

Sam Birrell

Natalie Akers

A clear set of guidelines around solar farm proposals should be developed, a planning panel has heard from farmers and other stakeholders.

A panel considering the merits of Shepparton area solar farm proposals yesterday heard from Goulburn Murray Water and landholders unhappy with applications for large-scale solar developments in the city.

Farmers opposed specifically to the proposed Lemnos solar farm gave passionate addresses to the planning panel.

Goulburn Murray Water’s Graeme Hannan, presenting on behalf of the water authority, expressed concern that solar farm locations had not been synced in regard to the region’s water infrastructure and that the so-called ‘‘swiss cheese effect’’ would continue with solar farms.

He argued ‘‘ad hoc changes’’ to land use provide challenges to the network, that solar developments needed to be integrated in a planned way and that developments provided scope for the proliferation of solar farms.

Mr Hannan suggested they be developed on low quality agricultural land and suggested irrigation would be withdrawn from land where not required.

Quizzed on the scale of impact, Mr Hannan suggested it would be incremental.

Farmer Natalie Akers argued solar developments on a $2billion irrigation backbone risked water infrastructure.

She pointed to an ‘‘abundance’’ of unirrigated land more preferable areas for solar farms to be developed and speculated people might not invest on land near these developments.

‘‘Let’s work with the solar companies to find them more appropriate locations.’’

Bernie McGill raised issues of flooding, drainage, landscaping, land use after decommissioning, soil conservation and the loss of prime agricultural land.

He also said the objectors felt overwhelmed in the face of a room full of lawyers and hundreds of pages of expert reports they had to read.

Farmer Lynette Cobbledick complained of the loss of 480ha of highly productive agricultural land and the prospect that the solar farms would render the land unsuitable for future agricultural use.

She said the loss of the Lemnos property would create a shortage of suitable horticultural land in the East Shepparton area.

Following his presentation to the panel, C4GS chief Sam Birrell stressed the group’s submission did not object to specific solar projects being considered.

But he argued for guidelines to be formed to avoid ending up in ‘‘this battle every time someone wants to put a solar farm up on irrigated farm land’’.

‘‘But we want the minister to develop a clear set of guidelines that looks at productive agriculture ... for farms with good fertility that are connected to irrigation infrastructure.

‘‘If we end up with tens of thousands of hectares of solar farms in the wrong spot, we are going to lose our key economic driver, which is irrigated agriculture.’’

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