Light shone on considerations for future solar farm applications

By Shepparton News

News of state solar guidelines being created has been warmly welcomed by Greater Shepparton City Council, after applications for developments had proved challenging to determine.

The council’s chief executive Peter Harriott said the guidelines were one of the key components the council had been asking for when four solar development applications were referred on to Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

He thanked the department for taking this step.

‘‘It’s good to see the draft guidelines being released (for comment)...We’ll look at those and no doubt make a response.’’

Mayor Kim O’Keeffe was pleased there would be some policy in place and said such guidance was necessary.

Asked how concrete the guidelines needed to be, Cr O’Keeffe said they needed to be specific and when the final guidelines were being created, suggested it was a conversation that would then take place.

Hotly-anticipated draft guidelines were this week released by the minister’s department for comment, following calls for the creation and release of them, aimed to help inform councils, developers and communities on planning requirements for large solar farm facilities and appropriate locations.

A 68MW solar farm has also been approved for Congupna by the state’s planning department.

But decisions on three other solar developments with the minister’s office have been deferred to a later date.

These three — for solar facilities in Tallygaroopna, Lemnos and Tatura East — have been sitting with Mr Wynne following a planning panel hearing and referral from Greater Shepparton City Council.

They are being deferred until more strategic work on the irrigation district is completed.

‘‘(The department) indicated that in relation to the other three (applications), that the minister wants further work done in understanding their impact, and we’d welcome that, and are happy to assist,’’ Mr Harriott said.

This week’s announcement follows a discussion locally around the best locations for solar farms, amid questions on whether they should be developed on land considered best used for prime agricultural production.

Earlier this year, the mayor had acknowledged it was difficult for the council to make decisions when it came to solar farms because no guidelines were in place.

Mr Harriott had in February labelled the ‘‘calling in’’ by Mr Wynne of applications encompassing hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs as ‘‘a sensible move’’ that would provide ‘‘consistency and the opportunity for the state to use this process to develop state guidelines for large-scale solar farms.’’

Two councillors had described the proposals as problematic for the council to determine at the time.