Farmers worried about proposed solar locations

August 01, 2017

Solar farm developers are facing criticism over their choice of sites for multi-million-dollar renewable energy projects.

Seeking approval... The application for a new solar farm in Northern Victoria.

Solar site... One of the paddocks in which the proposed solar farm in Drumanure is set to be built.

Solar farm developers are facing criticism over their choice of sites for multi-million-dollar renewable energy projects.

A range of big solar projects are envisaged for northern Victoria and the southern Riverina, but some are facing opposition because of the choice of agricultural land and the proximity to housing.

Three proposed solar sites, one in Finley and two within 25km of Deniliquin, are set to be located on what farmers are calling ‘‘prime agricultural land’’.

‘‘Money has been invested on these farms to produce food and it’s going to be removed for electricity. It’s just not right,’’ Deniliquin mixed irrigation farmer Andrew Hermiston said.

‘‘It’s a no-brainer that it should go on low productive land.’’

Mayrung sheep and cropping farmer Rob Wettenhall, who lives next door to the proposed Currawarra farm, agreed the land was being wasted.

‘‘I thought it was going to be a little solar farm but it’s a whole property,’’ Mr Wettenhall said.

‘‘My first thoughts were that alternative energy is good — but it’s been put on high grade land that is in high technological irrigation country.

‘‘It sounds good but it’s the location I’m a bit dubious about as we live in food producing country.’’

Mr Hermiston said the proposed solar farms were making it tougher for Murray Irrigation shareholders.

‘‘The proposed solar farms further enhance the Swiss cheese effect for Murray Irrigation shareholders, removing productive land from water, and leaving the cost to those who remain,’’ he said.

Mr Wettenhall is also concerned about what it is going to mean for him as someone who lives on a neighbouring property.

‘‘Being a neighbour, it’s going to change the landscape where I live,’’ he said.

‘‘I live here to get away from urbanisation — aesthetically it’s going to change what I see.

‘‘They say they are going to put a tree line up, which is good, but trees take a long time to establish.

‘‘It worries me why they are putting it in my backyard when the electricity is going to be used elsewhere.

‘‘They say there’s no proof that it could affect the devaluation of my land. It could turn away potential buyers if they see I live next to a solar farm,’’ he said.

A fruit grower who operates businesses in the Ferguson Rd area opposite the proposed Tatura development, Peter Hall, welcomed the development of renewable energy projects, but has cautioned against a blind rush to embrace the developments.

He argues for strategic planning of solar farm sites to maximise their advantages in access to the grid, and minimise impacts on visual amenity, surrounding property owners and agricultural development.

‘‘If you remove prime irrigation farm land from the economic base of the region it will have an impact, and you have to ask whether it will impact the upgrading of infrastructure by Goulburn-Murray Water,’’ he said.

‘‘Perhaps we should be looking at lower value, dry land as the best place to direct these developments,’’ Mr Hall said.

‘‘Strategically planned sites would minimise objections and speed up these developments.

‘‘Keep in mind these are not small operations but they are power generation on an industrial scale.’’

Mr Hall said he would like to see the region create a reputation as a significant producer of clean energy with a supportive community and a regionally endorsed plan for the right locations.

Geoff Slorach will be surrounded by the photo voltaic cells on Turnbull Rd if the development goes ahead.

Mr Slorach owns a house on 0.6ha which has a farm property around three sides of his lot.

The CleanGen company proposes to install solar cells on 98ha of the leased land.

Mr Slorach supports the growth of solar energy but is concerned about this choice of location.

He points out that he will be surrounded by an industrial-scale operation which will have special fencing, security lighting and generating glare.

He believes the solar farms should not be located on irrigated land such as the property near him, which would effectively remove the land from agriculture.

‘‘I support solar energy, but there are plenty of other dry-land areas which could be used for the project in the region.’’

Mr Slorach said the development of solar farms should be guided by strategic planning to avoid clashes with other land use.

He is one of 14 objectors to the Ferguson Rd solar farm application, who believe the development will affect the enjoyment of their properties.

Other nearby objectors are concerned about glare, fencing, lighting and traffic.

One objector told Country News they never expected to be confronted with a commercial development when they had deliberately moved to the area because of lifestyle considerations.

Mr Hall also raised the issue of whether larger solar farms create a rise in air temperature which could have a negative effect on the chill hours required for fruit buds to set, and also enhance the environment for insects including pests.

Large-scale solar power plants can create a heat island effect similar to that created by urban areas, according to a new study.

The study’s findings indicate that rather than lower the air temperature by intercepting the sun’s rays, the installations can actually raise the temperature.

The study was carried out by the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Findings demonstrated that temperatures around a solar power plant were 3 to 4°C warmer than nearby deserts.

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