So­lar pro­posal

Benalla Ensign - - Front Page - By Si­mon Rup­pert

A pro­posed $170 mil­lion so­lar farm is al­ready find­ing its fu­ture tough go­ing after a com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion at Glen­rowan showed lit­tle in­ter­est in the 21st cen­tury tech­nol­ogy.

If the project — which will be sited near the town — is to get up it might see the lo­cals dragged kick­ing and scream­ing into the era of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly power.

More than 50 turned out for the meet­ing at the Glen­rowan Re­cre­ation Re­serve last week and while it was not ex­actly pitch­forks and flam­ing torches, the mes­sage was still loud and clear.

The com­pany propos­ing the fa­cil­ity, ESCO Pa­cific, have had suc­cess in de­vel­op­ing and op­er­at­ing clean en­ergy projects and they were well pre­pared for ev­ery point raised.

There were a va­ri­ety of queries rang­ing from sen­si­ble con­cerns re­gard­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age and the ef­fect on lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture to more in­ter­est­ing queries about the noise im­pact and if the farm will af­fect the lo­cal cli­mate.

The evening was hosted by ESCO’s Head of De­vel­op­ment Al­lison Hawke who stressed to at­ten­dees that the meet­ing was just the start of pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions.

‘‘We’re at the very be­gin­ning of the project in Glen­rowan,’’ Ms Hawke said.

‘‘We’re very close to launch­ing a de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion, which then has to go through a coun­cil process and be re­ferred to var­i­ous agen­cies.

‘‘We’ll con­tinue to com­mu­ni­cate and con­sult with (the pub­lic) and try to an­swer any ques­tions to the best of our abil­ity.

‘‘Then there will be a rec­om­men­da­tion from coun­cil, if that de­ci­sion is favourable we’ll work to make a de­tailed grid con­nec­tion study, bring on-board an in­vestor and then head to­wards con­struc­tion.’’

Ms Hawke fielded a va­ri­ety of ques­tions from those in at­ten­dance, in­clud­ing Pauline Bai­ley who said she was con­cerned about a trend in Aus­tralia of squan­der­ing agri­cul­tural land.

She asked if the project could be moved to a less pro­duc­tive area in or­der to keep the pro­posed site for agri­cul­ture.

‘‘We are lim­ited in terms of where we can go,’’ Ms Hawke said.

‘‘One of the big­gest over­heads the project car­ries is the con­nec­tion to the grid.

‘‘So in or­der for a so­lar farm to be com­pet­i­tive in the com­mer­cial en­ergy mar­ket it needs to be very close to the ex­ist­ing dis­tri­bu­tion net­work.

‘‘If we could be some­where more bar­ren that would be a very easy ap­pli­ca­tion for us and prob­a­bly an amaz­ing so­lar yield, but it’s a catch-22 be­cause the dis­tri­bu­tion net­work fol­lows the pop­u­la­tion and that will gen­er­ally be near more pro­duc­tive land.’’

The other point to con­sider is that land which houses a so­lar farm can be multi-pur­pose and also used for graz­ing smaller an­i­mals, such as sheep.

Lo­cal man David Lee voiced con­cerns about the ca­bling ask­ing if ESCO were propos­ing un­der­ground or over­ground con­nec­tions to the grid.

The re­sponse was that the site would utilise ex­ist­ing over­head lines, which may pos­si­bly re­quire some re-string­ing onto ex­ist­ing poles.

The pro­posed site of the so­lar farm is 245 ha bor­dered by Glen­rowan-West and Chivers Rds, which is cur­rently agri­cul­tural land.

The ESCO pro­posal is one of three in the area, how­ever, it is un­likely that all three will go ahead be­cause of a lim­ited amount of ca­pac­ity on the net­work.

The re­al­ity is that it is likely to be first come, first served, with the first suc­cess­ful plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion tak­ing up the ma­jor­ity of what is avail­able.

There would still be ca­pac­ity for a sec­ond so­lar farm, how­ever, even if a third fa­cil­ity was green-lit it would be un­likely to go ahead be­cause of the in­creased cost of mak­ing a new con­nec­tion to the grid.

At­ten­dees raised a range of rel­e­vant ques­tions re­gard­ing the pro­posed sub­sta­tion for the site, the process of mak­ing the plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion and the po­ten­tial im­pact on the en­vi­ron­ment, specif­i­cally the af­fect it would have on the Win­ton Wet­lands.

Th­ese were all an­swered and the crowd ap­peared to be ad­e­quately ap­peased.

Some of the more comedic ques­tions in­cluded whether the so­lar farm would change the cli­mate of Glen­rowan and if the so­lar pan­els would be noisy.

To give credit to ESCO those ques­tions were an­swered with a straight face and any con­cerns were ad­e­quately ad­dressed.

Should the project go ahead it will sup­ply up to 120 MWinto the grid and help re­duce the pres­sure on more tra­di­tional and in­creas­ingly out­dated meth­ods of power gen­er­a­tion.

Hav­ing a so­lar farm in the area will also mean lo­cal prop­er­ties will ex­pe­ri­ence less power out­ages as the re­liance on sin­gle lo­ca­tion, large-scale en­ergy pro­duc­tion is re­duced.

ESCO have a long term plan to house en­ergy stor­age bat­ter­ies on the pro­posed site in the next three to five years, once the tech­nol­ogy be­comes more re­fined and the cost re­duces.

So­lar bid: The pro­posed site on Glen­rowan-West Rd could pro­vide clean en­ergy to more than 40 000 homes.

Farm in ac­tion: A sim­i­lar so­lar-farm at Parkes, NSW, shows what the fa­cil­ity at Glen­rowan might look like.

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