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.