SO­LAR GO­ING AHEAD

So­lar project rides over land­hold­ers’ con­cerns

Chinchilla News - - FRONT PAGE - Julia Baker Julia.Baker@ chin­chillanews.com.au

MELON farmer Darryl O’Leary has blasted coun­cil’s ap­proval of a mas­sive so­lar en­ergy plant within hundreds of me­tres of his home, say­ing they had “taken the easy way out”.

First So­lar was given the green light by coun­cil to build a 100MW, 250ha so­lar farm north of Chin­chilla de­spite con­cerns raised by Mr O’Leary and his neigh­bour, Keith Wol­ski, about the lo­ca­tion of the project.

He said coun­cil needed to change its pro­cesses when it comes to con­sult­ing with land­hold­ers about the de­vel­op­ment of en­ergy pro­jects in the re­gion.

“They know what I am try­ing to say and they say to me ‘yeah we un­der­stand’, but they should try and change it be­cause talk is cheap and ac­tion is what you need,” Mr O’Leary said.

“I un­der­stand coun­cil was in a bit of a sticky sit­u­a­tion but they took the easy way out.”

The en­ergy com­pany had been in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Mr O’Leary over nu­mer­ous con­cerns, in­clud­ing that so­lar pan­els were too close to his res­i­den­tial prop­erty.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions re­sulted in the bound­ary of the project de­vel­op­ment area be­ing moved back 375m to 507m from the two homes to the east of the project.

“It will be a dif­fer­ence, it will take a bit away from you but we asked for 800m and the best we got was 375m,” he said. Mr O’Leary has no rights to ap­peal the de­ci­sion and is con­cerned for other land­hold­ers in the com­mu­nity with the ad­vance­ment of so­lar pro­jects across the re­gion.

Un­der the new Western Downs Plan­ning Scheme, so­lar pro­jects pro­posed out­side in­dus­trial ar­eas are code as­sess­able rather than im­pact as­sess­able, mean­ing their is no public no­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quired.

Mr O’Leary wants coun­cil to make en­ergy de­vel­op­ment pro­pos­als im­pact as­sess­able.

“Coun­cil want to meet with me in a cou­ple of weeks to get my point of view on how it should be han­dled bet­ter,” he said.

“We’re prob­a­bly a bit more vo­cal than some other peo­ple in the com­mu­nity... it’s a worry be­cause not ev­ery­one can han­dle the strain and what it puts on you. It puts a lot of stress on you when you have no rights to do any­thing.”

Keith Wol­ski, who owns a cat­tle farm not far from Mr O’Leary’s prop­erty, said his pri­mary con­cern is the de­val­u­a­tion of his land, as well as dis­rup­tion to wa­ter flow into stock dams.

Mr Wol­ski owns land west and north of the First So­lar project, which will be sit­u­ated just 30-50m from a ren­tal prop­erty he owns on Butts Rd and about a kilo­me­tre from his home.

“It’s all rough melon hole coun­try and it takes a lot of rain to get wa­ter to move through this coun­try and we’re wor­ried about wa­ter flows into stock damns,” he said.

“You have to get flood rains to fill melon holes to get wa­ter to move across the coun­try, but no one can prove any­thing at the mo­ment, be­cause it’s so new, no one knows what’s go­ing to hap­pen when the so­lar farm is built.”

Mr Wol­ski said First So­lar had en­gaged with him once through­out the project’s pro­posal phase.

“We saw First So­lar in Oc­to­ber and we haven’t seen them since, only at the coun­cil meet­ing the other day... and we haven’t seen any coun­cil­lors, none of the coun­cil­lors come near you,” he said.

“It’s hard to get wild with any­one after it’s all fin­ished.”

WDRC deputy mayor An­drew Smith said: “Coun­cil ap­pre­ci­ates the pro­fes­sional and re­spect­ful man­ner in which Mr O’Leary and his neigh­bours have con­ducted their sub­mis­sions to coun­cil.”

He said coun­cil wanted to im­prove pro­cesses and the “way we do things”.

“In line with that, we’ve given Darryl an un­der­tak­ing that we’re go­ing to sit down with him and talk to him about the process go­ing for­ward,” Cr Smith said.

“We want to ask Darryl what are the real is­sues that he had – I know he pro­vided a com­pre­hen­sive sub­mis­sion. But we want to get a bit of ad­vice from him as to how we can im­prove the way we as­sess th­ese de­vel­op­ments.

“It’s about a will­ing­ness of coun­cil not only to lis­ten but im­prove, and Darryl’s just been through the process. If we only pick up one thing from Darryl, it’s worth­while get­ting to­gether.”

Mr O’Leary said that given coun­cil did not legally have to ac­cept the sub­mis­sion he pre­pared, the con­sul­ta­tion process is “weak”.

“All the other pro­jects that they have okayed – they didn’t even know it was com­ing and that’s why the coun­cil has left it code as­sess­able be­cause peo­ple can’t even com­plain,” Mr O’Leary said.

“They’re say­ing there is noth­ing we can do about it. Ev­ery now again you have to stand up and say ‘righto, this pol­icy is wrong so let’s re­build a new pol­icy and new plan­ning so it helps the peo­ple com­ing in’.

“You don’t want to bar it all to­gether but they (the en­ergy com­pa­nies) need to know this is the process, not just tick all the boxes and do what they like.”

Mr O’Leary said be­sides at­tend­ing an­other coun­cil meet­ing sched­uled for a few weeks time, the only thing left for him to do is plant some trees on his prop­erty.

“I just don’t think other peo­ple in the com­mu­nity should have to be taken down this path with­out any re­course of some com­pen­sa­tion or some way to al­le­vi­ate the pres­sure or the im­pact on their lives,” he said.

“I was just here yes­ter­day and I looked out and the sun was go­ing down and I though ‘jeez this is beau­ti­ful’, but I don’t think it will be beau­ti­ful when it’s go­ing down over a so­lar en­ergy plant.”

PHOTO: MATTHEW NEW­TON

LEFT IN THE DARK: Keith Wol­ski on Butts Rd. First So­lar has ap­proval for a 100MW so­lar farm just be­yond the tree­line to his left. He owns a prop­erty which he rents out, to his right.

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