SOLAR GOING AHEAD
Solar project rides over landholders’ concerns
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.”
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.