Two adjoining grazing properties near Gunning will be transformed into the state’s largest solar farm under a plan by Photon Energy.
The $380 million development, comprising “hundreds of thousands of panels,” is proposed for a 590 hectare site 12km southwest of Gunning on the Lade Vale Road. The company has lodged a development application with the NSW Department of Planning for the 316 megawatt farm spanning the Lade Vale and Yellanglo properties.
The project has come out of the blue for Upper Lachlan Shire Council. Acting general manager Andrew Croke said he was only advised by the Department last Friday.
But Photon managing director Michael Gartner said the company had been working on the project for a year.
“We were looking for suitable locations and that land is ideal with two parallel 330 kilovolt transmission lines crossing the properties we acquired. That means we have the grid infrastructure on site,” he said.
The high voltage was necessary for the solar farm but the network’s capacity along the east coast of Australia and the interconnections with Sydney, the ACT, Snowy Mountains and Victoria was also a drawcard.
The company intends to sell wholesale electricity to the grid. Mr Gartner said the project was motivated by the need to meet Australia’s renewable energy target, supplement energy requirements and to help reduce prices to consumers.
The managing director argued power generation was lagging demand, partly due to the Hazelwood power station’s closure, and this in turn was increasing the wholesale electricity price.
“We are seeing a transformation to renewable energy,” he said.
“It really is the only choice because it’s too costly to build coal powered stations. We have to do this from a cost perspective but also as a duty to the next generation.”
Photon also has renewable energy projects at Leeton and Queanbeyan.
A substation will be built near the transmission lines. The company will also explore energy storage on the site in future, Mr Gartner says.
Hundreds of thousands of panels would cover about a quarter of the site, allowing sheep grazing to co-exist. The company maintains this number is needed to achieve economies of scale.
Neighbours ‘not happy’
But neighbour Tracy Bassett said she was “horrified” by the prospect. She also only found out about it this week.
“We will be completely surrounded on two sides. Our property slopes and overlooks a valley, which will be filled with solar panels,” she told The Post.
”This is a beautiful view that everyone admires...What happens to the value of our land? No one wants to overlook a solar farm.”
Mrs Bassett said neighbours were “pretty cranky.”
She told The Post she expected to be advised of the proposed development earlier and was now on a “steep learning curve” about its details.
“I have nothing against solar farms. It’s the way we should go but something like this needs to be done in the right way,” Mrs Bassett said.
However Mr Gartner said a community consultation session would be held at the Council Chambers in Gunning on Wednesday, July 26 at 6.30pm. The company will also have a portal on its website and further consultation will be undertaken through the Department’s planning process.
“We want to ensure everyone has the information they need...We want to know so we can alleviate concerns and we certainly don’t want to shock and awe people,” he said.
The project is expected to power 100,000 to 150,000 homes, create up to 200 jobs during construction and 30 once operational. Mr Gartner said the company would source as many local skills as possible.
He believed the major impacts to be on road and transport, especially during peak construction when semi-trailers would use Lade Vale Road. The company will develop a traffic management plan with Upper Lachlan Shire Council. The council’s acting general manager, Andrew Croke said the council would lodge a preliminary response on the solar farm with the Department by July 14.
“We are becoming the renewable energy capital of Australia,” he said.
“...This is a large project and the council needs to consider all the impacts, including transport, road safety, access, social and economic.”
Councillors will also discuss the project at a July 20 meeting. The solar farm would be the second in the region; the Gullen Range development at Bannister is almost complete.
The Planning Assessment Commission will decide the project. Mr Gartner said he hoped for “clarity” on the planning process by the end of this year and the 12-month construction phase to start in early 2019.