New England Solar Farm

UPC Renewables Australia is developing the New England Solar Farm, a major grid-connected solar farm in the Uralla Shire. Let’s take a look at the project and some of the opposition it’s currently up against.

New England Solar Farm

New England Solar Farm (source:newenglandsolarfarm.com.au)
New England Solar Farm Proposed Location (source:newenglandsolarfarm.com.au)

The 2700ha project will be 600-800MW depending on what approval UPC are able to get from the Uralla Shire Council. They’ve promised $150,000 – $200,000 a year for 25 years for the local community to go towards funding, partnerships, education, tourism and more. 

According to the official website, up to 500 jobs will be made during the construction of the solar farm (around 36 months) and if the New England Solar Farm ends up with battery storage (which is looking very possible), more jobs will be created. 

The farm is expected to generate enough renewable energy to power around 250,000 homes in New South Wales.

New England Solar Farm Opposition

We’ve seen a bit of solar farm opposition lately – it’s good to see companies being held to account, but the legitimacy of the claims seem to vary quite widely. The proposed New England Solar Farm has resulted in the creation of The Uralla, Walcha Community Action Group for Responsible Solar and Wind Development, a group of residents who would like the southern side of the project to be cancelled, citing social, economic and environmental impacts.

“It’s obvious that the north west more than anywhere else in the state has more at risk,” the group’s advisor Mark Fogarty said in comments repeated by the Northern Daily Leader.

“Therefore it’s imperative that the community entrust with the councils the right planning authority to ensure the balance between development and community interest.”

In response, UPC Renewables have reduced the project’s southern area by 50%, according to Killian Wentrup from UPC. 

“Landowners across the proposed site and many others in the wider community support our plans and the benefits it can bring to Uralla,” he said. 

As another example, the Bookaar solar farm was rejected last year. There’s no news on reapplying on their website, with a news article on their site noting that the Corangamite Shire will ‘miss out on local jobs and $150m of investment’. It’s a bit of a touchy subject as there are certainly some farms which need to go back to the drawing board before they’re approved, but there is also a surfeit of NIMBYs with some…interesting ideas as to what people should be able to do with their own property. 

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Sunshine Energy Project groundbreaking ceremony.

The Sunshine Energy project in south east Queensland had its groundbreaking ceremony last week. Not everybody’s happy about it, though. Let’s take a look at the plans for the farm and its opposition.

Sunshine Energy Project groundbreaking ceremony.

Sunshine Energy Project groundbreaking ceremony.
Sunshine Energy Project groundbreaking ceremony. (source: Twitter @GlennButcherMP)

The Sunshine Energy project is a 1500MW solar energy facility with 500MW storage planned. There is a provision to extend the farm to 200MW so we will see what happens after the farm is launched and its output measured. It’ll be built by Sunshine Energy Australia Pty Ltd who will invest ~$2.5m USD in the project. 

Glenn Butcher, member for Gladstone and Assistant Minister for Treasury, posted up a picture of the groundbreaking ceremony on his Twitter account, saying “Queensland is continuing to lead the country with solar projects. Early ground breaking ceremony today for Sunshine Energy Australia’s $2 billion 1500 megawatt (MW) solar farm, with a 500 MW battery storage.”

However there has been some solar farm oppositionaccording to Solar Quotes, local resident Anthony Crombie has launched legal action to try and retract the Sunshine Energy Project’s approval. Mr. Crombie will see Somerset Council and Sunshine Energy Australia in the Planning and Environment Court this year. If you’d like to see his Change.org petition (currently supported by 241 people) please click here. It looks like the usual issues with residents and nearby solar farms are being cited. The usage of ‘prime beef cattle grazing land’ for a solar farm is also disputed. 

As per his petition, Mr Crombie is worried that the solar farm will ruin the scenic D’Aguilar Highway and be an eyesore: “(the) size and scale of the development will render the rural landscape unrecognizable.” He’s also concerned about 80 heavy vehicles driving on the highway, as there are few passing lanes and it has already been acknowledged as being ‘dangerous and problematic’ according to an RACQ survey.

Supporter comment on the petition: “These disgraceful things are heavily subsidised and cannot compete with Coal or Gas..If we export Coal and other countries use it efficiently why can’t we.?”

Any thoughts on that one? Sound off in the comments. You can also follow the case as it goes through the courts by clicking on this link.

 

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Recycling Solar Panels | What to do with old solar panels.

Recycling solar panels is a topic which will be a lot more prevalent as the initial ‘wave’ panels begin to reach their end of life. Let’s take a look at what the plans are for trying to minimise the environmental impact and maximise the value  of a used solar panel.

Recycling Solar Panels | Will there be a waste crisis for old panels?

Australia has one of the highest PV solar uptakes in the world. There are plenty of us who have had solar installed for a long time. So long, in fact, that people are talking about end of life strategies to dispose of/ repurpose solar panels, so that they don’t cause a problem for the environment. 

Total Environment Centre director Jeff Angel has been crusading for the implementation of such strategies for solar panels, calling it a ‘systemic problem’:

“We’ve had a solar panel industry for years which is an important environmental initiative, and it should have been incumbent on government to act in concert with the growth of the industry so we have an environmentally responsible end-of-life strategy,” he said in a quote to the Sydney Morning Herald.

We’ve written previously about solar panel recycling and, although it’s good to see things like the ELSi project in Germany, there’s still a ways to go before we figure out the best way forward to recycle solar waste.

Reclaim PV: Recycling Solar Panels
Reclaim PV: Recycling Solar Panels (source: reclaimpv.com)

According to the director of Reclaim PV (the only dedicated photovoltaic recycler in Australia), Clive Fleming, they company recycles 90 per cent of materials in a panel. The company has been lobbying for state bans on landfill disposal of solar panels. 

Australian Council of Recycling chief executive Peter Schmigel also had a quote in the SMH about how a proper plan for recycling PV cells could have a positive effect on the economy:

“Recovery rates have been out of sight since the beginning of the scheme, nobody has said anything at all about there being an inbuilt recycling cost. It generates jobs, it generates environmental outcomes and yet for some reason we have policymakers who are hesitant about [establishing similar schemes] for solar PVs and batteries,” he said.

We expect over the coming year or two we’ll hear a lot more about this, with Sustainability Victoria working on a ‘national approach to photovoltaic product stewardship’, with their recommendations presented to the environment ministers around the middle of this year. 

Victoria have already announced they’ll ban electronic waste in landfill from July 2019, so it’ll be interesting to see if/how the other states follow suit.
 

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Mannum Solar Farm Greenlit | Murraylands Solar

The 5MW Mannum Solar Farm in the Murraylands will be built by Tetris Energy, and has been approved by the local government. 

Mannum Solar Farm

The Mannum Solar Farm will be 5MW in size, generated by 17,500 solar panels. It will also include a security fence and vegetation screen to ensure neighbouring property owners aren’t disturbed (sometimes we hear about glint and glare when there is solar farm opposition). The farm will be across the road from the Rivapak onion packaging facility. 

An article in the Murray Valley Standard noted that over 8000 households in the Murraylands area have solar panels installed on the roof of their properties – so it’s an amazing area which shows that South Australian solar is continuing to grow domestically and commercially.

Tetris Energy, based in Melbourne, will develop the site. They have already successfully developed 10 solar and wind power plants across Australia so they have a good pedigree – and they have also already secured a purchaser of all 5MW of the power (not named) – but this is obviously a fantastic boost for the farm and will ensure it gets built quickly. The proposal had been approved last April, but had the number of solar panels slightly reduced (in the November application) so they don’t overshadow each other. 

Murraylands Solar Farms

There are already three other solar farms in the Murraylands area:

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton discussed solar uptake in the Murraylands in the Murray Valley Standard:

“Homes with rooftop solar installed are saving an average of about $540 per year on their electricity bills,” he said.

“Solar is a clear way for consumers to take control of their power consumption and cut costs, and it’s growing quickly by word of mouth.” Mr. Thornton continued. 

Kane Thornton - Clean Energy Council - Mannum Solar Farm
Kane Thornton – Clean Energy Council – Mannum Solar Farm (source: LinkedIn)

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Congupna solar farm / Design and Development Guidelines

The Congupna solar farm has been approved for the Shepparton area and will produce 30MW of energy – this is enough to power 10,000 homes in the region.

Congupna solar farm

Minister for Planning Richard Wynne announced the successful Congupna solar farm approval this morning. 

According to Minister Wynne the farm will create over 100 solar jobs for the region: 

“The Congupna solar farm will create more than 100 new jobs and produce 30 megawatts of new, clean energy – helping to drive down energy prices.”

 “We’re working with industry and community to make sure solar farm developments deliver the right outcomes for communities, the environment and jobs” he continued.

The Tallygaroopna, Lemnos and Tatura East solar farm applications has been deferred until further strategic work on Goulburn Murray Irrigation District is completed.

As per the official press release, the Labor Government in Victoria will invest over $1.3b to put solar panels, hot water, and batters in 720,000 homes, as part of their Solar Homes Program.

Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio was equally impressed by the project, discussing how they will be able to affect climate change and electricity prices:

“These new guidelines will provide more certainty to the community, and more confidence to invest in major solar farms like the one at Congupna.”

 “We’re creating jobs, driving down power prices and combatting climate change with the biggest investment in renewable energy in Victoria’s history” Minister D’Ambrosio said.

According to Shepparton News, Mr Wynne’s office stressed in a press release that the Congupna facility “will be built on non-irrigated agricultural land” and is projected to create almost $40 million in capital expenditure.

Solar Energy Facilities – Design and Development Guidelines

At the same time, Minister Wynne released a draft version of the design and development guidelines for solar energy facilities. They’ll help councils, developers, and communities ensure they build solar farms suitable for everybody. Although we’ve seen many successful large-scale solar farm rollouts in Australia, solar farm opposition is still a bit of an issue for some developments. Hopefully these guidelines help clear up what is and isn’t suitable for large-scale solar! 

 

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