Darling Downs Solar Grid Risks

A substantial rise in solar PV farms on the Darling Downs risks causing major issues with energy supply networks if urgent grid updates are not undertaken to ensure the Darling Downs solar grid is future-proofed.

Darling Downs Solar Grid

According to The Chronicle, six projects worth almost $2 billion are planned for the Darling Downs region over the next few years. This includes a 5000-hectare plant at Millmerran (the largest solar farm in Australia), and the $200 million, 100MW Yarranlea solar farm.

State Minister for Energy, Biofuels and Water Supply Mark Bailey told the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise National Energy Summit “at this stage” the Queensland Government don’t have any grid upgrades for the Toowoomba area planned – noting that they have upgraded the transmission line in North Queensland “because we’ve got so many projects happening there.” Bailey said that “…we will continue to review our system to make sure we can facilitate these projects.”

Federal Minister for Resources Senator Matthew Canavan was also drawn into the conversation, advising that we should be careful with the amount of renewable energy we source if we don’t have a clear path forward with regards to grid stability: “We shouldn’t push renewables up above 40% without a proper plan of knowing how to keep the lights on when renewables are not there,” he said. “That’s what they did in South Australia and they put their own state and businesses there at great risk.”

Darling Downs Solar Yarranlea
Yarranlea Solar Plant (source: yarranleasolar.com.au)

The Chief Executive of Yarranlea Solar, Nick Canto, said that “major infrastructure upgrades” were required as the existing grid will not have the capacity to deal with the increased power load. Canto was also quoted on the 11th discussing Toowomba and the Surat Basin’s ‘extensive electrical transmission network’ – so it looks like he’s more worried about the grid’s ability to deal with such a large amount of renewable energy from multiple solar farms.

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Toowoomba Solar Farms – Yarranlea Solar Farm and Maryrorough Solar

Solar Farms in Toowoomba

A battle waged by Maryrorough Solar and local residents over a proposal for the creation a solar farm outside Pittsworth, Toowoomba has been settled yesterday. The Toowoomba Regional Council narrowly approved the development. Council vote was decided at 6-2, with Deputy Mayor Carol Taylor and Cr Mike Williams against the proposal, which had already been recommended by council planning officer Peter Swan.

Maryrorough Solar DA

The submitted plans were for Maryrorough Solar to build a 40mw solar farm on 186 hectares of land at Yarranlea (65 Roche Road) due to its close proximity to a substation. It attracted six submissions against approval. Some of the arguments those opposing the PV solar farm put forward were the ‘unsightly look of the panels’, the ‘lights at night’, ‘glare’, the potential for dust nuisance, flooding, and weed management. Another submission, whose author seemed very concerned about farmers and agriculture in Toowoomba, queried how the council could approve ‘an inappropriate change to such a large tract of fertile farming land’.

Yarranlea Solar

Yarranlea Solar
Yarranlea Solar (source: yarranleasolar.com.au)

Last December, Yarranlea Solar had a $200m, 100mw project (The Yarranlea Solar Farm at 752 Murlaggan Road – around 45km south west of Toowoomba) approved. The Yarranlea Solar Farm will create 100mw (enough energy to power up to 32,000 homes). The project will involve around 400,000 PV solar panels and, according to the project director Nick Canto, will also create around 200 construction jobs for the area.

At the time at least 18 people objected to the project, who lodged their Development Approval in in July 2016, citing concerns about ‘rural amenity’, stormwater, ‘preservation of agricultural land’ and ‘light from the project’. Presumably they were also quite concerned about the solar farm’s effect on fertile farming land but in any case the project was approved by the TRC.

Both Solar farms will be sustainably created and decommissioned (including full removal of all physical technology) after their 30 year running time, at which point the land will be returned to its previous state and remain suitable for agricultural purposes. There remains, however, the option for extensions depending on what technology is like at that point. On that note, Yarranlea are also assessing the usage of Lithium-Ion and Zinc Bromide Flow batteries for energy storage. No decision on which technology type they chose has been announced as yet. Also no word on if Maryrorough Solar will be utilising energy storage in their PV farm but still early days yet. It’ll be very interesting to see how energy storage, as a rapidly evolving and game-changing technology, factors into the solar farms being built over the coming months and years.

It’s great to see (the majority of) council being sensible about these sorts of situations and helping Australians move forwards with solar power in Toowoomba and Queensland in general, which generates the highest amount of solar power out of any state in Australia.

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