Farmers win solar battle

By Dairy News

DAIRY FARMERS near Camperdown have claimed victory after Victoria’s planning tribunal rejected a $150 million solar farm.

Three neighbouring dairy farmers were among the objectors who feared the Bookaar solar farm could be a flood and fire risk.

Corangamite Shire received 81 objections to the plan, which would have been Australia’s largest solar farm, and rejected the proposal last year.

The proponents, Bookaar Renewables, appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) which refused the plan in August.

Bookaar Renewables had proposed up to 700,000 photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on part of ‘Meningoort’, north-west of Camperdown. The total property is 2024 ha and used for agriculture, primarily cropping, beef and sheep production. The site for the proposed solar energy facility was 588ha.

The land is surrounded by three dairy farms. One of the farmers, Andrew Duynhoven, said he and other neighbours were concerned about drainage and runoff and feared their land could be flooded.

“I’m not against solar; I’m against doing it badly,” Mr Duynhoven said. “If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to get it right.

“My main objection was about hydrology. The velocity of water delivery on the landscape would change and we could lose half our farms to floods. As dairy farmers we’re all under pressure to keep prime agricultural land in good condition.”

Mr Duynhoven, a former Country Fire Authority volunteer captain, said there was potential for “substantial fuel loads” on the planned solar farm.

About a third of objectors were farmers and neighbours, while others had concerns about planning policy support for renewable energy facilities and the impact on significant landscape values and visual impact.

In its determination, VCAT said the hydrological assessment of the proposal was inadequate. “The applicant has done little more than undertake a high-level desktop drainage and flood risk assessment.”

“The tribunal considers that the drainage, runoff and flooding issues are a threshold matter that needs to be resolved as part of the planning approval.”

VCAT also described the bushfire assessment as inadequate. “The applicant’s expert evidence does not comprise a substantive risk and hazard assessment. There is no draft fire or emergency plan.”

The tribunal found the solar farm would not have an unacceptable presence in the landscape and that the land’s agricultural attributes and potential were not of such significance that it couldn’t be considered for a renewable energy facility as a matter of principle.

Bookaar Renewables, is a joint venture partnership between landowners Stewart and Bev Macarthur and their family and Infinergy Pacific. The company did not respond to requests by Dairy News Australia for comment.

On its website, it says the Bookaar Solar Farm would have a generation capacity of about 200MW. It estimated the completed solar farm would provide enough clean renewable energy to supply up to 80,000 average homes.

“The project is part of a transition to help ensure Australia develops a modern, robust and cleaner energy supply; helping to provide the Australian economy with more resilience in a rapidly changing global economy.”