What are the benefits to the local community?
Large scale renewable projects create long-term employment (30+ yrs) which is rare in many rural communities. Employment is bolstered not only in the construction and maintenance of renewable projects but all the way through the local business supply chain – including pubs, hotels, B&B’s, café’s, caterers, cleaners, uniform suppliers, fuel suppliers, hardware suppliers, vehicle and machinery servicing and many other businesses.
The assessment that was completed as part of the EIS submission, concludes that the project promotes socio-economic wellbeing through offering opportunities for employment, training, and up-skilling of the local and regional workforce throughout its construction and operation. Opportunities would be available to workers from a wide range of fields and expertise, including engineers, construction workers and labourers with further employment opportunities associated with supply chains and local goods and services.
What are the further benefits?
Keeping the price of electricity down
According to Deloitte, Australian households will pay $510 million more for power in 2020 without renewable growth through the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and up to $1.4 billion more per year beyond 2020. Renewables increase competition in the wholesale energy market, and, as in any market, less competition means higher prices.
To demonstrate how this works, Powershop has created an excellent YouTube video that can be viewed at Powershop.
A better environment
Renewable Energy projects do not emit carbon dioxide (CO2), airborne particulates or other greenhouse gas emissions during their operation. As such, they generate clean, green electricity over a long period of time, which contributes to making Australia a cleaner and healthier society. At the end of their operational life, renewable infrastructure like solar farms can be removed quickly and easily without a lifetime of residual pollution to deal with. There are no fossil fuel-based generators that can do this.
Why is the solar farm located here and not elsewhere?
- Close proximity to the grid network (132kV) with available capacity
- Good transport access with minimal impact on local roads
- Excellent exposure to Australia’s world-class solar resource
- Developmental areas not within a flood area
- Low environmental impacts- the site has minimal tree and shrub coverage and has been historically intensively farmed
- Topography and terrain that meets our requirements
- Available land not classified as having high-quality soil suitable for high levels of crop production, without irrigation infrastructure.
Is the solar farm a waste of good agricultural land?
The land is currently used for cattle and sheep grazing. It is expected that sheep grazing would be able to continue at the solar farm site, thereby providing a continuation in part as an agricultural enterprise.
The solar farm would not affect farming operations on neighbouring properties and the project would not have any long-term effect on the agricultural potential or land use of the site, beyond the life of the solar farm.
Do solar panels create glare?
Solar panels are flat and are designed to capture light, not reflect it. Solar modules are coated with anti-reflective materials that maximize light absorption and generate the maximum amount of electricity. It is important to note that solar panels reflect significantly less light than flat water and less light than wet grassland.
A site-specific glint and glare assessment has been carried out as part of the EIS submission. The assessment can be viewed via the NSW Government Planning & Environment Tab.
Will the solar farm affect land values in the area?
There is no study available on the impact of solar farm developments on property values in Australia. However, a series of studies on the impacts of wind farms, which have higher visibility and noise emissions than solar farms, has shown that land values are very unlikely to be impacted. The NSW Department of Lands’ analysis of property sales data found that wind farms did not negatively affect property values in most cases (Link to report)
Furthermore, a report commissioned by the Office of Environment and Heritage concluded that the available data does not show any significant impact on the value of agricultural properties.
What about the visual impact and the effect on the character of the local landscape?
In general, the layout of a solar farm is being designed to reduce the visual impact on neighbouring landowners as much as possible.
The landscape and visual impact has been assessed as part of the EIS. The assessment has identified 15 visual receptors to represent viewpoints for the assessment of potential impacts on views as a result of the Project. The Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment informed the development of a draft landscape plan which provides well-integrated planted buffer areas of a minimum width of twenty meters along certain areas to minimise the extent of the solar array when viewed from surrounding receptor locations. Consultation on the draft landscape plan has occurred with the most affected receptors and would continue to occur during finalisation of the plan.
Will the solar farm create noise?
Noise is part of the site-specific assessments that has been undertaken as part of the EIS. Under "Noise and vibration", the EIS states the following.
During construction, noise would be predominantly generated from site establishment, piling works and solar array assembly, construction stages, on-site of which are all temporary in nature. Noting that the site is in a rural agricultural area and that there are no other known large scale developments or development proposals in the surrounding area, cumulative noise impacts are not assessed to be an issue of concern during the construction phase.
The predicted noise levels from the operation of the project comply with the most stringent operational noise criteria at all residential receivers. This, coupled with the lack of other large scale developments in the surrounding area, indicates that there would not be any cumulative operational noise impacts associated with the project.
Will there be a lot of concrete used to construct the project?
Generally, no concrete is used for the installation of solar panels, which make up the majority of the site infrastructure. The solar panels are mounted on trackers which are mounted on piles that are driven into the ground. Concrete use is limited to parts of the substation, switch room foundation construction and possibly plinths for the inverters depending on the final design.
Will there be increased dust from heavy traffic and earthworks?
To prevent dust affecting neighbours and road users, unsealed roads and bare works surfaces at the project site would be watered down as required. After construction, there is likely to be limited dust coming off the property because perennial groundcover would be established across the site.
Will the construction traffic create delays and collision risks for stock and road users?
Heavy traffic would be intermittent and would be confined to the construction period (12 months to 17 months).
During construction of the project, it is expected that:
- 90% of employees arrive during the morning peak hour and depart during the evening peak hour
- 30% of employees are expected to carpool
- Heavy equipment is expected to be delivered to site at the beginning of construction phases and removed at the end
- Truck arrivals/ departures are expected to be evenly distributed throughout the day
Local residents neighbouring the project site would continue to be consulted regarding the timing and impacts of traffic in the build-up to and during construction. To ensure road safety, transport routes, upgrade designs and traffic management plans would be developed with and approved by RMS and Council in advance of construction.
Traffic impacts would also be minimised by:
- Upgrading intersections where required to ensure road user safety
- Avoiding deliveries during peak use periods (tourism festivals, commuting times), where possible
- Using traffic controls and speed limits to ensure road safety
- Carpooling/shuttle bus arrangements to minimise staff vehicle movements
- Arranging for the repair of any road damage during the construction period
- Providing a contact phone number for the public to enable rapid response to any issues or concerns.
How will concerns and complaints during construction be handled?
An ‘Information and Complaints’ phone service would be set up to speedily respond to any concerns during the construction period.
Will the project increase the local fire risk?
The solar array would be largely constructed of glass, silicon, steel and aluminium and would have very low flammability. Vulnerable equipment at the site, such as the substation will be fitted with lightning protection and surrounded by a fenced, graveled compound.
During construction, a Fire Management Plan would be used to manage fire risks during the construction period, including the suspension of work with the potential to cause an ignition during total fire ban days.
The solar farm buildings would be constructed of low combustibility or non-combustible materials.
During the operation phase, fire risks would be minimised by maintaining low vegetation fuel levels, on-site water supplies, and good firefighting access.
After operation commences, the local RFS and Fire and Rescue brigades would be invited to an information and orientation day at the site. The proponent would also facilitate and fund on-site training for local brigades in the management of lithium-ion battery fires.
Are there any radiation impacts and will there be interference to mobile phone reception?
There is no evidence to suggest solar farm would interfere with local mobile phone, radio or television reception. These devices operate at a much higher frequency than the AC electrical equipment that would be used at the solar farms, and any EMFs produced by the solar farms would dissipate rapidly with distance from the source.
Will weeds and pest animals be controlled at the site?
Weed control would be undertaken prior to the works and would continue throughout the life of the solar farm. Pest animals would also be controlled as required in accordance with a monitoring plan.
What happens after the solar farm closes down?
The solar farm is expected to operate for over 30 years. After decommissioning, the above-ground infrastructure will be removed as well as any infrastructure within 500mm of ground level.
The site would be returned to their pre-works state. It is not anticipated that the project would have any long-term effects on agricultural productivity or land use options.
Want to know more about the planning framework for large-scale solar energy developments?
The "Large Scale Solar Energy Guideline" provides guidance on the planning framework for the assessment and determination of State significant large-scale solar energy projects under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.
Do renewable energy generators get big subsidies?
In Australia, renewable energy generators receive income from selling the power they generate, plus they receive an ‘LGC’ (Large scale Generations Certificate), which can be traded for cash value. According to ACIL Allen, LGC’s presently cost the Australian public an average of around $31 per year on their energy bills. However, this cost is offset by reducing the wholesale cost of power during market price spikes.
By comparison, according to the International Monetary Fund, Australians subsidise fossil fuel interests by $41billion, or the equivalent of $1,772 per person per year or around 2% of Australia’s GDP.2
You should also consider that most fossil fuel generation in Australia is provided by a plant that was built by the State many years ago, much of which is beyond its design life and has now been fully depreciated. This means that the cost of building the plant has been fully repaid and the current cost of generating electricity only reflects what it takes to maintain and operate the facility. Faced with this any new generation plant, regardless of fuel source, would need some form of support mechanism to enter the market. As this older plant reaches the end of its useful life it will need to be replaced and the cost of any replacement plant will need to account for full costs to build, operate and maintain it. The Renewable Energy Target under which LGC’s are issued is there to ensure that new generating plants can enter the market and that there is an orderly transition to renewable technologies.
1 Source: International Energy Agency – date accessed 10th April 2017