Residents in the Camperdown district in south-west Victoria are concerned about the scale of a solar farm proposed to be built on farmland near the town.
Camperdown, population 3,300, covers about four square kilometres.
The planned Bookaar Solar Farm, to be located 10km north-west of the town, would occupy about six square kilometres.
“It’s unbelievable,” local dairy farmer Andrew Duynhoven said of the size of the solar farm.
“The sheer scale of this … it’s actually bigger than Camperdown itself.”
Mr Duynhoven is part of a growing group of residents concerned about renewable energy company Infinergy Pacific’s ambitions in the region.
Power of the sun
The Bookaar Solar Farm would feature 700,000 panels, each measuring about two metres by one metre and standing four metres high.
It would be capable of generating roughly 200 megawatts of electricity, or enough to “supply clean energy to power the equivalent of 80,000 average Victorian homes each year”, according to Infinergy Pacific’s planning application.
The developer’s website states the solar farm would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 400,000 tonnes and save about 700,000 megalitres of water compared to a coal-fired power station.
The plans for the project have been put out for public comment by Corangamite Shire Council, with councillors expected to consider their next step regarding the proposal at their September meeting.
Corangamite Shire mayor Jo Beard said she and her fellow councillors would take on board any concerns raised by residents.
“With any project when involved with agricultural land, it’s always going to be questioned,” Cr Beard said.
“That’s no different to whether it’s been a tourism project we’ve looked at, or even people wanting to subdivide — it always comes back to what are the implications [for] farming land.
“From what I can gather so far, that has certainly been the big question.”
Conflicts of interest
One councillor who won’t be involved in the decision-making process is Bev McArthur.
The proposed solar farm is on land owned by her family.
Cr Beard said Cr McArthur declared a conflict of interest and had not been part of any council discussions or briefings on the project.
Cr McArthur may not be part of the council for long though — she was preselected by the Victorian Liberal party last weekend for the Upper House seat of Western District, potentially taking the seat that was occupied by outgoing MP Simon Ramsay.
Cr McArthur refused to answer questions about the planned solar farm.
‘Not against solar farms’
Mr Duynhoven said he was “not against solar farms”.
“I would dearly love to have a heap of [solar] panels on my dairy and I will have in the near future,” he said.
“I’m not anti-solar. I’m anti this farm, just on the sheer scale of it.”
Mr Duynhoven and the newly formed group opposing the project have a shopping list of concerns and queries.
These include visual amenity, road use during construction, glint and glare, fire risk and firefighting access concerns, the effect of night lighting, the impact on wildlife, drainage issues, noise, nearby property devaluations, and the possibility of micro-climate changes.
But one of the main concerns the group has is the loss of prime agricultural land.
“[Most of Australia is] in drought — we’re not in drought so we’re the food bowl,” he said.
“We’re the most secure food producing [area in Australia].
“[If they approve] this large-scale solar farm, what precedent does it set in the protection of prime agricultural land?”
The planning permit application seeks to address many of the groups claims, saying that noise and glint would be minimal, drainage would not be impacted, and visual amenity would be somewhat mitigated by a vegetation screen.
Bookaar Solar Farm project manager Richard Seymour said proponents of the project were working with the CFA to write up a fire plan.
Mr Seymour confirmed the site was previously earmarked for a wind farm, but when the proponents dropped out, “Infinergy Pacific assessed the feasibility of site and concluded that a solar farm would be the most appropriate form of development”.
He said the property had “characteristics that make it a good place for a solar farm” such as flat topography, nearby transmission lines, good sunlight, and no significant environmental constraints.