Solar farm ‘test case’ concerns raised

By Country News

Drama around four solar farm applications in Greater Shepparton was heard for a second time last week in Victoria’s upper house, where an Opposition MP asked whether communities were being disadvantaged by the proposals being ‘‘test cases’’.

A planning panel hearing into four solar proposals for the Greater Shepparton area had its final day on Monday last week.

Across five sitting days, it heard from landholders, objectors, water authorities, planning experts, Greater Shepparton City Council and the solar developers.

In Victorian Parliament last week, State Member for Northern Victoria Luke O’Sullivan asked Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford whether Agriculture Victoria would have meaningful input into the development of guidelines to protect high-value irrigated agricultural land.

He also asked what involvement Agriculture Victoria had in the development of guidelines to date.

Ms Pulford said the state’s planning minister was leading the work and that Agriculture Victoria was being consulted in the development of the guidelines.

In a separate question to Ms Pulford, Mr O’Sullivan said the solar developments were ‘‘causing angst among communities in the Goulburn Valley’’ and asked ‘‘what is the government’s policy in relation to the protection of high-value agricultural land from solar developments?’’.

‘‘The farming communities of Tatura, Lemnos, Congupna and Tallygaroopna are concerned that they could lose more than 500ha of irrigated land because they are the test case and their matters are to be decided by the government prior to the development of the guidelines,’’ Mr O’Sullivan said.

‘‘What actions is the government taking to ensure the farming communities of Tatura, Lemnos, Congupna and Tallygaroopna are not being treated unfairly simply because they are one of the first communities to deal with this issue?’’

The minister took the question on notice and said she would ‘‘pass it to the minister in the other place’’.

The panel had previously been urged by several submitters on the need for a clear set of guidelines around solar farm proposals to be developed.

The proceedings follow Planning Minister Richard Wynne’s office calling in the four proposals after the council had requested their outcome be determined by the minister’s office; an outcome the council had welcomed as ‘‘sensible’’.

The panel is also set to be providing advice to the energy minister about how future solar farm applications will be assessed in Victoria.

—Thomas Moir