News

Solar farm report with minister

By Country News

The fates of four large-scale solar farm applications in the City of Greater Shepparton will become clearer next month.

An independent planning panel’s report into four solar farm projects in the Goulburn Valley has been handed to Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

A Victorian Government spokesperson said the planning panel had considered the four Greater Shepparton applications, and the panel’s findings would help inform new guidelines.

‘‘We’re developing clear guidelines for the assessment of solar farm applications in Victoria — to give locals certainty and support jobs,’’ the spokesperson said.

The minister is considering the recommendations, with the report set to be released in September.

The government will consider the findings of the panel, as well as actions in other states, to develop solar farm guidelines that work for Victoria.

A planning panel hearing into four solar proposals for Greater Shepparton wrapped up in May.

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

The panel had previously been urged, by several people making submissions, of the need to develop a clear set of guidelines for solar farm proposals.

The proceedings follow Mr Wynne’s office calling in the four proposals after 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 provide advice to the energy minister about how future solar farm applications will be assessed in Victoria.

The applications for solar farm proposals in Lemnos, Tatura East, Congupna and Tallygaroopna constitute hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs with the projects estimated to produce hundreds of megawatts of power.

But there are concerns about the best use of prime agricultural land and fears large-scale solar farms could have an impact on nearby farming practices.

Following recommendations being handed down by the panel, the minister can approve, reject or green-light the permits, with conditions attached.

Councillors had said the proposals were problematic for the council to determine.

Chief among the council’s concern with determining the applications was whether the loss of productive agricultural land for a solar farm produces acceptable planning outcomes.

—Thomas Moir