News

Solar plan irks locals

By Rodney Woods

A new solar farm is being proposed for Benalla, but locals whose houses are in close proximity have signed a petition to have it stopped before it even begins.

The proposal by AECOM Australia on behalf of Hunter & Co is set to occupy 9.1ha at 35 Gunn Rd, about 3km from Benalla, but locals have banded together to try to stop it.

It is one of the first applications to be looked at since Victoria’s Planning Minister Richard Wynne announced a set of draft guidelines in October.

While the guidelines are only a draft at this stage, and will remain so until community consultation is completed in March next year, the guidelines have not been without their critics.

The most recent critic is State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan, who said Mr Wynne had refused to provide more specific solar planning guidelines for local councils despite significant community concern that the existing framework was too ambiguous.

Ms Ryan said the Andrews Government’s response to dump decisions about solar farms on councils without proper guidelines added unnecessary pressure to local planning teams that were already under-resourced.

‘‘The minister has failed to acknowledge the concerns of residents across the Euroa electorate who believe that the current solar planning legislation is inadequate,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘Rather than address the need for more specific solar planning guidelines, the minister has decided to shift the blame to our local councils.

‘‘It is completely unreasonable to expect local councils to give solar farm applications the thorough consideration they need when there are no specific guidelines to adhere to.’’

In response, Mr Wynne criticised Ms Ryan for taking her time in acknowledging the draft guidelines.

‘‘It’s taken the Member for Euroa two months to notice these draft guidelines, which are informed by international best practice and have been welcomed by stakeholders across the industry,’’ he said.

‘‘The Nationals don’t care about renewable energy or lower power prices for regional households or businesses.

‘‘Unlike the Nationals, we make no apology for supporting projects that boost energy supply and drive down power prices — and we encourage people to provide their feedback on the draft guidelines.’’

Benalla Rural City Council was contacted for comment but declined.

■Feedback can be made until March 1 at: https://engage.vic.gov.au/solar-energy-facilities-guidelines