Solar farm guidelines to determine outcome of Tallygaroopna, Lemnos and Tatura East proposals

By Rodney Woods

The three solar farm proposals in the Greater Shepparton area still up in the air are unlikely to be approved, if you ask the region’s farmers and a local politician.

The Victorian Government released the final Solar Energy Facilities — Design and Development Guideline last week, which is expected to help inform a range of decision makers, solar farm developers and communities on planning requirements for large-scale solar farms.

Tallygaroopna dairy farmer Natalie Akers and Mooroopna orchardist Peter Hall said they couldn’t see the Tatura East, Lemnos and Tallygaroopna proposals being approved.

‘‘What is unknown is the outcome of the three outstanding in Shepparton,’’ Ms Akers said.

‘‘If I was to put those three against the guidelines, they should be rejected.’’

‘‘I think on the basis of the three (outstanding farms), it should be very unlikely to meet the requirements of those guidelines,’’ Mr Hall said.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed agreed the three Greater Shepparton proposals would be unlikely to meet the criteria.

‘‘I understand that the three outstanding applications for consideration by the minister are on the irrigation backbone and on that basis would not be approved,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘I would hope that more suitable land within the Greater Shepparton region could be identified for the location of these solar developments.’’

Under the guidelines, solar farms below 1MW will be approved or declined by local councils, with most proposals having to wait for the planning minister’s approval.

Companies that want to build on irrigated land will be forced to discuss the proposal with the relevant water authority, which in northern Victoria is Goulburn-Murray Water.

Both Mr Hall and Ms Akers said it was pleasing to see irrigated land acknowledged in the guidelines, while Ms Sheed said it was good to see Victoria’s contribution to national food and fibre production mentioned.

‘‘I was pleased to see in the guidelines the acknowledgement that Victoria produces over 30 per cent of Australia’s food and fibre and that there are many areas where renewable energy generation and agricultural production can co-exist in a satisfactory manner,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘However, there is also recognition of the importance of maintaining strategically important irrigated agricultural land.

‘‘The guidelines provide increased recognition of the need for early discussions with the rural water authority when considering the location of the solar farm within a declared irrigation district and this will no doubt be very persuasive in assisting proponents of a solar development to make a sound decision and avoid the considerable delays that have occurred in relation to the outstanding solar farm proposals in the Greater Shepparton area.’’

The guidelines were shaped by a nine-month development process, including extensive consultation with communities, councils and industry, and a review of best-practice standards interstate and internationally.

The guidelines will be implemented through a future planning scheme amendment to the Victorian Planning Scheme.