The contentious issue of solar and wind farm developments on the outskirts of regional towns could soon be resolved for eight major centres in New South Wales.
The state government wants to introduce rules governing where renewable energy infrastructure can be built in areas it considers essential to the continual growth of regions.
According to the amended infrastructure state environmental planning policy (SEPP), Orange, Bathurst, Dubbo, Tamworth, Albury, Armidale, Griffith, and Wagga Wagga, are considered “at risk of encroaching solar and wind development”.
If passed, land within 10 kilometres of a commercial centre or five kilometres of residential areas will be given further protections.
The state government will require planning authorities to “carefully” consider the implications of approval on landowners and the wider community.
Avoiding conflict and preserving beauty
The aim of the changes is to avoid land-use conflicts, preserve the aesthetics of the cities surrounds and ensure it can foster predicted population growth.
The potential amendment has been welcomed by the Orange City Council, where a solar farm was recently approved on rural-zoned land on the northern outskirts of the city, off the Mitchell Highway.
Council opposed the project over concerns it would impede on the appeal of the city’s entrance.
Mayor of Orange Reg Kidd said the new regulations would ensure vital renewable power infrastructure would be built in the right locations.
“There’s lots of places where we can put solar installations that can be efficient and effective but don’t interfere with good agricultural soils, future possible developments and don’t interfere with the aesthetics,” Cr Kidd said.
“It’s about appropriate placement, thinking not only now but into the future,” he said.
Cr Kidd would like the changes to be enacted retrospectively, to stop the development of the 12,000 panel solar farm planned on land six kilometres north west of Orange.
“There needs to be some sensibilities here and better planning to avoid land use conflicts,” he said.
Mirrored across the region
A similar story has played out east of Bathurst, where Glanmire resident Peter Hennessy has strongly objected to a proposal to develop a solar farm near his property.
The 60-megawatt project is planned for an agricultural property adjacent to the Great Western Highway.
If the Infrastructure SEPP is updated, the Glanmire Solar Farm’s proposal will face more hurdles for approval.
Mr Hennessy said with the expansion of regional cities, it is vital renewable infrastructure is placed far away from where anyone lives or works.
“At least it’s a step in the right direction when the state government acknowledges the obvious is occurring,” Mr Hennessy said.
It is one of two solar projects also in the planning phase located within five kilometres of Raglan, a town on the entrance to Bathurst.
“Bathurst, through until now, has prided itself on when you’re entering, you come through a picturesque rural area so 500 acres of solar at the entrance has the potential of spoiling all of that,” he said.
He said it was a “small mercy” but companies should not even be afforded the opportunity to put in applications close to cities.
Councils miss out
Further south, the Goulburn Mulware Council believes the state government made a mistake by not including it in the plans.
At present, there are eight wind and solar projects that have been approved or seeking approval in the local government area.
It has prepared a submission to receive extra oversight on development applications, because of its resource-rich location.
The Mayor Bob Kirk said the regional city is a prime area where significant growth is expected but wind and solar farms are creeping closer to the edge of residential areas.
“We’re not quite surrounded, but to the south and the west, a bit to the north of us there are many wind farms,” Cr Kirk said.
“I’m sure it was just an oversight,” he said.
In its Future Growth Strategy, the council has identified land for residential growth which it is seeking to protect.
The Department of Planning will now review public submissions before a determination on the amendment is made.
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