February 19, 2019
A decision by the Planning and Environment Court may be enough to derail efforts by the South Burnett Regional Council to stop a solar farm being built on the outskirts of Kingaroy.
In November, Council voted to reject a proposal by Terrain Solar to build a 130ha solar farm on a large block of land at the corner of Kingaroy-Barkers Creek Road and Redmans Road.
The block is located within a short distance of an Ergon Energy substation, an important consideration for the project to go ahead.
However, Council officers recommended the proposal be refused because the development would conflict with State, regional and local planning policies protecting Good Quality Agricultural Land (GQAL).
Officers said the solar farm’s projected 50-year lifespan would remove the site from productive use for an unacceptable length of time.
They said the applicant had also failed to demonstrate there was an overriding community need for the solar farm proposal in the location where they wanted to build it, and Terrain Solar had not shown the solar farm couldn’t be built on an alternative site that wasn’t GQAL.
The vote followed a campaign by local residents who stressed the project would have an impact on wildlife, cause soil compaction, affect groundwater and destroy the rural amenity and ambience of the area.
Terrain Solar immediately notified Council that it intended to appeal the decision.
However, a judgment by the Planning and Environment Court may have set a precedent that could affect the outcome of this appeal.
In August 2018, Mirani Solar Pty Ltd won an appeal against a refusal by Mackay Regional Council to allow the construction of a solar farm on GQAL.
The total area of the Mirani solar farm site was about 229ha on land zoned Rural Locality and Rural Zone.
This solar farm would take up a 165ha footprint with the balance proposed to be retained for agriculture.
It would have a projected life of 40 years and the proponents said sheep could also be grazed on the area.
The court considered whether the project conflicted with planning schemes, whether it would have an adverse impact on the local sugar industry, and whether there were other relevant matters to justify approval of the proposed development.
The court determined although the land was GQAL there was not another suitable site for the project, which was sited about 800m north of an electricity substation.
It also found that although the solar farm was in conflict with planning schemes, the benefits of renewable energy were an “other relevant matter” sufficient to support the approval of the project.
Judge R.S. Jones said he was satisfied “there is a need for this proposal that overrides the need to protect GQAL and there is no alternative site”.
The Terrain Solar appeal has been listed for discussion by councillors at Wednesday’s meeting of the South Burnett Regional Council.
According to the Meeting Agenda, Terrain has made an offer to Council to settle the appeal.
On its website, Terrain states that planning for the project is currently underway with construction due to start in mid-2019.