The Tumuruu Solar Farm will use low-profile solar panels that sit about a metre above ground, encircled by vegetation barriers that will render them effectively invisible to neighbouring properties (Photo: Tumuruu Solar Farm)

December 7, 2023

A proposal to build a large solar farm near Blackbutt has been approved by the South Burnett Regional Council despite objections from Cr Kathy Duff.

Cr Duff told November’s Council meeting that the LNP’s State Convention in July had proposed the State and Federal Governments introduce a moratorium on all renewable energy developments until a bond covering the costs of decommissioning each project was held in government hands.

However, Council’s planning staff told the meeting decommissioning procedures for the solar farm – which has a projected lifespan of 50 years – were part of the project’s conditions.

If the owners failed to meet those conditions, they would be committing an offence under the Planning Act which Council could enforce through the courts.

Officers told the meeting the solar farm proposal had been heavily scrutinised and recommended it be approved because it met all the conditions Council had set.

The Tumuruu Solar Farm will be built by Australian Solar Enterprises (ASE) on 673ha – described as poor quality agricultural land – at 341 Bowman Road.

The company proposes to build a low-profile solar farm with panels barely a metre from the ground that will cover about 60 per cent of the site.

The panels will be ringed by vegetation buffers that will make the solar farm effectively invisible and inaudible to neighbouring rural residential properties.

ASE will feed the solar farm’s 400MW power output into two existing high voltage transmission lines that cross the site.

Providing the company secures other necessary approvals from Council and Powerlink, construction is expected to begin in late 2024 and be completed towards the end of 2025, with the solar farm becoming fully energised in 2026.

When the project is decommissioned, it is proposed the land be returned for agricultural uses.

During construction, the project is expected to support up to 100 jobs, and ASE expects up to 10 per cent of the project’s cost will be injected back into the local community through catering, accommodation and other purchases.

The solar farm will also generate between six and 10 full-time positions once the project becomes fully operational.

Acting Mayor Gavin Jones told the meeting that after Council opposed Kingaroy’s solar farm and a 5G Telstra tower in court, and lost both cases, councillors would need to have very strong reasons to override the officers’ recommendation to approve the development.

He agreed the Kingaroy solar farm had “left a bad taste” in many people’s mouths, but he believed the Tumuruu project would be better because it was located about 6km out of Blackbutt and was sited on Class C agricultural land that was only suitable for grazing livestock.

Cr Jones said the project’s owners had also made extensive efforts to update local residents about their plans and to minimise the project’s impact on neighbouring properties.

He said while some adjoining landholders were still unhappy about the project – and were fully entitled to their views – he believed most Blackbutt residents were now keen to see it progress.

Cr Danita Potter said her main concern was that she did not want to see the farm’s solar panels winding up in Council landfills when the project was decommissioned.

But officers said they thought this was unlikely because contemporary solar panels still retain value for recyclers.

Cr Jane Erkens noted that Banana Shire now has a solar panel recycling centre and there are now a number of other companies that buy old solar panels for recycling.

Cr Scott Henschen noted the project “ticked all the boxes” and asked Cr Duff to consider the cost to ratepayers of opposing it.

Cr Kirstie Schumacher said the project had received “the highest level of scrutiny Council can apply” and staff had conditioned the development to reflect the concerns of the 11 people who had lodged objections to it.

The motion to approve the solar farm was proposed by Cr Erkens and seconded by Cr Henschen and was carried 5 to 1, with Cr Duff remaining opposed.

[UPDATED]

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