Plans to build a community solar and battery farm in the central-western New South Wales city of Orange are facing some opposition from … the community, based on concerns about the visual impact of the project.
ITP Renewables Orange Community Renewable Energy Park is proposing to develop a 5MW solar farm with 5MWh of battery storage on farm land around 6km north-west of the town centre of Orange.
The nearly $10 million Energy Park has partnered with Energy Democracy to set up a local co-operative that will provide the opportunity for locals to co-invest, an initiative that won the project a $3.5 million NSW government grant under its Regional Community Energy Fund.
According to the development application, published for exhibition by the Orange City Council in February, the 16,000-module project has been designed to be “practically imperceptible and unobservable from adjacent areas” through the strategic planting of trees.
But according to local paper the Central Western Daily, not everyone is satisfied that the trees will do the trick.
The paper quotes neighbouring farmer Rob Green as saying the solar farm will ruin the area by altering the view to resemble “a scrapyard of old cars.”
“I don’t want it here,” Green told the paper. “It is going to be so visual. It is going to be a blight for [motorists] coming into the city.”
“There is just going to be all this metal in the middle [of a rural area],” he said.
Green, who described himself as a “greenie,” said he and about 20 other local residents and landowners had already lodged submissions opposing plans for the farm and would continue to fight against its development.
How this might affect the project’s progress remains to be seen – the Energy Park appears to be the first of its kind for Orange, which falls into the first of three renewable energy zones designated by the NSW government as development hot-spots for big solar and wind.
In comments to the Central Western Daily, an ITP spokesperson said the company was hoping to begin construction in the first quarter of 2021, and would work with council and Transport for NSW on traffic safety issues – also pinpointed as a concern by Green.
Objections to solar farms based on their visual impact, or potential impact on the environment, have become more common as large-scale PV generation has started to boom around the country.
As the Australian wind industry has learned – in some cases, the hard way – even with strong public support for the development of solar and wind, whether or not projects make it off the drawing board begins and ends with constructive community engagement.
Certainly, the small size of the Orange project, and the addition of battery storage, fits with a growing trend in the large-scale solar industry towards smaller, “smarter” regional PV projects that can get around problems of grid congestion and maximise the benefits of cheap generation more directly for the local community.
The DA will remain on public exhibition at the council’s offices and website until Monday September 28.