A 70MW solar and battery project proposed for Morwell in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley has won the unanimous support of the local council – and so far received no objections from the public, either – as it awaits a decision from the state planning department on whether it can go ahead.
The Morwell Solar Farm, which is being developed by ARP Australian Solar, proposes to install 70MW of solar and a between 5-30MW battery storage system (storage duration unspecified) in between the Latrobe Valley towns of Morwell and Churchill – the heart of Victoria’s coal country.
ARP last month submitted an application to build the solar and battery project on two parcels of land on either side of Tramway Road – a site ARP director George Hughes said had been chosen partly to “fill the void” left by decommissioned coal power stations.
In a meeting last week, the Latrobe City Council voted unanimously to deliver a draft submission to state planning minister Richard Wynne indicating that it did not object to the development of the solar farm on cattle grazing land not far from the former Hazelwood coal power station.
The council’s approval was conditional, however, on any permit issued by the state government addressing concerns around the visual impact of the project, the loss of productive agricultural land, traffic impacts and remediation of the site.
“Officers are generally supportive of the proposal given its location next to existing electricity generation infrastructure and its relatively low amenity impacts on surrounding properties,” the council meeting minutes said.
But the council said its submission outlined planning permit conditions that should be included on any permit issued that would assist in “mitigating any impact of the proposal on the community.”
This included a requirement to ensure that screen planting was of sufficient height and density to mitigate glare from the project’s panels, and an agricultural assessment of the site to ensure the land could continue to be used for livestock grazing during its lifespan.
“The planning report states that it is proposed to allow sheep to graze on the land but does not detail the number of sheep nor does the site plan submitted show how this ‘agrophotovoltaic’ use is to occur with regard to the management of the sheep on the land (e.g. stock water systems),” the council said.
“An assessment of the agricultural impacts of the proposal must detail that the proposal has been appropriately designed to ensure that sheep are able to graze the land, allowing for some agricultural activity to occur during the lifespan of the proposed solar facility.”
And while Victoria’s Minister for Planning is ultimately responsible for approval of project, the council noted that if these conditions were not included on any permit issued, Council could consider taking the matter to VCAT.
Hopefully that will not be necessary. The council minutes also noted that Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning had advised that there had been no objections to the proposal, to date.
Latrobe City Council’s measured response to the proposed solar farm, and the lack of any public objections – as yet, anyway – bodes well for other renewable energy projects being proposed for the region.
OSMI Australia is proposing to build a 300MW wind farm overlooking the site of the Hazelwood coal plant, on plantation land spanning the Latrobe City, Baw Baw Shire and South Gippsland Shire Councils.
And AGL Energy in March revealed that it was considering installing a floating solar array at the Loy Yang A brown coal generator and a pilot plant of new electrothermal solar storage technology at the same site, as part of its new energy strategy.
Not all renewables projects have been welcome in the region, however. The 106MW Bald Hills wind farm, completed in Victoria’s South Gippsland region, last year became the subject of Australia’s first group legal action alleging a link between turbine noise and health impacts. You can read about how that turned out here.