NSW planning commission approves new solar project near Gunnedah

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Second large-scale solar project near Gunnedah gets approval, despite objections from local pistol club worried about glare.

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The 110MW Orange Grove solar farm has been issued planning approval following an assessment by the NSW Independent Planning Commission, with the project set to be constructed just outside the town of Gunnedah in the north of the state.

The Orange Grove Solar Farm is being developed by Overland Sun Farming, which has established itself specifically to pursue projects in rural and regional areas.

The 110MW project will include 330,000 solar panels and is expected to create 80 jobs during the construction phase. It would be Overland’s fifth Australian project, which already operates the 22.5MW Hughenden solar farm, and has been involved in the development of the  Karadoc (112MW), Wemen (109MW) and Yatpool (112MW) projects in Victoria.

The Gunnedah project, which the IPC said will attract $94 million in investment in large scale solar, had been allocated the status a ‘state significant development’ following a referral from the Department of Planning.

The NSW Department of Planning had recommended that the solar farm be approved, subject to conditions that the project monitor and seek to minimise any adverse environmental impacts of the project.

The IPC imposed additional conditions, recognising some of the concerns raised by local residents relating to flood risks and visual impacts.

One notable submission came from the Namoi Pistol Club, which raised concerns that the solar farm would cause glint and glare due to reflections from the panels.

“The Commission is of the view that the Project has been designed in order to mitigate visual impacts on surrounding resident through an increased setback and landscaping,” it said.

“The Commission fund that any cumulative visual impacts from the Project and the Gunnedah Solar Farm would be negligible due to the distance between projects and relatively low-lying nature of these developments”.

The solar farm will include increased ‘setback’ from property boundaries and will include appropriate landscaping to limit the visual impacts of the solar farm.

The commission was confident that the design and layout of the solar farm would not increase the potential flooding on adjacent properties, or any significant infrastructure.

The commission also recognised that the development would contribute to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of New South Wales.

“[The project] will assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change; would not result in a significant reduction in the overall agricultural productivity of the land and can be appropriately rehabilitated following decommissioning; and achieves a reasonable balance between maximising the use of the solar resource and managing potential impacts on the environment and on surrounding landowners,” the Independent Planning Commission said in its report.

The Gunnedah region has been a hotspot in the battle for Australia’s energy transition, with the region emerging as an attractive location for large-scale solar developments, having previously attracted concerted campaigns from environmental activists seeking to prevent the development of the Maules Creek coal mine.

The approval of the Orange Grove solar farm follows the planning clearance being granted to the 165MW Gunnedah solar farm in March, which will be constructed nearby.

Note: An earlier version of this story stated Gunnedah was in the electorate of New England. In fact, it is in the electorate of Parkes. This was an editing error.

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