A 30MW solar farm has been approved for development in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley region, alongside the release of state government guidelines to help councils, developers and communities negotiate the state’s boom in large-scale solar proposals.
The Congupna solar project was approved for development by the state Labor government on Monday, six months after being “called in” by the state planning minister alongside three other solar farms proposed for the same area, governed by the Greater Shepparton Council.
The proposed projects – including Tallygaroopna (68MW), Lemnos (100MW) and Tatura East (45MW) – had divided the community, particularly around the associated loss of prime agricultural land.
As we reported here, Greater Shepparton councillor Chris Hazelman had expressed frustration with the approvals process, noting that “in the absence of (state government) guidelines … regardless of what decision council makes,” projects inevitably ended up in VCAT.
State planning minister Richard Wynne said on Monday that the government had approved the 30MW Congupna proposal, which would create around 110 jobs, and generate enough clean energy to power 10,000 homes.
He said the Congupna facility would be built on “non-irrigated agricultural land” and was expected to drive almost $40 million in capital expenditure.
The decision on the other three, however, had been deferred until further strategic work was completing for the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District, Minister Wynne said.
In the meantime, the government has also released new draft guidelines to help inform councils, developers and communities on planning requirements for large-scale solar projects.
The guidelines aim to ensure proposed projects are built in the right locations, easily accessible to the grid and give careful consideration to high productivity agricultural areas and sensitive landscapes.
Minister Wynne said the document had been informed by a review of guidelines and best practice standards interstate and internationally.
It also included a Best Practice Guide for Proponents to help developers engage with communities, and minimise the environmental and social impacts of their proposals.
“These new guidelines will provide more certainty to the community, and more confidence to invest in major solar farms like the one at Congupna,” said state energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio in comments on Monday.
Minister Wynne said solar farms like Congupna created hundreds of new jobs and helped to drive down energy prices in the state.
“We’re working with industry and community to make sure solar farm developments deliver the right outcomes for communities, the environment and jobs,” he said.