Congupna solar farm approved, three others deferred

By Thomas Moir

 A large scale solar farm has been approved for Congupna by the state's planning department, months after it was first considered by Greater Shepparton City Council.

But much anticipated decisions on three other solar developments with the minister's office, some that had proved contentious, have been deferred to a later date.

The State's planning minister has given the tick of approval for a facility able to for a solar facility to be developed to produce 68 MW of power on land in Congupna, estimated by the department to create about 250 jobs.

But the other three decisions- for solar facilities in Tallygaroopna, Lemnos and Tatura East- that have been sitting with Planning Minister Richard Wynne following a planning panel hearing and referral from the City of Greater Shepparton, are being deferred until more strategic work is done for the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District.

It follows a discussion locally around the best locations for such facilities to be built, including questions asked about whether solar farms should be placed on land considered best used for prime agricultural production.

A release from Mr Wynne's office stresses that the Congupna facility "will be built on non-irrigated agricultural land" and is expected to drive almost $40 million in capital expenditure.

Meanwhile highly-anticipated draft guidelines have also been released by the minister's department for comment.

Calls have been heard locally for the release of the guidelines, aimed to help inform councils, developers and communities on planning requirements for similar large solar farm facilities and ensure the most suitable locations are chosen.

The statement said the guidelines hope to ensure facilities are built in locations that are "easily accessible to the grid" and that "careful consideration to high productivity agricultural areas and sensitive landscapes" is given.

A review of guidelines and best practice standards from other states and countries helped inform the document, the statement continued.

A "best practice guide" aims to help developers "engage with communities, and minimise the environmental and social impacts of their proposals."

Mr Wynne said he believed the Congupna solar farm would help to drive down energy prices. "We’re working with industry and community to make sure solar farm developments deliver the right outcomes for communities, the environment and jobs."

State energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the new guidelines would provide more certainty to the community, "and more confidence to invest in major solar farms like the one at Congupna."

The guidelines are open for public comment until March 1, 2019.