Solar bids will wait

By Thomas Moir

The outcomes of the three remaining Greater Shepparton solar farm applications, sitting with the state’s planning minister, was raised on the floor of state parliament last week.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed asked Planning Minister Richard Wynne for confirmation that decisions on the three pending solar farm applications would be made after new solar guidelines were released.

‘‘Given that the closing date for submissions on the draft solar farm guidelines was only last Friday and that no further work will have been undertaken on those to this stage, will you confirm that you will make no decision on the remaining three Shepparton solar farm applications until those final guidelines have been prepared and released to the public?’’ Ms Sheed asked.

Responding, Mr Wynne gave background on the solar farm applications he had ‘‘called in’’ at the request of the Greater Shepparton City Council and a planning panel that considered the proposals.

‘‘The panel had to weigh up the impacts of the location of these solar farms as they may impact particularly on productive irrigated land,’’ Mr Wynne said.

‘‘Those proposals were in fact addressed by the independent panel, but I felt it was necessary for us to really get some surety around these guidelines going forward, and that is why we have undertaken a broad consultative process obviously right across, not only local government, but indeed the power sector more generally.

‘‘Consultation ought to be a part of my ultimate decision-making.’’

After highlighting a permit for a solar farm in Congupna had last year been approved, he concluded by indicating ‘‘that I will not make any decisions in relation to those three permits until that work is complete’’.

Ms Sheed said she was pleased to hear that assurance.

‘‘While we understand the government’s renewable energy targets and that there is wide support for solar projects in our region, it must be accepted that there are some sites which should be maintained for high-value irrigated agriculture,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘Will you undertake now not to approve any of these three or any other solar farm applications where they are located on farms on the modernised irrigated backbone within the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district?’’

Responding, Mr Wynne said, ‘‘I will not make any decisions about the three existing permits for... Lemnos, Tallygaroopna and Tatura East until such time as the work is completed on the solar guidelines and indeed further work that is being undertaken more broadly within my department about land-use questions and issues around water and irrigated land...’’

‘‘Because we want to be fully informed in making those decisions,’’ he said.

‘‘We will consider the guidelines and we will consider the expert advice of the departments before I make any decision in relation to the three outstanding applications.’’