The Department of Planning has listed the 304-hectare Gunnedah Solar Farm as “approvable” and has referred the project to the final decision-making body.
The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) said it would now provide an “extra layer of scrutiny” to the project, deciding on the result in about the next six or seven weeks.
The Photon Energy project is still subject to the department’s conditions, and an IPC spokesperson said there would also be further chances for public feedback, including a meeting later this month.
“The department has referred it to the commission as approvable, subject to the conditions attached to it,” the spokesperson said.
“The commission will now go over that, see if any further expert advice is needed, and listen to the community’s views and see if they raise anything that brings up anything additional for us.
“The commission will decide whether it should go ahead as the department suggests, whether any other conditions are needed, or whether it should be refused outright.”
Among the department’s conditions are that the applicant must upgrade part of Old Blue Vale Road to a standard that allows two-way heavy vehicle movements; and remove loose gravel material at the Old Blue Vale Road and Kelvin Road intersection.
It must also develop, in consultation with the council and surrounding landowners, a landscaping plan that will be “effective at screening view of the solar panels and ancillary infrastructure on site from surrounding residences” within three years of construction starting.
Gunnedah shire mayor Jamie Chaffey said the 150-megawatt solar farm would be “of major benefit locally and throughout NSW through an increased supply of power – which we are hopeful will aid in decreasing the cost of power.”
Meeting and next steps
The IPC will hold a public meeting at Gunnedah Town Hall on November 29 from 9.30am.
People who want to speak must register no later than November 27, and written submissions will be taken for up to a week after the meeting – in both cases, people must email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 9383 2100.
The project was referred to the IPC because of the number of submissions against its Environmental Impact Statement: 48 of the 52 public submissions were objections.
The spokesperson said “matters usually take six to seven weeks from the time they’re referred to us”.
“That means it could happen before Christmas, but it’s unlikely.”
The Department of Planning declined to comment, but in its letter referring the matter to the PIC, said “the Department considers that the project is approvable, subject to the recommended conditions of consent”
“During the assessment process, the Department visited the site, and consulted with local residents, Council, and relevant government agencies.
“In assessing the merits of the project, the Department has considered the environmental, social and economic impacts of the project, submissions on the EIS, relevant environmental planning instruments, the suitability of the site for the project, and the public interest, in accordance with the requirements of the EP&A Act.”