A $200 million-dollar solar farm has been approved near Gunnedah.
The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) gave the green light to 795-hectare Gunnedah Solar Farm on Orange Grove Road on Tuesday, subject to conditions.
The project was referred to the commission by the Department of Planning (DPE) in late 2018 because the department received more than 25 public objections to the proposed 150-megawatt solar farm and associated infrastructure.
Commission chair Professor Mary O’Kane AC appointed a three-member panel to examine the application and make a final decision after meeting with the applicant, representatives of DPE and Gunnedah Shire Council, and visiting the proposed site and neighbouring properties.
The IPC also held a public meeting in Gunnedah in November last year to listen to the community’s concerns, which centred around potential flood risks, land-use compatibility, heavy vehicle movements, and negative impacts on visual amenity and local property prices.
In its Statement of Reasons for Decision, the commission found the project's modelled flood impacts would comply with the assessment criteria under the relevant flood management plans and the Gunnedah Local Environment Plan 2012; and the setback of the solar panels from the project boundary, the height of the solar panels and the proposed vegetation screening would appropriately screen the site, reducing visual impacts.
The commission also found that the heavy vehicle route could safely accommodate traffic movements associated with the project, and has amended the conditions of consent to ensure that local roads, at the time of any future upgrading or decommissioning, would be upgraded as necessary to support such activity
Conditions were also amended to require the applicant to prepare a decommissioning and rehabilitation plan to ensure that the site is restored post operation to its pre-existing agricultural capability.
The commission's reasons also concluded that the project would assist in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change 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 conditions of consent imposed by the commission are “designed to prevent, minimise and/or offset adverse environmental impacts and impacts on the community”.