Why build solar farms?
How will the projects benefit the local community?
- 1. Electricity reliability and security
The two solar farms projects would provide a more reliable, secure and resilient power network by:
• generating electricity closer to local consumption,
• diversifying the mix of energy sources, and
• regulating inputs to the grid using an Energy Storage Facility (batteries).
- 2. Electricity prices
Renewable energy sources add diversity and competition to the electricity market which work to push down prices. Modelling shows that prices will be lower with renewable energy in the market than without.
- 3. Jobs
The projects would generate around 150-200 direct jobs during construction and 3-4 full time equivalent jobs during operation.
No jobs would be lost from the farming enterprise hosting the solar farms.
- 4. Benefitting local businesses
The employment benefits extend through the local supply chains to fuel supply, vehicle servicing, uniform suppliers, hotels/motels, B&Bs, cafés, pubs, catering and cleaning companies, tradespersons, tool and equipment suppliers and many other businesses. Experience from other large scale solar farm projects show that more than half of purchases for the projects came from local suppliers. This amounts to many millions of dollars injected into the local economy.
- 5. Community funds
RES are committed to supporting the host communities where our projects are located. Each project will be offering a community benefit fund to the local community, payable annually for the life of the project.
Currawarra Community Fund– A$50,000 / annum (CPI linked)
Tarleigh Park Community Fund – A$20,000 / annum (CPI linked)
This fund will be managed locally and used to support local projects, community groups and organisations over the project lifetime, expected to be 25-30 years. Input will be sought from the community to inform and shape how the fund could be implemented.
Why do we need more renewable energy?
The solar farm projects are one of many ways we can play our part in the international effort to tackle climate change.
Under the United Nations Paris Agreement on climate change, Australia has committed to the following greenhouse gas emission reduction targets:
• 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020
• 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030
• net zero emissions in the second half of the century.
The climate is changing, mainly because we are burning fossil fuels such as coal. The electricity sector is the largest emitter of carbon in Australia. Globally, 2016 was the hottest year on record, and the third hottest year in a row.
Why are the solar farms located here and not elsewhere?
Both sites meet the key criteria:
- Close proximity to the grid transmission network with available capacity
- Excellent transport access with minimal impact to local roads and excellent access to major roads
- Excellent exposure to Australia’s world class solar resource
- Not within a flood area
- Very low environmental impacts – the site has minimal tree and shrub coverage and has been historically heavily cropped
- Flat cleared land for highly competitive construction cost
RES use a GIS (Geospatial Information System) based search system to help identify potential solar farm sites. This highlights areas that meet our criteria for large, level ground that doesn’t contain protected ecological areas, outside flood risk zones with road access that have suitable high voltage grid lines on or adjacent to the site with available capacity and good MLF (marginal loss factor).
Because the sites are currently used for large-scale, laser-levelled cropping, the sites are flat and predominantly already cleared of native vegetation and Aboriginal heritage.
The two solar farms proposed have been located and sized to fit the available grid capacity in the transmission network.
Currawarra would connect to TransGrid’s 132kV line 99L. Tarleigh Park would connect to TransGrid’s 132kV line 9R3. The split of electricity flow is a function of the electrical resistance of the transmission network. The locations of Currawarra and Tarleigh Park have been co-optimised to increase the amount of solar generation that can be installed in the combined 132kV network.
As electricity flows through the transmission network, energy is lost due to electrical resistance and the heating of conductors. These losses must be factored into all stages of electricity production to ensure that supply and demand are balanced. AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) accounts for the impact of losses on spot prices by assigning a Marginal Loss Factor (MLF) to connected generators. Low MLFs correspond to high network losses and high MLFs correspond to low network losses. (Regions and Marginal Loss Factors: FY2017-18, AEMO, 1 June 2017)
Connection location is one of the major factors that impacts the MLF of a generator. The locations of Currawarra and Tarleigh Park were identified by RES as being in the top 5% transmission connection points in NSW in terms of network losses.
Are the solar farms a waste of good agricultural land?
The land is currently used for crop production. The projects would displace cropping at the sites for the life of the solar farm.
The quality of the land occupied by the solar farm projects have class 3 and class 6 capability, meaning that they are suitable for agriculture but have limitations, like susceptibility to wind erosion, which need to be carefully managed. Similar soils are widespread in the region.
The impact the solar farms have on the Murray Irrigation Limited (MIL) Land is limited. The Currawarra project is on 0.0849% of the MIL area and the Tarleigh Park project is on 0.0323% of the MIL area.
These small reductions are expected to be offset by increased yields elsewhere because the landowner can transfer the irrigation entitlement and equipment to other properties. It is expected that sheep grazing would continue at the solar farm sites.
The solar farms would not affect farming operations on neighbouring properties. The projects would not have any long-term effect on the agricultural potential or land use of the sites, beyond the life of the solar farms.
Assessments and approvals
Will the assessment and approval processes be open and consultative?
We aim to make the project assessment processes as open and transparent as possible. Community input is needed to make sure all issues are covered and any adverse impacts are avoided or minimised.
Neighbours of the sites and the wider community have been actively consulted, and would continue to be consulted through the assessment phase.
Pre Development Application Community Engagement and Information Process undertaken so far by RES:
- made direct contact with property neighbours via telephone or farm visits
- issued media releases and articles in the local press
- produced two newsletters sent to properties around the projects and available from Council reception
- created project websites for the two solar farm proposals
- community open house events at Blighty Hall and Deniliquin RSL on 8th June 2017 and Peppin Heritage Centre on 19th & 20th September 2017.
Following submission, further consultation and information is planned.
The Development Applications (DA) for the projects will be submitted to the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) who are responsible for managing the determination process. This will include the DAs and EIS being advertised in the local newspaper, adjoining land owners or occupiers being notified, and the documents exhibited for public comment for at least 30 days.
Are the environmental assessments independent?
The environmental consultancy firm NGH Environmental has been engaged by RES Australia Pty Ltd to prepare the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). NGH Environmental has many years of experience with large renewable energy projects and has a strong reputation for objectivity and integrity. Using specialist consultancies to conduct assessments is normal practice in NSW.
The EIS will be independently evaluated by the State Government, taking into account input from the community provided during the public exhibition period. The development assessment process places the onus, and the costs, on the proponent to provide the information required for government to make an informed decision. The process provides for public transparency, accountability and participation in approval decision-making.
Will the biodiversity assessments be accurate?
The sites have been comprehensively surveyed for biodiversity in line with stringent government requirements. The precautionary approach will be employed to ensure any species of conservation significance that have the potential to occur but cannot be detected due to inappropriate season for surveys will be considered. Any impacts that cannot be avoided will be minimised and/or adequately offset in accordance with government guidelines.
How will conditions of approval be enforced?
Conditions of approval are legally enforceable requirements imposed by the State Government. The State Government ensures compliance through a range of post-approval requirements, including approval of works plans and environmental management plans, the need to provide evidence of biodiversity protection and offsetting outcomes, the need to submit independent audit reports to government and the need to provide or publish environmental monitoring results.
Constructing the solar farms
Will there be a lot of concrete used to construct the projects?
No concrete is used for the solar panels, which make up the majority of the site infrastructure and are mounted on piles which are driven into the ground. Concrete use is limited to parts of the substation, battery storage foundation construction and possibly plinths for the inverters depending on final design.
Will there be increased dust from heavy traffic and earthworks?
To prevent dust affecting neighbours and road users, unsealed roads and bare works surfaces at the project site would be watered down as required.
After construction, there is likely to be limited dust coming off the property than before because perennial groundcover would be established across the site.
Will the construction traffic create delays and collision risks for stock and road users?
Construction traffic would use the Riverina Highway and local roads to get to the project sites. Heavy traffic would be intermittent and would be confined to the construction period (12 months for Tarleigh Park and 18 months for Currawarra).
During construction of the projects, it is expected that:
- 90% of employees arrive during the morning peak hour and depart during the evening peak hour
- 30% of employees are expected to car pool
- Heavy equipment is expected to be delivered to site at the beginning of construction phases and removed at the end
- Truck arrivals/ departures are expected to be evenly distributed throughout the day
Local residents neighbouring the project sites would continue to be consulted regarding the timing and impacts of traffic in the build-up to and during construction. To ensure road safety, transport routes, upgrade designs and traffic management plans would be developed with and approved by RMS and Edward River Council in advance of construction.
Traffic impacts would also be minimised by:
- upgrading intersections where required to ensure road user safety
- avoiding deliveries during peak use periods (tourism festivals, commuting times), where possible
- using traffic controls and speed limits to ensure road safety
- carpooling/shuttle bus arrangements to minimise staff vehicle movements
- arranging for the repair of any road damage during the construction period
- providing a contact phone number for the public to enable rapid response to any issues or concerns.
How will concerns and complaints during construction be handled?
An Information and Complaints phone service would be set up to speedily respond to any concerns during the construction period.
Operating the solar farms
What about the visual impact and the effect on the landscape character?
Major visual impacts are not expected because the terrain is flat and the height of the solar array would be a maximum of 3 metres. Any visual impact issues for neighbouring landholders or road users would be handled by planting screening vegetation along the edge of the solar farms at strategic locations.
How will the projects affect irrigation water supply and infrastructure, or to groundwater?
The irrigation entitlement and overhead irrigators currently used on the sites would be used on other properties owned by the landholder. Murray Irrigation Limited channels would be protected during the works. Groundcover would also be maintained at the site to protect soils and water quality.
The project would not need to use any groundwater. There are not expected to be any adverse impacts to irrigation water supplies or infrastructure, or groundwater.
Will the solar farms affect land values in the area?
A series of studies on the impacts of wind farms, which have higher visibility and noise emissions than solar farms, has shown that land values are very unlikely to be impacted. The NSW Department of Lands’ analysis of property sales data found that wind farms did not negatively affect property values in most cases (Link to report). Furthermore, a report commissioned by the Office of Environment and Heritage concluded that the available data does not show any significant impact to the value of agricultural properties. A large American study involving 50,000 home sales found no statistical evidence that home values near wind turbines were affected.
Will the safety and security of the area be affected?
The solar farms would have on-site staff, perimeter security fencing, infra-red lighting and cameras to deter vandalism and theft. The solar farms are not expected to increase the risk of anti-social behaviour in the locality nor are the solar farms on any tourist routes and should not attract casual passers-by.
Will local aviation be at risk from glare or heat produced by the solar panels?
The Department of Planning has confirmed that solar panels do not create noticeable glare compared with existing roof or building surfaces. The largest glare hazard for aviation remains the sun. Similarly, convection currents from heat produced by the panels are not expected to affect local aviation.
In fact, there are many examples around the world of solar farms being sited next to major airports without any glare issues.
Air Services Australia, CASA and local agricultural aerial services companies have been advised of the project, including Field Air, Deniliquin Ag Operations, Woorayl Air Services, Riverina Crop Care and Agflite. CASA and Air Services Australia did not raise any concerns. Field Air indicated that the solar farms would be marked on company mapping and would not impact on Field Air operations.
Will the project increase the local fire risk?
The solar array would be largely constructed of glass, silicon, steel and aluminium and would have very low flammability. Vulnerable equipment at the site, such as the Energy Storage Facility and the substation will be fitted with lightning protection and surrounded by a fenced, gravelled compound. The Energy Storage Facility would have an integrated fire detection and control system using inert fire suppression gases.
During construction, a Fire Management Plan would be used to manage fire risks during the construction period, including the suspension of work with potential to cause an ignition during total fire ban days.
The solar farm buildings would be constructed of low combustibility or non-combustible materials.
During the operation phase, fire risks would be minimised by maintaining low vegetation fuel levels, on-site water supplies and good firefighting access.
After operation commences, the local RFS and Fire and Rescue brigades would be invited to an information and orientation day at the site. The proponent would also facilitate and fund on-site training for local brigades in the management of lithium-ion battery fires.
Are there any radiation impacts? Will there be interference to mobile phone reception?
Electromagnetic fields (EMF) would be produced by electrical components at the site. EMFs also occur naturally in the environment.
EMF around powerlines and the substation would be less than recommended limits. Research in America has found that EMF from solar arrays were not distinguishable from background levels at the site boundary. The inverters in the solar array would produce Extremely Low Frequency EMFs, which are not hazardous to human health.
The EMF levels at distances of 5-10 metres from substations are generally indistinguishable from typical background levels in a home. The lithium-ion batteries used in the Energy Storage Facility are not associated with high levels of EMF.
Most cabling installed for the project would be buried along the access tracks and radiation emissions would be negligible.
The solar farm would not be likely to interfere with local mobile phone, radio or television reception. These devices operate at a much higher frequency than the AC electrical equipment that would be used at the solar farms, and any EMFs produced by the solar farms would dissipate rapidly with distance from the source.
Will weeds and pest animals be controlled at the sites?
Weed control would be undertaken prior to the works and would continue throughout the life of the solar farms. Pest animals would also be controlled as required in accordance with a monitoring plan.
After the solar farms
What happens after the solar farms close down?
The solar farms are expected to operate for about 30 years. After decommissioning, the above ground infrastructure would be removed to a depth of 500mm.
The sites would be returned to their pre-works state. Soil surveys have been undertaken to ensure that soils are restored to their original condition.
The projects would not have any long-term effect on agricultural productivity or land use options.