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Solar Farm Opposition

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The Land newspaper on May 4th reported on a heartfelt story of the King Valley farmer John Conroy and his family. He has found himself next door to a massive (330MW) solar farm proposal and likely to be just one of a few in that region.

The problem we have in Australia is a planning system that is purely designed to approve new projects, and simply mitigate the negative impacts of a project. We have seen that play out with the extractives industry, and inevitably that is also playing out with renewables projects.

Given this proposal is still in the early planning days, there are five major changes that should be made immediately to the project for better outcomes:

  1. Benefit sharing - in this model one farmer appears to have sold their land to the solar farm developer and it seems that no benefits have been shared beyond this one landholder. These days there are many ways of sharing benefits to direct neighbours, to local communities and even beyond, from renewables projects, and there are hundreds of examples where this has been done really well. The proponent must be forced to consider ways to benefit this, and other neighbouring families as well as the broader community. There are countless great examples including this one at Crowlands.

  2. Communication and engagement - clearly this family has not been involved in genuine discussions in the planning phase. Proponents must build genuine relationships very early on with locals, including with existing local groups.

  3. Scale - Having such a huge scale of project, creates a large shock to the community. Advocating for a larger number of smaller-scale projects decreases the shock to any one cohort of neighbours, spreads the impacts and also spreads the benefits. A fantastic example of this is Hepburn Wind Farm.

  4. Co-locating with agriculture - clearly this family loves to farm and their kids want a farming future. There is no good reason why these solar farms cannot be planned to co-locate with agriculture. Instead of buying out one whole farm, lease arrangements could be made, spreading the solar out and undertaking agriculture within the solar farm. There are examples of this where sheep grazed under solar have increased wool yield, horticulture crops see less frost damage, bee habitat is grown and also where broadscale crops are grown between solar panels. This can be planned early in the project development.

  5. Ownership - whilst Meadow Creek Solar Farm is owned by an Australian company, even this is not quite enough. Locals should have the chance to invest too, gaining dividends for the 30 year life of the project. See this working brilliantly at the Coonooer Bridge Wind Farm.

Alternatives to the way the Meadow Creek Solar Farm has been proposed do exist. Part of the reason we started Geni.Energy was is to ensure that renewable projects in the Northwest are done better. We advocate for local developments to create local benefits, to come up with ways to co-locate and co-benefit and most of all to ensure the community leads on how these developments are done.

On the back of this article, a Letter to The Editor was then sent to The Land on Thursday May 25th by Mr Peter Carter.

Spring boarding off the genuine concerns of the Conroy family, Mr Carter threw into the mix a range of misinformation. He wanted us to all fear that putting solar panels on our roof or in our paddocks would see toxins leached into our water tanks and our rivers.

Mr Carter specifically references "the toxic elements cadmium, lead and arsenic leaching into soil with rain over time". He notes "a prominent and eminent scientist" had stated this publicly.

There was a recent article in USA that raised the specific issue of these three elements. This article (written by a journalist, not a scientist) references a 2017 scientific study about the issue. However there are two very important things to note about this study:

  1. the study simulated the effects of landfill - so it crushed and buried solar panels and exposed them to the methogenic and acidic conditions of being buried to create the leaching effect. The panels were not whole, on a roof or in a paddock.

  2. the study looked at solar panels using a technology called cadmium telluride (CdTe). In Australia only 5% of panels use this technology.

There is no evidence that functioning solar panels on your roof or in your paddock create any toxic leaching into water.

Whilst there are genuine concerns about how Australia will make the inevitable transition to renewables, it is not helpful to cause more fear using half truths and half information.

We do have the opportunity to revise how developments are done in our rural communities. We do have the opportunity to create lasting and genuine benefits from the renewables transition. But we still need to be honest.

We would love to hear from you if you would like to help revision this future with us! Lets have the next great case example, here in the northwest!

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