Many factors to consider

February 12, 2018

A 20megawatt, $30million solar farm is being developed for the Goulburn Valley.

Greater Shepparton City Council appears to be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to deciding on a number of solar farm applications for the region.

Needless to say, there is a lot of money and a lot of energy-producing capacity at stake.

The half dozen or so applications being considered total more than $300million to develop, and are capable of producing more than 200MW of power.

However, the big question at the moment appears to be whether they are positioned in the right locations.

The council has made clear regularly it is in favour of solar developments and more broadly, heralding a return to a region once proudly calling itself the solar city.

The problem is, the council also represents the interests of nearby landholders.

More strategically, it also needs to take into account the most productive uses for prime agricultural land.

The council last year voted to refer these applications to a higher authority to decide on: Victoria’s planning minister.

And while this may have been viewed at the time as a handballing of a particularly divisive set of decisions, it appears some councillors are concerned that whatever the decision the council makes, if it indeed has to make them, will end up at VCAT.

No-one thinks this would mark an ideal outcome.

Solar marks a valuable opportunity for this region, but there needs to be a fair process for objectors and others with concerns to be heard.

Moreover, an understanding of long-term goals and potential impacts needs to be considered.

We are yet to hear an official word back from the state government on whether they will determine the applications.

But today Suzanna Sheed has weighed in, saying some Victorian Planning Department assistance may be in order.

The broader goal, as almost all parties understand, should be a solid policy framework to ensure these projects can be consistently determined with all interests in mind moving forward.

Given earmarked shifts towards renewables into the future, and the potential for many more of these projects to emerge, it is pleasing then that the state planning department has said such a framework is in the final stages.

Such projects mark real potential for this region, and like everyone, we would like to see them come to reality with as little fuss and negative impact and as much mutual benefit as possible.

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