A rural economist says major solar developments, like one proposed near Culcairn, provide few direct advantages for the regions where they are located.
Ash Salardini, of NSW Farmers Association, said his group challenged developer Neoen’s view that such projects helped nearby communities during a Billabong branch meeting late last month.
“Particularly in the operational stage, there really isn’t that many jobs in large scale solar plants,” he said.
“There’s national benefits in terms of the electricity market, but there is no local benefit.
“I think there needs to be a little bit more honesty around that issue.”
About 60 people attended the members-only information meeting at Culcairn Bowling Club, which heard from Mr Salardini as well as representatives from Transgrid, the Department of Planning and Neoen.
Neoen Australia managing director Franck Woitiez said the event was positive.
“(It) allowed us to establish a broader dialogue with the local community, as well as address potential concerns around solar farming activities early on,” he said.
“We are in very early stages and still considering the feasibility of the site.
“To date, we have commenced one-on-one meetings with neighbours in Culcairn and will be holding an open consultation day for the wider community in due course.”
Billabong branch chairman Peter Campbell said the atmosphere of the meeting, which followed a first event in October attended by about 150 people, remained calm and the evening offered a great deal of information.
“There was no angst about it all, the people who oppose it aren’t going to back down, they had a lot of questions regarding the process of objecting to it,” Mr Campbell said.
“No one really came up with a definite time scale.”
Concerns raised included the impact on landscape and property values and potential problems in terms of fire and water run-off.
Mr Woitiez said community members and neighbours with any queries could email the project team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Solar farms talks will carry on
More forums will be planned so farmers concerned about solar farm developments can talk directly to the groups making the decisions.
NSW Farmers Association economist Ash Salardini said the association wanted to engage the government and developers to keep them aware of the needs of rural communities.
A meeting in Culcairn late last month provided information about a solar farm development proposed by Neoen of up to 1100 hectares near the town.
Mr Salardini said the industry should promote small and mid-scale projects rather than larger ones.
“Because there’s less land use conflicts,” he said.
“It’s actually better for regional communities because it creates regional capacity and actually reduces regional network costs as well.
“So it’s better on the economic front, it’s better on the social front and it’s better from an energy perspective for regional and rural users.”
Neoen Australia managing director Franck Woitiez said the Culcairn proposal remained in its early stages.
“We are committed to maintaining an open dialogue with local councils, communities and neighbours from the very beginning, to minimise the impact on local residents,” he said.
Mr Salardini said the Culcairn meeting did allay some fears but raised other questions.
“There were some real concerns around the property values and the remediation that government and the industry didn’t have an answer for and that’s something from them to take back and try to address as well,” the economist said.
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