An international company has been told to prove the solar panels it will be installing on the outskirts of a small Riverina village are not being built by overseas slave labour, to ease the concerns of local opposition.
The NSW Southern Regional Planning Panel has approved Bison Energy's proposal for a five megawatt solar farm just outside Uranquinty, about 15 kilometres south-west of Wagga.
After concerns were raised by multiple residents and an anti-slavery advocate, the panel added a condition requiring the company to show evidence the manufacturing of panels for the site "satisfies the relevant requirements of the Commonwealth Modern Slavery Act 2018".
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Those who addressed the panel linked materials used in solar panels with alleged slave labour in China, but there was no evidence which directly connected Bison Energy to forced labour.
Bison Energy head of business development Brendan Murphy said the company is strict on its panel selection and ensures there is no modern slavery involved in the construction process.
"A lot of materials do come out of China but we choose very selectively where they do come from," Mr Murphy said.
"If it's even found to have any kind of slavery attached to any components within the solar farm, the operational part of it won't get off the ground because we simply won't get the backing support from finance, insurance and even construction parties."
Among those addressing the panel was Be Slavery Free co-director Carolyn Kitto, who said 45 per cent of the world's polysilicon - a key material in almost all solar panels - is produced in China's western Xinjiang region, which has been linked to reports of forced labour and other human rights abuses.
She said steps should be taken to ensure the proposed Uranquinty solar farm does not breach public procurement laws of NSW legislation.
"We are not against a green transition - we see the impact of climate change all over the world," Ms Kitto said.
"We believe this transition needs to happen, however the transition needs to be just. The transition to green should not be at the expense of human rights violation."
Regular storm water tests will also take place in the areas around the solar farm, after speakers raised concerns with the potential environment impact of the project.
The planning panel ultimately approved the solar farm after concluding any adverse environmental impacts would be "mitigated by the design and layout of the proposal" as well as the added conditions.
The $7.5 million development involves the erection of more than 13,000 solar panels on an almost 17 hectare parcel of land just outside Uranquinty.
The solar farm is expected to have a 30 year life and the site will need to be rehabilitated once it is offline.
Uranquinty Progress Association president Deb Bewick said most residents were not against the project following consultation meetings hosted by Bison Energy.
She said the relatively small size of the project, especially compared to other Riverina solar sites, eased many concerns for residents.
"They talked about the glare and that sort of thing but because it's very small and out of the village it shouldn't be too much of a problem," Ms Bewick said.
"It's basically one big paddock of solar panels and they feed into the Uranquinty sub-station, so it's actually protecting the village because if the grid goes down we'll still get power from that."
Bison Energy was contacted for further comment.
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