Council gives green light to solar farm

The local council has approved the development of a 4 megawatt solar farm, including ancillary works and associated infrastructure, at Five Mile Creek Road.

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC) has approved the development of a solar farm at 167 Five Mile Creek Road after the council received 14 submissions from adjoining and adjacent landowners, most objecting to the development.

The development was approved with conditions.

Objectors put forward a number of concerns relating to why they believed the development should not be approved, including: surface runoff and groundwater vulnerability; erosion and sedimentation and land degradation; fire; financial and future development impacts; noise; power issues and electrical network disruptions and outages; lack of benefit to the local community; zoning and permissibility; impacts on agricultural land; application process and procedure; visual impact; road condition, traffic and access; inappropriate location; biodiversity; contamination of soils, surface and groundwater; and health impacts.

The low emission development would generate approximately 8,000 MWh of clean electricity annually, which is enough to power up to 1,200 homes and save up to 7,700 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year, which is consistent with the Federal and State Government’s actions plans and schemes.

In a report put to councillors at last Tuesday night’s meeting, it stated the council’s development, building and compliance staff had assessed the development application and all information supplied in support of the development, including studies and reports from suitability qualified consultants.  

It said staff had considered, at length, the submissions made in respect of the application, and had thoroughly addressed the mandatory matters under the relevant section of the Act.

“It is considered that the site is appropriate for the development, being close to an existing electricity network. Preliminary advice from the supply authority indicates that the solar farm can connect to this network,” the report stated.

“The development has been designed to address the key constraints of the site, being topography and visibility, while the impacts such as stormwater drainage, construction traffic, noise and dust will be managed through conditions of consent.

“The project would not result in any significant reduction in the overall agricultural productivity of the region. Additionally, the site could be easily returned to agricultural uses after the project is decommissioned and the agricultural capability of the land would not be affected. 

“It is believed that the development assessment report demonstrates that the development is an appropriate use for the site and has been designed to minimise the potential impacts on surrounding land users and the environment. 

“All matters under the relevant legislation have been considered and it has determined that there are no reasonable grounds upon which to refuse the application.”

While not against the solar farm development, mayor Abb McAlister did not vote for the development to be approved. 

“Before I make a decision, I’d like councillors to have an onsite inspection,” Cr McAlister said.

“We’ve had a lot of things put to us through the submissions, I think it’s only fair that we request to meet with [the developers] onsite.

“I don’t think we’re looking after the people that have made Five Mile Creek their home and who put in submissions and done what we’ve asked of them. I think it’s a bit unfair to those people.”

An invitation to inspect the site was presented to the council in November last year, however an inspection was not undertaken.

Cr Charlie Sheahan, who voted for the development, said he could not see any great benefit in a site visit. 

“Most of us drive past it, we know the site fairly well,” he said.

“It’s an excellent report, it addresses all the issues, and there is no legislative requirement that stands in the way of approving this development application.

“Also, I believe we are outside of the timeframe as it is now and to wait much longer could leave us, as a council, vulnerable.”

Cr Gil Kelly also voted for the development.

“The report is very detailed; the staff have put a hell of a lot of work into it,” Cr Kelly said.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that, as far as I can see, it’s a compliant application and unfortunately given the time constraints, if we don’t do something with this tonight, we’re going to be deemed refusal of consent and for that reason I’ll be voting for this to go ahead.”

Cr Doug Phillips voted in favour of the development, saying staff had addressed the objectors’ concerns.

“We’ve got a compliant development application, we’ve got our staff saying ‘yes’ and they’ve addressed those concerns. I don’t see how we cannot make a decision,” Cr Phillips said. 

“None of us are planners. Yes, we could go and have a look, but none of us are skilled in that area. That’s why we have a planning department that have actually gone and addressed those concerns.” 

Deputy mayor Dennis Palmer said while he supported the mayor’s suggestion of a site visit, he too was wary of time constraints in approving the application.

“The fact that this document has been alive for some time, I’m very mindful that it could be deemed as a refusal by council, and I don’t want to expose council to that possibility,” Cr Palmer said.

“I do acknowledge that the local knowledge of some of the landholders there, in my opinion, hasn’t been addressed to neutralise their concerns, but in essence, this development complies and meets all NSW state planning authority compliance issues. 

“I’m very mindful that to hold it over tonight may put council in a predicament where we would be deemed as refusing this DA.”

After Cr McAlister suggested that objectors may also have a case against the council if they believed their submissions were not adequately considered, CGRC’s manager development, building and compliance Sharon Langman said an objector does not have third party merits based appeal rights, as it is not a designated development. 

“They do have third party process rights of appeal if they believe that council hasn’t followed due process in this matter,” she said.

The development was approved, five votes to three.

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