Wagga’s Independent member Dr Joe McGirr has reiterated his call for a moratorium on new solar developments in the state.
While he is not opposed to renewable energy, Dr McGirr wants to see developments outside the state’s Renewable Energy Zones (REZ) put on hold until the NSW Agriculture Commissioner Daryl Quinlivan’s review into renewable energy and agriculture is complete and new government guidelines confirmed.
Following a meeting with representatives from Wagga’s Regional Sustainable Food Alliance and a visiting delegation from the Glanmire Action Group near Bathurst, Dr McGirr said the process was “heavily weighted in favour of the developers”.
“For example, a developer is required to lodge an environmental impact statement, which they can take months to prepare with the help of professionals – and they are well resourced to do this,” he said.
“On the other hand, landowners are given just 28 days to respond with their objections, which hardly seems fair.
“Landowners don’t have the same resources and have to assess the documents in their own time.”
Dr McGirr said the insurance liability for those on land adjoining solar factories was also unclear.
“Most landowners carry $20 million in public liability coverage, but landowners fear this would not cover the cost of damage to a solar factory if, for example, there was a fire,” he explained.
“Landowners could be left with an enormous bill.”
Borambola landowner Rick Martin is a member of the Riverina Sustainable Food Alliance, which was formed in response to new solar farms on prime agricultural land around Wagga.
His wool and cropping property Burnbank Farm is adjacent to land on which energy developer Sparks Renewables is proposing to establish a 307-ha solar farm.
“Landholders are stymied at every turn by government’s planning policies,” Mr Martin said.
“The government is demonstrating a blatant lack of respect for agriculture by downgrading the importance of food production and food security and prioritising solar and renewable energy.”
Grazier Don Kirkpatrick’s Maxwell property to Wagga’s south overlooks the site of a solar project proposed by Spanish company X-ELIO.
He also wants to see developments restricted to the REZ and is frustrated by the lack of time landowners are given to respond.
“This ad hoc piecemeal approach to solar factory proposals and their approval is destroying farming communities,” Mr Kirkpatrick said.
“The companies undertaking these developments submit environmental impact statements that have taken professionals months to research and write. They can run into hundreds of pages.
“Outside the renewable energy zones, landowners have fewer protections and a different approach to compensation. This is beyond wrong.”
Agriculture Commissioner Daryl Quinlivan’s final report is due later this year and the Large-Scale Solar Energy Guideline is yet to be finalised.
Dr McGirr has insisted that new developments outside the REZ are halted in the meantime.
“Here in NSW, we have renewable energy zones which have been earmarked for solar factory developments with appropriate measures in place to offer additional protections to neighbouring landowners and the broader community, yet new developments are proliferating outside these designated areas, where there are fewer protections,” he said.