Frequently asked questions
How will the solar farm produce electricity?
The New England Solar Farm will consist of ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) modules or panels that are made up of silicon cells. The cells convert sunlight into energy that will then be transported via underground electricity cables to the main electricity grid for use by homes and businesses. The electricity generated could also be stored in a large Battery Energy Storage System so that it can be used at different times (peak periods), when demand for power is higher.
How will the New England Solar Farm supply power to homes and businesses?
The solar farm will connect to the nearby electricity transmission network that is owned and managed by Transgrid. Power will flow through to the local electricity network where it will be used by homes and businesses.
Will it help cut greenhouse gas emissions?
Yes. The solar farm will produce enough clean renewable energy to power up to 250,000 homes without producing any greenhouse gas emissions. It will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing electricity generation by up to 1.5million tonnes of C02 each year – the equivalent to taking 330,000 cars off the road.
How will the solar panels be installed?
The solar panels will be mounted on a single axis tracking system, consisting of steel piles and a horizontal tracker tube and motors which will enable the panels to track the sun throughout the day in an east-west direction.
The panels will be attached to steel piles that will either be screwed or driven into the ground, typically to a depth of 1.5-3m. The panels will be installed in rows with about 5-8 metres space in between them.
What’s the size of the solar farm site?
It is expected to have a capacity of around 720 megawatts of electricity generating capacity.
The total site to achieve this is about 2000 hectares, which includes the area of solar panels, roads and other project infrastructure, environmental buffer areas and new vegetation planting. The project site consists of two arrays of solar panels: the northern and central arrays. A third southern array is being discussed with local landowners and may be subject to a new planning application in future.
Why was this site chosen for the solar farm?
The site is located within the region identified by the Australian Energy Market Operator as a renewable energy zone and by the NSW Government as a priority area for renewable energy development.
The site consists of mostly cleared grazing land that has relatively few environmental constraints.
An existing 330 kV power line owned and operated by NSW electricity transmission provider, Transgrid, runs through the middle of the proposed site, making it easy to supply power into the national grid.
The proposed solar farm site is about 1,000 metres above sea level and has high solar irradiance.
The combination of high elevation, favourable solar resource and the cooler New England temperatures makes the site highly productive for generating renewable electricity.
How long will the solar farm be there?
The solar farm will have a design life of 25-30 years. At the end of this time it could be decommissioned and the land returned to farming operations. It is also possible to re-power the facility by replacing key equipment.
What is the impact on local farming operations?
Much of the existing site is currently used for sheep grazing. UPC is in discussions with the landholders with the aim of grazing sheep underneath and around the solar panels once they are installed.
The rows of panels will be spaced about 5-8 metres apart and 1.2 metres from the ground at their lowest point, leaving between 60-70 percent of the development site free from any infrastructure. This will leave enough space for sheep to graze.
Studies from the USA, as well as evidence from three solar farm sites in Australia demonstrates that grass continues to grow underneath solar panels on solar farm sites.
Solar farms are a relatively low impact development. Heavy earth works are avoided wherever possible, and the piles are typically driven or screwed into the ground. This means the site can be returned to a condition suitable for agricultural use once the solar farm is decommissioned.
The development footprint represents approximately 0.64% of the total land area within the Uralla Shire LGA and 0.003% of the total land area mapped as Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land or BSAL in NSW.
What is the impact on the local economy?
All up, the project is expected to generate up to 500 jobs during peak construction and up to 15 fulltime ongoing jobs. An additional 200 jobs could be created if the Battery Energy Storage System is installed.
It is expected these jobs would be in the area of civil works (fencing installation, internal access road construction and other site preparation works), PV module installation, electrical works (assembly of electrical equipment, low, medium and high voltage electrical services), and site office establishment.
There would also be a number of sub-contracting opportunities for local tradespeople such as electricians and plumbers, fencing and maintenance, vegetation control as well as the generation of indirect jobs in areas such as catering and short-term accommodation providers.
An economic assessment of the proposed development found that it would have a significant upside to the local and regional economies. It will help create additional jobs and the money spent by workers in the region during construction will boost household incomes.
This will continue over the life of the solar farm as a result of activities related to operations and maintenance.
The construction phase is expected to last for 18 months for the first stage of the project, and a further 18 months for stage two.
How will local residents and business access employment or contracting opportunities from the solar farm?
Wherever possible, local residents and businesses will be prioritised for jobs, contracting and procurement of materials for the solar farm, so that benefits to the local economy and community can be maximised.
Based on other major solar farm projects built in Australia, up to 50 percent of employment opportunities will come from the local or regional area.
As the development progresses, UPC will hold information sessions for local businesses and residents to find out more about these opportunities
Click here to lodge your interest in employment or contracting opportunities
Will workers be employed from outside the region and how will they be accommodated?
Due to the large number of workers required for the project construction, it is expected that some jobs will need to be filled from outside the local community. Based on feedback from leading contractors it is expected that around half of the construction workers will come from the local region. This means that some construction jobs will still need to be filled from outside the local and regional area.
We’ve been talking to accommodation providers across the region to ensure that there will be enough short term accommodation for any additional workers. We’ve been very pleased with the response and we expect that we will no longer need to build a temporary workers accommodation village on the solar farm site.
How will the project be funded?
It is anticipated that for a project of this size a combination of local and international sources of finance would be required. UPC Renewables has experience working with a wide range of financiers for these sorts of projects.
How have you listened to the local community’s views on the proposal?
UPC has been speaking directly with the local community about the solar farm since early 2018.
Five community information sessions have been held to present updated information and to listen to the local community’s views and answer questions.
One-on-one meetings with local residents, community and business groups and Uralla Shire Council have also been held as part of this engagement process. Feedback from the local community has led to significant changes to the project and refinements to the site.
We are continuing to talk to local land owners near a third southern array about the potential for an additional solar farm development.
Local community members and other stakeholders can continue to ask questions or provide feedback on the proposal via firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1300 250 479 or on the New England Solar Farm Facebook page @newenglandsolarfarm
What changes have you made to the proposal?
As a result of ongoing discussions and meetings with the local community and neighbouring landowners, a number of significant changes have been made to the site. The site for the southern array was removed from the existing proposal to allow further discussions with land owners.
The sites for both the central and northern arrays have also reduced by approximately 30%.
The most significant recent refinements include: restriction of any excessive noise generating activities to standard construction hours, no need for a temporary workers accommodation village on the solar farm site, and further reduction in the development footprint nearest to the Kelly’s Plains area.
Changes have helped to reduce the potential visual impact of the solar farm as well as reduce potential flooding impacts and provide additional buffers from known historic and Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.
The proposal is still expected to produce enough clean renewable energy to power around 250,000 typical NSW homes.
Will the solar panels generate glare?
Solar panels are intended to absorb light to maximise their efficiency. Usually solar panels reflect about 2% of sunlight which is less than the reflectivity produced by a wide variety of surfaces in the existing environment surrounding and within the development footprint.
To further reduce visual impact of the solar panels, we have also proposed to plant vegetation near some neighbouring properties.
Will the solar farm cause flooding?
Due to the considerable spacing between the rows of solar panels in a single axis tracking solar farm, there is adequate space for the water to run off naturally to the ground. The potential for the solar farm to cause flooding is considered negligible.
What benefit is there for the local community aside from jobs?
UPC is proposing to support community projects by providing funding of $250 for every megawatt (AC) of power generating capacity installed at the New England Solar Farm, or around $150,000 to $200,000 a year over the 25-30 year life of the solar farm.
As part of UPC’s ongoing consultation efforts, a Community Reference Group was established in August this year to investigate the concept, known as the Community Benefit Sharing Initiative, and develop a list of potential projects that could be funded via the initiative.
The reference group includes local residents and business owners representing a range of demographics and interests.
It was independently chaired by the Community Power Agency, a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in working with local communities and renewable energy projects.
Eight new Community Reference Group (CRG) panel members have been selected to help us establish and implement governance arrangements for the CBSI and determine the first round of funding.
Has a bushfire risk assessment been identified for the project?
A comprehensive Bushfire Risk Assessment was undertaken as part of project application to ensure it reduces any potential fire risk or hazard. A further fire management plan will be developed for the construction period.
When will construction on the solar farm begin?
The NSW Independent Planning Commission approved the project in March 2020 and a grid connection agreement with the transmission network operator Transgrid has been entered into.
Elecnor Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elecnor S.A, has been appointed by UPC\AC Renewables as the EPC contractor to deliver the first 400MW (AC) stage of the project including the substation works.
Preliminary design and engineering work has already started. On site construction is expected to begin in early 2021.
What stage of development is the project currently at?
The project received planning approval from the NSW Independent Planning Commission on 9 March 2020 and a grid connection agreement with the transmission network operator Transgrid was signed in June 2020. Construction will begin in early 2021 now that the EPC Contractor has been appointed.