The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has released its Assessment Report on the Development Application (DA) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the 720 megawatt New England Solar Farm.
The report is the formal whole-of-government response from the NSW Government to the project’s Development Application. It concluded that the solar farm would be in the public interest and benefit the local community and the state of NSW.
It also found that:
The site was appropriate for a solar farm and its agricultural capability would not be affected;
There was no significant visual impact; and
Potential traffic impacts were minimal and short term.
The Department is recommending approval of the project with appropriate conditions and has referred the application to the Independent Planning Commission (IPC).
This is an important milestone for the project – if consent is obtained from the IPC this would pave the way for the project to commence construction in early 2020. The solar farm would generate enough clean, renewable energy to power 250,000 homes, create up to 700 full time jobs during construction, commercial opportunities for local businesses and suppliers and diversify income for rural landowners.
It is being proposed across two solar fields on 2,000 hectares of mostly clearly grazing land, about six kilometres east of Uralla, in the New England region of NSW. The region has been identified as a suitable area for renewable energy development by the NSW Government, the Australian Energy Market Operator and electricity transmission company TransGrid.The project EIS was based on site inspections, desktop modelling and research and numerous environmental studies conducted over the past two years.
The proposed development has also been shaped by feedback from neighbours, landholders and the local community and other stakeholders. More than sixty one on one meetings have been held with locals as well as six community information sessions. 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.
A number of changes have been made to the project application including minor reductions in the land area involved in the northern section of the development footprint and the removal of a temporary workers accommodation village, which had been proposed at the end of the Big Ridge Road. In addition, all construction related traffic will now be limited to the use of the New England Highway, Barleyfields Road (North) and Big Ridge Road, which will see a significant upgrade as part of the project.
The NSW Independent Planning Commission is the consent authority for the application. It will review the NSW Government Assessment Report as part of its determination process.
Read the full New England Solar Farm Assessment Report.