7 March 2022

Maxwell landowners to fight 'chase for profits' solar farm project just outside of Wagga

| Max O'Driscoll
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Don Kirkpatrick

Don Kirkpatrick at the site where the solar farm has been proposed. Photo: Supplied.

Residents of Maxwell just outside of Wagga Wagga have been made aware of a Spanish company’s plan to build a new solar farm in the small town.

X-ELIO describes itself as a “global leader in the industry of renewable energy with a firm commitment to greenhouse gases reduction and the fight against climate change” and has released plans to construct a solar farm at Maxwell.

It has 78 solar plants in 12 countries worldwide.

The Maxwell project would be about 23 kilometres south of Wagga Wagga and will include a Battery Energy Storage System, sub-station and connection to 330kV transmission lines.

The company claims that in the first year of operation the farm would produce about 613,600 MWh, enough to power more than 115,000 homes.

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Local Maxwell farmer Don Kirkpatrick’s property is directly across the road from the proposed solar farm and he said local residents met on Sunday (27 February) to discuss the project after a Wagga consultancy group hired by X-ELIO advised them of the plans over the phone.

“They’ve employed a local consultancy firm to do their dirty work for them and I was rung up last Thursday along with a few other residents,” Mr Kirkpatrick said.

“This is just the first part of the whole process for these solar farms whereby you have to start ticking boxes and the community consultation is one of the first ones.”

The residents believe the proposal “has holes in it everywhere”, and the selection of an undulating piece of “prime agricultural land” has residents furious.

“The anger here is palpable – there’s no two ways about it. Here you have a foreign company, coming in and basically trying to rip the heart out of a small farming community,” Mr Kirkpatrick said.

“We’re a good little community, farming in an incredibly lucky area and you can come in at the will of a foreign solar company who is trying to muscle in on the state significance and get on the renewable energy bandwagon.

“This is not about renewable energy – make no mistake about it. This is no lovey-dovey feel-good saving the environment. This is a grubby chase for profits by a company that sees an opportunity to make a lot of money.”

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A benefit listed in the proposal online is the creation of jobs but Mr Kirkpatrick disputed how beneficial this would be to the local community.

“Installing solar on this sort of scale is done by professionals, so the potential jobs are always inflated through the roof for every solar and wind proposal that’s ever been put forward,” he said.

“Make no mistake, the workers will be professionals that come in, they won’t employ a bunch of locals out of Wagga.”

While the group acknowledged the benefits of the solar farm to the broader community they share the belief that the land selected is unsuitable.

“Every one of our residents is pro-solar. We actually see solar as where Australia is headed,” Mr Kirkpatrick.

“We all agree solar has its place, but that place should be flat country with low populations where there’s no visual impact.

“You just couldn’t find a worse spot to put a solar farm.”

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Due to the project’s expected cost of more than $30 million, it will be considered for approval by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment as a State Significant Development. X-ELIO estimates construction will begin in the fourth quarter of 2023 and run for about 15 months should it be accepted.

Maxwell residents have a meeting scheduled for Thursday 10 March with the local consultancy firm, and while not wanting to give anything away, Mr Kirkpatrick promised there was a plan in place.

An X-ELIO representative stressed that the project is only in its early stages and said the company was eager to work with the community to address concerns.

“X-ELIO remains absolutely committed to working closely with residents, which will include a year-long program of consultation where the community will have many opportunities to provide feedback and work closely with X-ELIO on any concerns,” the spokesperson said.

“The project being proposed would have huge economic and social benefits for the local community, including the creation of up to 350 full-time construction jobs and another eight to 12 operational roles, while the project itself would produce enough clean energy each year to power 115,000 homes.”

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