12 May 2023

Solar power, yes, say Yass residents, just not in our backyards

| Sally Hopman
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Group of people

Concerned Yass residents, in front of where the 328-hectare solar farm project has been proposed. From left, Jill Ivancic, Meaghan Stacey, Howard Stacey, Ralf Hansson, Kylie Davies, Lynne Davis, Barry Ranyard, Ann Ranyard and Judy Breitkopf. Photo: John Matan.

Plans to build a giant solar farm about 2.5 km southwest of the Yass township have created division in the rural community, with a newly formed action group calling for it to be located elsewhere.

Yass Solar Energy Park, proposed by French company ENGIE, has been earmarked for a site adjacent to the existing Transgrid substation, near the Wee Jasper Road. It will include a spread of 220,000 black solar panels over 328 hectares of countryside, battery storage facility, various new buildings, electrical cabling and substations.

Chair of the Yass Solar Action Group and former mayor of Yass, Rowena Abbey, said the group was not opposed to solar energy, its main concern was its proximity to town.

“This action group was formed by people who live in houses which will look straight down on it,” she said. “So instead of rolling hills, which is why they live there, they’ll have a sea of solar panels.

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“We understand the decision to locate the park there was because of its close proximity to the substation, but it is in the wrong location.”

In a letter to residents, the group said: “We support solar energy and understand its important role in future clean energy supply. But is it really necessary to locate such a large solar farm complex so close to our town?”

Mrs Abbey said the area earmarked for the solar park was also the site of a proposed Yass Valley Council subdivision, adding that signs advertising the subdivision “coming soon” were no longer on site.

She said this raised concerns about how the project would affect future development in the town as well as on property values and wildlife, with wedgetail eagles known to hunt in the area.

“We also believe the fire risk is great because if fire were to break out on the site, volunteer fire crews would not be allowed on the site – and we’re talking about a location right on the edge of town.”

Mrs Abbey said it was not simply a case of NIMBYism (not in my backyard). “We are not against solar power,” she said. “I couldn’t get any more solar panels on the roof of my sheds and house if I tried.”

Map of proposed Yass Solar Farm

A map of the proposed Yass solar farm. Image: ENGIE.

General manager development and delivery at ENGIE, Leigh Newbery, said the Yass site had been selected based on a number of factors, including good solar resources, proximity to existing transmission infrastructure, land availability and support from landowners.

Mr Newbery said while ENGIE had agreements with three landowners for a potential development site of up to 328 hectares, “the size and location of the solar farm and other infrastructure is still being explored, taking into account environmental and engineering considerations and feedback from surrounding residents”.

Once defined, the concept design of the solar park will form part of a scoping report which the company could lodge with the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) as early as next month.

“The scoping report will detail results of the early engagement and preliminary studies, and will be available to view on DPE’s online planning portal,” Mr Newbery said.

“ENGIE will then be required to undertake more detailed assessments and studies as part of the environmental impact statement (EIS). The EIS is expected to be lodged with DPE in early 2024 and will be placed on public exhibition for formal community and stakeholder feedback.”

Mrs Abbey said the group believed there had not been enough community consultation with ENGIE.

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“A meeting was organised for back in February but no one really knew what it was about and it was held at a time when most people were working so not a lot of people were there. But when they heard what it was all about, everyone wanted to know more.”

Mr Newbery said ENGIE was keen to hear from the local community “to ensure we understand the key issues and identify matters to be considered in the planning and approvals process and factored into the design and operations of the energy park”.

He said initial studies and engagement with the community and other stakeholders was underway, to help define the project design and understand its benefits to the region.

ENGIE will stage two more information sessions at the Yass Soldiers’ Memorial Hall on 24 May from 4 pm to 6 pm and on 25 May from 8 am to 10 am. All interested people are invited to attend.

The Yass Solar Action Group has started a petition against the solar farm which they plan to present to the NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Paul Scully. More information is available on its Facebook page.

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