Controversial $636 million solar farm gets tick of approval

Controversial Culcairn Solar Farm approved by Independent Planning Commission

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NEXT STEP: Neoen, developer of the Numurkah Solar Farm (pictured), will build a much larger 400-megawatt project at Culcairn. Pictures: MARK JESSER

NEXT STEP: Neoen, developer of the Numurkah Solar Farm (pictured), will build a much larger 400-megawatt project at Culcairn. Pictures: MARK JESSER

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A controversial $636 million solar farm and battery development in Culcairn has been approved by the Independent Planning Commission.

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A controversial $636 million solar farm and battery development in Culcairn has been approved by the Independent Planning Commission.

The 1039 hectare project is slated to deliver 350 megawatts of energy to the National Electricity Market.

Despite concerns of neighbouring landholders and Greater Hume Council the Commission found the solar development was "an orderly and economic use and development of land" and approved it, subject to conditions.

In their reasoning for the decision IPC chair Andrew Hutton and Professor Zaida Lipman said the project was in the public interest.

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The Commission received 274 public submissions in relation to the project, 170 in objection, 102 in support, and three simply commenting.

The project is expected to create 350 construction jobs over the 18-month build and seven ongoing jobs for the 30-year life of the site.

The Commission dismissed community concerns the solar development would use and damage prime agricultural land, finding the "inherent agricultural capability of the land will not be affected in the long-term".

It said during the project, only 25 per cent of the site would be removed from agricultural production and Neoen proposed managing the site for sheep grazing.

The commission found the proposed land use was appropriate and "generally consistent with the land use planning objects of the site and the region."

The Commission ordered the ground cover of the site must be maintained as a condition of the approval, with perennial species, weed management and grazing required where possible, to minimise the impact on neighbouring properties.

Some landscape screening must be erected.

The Commission outlined up to 100 heavy vehicles and 150 light vehicle movements per day would occur during the 18-month construction period but once operation, the traffic impact would be "negligible''.

To mitigate the impact, the Commission ordered the applicant, Neoen Australia, to construct a primary site access point, upgrade parts of Weeamera Road and ensure all vehicles are less than 26m long.

The organisation must also prepare a Traffic Management Plan, undertake road dilapidation surveys and repair damage to council's satisfaction.

The Commission found, if realised, the solar farm would bring social and economic benefits and would "contribute to the orderly transition from traditional coal and gas fired power generation" helping NSW reach net zero emissions by 2050.

More on the development:

According to the finding Neoen has negotiated a Voluntary Planning Agreement with Greater Hume Council totalling $5 million and committed $4.8 million to a community benefit fund.

"Absent expert evidence, community concerns regarding the diminution of land values is not a planning matter for consideration," the report said.

Despite finding 52 Aboriginal heritage artefacts or sites on the land, the Commission found the project would not "significantly impact heritage values of the locality".

The project avoids 21 of the artefacts and Neoeon will salvage and relocate the other 31.

The company must also develop a decommissioning and rehabilitation plan, Biodiversity Management Plan, accommodation strategy for workers, and obey site-specific Bush Fire Management requirements.

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