Solar farm debate heats up

Concerns about loss of quality farmland, fire risk and visual amenity are among those driving longtime locals to object to a $195 million solar farm proposed for Baringhup.
A Planning Panels Victoria directions hearing held in Castlemaine on Thursday marked the start of a process to determine if the 75 Megawatt solar farm gets ministerial planning approval to proceed.
If approved, the RES Australia proposal would see some 260,000 solar panels established on a 292-hectare leased site on Baringhup West Road, amid the global push to clean renewable energy and the drive for Victoria to meet its own clean energy targets.
But more than 250 locals have made their objection to the proposed siting of the solar farm known.
Among objectors at last Thursday’s directions hearing, were Baringhup residents Peter and Maree Baker who live opposite the site on land owned by their son, Shane, who is also objecting.
“The proposal is right opposite our house,” said Peter Baker whose family has farmed at Baringhup for many decades.
“We have no objection whatsoever to renewable energy, obviously we need it. We all support it.
“But why you’d be taking prime agricultural land out of production is just beyond me.
“We’ve still got to feed people. This land is at the start of the Moolort Plains and is the best agricultural land in the Mount Alexander Shire.”
Mr Baker’s objections also relate to concerns about potential fire risk and visual impact.
“The 260,000 panels would be three metres high,” he said.
Shane Baker is also concerned about what happens to the solar panels once they’ve reached the end of their useful lifespan, expressing worries that the site opposite his farm might become a “dumping ground” for defunct solar panels amid the nation’s wider recycling worries.
Thursday’s directions hearing was attended by the applicant, a number of residents who oppose the development, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Mount Alexander Shire Council representatives.
The hearing followed transferal of the matter to the state minister for planning for a decision at the request of the shire council.
But the council had already received 26 objections from local landholders and interested parties, one pro forma objection with about 250 signatures opposing the development, and one submission supporting the development.
During Thursday’s 90-minute hearing, panel chairman Trevor McCulloch outlined the directions and process for the panel hearing to be held in July.
The three-day hearing will be held on Monday and Tuesday, July 15 and 16, at Maldon’s Bill Woodfull Reserve, and Tuesday July 23 at a venue to be confirmed.
There have been eight requests to be heard at the hearing, including objectors, DEWLP and the council.

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