NSW waves through hotly contested 110 MW solar farm near Gunnedah

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The 110 MW Orange Grove Solar Farm near Gunnedah was given the go-ahead following careful consideration of all the evidence and weighing the community’s views, subject to conditions, the NSW Independent Planning Commission (IPC) has announced. Those conditions refer to flood management plans, visual impacts, heavy vehicle traffic and land use.

The Gunnedah solar farm case ended up with the IPC in April after the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment received more than 25 public objections, which is the threshold for the referral. From then on, the Commissioners met with the applicant, representatives of the Department and Gunnedah Shire Council, and visited the proposed site and neighboring properties. They also held a public meeting in Gunnedah to listen to the community’s concerns which centered around land use compatibility, potential amenity impacts, flooding and biodiversity.

The final decision on “the state significant development application” came on Thursday, alongside the conditions of consent imposed by the Commission, which it says are “designed to prevent, minimize and/or offset adverse environmental impacts and impacts on the community.”

For instance, the IPC found the project would not result in any significant impact on adjacent properties and high value infrastructure in a flood event or the capacity, efficiency or safety of the road network. It also pointed out the project is located on land with high quality soil and water resources capable of sustaining high levels of agricultural productivity, which can be rehabilitated back to its pre-existing agricultural capabilities after the solar farm is decommissioned.

Finally, the project has been designed in order to mitigate visual impacts on surrounding residents through an increased setback and landscaping, according to the IPC, and any cumulative visual impacts from the Orange Grove Solar Farm and the 165 MW Gunnedah Solar Farm would be negligible due to the distance between projects and their relatively low-lying nature. The latter Gunnedah project developed by Netherlands-based Photon Energy was recently approved by the IPC under added conditions, similar to those imposed on the Orange Grove project.

The 110 MW Orange Grove Solar Farm is developed by Overland Sun Farming. The company has a number of utility-scale solar projects in its pipeline in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, two of which – the 347 MWp Limondale Solar Farm, Balranald, in Far West NSW, and the 115 MWp Hillston Sun Farm, Hillston, Central West NSW – were acquired last year by Germany’s innogy SE, for an estimated $650 million.