New South Wales’ Independent Planning Commission has approved with conditions a $768 million solar farm in the Northern Tablelands region, which will be coupled with up to 400 MWh of battery storage. UPC\AC Renewables Australia’s New England Solar Farm will be located six kilometers east of Uralla in one of the three renewable energy zones proposed by the state government.
The solar farm will comprise more than 2.4 million solar panels, 150 power conversion units, and a lithium-ion battery storage facility. It will connect to TransGrid’s existing 330 kV transmission line that transects the development site. Depending on the final installed capacity, the solar farm would produce around 1,800 GWh of electricity each year – enough to power more than 250,000 NSW homes. It is expected to create up to 700 full-time jobs during construction, provide work for local businesses and suppliers and diversify income for rural landowners.
The project approval came after more than two years of detailed planning, assessment, and community engagement. Labeled as a State Significant Development, the development was recommended for approval by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) in late December. However, the final decision on the New England Solar Farm was made by the Commission due to the number of public objections that the DPIE received during the exhibition period – 67.
The concerns were centered around land use compatibility, potential amenity impacts, transport and traffic management, and decommissioning and rehabilitation of the site, which is currently used for grazing. In its Statement of Reasons for Decision released on Monday, the Commission agreed with the Department’s assessment that the development “would not fragment or alienate resource lands … as the land could be easily returned to agricultural land following decommissioning, and the inherent agricultural capability of the land would not be affected.” The Commission also found there was no significant visual or traffic impact, but added extra conditions in relation to these points.
REZ taking shape
The New England Solar Farm is proposed to be built on a site that spans up to 2,000 hectares of mostly cleared grazing land across the two solar fields. Construction is expected to begin towards the middle of the year and take about three years to complete in full.
The project is located in the region that has been identified as a suitable area for renewable energy development by the NSW Government, the Australian Energy Market Operator and electricity transmission company TransGrid. The New England region is one of the three renewable energy zones proposed by the NSW state government. The first REZ to come to fruition will most likely be the State’s Central-West with the construction of a pilot REZ slated to begin in 2022, following extensive consultation with local communities.
Another massive project – 4 GW wind, solar and pumped hydro energy storage Walcha Energy hub – has been proposed for the same region close to the backbone of the state transmission network and near retiring coal plants in the Hunter Valley. The first stage of the Walcha Energy Project – which could ultimately supply 15% of the state’s energy requirements – is set to begin generation when coal-fired power station Liddell is scheduled to retire in 2022.
As part of its proposal, UPC\AC Renewables Australia will support community projects by providing funding of $250 for every megawatt (AC) of power generating capacity installed at the New England Solar Farm, or $180,000 a year over the 25-year working life of the solar farm, assuming full capacity of the facility is operating.
“We are now very focused on setting up our Community Reference Group to help us establish our community benefit sharing initiative in time for the commencement of the project construction phase,” UPC/AC Renewables Australia Head of Solar Development Killian Wentrup said. “We’re also hoping to finalise our grid connection, project finance and contracting arrangements over the coming months so that we can begin construction by the middle of the year.”