Global renewable energy developer UPC/AC Renewables Pty Ltd (UPC) has submitted a scoping report to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) for its 400 MW Stubbo Solar Farm project. Because of the large-scale of the project, DPIE is assessing the farm as a State Significant Development (SSD).
The potential solar farm is located on the traditional land of the Warrabinga-Wiradjuri people in the NSW Central West tablelands, approximately 115 km east of Dubbo. The area is particularly amenable to large-scale solar for several reasons. Firstly, the NSW Central-West region has been recognised by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) in its Integrated System Plan (ISP) and TransGrid’s Annual Transmission Planning Report as having excellent potential for renewable energy generation. Hence the region’s selection as the state’s first pilot Renewable Energy Zone (REZ). The REZ has an initial goal of 3 GW of new renewable capacity by the mid-2020s.
Secondly, and perhaps most critically, is the 330 kV Wellington to Wollar TransGrid transmission line crossing through the area’s southern section, and ensuring the utility-scale project has easy access to the grid, an enormous boost to the front-line of the energy transition battling grid congestion.
UPC/AC Renewables Australia, a joint venture with UPC, the renewables arm of Philippines’ business group Ayala, has already had significant success with the in recent months with the NSW Independent Planning Commission approving its gargantuan $768 million, 720 MW, New England Solar Farm east of Uralla in the Northern Tablelands.
The project itself is proposed to consist of ground mounted single axis tracking solar panels and a potential battery and energy storage system. For the past 150 years, the land has been used for sheep grazing, and the solar farm won’t change that. Co-location of solar farms and sheep grazing allows regional NSW to maintain its agricultural industry and build its renewable energy industry at the same time.
The scoping report is the first step in the long assessment process, if it bounds over this first hurdle, the next hurdle to be negotiated is that of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Of course, EIS is made difficult in the current Covid-19 situation due to the obvious difficulty of community consultation during the lockdown.
UPC says that it is intent on finding ways to listen to the local community’s views and make changes to its proposal accordingly. The company says it is planning on a number of activities to take the place of face-to-face contact. UPC has told DPIE that it will provide updates on its communication strategy on its project website, but that it has already planned mail out to neighbours and online tools for the community to address their concerns.
If completed, the Stubbo Solar Farm will generate more than one million MWh of solar energy, enough to power more than 150,000 homes and helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 600,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum.