First soil turned in 93 MW Victorian solar farm construction, a community engagement examplar


Enel Green Power Australia, the Australian renewable energy platform of Italian utilities giant Enel Group, bought the Girgarre Solar Farm from Leeson Group in 2019 and today announced it had turned the “first sod,” marking the start of construction on the project. This is a little strange, as pv magazine reported on the start of Girgarre’s construction back in January.

Nonetheless, Enel says Girgarre Solar Farm will be in construction for the next 18 months, and is targeting operations for early 2025. The $140 million (USD 89 million) project will consist of approximately 169,500 solar panels and has an operational life expectancy of 35 years.

The project, which is located approximately 50 kilometres west of Shepparton, is perhaps most interesting though because it received no objections from the local community in its permitting and planning stages. This is despite the fact the project is located in an agricultural area – where land use tends to be highly contentious issue.

$70,000 in revenues from a crop which sprang up on the site of the Girgarre Solar Farm were donated to the local community as the project was being developed.

Image: Leesons Group

Earlier this year, pv magazine Australia spoke to Peter Leeson, who initially developed the project before selling it to Enel. He said that he isn’t trained in community consultation per se, and that the real trick was simply being present and available for locals. “Nothing negates what you are going to achieve by spending a long time in the community,” Leeson said. “It’s just spending that time with them and communicating with them.”

In those early stages of project development, a crop self seeded up on the Girgarre site, which had formerly been a crop farm. The sale of the harvest generated $70,000 which was given to a local community group Girgarre Development Group, who used it to upgrade shared facilities in town.

Community engagement for renewable energy projects has been wanting in Australia, with many sources outside the industry reporting that renewables companies have tended to treat the process as a box ticking exercise. As a result, social license for projects is diminishing rapidly and becoming an increasingly alarming problem for Australia’s energy transition – with numerous state government’s flagging this.

Enel Green Power Australia

In July, Japanese oil and gas giant Inpex agreed to buy 50% of Enel Green Power Australia, handing it joint control of its asset portfolio. Enel currently operates three renewable energy plants in Australia, totalling around 310 MW, with a 76 MW wind project under construction in Western Australia.

It says it is “targeting a significant increase to its installed capacity across wind, solar, storage and hybrid projects across Australia,” and will use the new partnership to springboard this.

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