THE planning expert retained by Corangamite Shire Council to explain why it rejected a proposal for a solar farm 97 times bigger than the MCG at Bookaar faced a grilling from the energy giant behind the project on the first day of a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearing.
Robert Milner, of David Lock Associates, told the hearing in Warrnambool on Monday the proposed facility would impact neighbouring land owners by creating a barrier to the flexible use of their property.
When questioned by John Cicero, who was acting on behalf of Infinergy Pacific, what specific impact it would have he said they would no longer be able to lease pockets of land from the proposed site.
"Do you accept the solar farm will not prevent properties continuing to be used for agricultural activities?" Mr Cicero asked.
"They could be," Mr Milner said.
He also questioned whether the site was an appropriate location, based on the climate.
Mr Cicero asked Mr Milner if he could dispute that a typical solar panel was most efficient when the mercury was 15C. He conceded he could not.
He also said losses begun to increase when the temperature reached 30C.
Mr Cicero said based on this, it could be argued the site was an appropriate location for a solar farm.
He said the life of the solar farm was 30 years and there was nothing to suggest that the land which had been used for agricultural purposes in the past could again be used for similar operations in the future.
Mr Milner said the solar farm, which would be the size of 97 MCGs, would have an impact on land of state significance.
However, Mr Cicero said the council's planning scheme did not refer to the site in this way.
Mr Milner said the Great Southern Regional Growth Plan referred to the land as having state significance and a map in the council's planning scheme referred to land in the area having national significance.
However, Mr Cicero questioned whether the specific site was referred to as having national significance.
Mr Milner said the loss of a considerable amount of agricultural land should not be taken lightly.
"This is an important natural asset clearly valued by the local community," he said.
A number of people at the VCAT hearing held in Warrnambool smiled and nodded in agreement to this statement.
"My view is this is a high-impact proposal in what could be a questionable location," Mr Milner said.
Objector Andrew Duynhoven told The Standard at the start of the proceedings he was "nervous as hell".
He said the group of objectors was not opposed to solar energy, but the misuse of land and the sheer size of the proposal.
"It's the same size of one of the lakes," Mr Duynhoven said.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday, with objectors expected to have a chance to have their say after lunch or on Wednesday morning.
The proposed solar farm includes 700,000 photovoltaic panels, inverters, a substation, battery storage and site compound on a 588-hectare site.
A Corangamite Shire Council spokesman said the planning permit was refused on the following grounds:
- The use and development does not provide an acceptable outcome in terms of the Planning Policy Framework, including the Municipal Strategic Statement and local planning policy
- The use and development will result in the loss of productive agricultural land and will create impacts on the continuation of primary production on adjacent land
- The use and development will result in an unacceptable level of environmental impact which cannot be adequately managed
- The use and development will cause unacceptable landscape and visual impacts within the local area and from surrounding key viewpoints
- The use and development will not result in net community or social benefit
- The absence of solar farm planning and policy guidelines by the state government provides a lack of direction for planning decision making (grounds).
The spokesman said the council's submission to VCAT supported the council's decision.
"Mr Milner was engaged by council to provide planning evidence for the case," the spokesman said.
He said it would be inappropriate to comment further while the matter was before VCAT.
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