Victoria’s Planning Minister has called in a number of solar farm applications proving problematic for Greater Shepparton City councillors to decide on, days before they were set to go to a council meeting.
Council chief executive Peter Harriott said the council was yesterday informed by the state planning department that pending applications would be ‘‘called in’’ and will now be considered by Planning Minister Richard Wynne.
The agenda to Tuesday’s council meeting, published yesterday, had recommended that councillors vote to grant planning permits to four solar farm applications for sites in Tatura East, Tallygaroopna, Congupna and Lemnos, subject to a raft of conditions.
But the minister’s intervention will mean the council will no longer need to determine these, the Guardian understands.
Mr Harriott suggested an alternate motion will be put to the meeting.
He said it would be highlighted that correspondence had been received, that the minister would now call in the four applications and that the council cannot therefore determine them.
Mr Harriott said the outcome was sensible.
‘‘It’s what the council requested via a previous resolution,’’ Mr Harriott said.
‘‘It’s a sensible move, it provides consistency and the opportunity for the state to use this process to develop state guidelines for large-scale solar farms.’’
The applications constitute hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs and are estimated to produce hundreds of megawatts of power.
Estimations have the proposals creating an estimated 150 to 200 jobs during construction, and 15 ongoing jobs once complete, if approved.
The council had in November voted for its chief executive to request the minister to decide on the solar farm planning applications in Greater Shepparton and establish a process providing an opportunity for affected stakeholders to be heard.
The council’s main concern with the applications is ‘‘whether the loss of productive agricultural land... for a solar farm produces acceptable planning outcomes.’’
The Guardian understands the planning minister can approve, reject or green light the permits with conditions that factor in community concerns.
The minister will convene an independent planning panel to consider the merits of the proposals, and then provide advice for him to consider, the Guardian understands.
The panel will also be providing advice to the energy minister about how future solar farm applications will be assessed in Victoria, the Guardian understands.
Mr Wynne said renewable energy projects create jobs, drive down power prices and boost regional communities, ‘‘but that doesn’t mean they deserve a rubber stamp’’.
‘‘We’ll ensure all objectors have their say and their concerns are addressed where appropriate.’’
- Thomas Moir