Solar farms are ‘dead zones’

Landowners fight new solar farm near Bathurst


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Cattle producer Sam Bonanno is opposed to a large solar farm at Brewongle near his property. Agronomists say solar farms lead to compaction of soils and become agricultural dead zones. Photo courtesy of Western Advocate

Cattle producer Sam Bonanno is opposed to a large solar farm at Brewongle near his property. Agronomists say solar farms lead to compaction of soils and become agricultural dead zones. Photo courtesy of Western Advocate

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Farmers say solar farm will ruin prime agricultural land

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Landowners are fighting a planned solar farm at Brewongle outside Bathurst, which they say will be an eyesore and ruin prime agricultural land.

Photon Energy is planning the 397,000 panel solar farm on 200ha in a valley that contains  farmers with many generations of the land. The project is of state significance and has bypassed Bathurst Council to be reviewed by the NSW Department of Planning. Landowners say very few people were consulted about the project. There has been one community forum. 

One of Photon’s claims is that sheep will  be able to graze around the panels when the farm is built.

But an agronomist has warned the paddocks solar farms  take over become dead zones for agriculture.

Keiran Knight of Best Environment Technologies says the solar panels block UV light and this disrupts soil microbiology. “When carbon is stripped from the aggregates by the soil biology the aggregates become compressed and the soil then becomes hard and compacted,” she said.

“When stock such as sheep or cattle graze nutritionally poor plants they do not receive the adequate levels of minerals to meet their daily requirements therefore they have to graze more of the plants per square meter. This leads to the land being less productive because it can only sustain a smaller number of stock per acre due to the lack of nutrition in the plants.

“Another negative factor that affects plants that are nutritionally poor is that they are far more susceptible to insect and disease attack.” There was also a high potential for weeds to take hold around the panels.

“Many weeds such as Bathurst Burr, Fleabane and Patterson's Curse prefer a tight compacted soil and will thrive in an environment where the pasture is not as dense and healthy and won't be eaten by stock. It will be difficult for these such weeds to be controlled with herbicide due to the impossibility of a tractor and boom spray accessing the area.”

Local landholder Peter Hennessy said the advice showed there was no truth to claims by solar farm companies that the panel areas could still be grazed. “Be wary of spin,” he said.

Photon says it chose the site for its flatness and proximity to high-voltage transmission lines. Power will go on to the national grid, not locally. Photon Energy has secured tenure of the land from a farmer.

Photon is a large Netherlands based company that also is planning a solar farm at Suntop near Wellington.

Landowner Sam Bonanno said the site was prime agricultural land and it should not be used for a commercial operation. His family’s property is only separated by a train track from the solar farm.

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