The atmosphere was on edge between organisers and proponents of the two Suntop solar projects right up to the commencement of a public meeting in Wellington on Wednesday evening, the dust settled only minutes prior to its opening.
Eighty concerned Wellington residents attended the meeting called by members of the Suntop community and surrounds affected by the solar farm projects who invited the developers, Photon Energy to attend.
The energy company invitees gained a number of guarantees from organisers including no recordings, videos or photos be taken during the course of the meeting.
After Suntop locals outlined their grave concerns for the projects, Photon’s project developer, Nick Tuzowski, gave details of his project including answers to concerns.
Co-organiser and presenter Sam Frogley, said that while the solar farm’s first project had passed the comment stage, the planned Solar Two project would span more than 1012 hectares, accredited as the largest solar farm in Australia and be 1.3 times the size of Wellington township.
Eight people either asked questions or made statements which mainly concerned road conditions and traffic, fire, water runoff and land use.
However, the one theme emanating from each speaker was the lack of consultation undertaken by the developers.
The lack of community engagement relating to the community consultation process was the major complaint.
During the meeting it was resolved by a vote that the Suntop Environment Group be formally established and it would have the power to represent the local community opposed to the project.
Canadian Solar and Photon Energy are awaiting determination of their Suntop One project by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, while the Suntop Two development is currently at the SEARS stage (Secretary of Environmental Assessment Requirements).
Speaking after the meeting Nick Guzowski said he thought the meeting was a good opportunity for community members to express their genuine concerns which he would take on.
“We’ll take those messages away and as part of the consultation process, continue to work with the community to come to a result that’s satisfactory and shows that we’ve been consultative and have listened and acted,” Mr Guzowski said.
“We have made revisions to the Suntop One project site since earlier consultations including retaining vegetation originally planned to be taken out.
“Also we have decided to retain the residence, and I think further steps in consultation will lead to other positive outcomes with regards to community concerns.”
A meeting organiser, Malcolm Rich, said he felt the evening “went off pretty well”.
“Photon didn’t have all the answers as they haven’t the whole time through,” he said.
“They’ve always been a bit short on answers. You ask questions and get evasive answers, which is a bit disappointing.
“The biggest problem is they won’t do consultation.”
The Rich family run two properties beside the Solar One project.
“I had my first consultation after the closing date for stage one,” Mr Rich said.
“We have since had a consultation for stage two, and we don’t even join stage two, so I just think they are covering their backsides a bit.”