Large-scale solar electricity generation projects are rolling into rural communities.
To ensure the industry’s community acceptance, they must increase engagement and ensure project decisions are made with local rural communities and not thrust upon them.
There is a potential for land-use conflict between renewables and agriculture. Sites that make solar projects viable are often also prime agricultural land.
NSW Farmers has sought that the NSW government, and the energy and renewables industry, directly engage with impacted rural communities.
We recently held a forum in Culcairn where 60 farmers raised their concerns with industry and government. Some concerns were dispelled and were a result of miscommunication. Others will require further consultation.
Concerns around fire and health risk, and issues around heat sinks as a result of solar developments, were dispelled.
Conversely, the notion that large-scale solar projects create economic benefits for rural communities was refuted. The renewables industry must be honest about the benefits of these projects. While there are benefits to the electricity market, there are minimal gains for local communities.
Neither the government nor the renewables industry could provide analysis of the impact on property values of land adjacent to developments.
Similarly, no guarantees were made around the remediation of land once the solar project had concluded.
Finally, governments at all levels must stop this idea that big is best, including with electricity generation.
Small-scale and mid-scale renewable generation has less impact on the land, creates local jobs and capabilities, and can reduce regional network costs.
- Ash Salardini, NSW Farmers’ chief economist.