$768m solar farm and battery

Uralla site gets go ahead for solar farm

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A new solar farm has been approved for a site near Uralla on the northern New England.

A new solar farm has been approved for a site near Uralla on the northern New England.

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A new solar farm project near Uralla has been given the go ahead despite a number of objections.

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The state's Independent Planning Commission has approved with conditions a new $768-million solar farm on the Northern Tablelands east of Uralla.

UPC Renewables Australia Pty Ltd sought planning approval for the 720-megawatt New England Solar Farm on 3362 hectares of agricultural land.

The solar farm will comprise more than 2.4 million solar panels, 150 power conversion units and a lithium-ion battery storage facility connecting to TransGrid's nearby transmission line.

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment finalised its whole-of-government assessment of the proposed development in December last year.

The state significant development (SSD) application came to the Commission for determination because 67 public objections were received during exhibition.

Commissioners Andrew Hutton (Panel Chair), professor Snow Barlow and professor Zada Lipman were appointed to consider the SSD application and make a final decision.

The commissioners met with the Applicant, Department and Uralla Shire Council, and conducted an inspection of the site and surrounding area. They also held a public meeting in Uralla in February to listen to the community's concerns, which centered on compatibility of the proposed land use, visual amenity, transport and traffic management, and decommissioning and rehabilitation.

After carefully considering all the evidence, the commission this week concluded the proposed solar farm is in the public interest and determined to approve the SSD application, subject to conditions.

The commission agreed with the Department's assessment that the development "would not fragment or alienate resource lands ... as the land could be easily returned to agricultural land following decommissioning, and the inherent agricultural capability of the land would not be affected."

It also agreed with the Department that the proposed exclusion zones and implementation of the recommended conditions would ensure there are "no significant visual impacts" on surrounding residences, and that the "rural character and visual quality of the area would be preserved as far as practicable".

However, the Commission did impose a new condition requiring the applicant to make vegetation screening available to an impacted adjoining resident.

The commission found the transport and traffic impacts associated with the project can be appropriately mitigated and managed through conditions of consent - noting that the applicant will be required to prepare a traffic management plan for the solar farm in consultation with Roads and Maritime Services and Uralla Shire Council, which will ensure where road upgrades are proposed, they will be completed to the standard expected by the RMS and council.

And while the commission acknowledged the applicant, as part of its lease agreement, is obliged to return the land to a suitable agricultural use, it concluded the decommissioning of the solar farm and rehabilitation of the site should be planned appropriately ahead of the cessation of operations. It, therefore, imposed a new condition requiring the applicant to prepare a decommissioning and rehabilitation plan within three years of commencing operations.

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