As a Renewable Energy Zone (REZ), New England is undergoing some rapid changes.
Large scale solar farms are in various stages of development in the region, including the Oxley Solar farm being a step closer to approval despite its close proximity to Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.
Serious concerns have been raised regarding land-use conflict, with many solar farms being built in regional areas on land typically set aside for agricultural production.
Solar farms encroaching on wildlife habitat has also been raised as a major concern by experts, but with good management, research suggests strategies can be implemented to maximise the benefits of solar farms for wildlife.
UNE researcher and senior lecturer in Zoology and Ecology Dr Eric Nordberg, has examined whether solar farms could be used to help conserve native species, and said if renewables companies are receptive and allow researchers to monitor wildlife activity over time, wildlife conservation is possible.
"I found solar panels can provide valuable habitat for wildlife- and potentially benefit both the land and the farmers," he said.
"My work examines how solar farms on agricultural land can double as wildlife habitat.
"It involves surveys and trapping to identify what plants and animals occupy solar farms, how long they take to recolonise, and how we can promote even more biodiversity."
Agrivoltaic farming, the practice of growing crops underneath solar panels, has already been implemented by a number of countries around the world.
But the idea of combining conservation and solar energy, known as 'conservoltaics,' is a relatively new area of research.
Dr Nordberg sees the monitoring of wildlife over time around solar farms as an opportunity for renewables companies to take the lead in wildlife conservation, and allow for the land use conflict debate to play out over time, in the end being a win-win situation.
"Even in cases where there is negligible change over time we can still make suggestions on how solar companies might improve the wildlife habitat there," he said.
"So, by new plantings or, you know, including rock piles or things like that where certain species might need certain micro habitats and there may be some kind of management that they can do quite simply, adding nest boxes and things like that to improve the habitat quality.
"This is really an opportunity for these huge companies to show that they're really interested in increasing the biodiversity and habitat in a lot of these areas."
All state significant projects require an Environmental Impact Statement, but once its approved there is little recourse to alter those plans.
"By cooperating and having partnerships with the university and you know, either funding research projects to look at those kinds of things or at bare minimum, even just letting us onto the site to monitor impacts, we can basically make some recommendations on how things could be improved," he said.
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