Source: Renew Economy

Plans to build a massive 720MW solar farm with up to 400MWh of battery storage in New South Wales’ New England region have received the final green light from the state’s Independent Planning Commission.

The IPC said on Tuesday that it had approved the $768-million UPC/AC Renewables project, with some conditions, having been asked to review the state significant development (SSD) application after 67 public objections were received during exhibition.

The IPC said the objections to the huge project – which will span 3362 hectares of agricultural land, just east of Uralla – centred on compatibility of the proposed land use, visual amenity, transport and traffic management, and decommissioning and rehabilitation.

But it said that after “careful consideration” of all of the evidence, it had concluded the proposed solar farm was in the public interest and determined to approve the application, subject to conditions.

In its Statement of Reasons for Decision, the Commission agreed with the Department’s assessment that the land selected for the development “could be easily returned to agricultural land following decommissioning” with no detrimental effect on its inherent agricultural capability.

It also agreed that proposed exclusion zones and implementation of the recommended conditions would ensure“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”.

The Commission did, however, impose a new condition requiring the developers to make vegetation screening available to an adjoining resident, to mitigate any negative visual impact of the solar farm.

In its own statement, UPC/AC Renewables said the Commission’s approval was an important milestone for the project, on which construction was likely now to begin within the next few months.

“We are now very focused on setting up our Community Reference Group to help us establish our community benefit sharing initiative in time for the commencement of the project construction phase,” said UPC/AC Renewables Australia head of solar development Killian Wentrup.

“We’re also hoping to finalise our grid connection, project finance and contracting arrangements over the coming months so that we can begin construction by the middle of the year.”

The project is expected to create up to 700 full time jobs during construction – which will be done in two stages and over the course of around three years – and once completed, to generate enough renewable energy to power 250,000 homes.

“We look forward to continue working closely with the local community and regional stakeholders during the construction and operation of the solar farm for many years to come,” Wentrup said.