29th April, 2021
By Kyra Gillespie, The Standard, standard.net.au
A third attempt to build a solar farm bigger than Camperdown in the south-west has been slammed by a council, saying the applicant has taken ‘no responsibility’ for the project.
A new submission to the planning minister to build a 588 hectare solar farm at Bookaar is the third after it was rejected by Corangamite Shire Council and VCAT in two years.
Council chief executive Andrew Mason said high-concentration renewable energy projects were eroding and dividing the local community.
“Here we have another large-scale renewable energy development proposed in isolation and with limited regard to the ongoing erosion and division being caused within the local community,” he said. “The applicant has shown no genuine community engagement for the application and proposes a largely token community benefits fund of $20,000 per annum to suggest that community benefit will be achieved.
“The amenity and enjoyment of rural lifestyle needs to be seriously considered by way of this application and in planning for future renewable energy development.”
The developer prepared a bushfire risk plan but deputy mayor Jo Beard said the recent devastating St Patrick’s Day bushfires were still fresh in the community’s minds.
“Fire risk is still a major concern,” Cr Beard said. “Following the St Pat’s Day fires you can see why a lot of people along with me are really nervous about an application like this.
“Locally there’s only a small rural brigade who are struggling to get members to turn out to even a normal fire. It just puts more pressure on local volunteers who would need to be specially trained to turn out to a fire like that. I’d also like to note that agriculture is the primary industry here in the shire, followed by tourism. Not renewable energy.”
Only four of the seven councillors voted on the submission to the planning minister.
Crs Nick Cole, Geraldine Conheady and Laurie Hickey left the council chambers on Tuesday night, citing a conflict of interest.
Changes to state laws mean the state planning minister is now responsible for all renewable energy facilities, not council.