A $23 million solar farm may be coming to Old Racecourse Road on the eastern edge of the Tenterfield township, if a development application lodged by Enerparc Australia progresses.
Tenterfield Shire Council currently has the application on public display for comment, but it will require the go-ahead of the Northern Regional Joint Planning Panel given the size of the project.
The 25 megawatt plant, to be sited on 60 hectares of land owned by Daryl McCarthy's Silver Downs Farms, includes underground transmission lines to the existing substation 1.5 kilometres away. It would comprise more than 100,000 PV (photovoltaic) modules (fixed, not tracking the sun) linked to 10 inverter stations.
Works are scheduled to start next year, should the application be successful.
The application states that there will be few points from which the installation is directly visible, given the undulating nature of the land and planned screening, and it won't impact on any items of heritage or cultural value. A biodiversity assessment did not identify any threatened species or ecological communities within the site, which is primarily improved grazing country.
The project is anticipated to have a 30-year lifespan, but once construction is completed sheep grazing could be introduced to control vegetation beneath the solar array. While there may be noise issues during the six-month construction period, the noise impact from operational activities should be insignificant.
Potential electromagnetic fields generated by the array and auxiliary equipment are expected to be indistinguishable from background levels.
The project promises an economic boost to the district, at least temporarily, with employment opportunities during its construction phase. Opportunities will exist for landscaping, concreting, earthworks, steel works and electrical cabling, and Enerparc has committed to sourcing from local businesses with the proviso "provided that they are competitive in terms of quality and price". There will also be a flow-on effect for food and fuel businesses and accommodation houses from visiting workers.
There would also be employment opportunities when the site is decommisioned in 30 years' time, when all above-ground infrastructure would be removed to a level of at least 0.5 metres below the surface.
Moreover the developers would establish the Tenterfield Solar Community Fund to the tune of $250 per megawatt per year for local social and environmental benefits, and hope to work with local schools to promote the concept of sustainable development.
Once operational the solar farm would produce 52.45 GWh of clean renewable energy each year to the local electricity transmission network, enough to power up to 9530 average homes.
The application also promises to create a Community Consultation Plan to reduce any adverse impacts during construction, with a mechanism for handling complaints.
Established in Germany in 2008, Enerparc has installed more than 2200 megawatts of solar power in 20 countries. It picked Tenterfield due to its proximity to major transport corridors (the New England and Bruxner Highways), good solar irradiance, the topography of the site and the nearby substation.
The fact that the site is already agricultural land and that there would be minimal long term impact on that usage sweetened the deal.
Lorraine Rhodes-Roberts' is one of the 35 residences within a kilometre of the proposed site. She along with other neighbours have met with Enerparc people on several occasions, as recently as last week, and feels the development is a positive move for the district.
Her sole concern is that Old Racecourse Road be sealed to cope with the increased traffic. Poor visibility where Coxalls Road intersects with the Bruxner Highway means all traffic will instead come off Bellevue Road and past their place on Old Racecourse Road. The road currently degenerates to just a track after it passes the Roberts property.
Enerparc said it will abide by whatever council prescribes, and Mrs Rhodes-Roberts has received positive feedback on the road sealing issue but needs to formally submit her request.
Enerparc has already altered its plans to provide for wider buffer zones to screen the site from its neighbours.
"We won't be able to see it at all from the house, due to the hill," she said.
"It's not a concern to us."
Mrs Rhodes-Roberts said Enerparc seems to be doing everything it can to camouflage the development. The solar arrays will obviously be tilted to the north and reflection could be an issue, but a hill on that boundary and no near neighbours means no-one should be impacted.
She also isn't concerned about any negative impact on land values. Once construction is completed there are likely to be sheep grazing next door rather than the current cattle (which a big enough to damage the equipment), but the site will be well-secured with fencing.
"It really doesn't impact on too many, and I don't think anyone's particularly worried," she said.
"They (the developers) are going to be closely scrutinised and they have lots of things to comply with. They're really working with everyone and trying to please everyone.
"Everyone wants renewables. I think this is a plus for us."
The development application can be viewed in council's offices or online. The deadline for submissions is 4.30pm Friday, July 19.