SHOWING RESPECT – How to build a Solar Farm

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We’ve all read and continue to read about big solar and wind projects – each one seemingly larger than the last. “Biggest in the country”, “Largest in the southern hemisphere” and on it goes. Building big solar farms in Australia is pretty easy – land and sunshine are both plentiful. Building big farms close to the necessary transmission and distribution infrastructure frames is another matter.

 

An electrical current weakens as it travels along a wire. Remote towns can testify to this as they are ‘at the end of the line’ as it were and often deal with ‘brown outs’ as the juice is sucked up somewhere further back along that wire. Scale that analogy up and we can begin to understand the challenges facing a changing grid. Building an enormous solar or wind plant in, say, Coober Pedy is by and large pretty simple. Having the power it creates benefit Adelaide is unlikely because of the distance the power has to travel.

A solar farm power generator, or any generator for that matter receives revenue according to how much electricity it sells. If you owned a power plant and you made 100 units of power at the plant but by the time it got to where it needs to go there was only 32 units left because of the distance it had to travel to get to market, you’d be thinking of ways to try and improve that return. Any primary producer would – take a look at the live sheep trade for another analogy.

So, for power producers, specifically for this article, renewable energy producers, the answer is to move closer to essential grid infrastructure, namely transmitters feeding distributors. Naturally, these are close to higher population density hubs for obvious reasons. She’s a big country, Australia. As these wind and solar farms edge closer to higher population areas, along comes the nimby argument or ‘not in my back yard’. The wind farm people have a much tougher time of this than the solar farm guys – a ground mounted solar panel is less than 2 metres high, a typical wind turbine up to 100 metres.

With any project, community consultation is, or should be, a critical component to the commissioning of any project at scales that we are now seeing in the Australian renewable landscape. In fact, large utility scale solar developers should be seen as irresponsible and reckless, arrogant and aloof should they not engage the locals in the whole thing.

Because Powervault have extensive solar farm building experience, we can now identify the most common concerns communities have regarding these new solar projects and how to alleviate those concerns both ethically, environmentally and economically.

  1. Aboriginal Cultural Heritage
  2. Noise
  3. Dust and/or water run off
  4. Visual impacts to neighbours
  5. Glare
  6. Jobs created both during construction and commissioning
  7. Decommissioning of the plant at the end of its life
  8. Impacts on biodiversity

It’s important to understand, none of these community concerns will need to be addressed until the project is virtually 80% complete. This is because the developer will have to have planning approval, financial backing locked away with deposits paid, transmission and distribution approvals and the like all in place and green lit before construction can begin. It’s only then a community is notified of the project. That is what throws a community into indignant, nimby chaos. A massive solar farm project about to commence without anyone knowing about it? Why weren’t we told? The point being, why be told when it may not happen anyway?

No matter what the project, there will always be objectors and thankfully this country has appropriate checks and balances in place to ensure everyone is given a chance to voice their concerns – provided they know about the project, that is. As we transit away from coal power, it’s vital all new solar projects involve community engagement wherever possible. The new era of renewable power uptake is upon us, is inevitable and involves all of us in some capacity. If we want to leave a better tomorrow for our kids and grandkids the more involved and engaged community members can be, the better for all of us.

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