Loss of agricultural land a 'massive concern'
THE REGION is on its way to becoming the energy capital of Australia after the Western Downs Council announced it will become home to one of the biggest solar farms in the world.
Equis Energy's $1.5 billion Wandoan South Solar Project will rank among the largest in the world and is touted to create up to 600 jobs across three stages of development over 10 years.
Located 21km south-west of Wandoan at Woleebee, the 1000MW solar farm will cover almost 1500ha.
Mayor Paul McVeigh said the project was further evidence of the council's commitment to renewable energy in the region.
"We are serious about cementing the Western Downs as the energy capital of Australia and securing the enormous economic and community benefits that will bring to our region,” he said.
"Equis has expressed its desire to be proactive in their consultation with neighbours of this project site, and that aligns with the business model we are promoting for renewable energy projects.”
Despite council enthusiasm for the project, Wandoan landowner Cecilia Donohue said there has been little consultation and while she supported the council's investment in renewable energy she held concerns about prime agricultural land making way for the solar industry.
The solar plant will be constructed on the northern side of Gadsby Rd, running parallel to Nevasa, a cattle property owned by Cecilia Donohue for 68 years.
She first heard of plans for the solar farm when Equis Energy contacted her last week.
"My property runs all the way along Gadsby Rd, the distance from my property is the width of the road,” Mrs Donohue said.
"I found out about it last week, when they rang and said they wanted to come and see me.
"There was no consultation. I asked them when they were here when they were going to have a community consultation and they said they're not.
"It's a massive concern because of council planning, they don't have to go out to public consultation, because it's code assessable, not impact assessable - it's not right.
"I'm not happy, my concern is its 5000 acres of agricultural land that's been taken out of production... it's served the cattle industry well for many many years,” she said.
Mrs Donohue said a balance between agriculture and renewable energy must be found.
"I just feel in 50 years when these solar farms are decommissioned this land will be useless because the land will be shaded by the panels and degradated because of the water run-off,” she said.
"We need a long-term plan in place for the area. If we get the balance right, then we can co-exist. If they are going to take up the good land and just leave the rubbish then it won't work.
"So we need to have a conversation.”
Cr McVeigh said while the council was committed to its renewable energy initiative, it "takes into account” good agricultural land.
"One of the key benefits of the development of the solar industry... if it needs to be replaced and taken away, the solar farm can be picked up and you can go back to doing what you were doing.... it doesn't destroy prime agricultural land,” he said.