TWO proposed solar farms, with similarities, practically next door to each other, one further along in the planning process, the other with far greater local social licence.
The question for many locals – especially those who live near the planned sites – has been: could Gunnedah Solar Farm and Orange Grove Solar Farm both get off the ground?
And the answer, it appears, is yes.
Although the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) and Independent Planning Commission (IPC) refused to comment on either plan specifically, both agencies said they assessed projects purely “on their merits”.
Gunnedah Solar Farm is in the hands of the IPC after being referred there by the DPE as “approvable”.
Orange Grove Solar Farm is still with the DPE, after the proponents submitted an amended development application and response to submissions.
As the latter project, like the former, has attracted more than 25 objections, it will also go to the IPC.
A number of people who made submissions on one or both of the projects have questioned the need for, and impact of, both solar farms coming to fruition.
One writer urged “decision makers to seriously consider [the] alternative [project] as part of any approval process”.
However, it seems that will not be the case.
In response to the NVI’s questions about whether decisions on one project would or did take into account the other project, the DPE simply said it “assesse[d] all state significant developments on their merits”.
An IPC spokesperson said that, “as a quasi-judicial body, it would be highly inappropriate from a legal perspective for the Commission to comment on the decision-making process for either project – particularly in a hypothetical sense”.
They said projects were “considered on their merits”.
“The Commission will always scrutinise the Department’s assessment report, weigh up all the evidence before it – including any independent expert advice it may have commissioned, and carefully consider the community’s views before making its decision on a state significant development application,” they said.
“The Commission publishes a Statement of Reasons for Decision for every determination.”
According to the Department of Planning’s website, Gunnedah Solar Farm had 48 objections from members of the public, 34 of those from people in Gunnedah.
One person registered their support, and three submitted comments – all four are locals.
Orange Grove Solar Farm had 66 objections from members of the public, 10 of those from people in Gunnedah.
Ten people – four of them locals – registered their support, and one local person submitted comments.