The company behind the the four gigawatt Walcha Energy Project, Energy Estate, has submitted a scoping report to NSW Department of Planning & Environment for Salisbury Solar Farm, a battery energy storage system (BESS) and a renewable energy hub.
A media release earlier this week announced Walcha Energy had lodged the scoping report for the Salisbury Solar Farm, a 700 megawatt solar farm to be located on the Salisbury Plains south east of Uralla, with the NSW Department of Planning & Environment.
The Walcha Energy Project is situated in the area surrounding Walcha and aims to combine solar and wind energy generation with pumped storage hydro to provide a reliable source of renewable energy for NSW.
The project's website claims the electricity generation potential is equivalent to 15 percent of NSW's electricity demand - more than the output of Liddell Power Station. But to achieve that it needs to be able to transmit power onto the main power grid.
The recently submitted scoping report outlines a 100MW/150MWh BESS, a 330kV substation which will operate as a new grid 'hub' supporting the development of a 'New England Renewable Energy Zone' (also called the Uralla RE Hub), and associated transmission infrastructure.
The proposed site for the Salisbury Solar Farm has been chosen after consultation with the landowners and neighboursVincent Dwyer
"The proposed site for the Salisbury Solar Farm has been chosen after consultation with the landowners and neighbours, taking into account any impact on visual amenity, the grid connection potential, landowners preferred parts of their land suitable for solar development and minimising the areas containing sensitive and natural heritage features," said Energy Estate principal Vincent Dwyer .
"The impact on any incompatible land areas and woodland areas has also been reduced within the project sites."
The proposed Uralla RE Hub, will be located 30 km south of Armidale, and will serve as the connection point for the first stage of The Walcha Energy Project - Winterbourne Wind Farm.
Energy Estate said the Uralla RE Hub would be available as a connection point for other developers in the area helping to deliver system strength and flexibility to NSW and to reduce system costs by providing a single connection point at this critical point in NSW's transmission network.
"The Uralla RE Hub is aligned with the concepts for the region outlined in Transgrid's 2018 Transmission Annual Planning Report and in the Transgrid / Powerlink 2018 PSCR Report into Expanding the NSW-QLD transmission transfer capacity which is part of the RiT-T process for a new interconnect between NSW and QLD," said Mr Dwyer.
The announcement came at the beginning of the week that NSW Farmers president James Jackson hosted a regional forum to address concerns around large-scale solar development proposals in the area.
"This is a rare opportunity to gain direct access to decision-makers, and show that regional and rural communities deserve a better level of engagement on local land planning issues," Mr Jackson said in a media release prior to the event held in Armidale on Wednesday evening.
"In the end, if we as farmers don't attend, we will not get our voices heard. I dare say if parts of Darlinghurst or Double Bay were being converted into renewable energy zones, those residents would hold similar concerns, and would be loud and forthright in raising those concerns with the government and the media."
Three of the Energy Estate team attended the forum. Energy Estate's director of engagement and culture Rosie King was one of them and said all of the issues raised at the event confirmed her existing understanding of what the neighbours and community are most concerned about when it comes to large scale solar projects in the region.
"The timing of this event was perfect for us given we are at the very early planning stages of our proposed 700MW DC Salisbury Solar Farm at Uralla and it was an excellent opportunity for us to hear the concerns of the landowners and farmers in a wider forum," said .
"The discussions reinforced for us just how very critical it is for all developers to consult early and to be honest and transparent when doing so."
The importance of informing thoroughly, regularly and often was also highlighted at the gathering. Ms King said the Energy Estate team were excited to learn that this was just the first of events like this as there were two issues that were briefly mentioned that Energy Estate hope to explore in more detail at future forums.
"One was the opportunity of community ownership in the solar farm - which is distinct from investment as it does not require a contribution from the locals," she said.
"The other was the possibility of the solar panels co-existing with grazing sheep.There is increasing interest in this practice - which is known as agrovoltaics.
"One member of NSW Farmers shared his observation of improved grass conditions under his own small-scale solar panels and we are keen to explore this idea of co-existence."
Members from the Uralla, Walcha Community Action Group for Responsible Solar and Wind Development also attended the forum and advised they had been informed of the Salisbury Solar Farm scoping submission by Energy Estate on Monday and had no comment to make at this stage.