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Massive solar farm to be built 70km from reef

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos DECEMBER 10, 2022: General solar panel generics. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui
Locals say the solar farm could pose environmental risks to the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

A major new solar farm, covering 2700ha, has sparked environmental concerns among local farmers who say it will be built just 70km from the Great Barrier Reef.

Farmers from Queensland’s Goulburn region have lashed the Upper Calliope Solar Farm project, which is expected to generate 2.8 terawatts per hour per year.

For Danish renewables giant European Energy, the company behind the massive development, their first solar project in Australia will be the nation’s biggest.

A farmer from a small town in the Gladstone region, Greg Bennett, told 2GB’s Ben Fordham on Tuesday that the impacts on the community caused by the multi-billion dollar project were “beyond belief”.

FITZROY ISLAND , AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos - OCTOBER 22, 2020. A view from Fitzroy Island. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk visited the island while on the campaign trail and announced a $40 million investment in the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, should Labor win government. Queenslanders go to the polls on October 31. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Locals say the solar farm could pose environmental risks to the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled

“We’re not against solar, and I think that’s the message – just build them in the right place,” he said.

“This is 2700ha, wrap your head around this – imagine a football field, times it by 4000 … that’s the sort of scale we’re talking.

“I don’t think people realise what’s going on.”

This follows urgent calls from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) to bolster investment in energy transition as parts of the country face increased risks of rolling blackouts this summer.

The solar farm, which is currently under development, has a grid connection target date of 2026, requiring 12-24 months of construction.

The two million solar panels will be situated approximately 50km southwest of Gladstone.

Mr Bennett said he wouldn’t be “compensated at all” after discovering the build would devalue his home, a 12,500 acre farm used for cattle grazing, by at least 30 per cent.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos DECEMBER 10, 2022: General solar panel generics. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui
The AEMO has called for rapid growth of the country’s energy transition amid fears of electricity shortages this summer. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

“That’s basically it, mate, suffer in your jocks,” he said.

“It’s destroying us, destroying our family, destroying the district, it’s a beautiful little valley.

“I’ve got a neighbour, he’s in a proper mess, we’re struggling to look after him … it’s just not right.”

Mr Bennett said he also holds environmental concerns for ancient blue gums near his property that will be cut down to make way for the solar farm.

Furthermore, the farmer is fearful rivers which “straddle” the farm could feed contaminated run-off straight into the Great Barrier Reef.

“They’re not subject to reef regulations, it’s just out of control,” he said.

“(There’s) complete disregard for the reef and the people it destroys.”

FITZROY ISLAND , AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos - OCTOBER 22, 202 Holiday makers enjoy Fitzroy Island, off the coast of Cairns. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk visited the island while on the campaign trail and announced a $40 million investment in the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, should Labor win government. Queenslanders go to the polls on October 31. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Mr Fordham said he wouldn’t be ‘compensated at all’ for the farm’s impact on the financial value of his property. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled

Last week AEMO’s chief executive Daniel Westerman said Australia needed to urgently expedite its energy transition to meet future demands.

“Over the 10-year outlook, we continue to forecast reliability gaps, which are mostly due to the expectation that 62 per cent of today’s coal fleet will retire by 2033,” he said.

“To ensure Australian consumers continue to have access to reliable electricity supplies, it’s critical that planned investments in transmission, generation and storage projects are urgently delivered.”

Mr Bennett said while he and other farmers “want to build” solar farms, they want them “in the right place”.

“It’s hard to believe in Australia that you can just do this,” he said.

“We’re collateral damage in this rush to net-zero.”

A European Energy spokesperson said the “massive” project would be situated alongside existing electricity transmission corridors and would “fuel the economic growth” expected in the region.

“This is done utilising cost-effective and renewable energy from the sun,” they said.

“We are committed to maximising the benefits of the project for the local community.

“Opportunities will be given for local contractors to supply goods and services, particularly during project construction.”

The spokesperson said the company had also pledged more than $1m in grant funding for local organisations, and that it would pay rates and rent to local landowners and the Gladstone Regional Council during the life of the project.

“We have a more than a decade-long track record of developing solar farms in a variety of environments,” they said.

“The development application is currently being prepared by our team of specialist experts which will ensure the highest environmental standards are met.”