Should arable land be used for solar farm developments?
- A proposed solar farm in central Queensland has neighbouring farmers concerned about optimal land use
- Concerns have been raised over potential impacts to nearby properties
- A local council says the majority of the proposed locations are not classified as prime agricultural land
It’s a question being asked by farmers neighbouring a proposed solar farm in central Queensland.
Therese Creed farms at Smoky Creek, near the proposed site of the Smoky Creek solar power station, a project that will cover 1,800 hectares of land used in part for crop production.
Edify Energy, a renewable energy development company, states the project could generate up to 1,194,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy per year and save 995,200 tonnes in CO² emissions annually.
But Ms Creed said she was concerned the project would be built on high-quality agricultural land.
Previously, land within the vicinity of the proposed solar farm has been used for dryland cropping.
“It’s extremely good-quality, food-producing land,” Ms Creed said.
Another Smoky Creek producer Rick Tomlin said, over the years, he had seen a variety of crops grown on the land earmarked for the solar project.
“Where the solar farm [will be] I’ve seen cotton, wheat, sorghum, mung beans, all the crops grown successfully on this land,” he said.
Classifying the land
The state’s planning policy and agricultural land evaluation guideline outlines four classes of agricultural land, with the highest-quality land designated class A through to land unsuitable for agriculture that is designated class D.
Under Queensland’s solar farm guidelines, site selection should be one that:
“… where possible avoids important agricultural land (typically defined as Agricultural Land Classification class A and B).”
In the case of the Smoky Creek development, the approval for the development of solar farms rests with the local Banana Shire Council.
In a statement to the ABC, the Banana Shire Council said most of the land was not categorised as either class A or class B.
“Part of the development approval for this project was a requirement for the proponent to undertake an assessment of the quality of the agricultural land covered by the project,” a spokesperson said.
“Council also commissioned an independent report on the quality of the agricultural land in respect to the Smoky Creek proposal and is satisfied that the majority of the site covered by the project is category C agricultural land.
“The conclusion was that only 47 per cent of the site was class A or B with areas of soil degradation [primarily through erosion] through some of these areas.
“Follow-up correspondence […] in relation to setting conditions identified the level of degradation identified would suggest that the majority of land rated class A would in fact be class C, although no percentage was offered as to how much.”
Fears of heavy metal leaching from panels
Ms Creed said, aside from concerns around the quality of the land, producers were also worried about the potential impacts on their own properties.
“We’re very, very fearful for our land,” Ms Creed said.
Beef producer Arthur Osborne, whose property adjoins the proposed development, said producers were concerned about potential risks to water supplies.
“There’s a lot of unknowns with the panels,” Mr Osborne said.
“Because our properties rely on above-ground water, there is a concern our properties could be contaminated and then we lose our livelihood with this contamination and not be able to produce beef.”
However, the International Energy Agency found that water contamination levels due to heavy metals leaching out of solar panels were within the World Health Organisation’s guidelines and any potential risks to human health from heavy metals leaching out of solar panels were reportedly below US screening levels.
Call to reform approval process
Ms Creed has raised concerns that recent efforts to meet net zero emissions targets have resulted in projects being progressed too quickly and without sufficient scrutiny.
“Solar and renewable energy seem to be exempt from a lot of rules, which is why they are being approved at a local level. They can avoid a lot of the red tape that would happen on a state or federal level,” Ms Creed said.
“We think this is done this way purposely to rush these things through because the government is in a hurry to meet renewable energy targets, which is good, but it needs to be done sensitively.
“It needs to be done carefully so that other things are not lost in the process.”
Edify Energy was contacted by the ABC but did not provide a comment.
The Queensland Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning has been contacted for comment.
Read More: Central Queensland farmers concerned over proposed large-scale solar projects on farms