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Central Queensland farmers concerned over proposed large-scale solar projects on farms

Should arable land be used for solar farm developments?

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.

A group of producers from Smoky Creek sit on a pile of wood, a shed, tanks, paddocks and trees are visible in the background
Producers on properties adjacent to the proposed Smoky Creek solar power station have concerns.(ABC Rural: Ashleigh Bagshaw)

“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.

A woman wearing a hat holds a handful of dirtA woman wearing a hat holds a handful of dirt
Smoky Creek-based producer Therese Creed is concerned the solar power station is being built on high-quality agricultural land.(ABC Rural: Ashleigh Bagshaw)

“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.

Read More: Central Queensland farmers concerned over proposed large-scale solar projects on farms

2022-01-23 13:27:17

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