New planning guidelines for large-scale solar farms in Victoria were released by the Andrews Labor Government lately, but they may be still some way off from having teeth.
The development of the guidelines was in part triggered in the past by various Victorian councils, finding it challenging to arrive at decisions regarding the development applications; with a number referred to the State Government.
The acting Minister for Planning, Lily D’Ambrosio said: “The guidelines are expected to be helpful in the matter of guaranteeing a part of the process for the community consultation from an early stage, so local residents are engaged, informed and have an opportunity to provide input before the planning permit is lodged”. “Along with providing more certainty to the community, the guidelines will reduce the burden on local councils and give the renewable energy industry more confidence to invest.”
The Guideline states that no solar facility should cause any:
-loss of productive, state-significant agricultural land
-loss or interruption of supply to the immediate or broader electricity transmission network
-loss of vegetation, habitat or species of environmental importance
-loss of cultural heritage or landscape values of significance
-increasing exposure of an area to fire, flood or other natural or environmental hazard.
Furthermore, solar farms will not be allowed to undermine the integrity of the irrigation network within a declared irrigation district (Goulburn Murray, Merbein and Red Cliffs, Macalister, Werribee and Bacchus Marsh).
The Guideline notes does not cover rooftop solar panel arrays, some of which are considered large-scale projects, and/or where the generation of electricity is principally to be consumed by an existing use on the land.