A development proposal to build a 20 hectare solar farm on the southern outskirts of Cootamundra was approved unanimously at the recent meeting of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council. At a public forum at the beginning of the meeting, council heard questions and objections from two residents with houses in Pinkerton Road, one living on Gundagai Road and one who runs livestock on a property adjoining the proposed solar development.
Residents were concerned that the appearance of 36,500 solar panels covering the best part of 20 hectares could reduce the resale value of their homes, could create glare and would be an “eyesore” detracting from the appearance of the town as people drive in and out along Gundagai Road. They were also concerned that the developers proposed to use shipping containers to build office and education and training rooms, and at biosecurity for surrounding rural properties.
Residents suggested the farm should be "out of town, not in town", and arguing one of the reasons they had bought their properties was that they liked the view, and now it was being spoilt. The council papers included nine letters other residents outlining similar objections. According to one of these, the farm would "damage the character and appeal of one of the major entrances to Cootamundra, will affecte the rural feel and the number of solar panels will have a major impact on the outlook of neighbours, dominating open space areas".
A spokesman for the developers, Anthony Vippond, of Lotus Renewables, reassured objectors saying he took their concerns seriously and would be happy to make changes where possible. In relation to appearance, he said that as part of the application the company had offered to plant 5,000 trees to provide screening around the boundary. "From the road the farm will be screened out so that someone driving past will not be greeted with a sea of panels," he said. "With respect to glare, the truth is that solar panels are made with an anti-glare coating and reflect less than 2 per cent of the light that hits them. "We're putting security fencing around the entire property, and there are no hazardous products running off the panels. "In fact we want to maintain a handful of sheep on the site, which will be able to roam under the collectors. "The shipping containers will be covered and treated architecturally to look appealing".
In the ensuing debate, Cr Gil Kelly said the farm was on property zoned as rural and industrial, and its use as a solar farm represented a better prospect than some other heavy industry would, with no dust, noise, odour or pollution. "I can understand people's objections - no-one likes change - but these things are becoming more prevalent and it's important it' where the electricity network is so they can tap into it," Cr Kelly said. "Ultimately I see it as something that will benefit the community and the environment, and there will be jobs as this is established in the town. "With regard to the visual outlook and property values, it could be a damnsite worse - you could have some other heavy industry on that land." Cr Leigh Bowden said the development was "incredibly exciting" and in line with the community strategic plan that aims for a prosperous and resilient economy that is innovative and open for business.
"If I were driving to a country town that had a solar farm on the outskirts I’d say 'Yipee - this community is really looking to the future', and I would think I want to visit here and find out what else is really good that’s happening in this town," Dr Bowden said. "I also want to congratulate the town planners in putting in the development applications the sections from the community strategic plan that we’re a community that takes notice of the environment and takes notice of the future".