ACT News

Glare concerns remain as Williamsdale prepares for solar neighbour

Williamsdale landowners have described the decision to approve the solar farm on the Monaro Highway without further changes as "offensive". 

Retiree Arthur Blewitt said Planning Minister Mick Gentleman's use of call in powers to approve the 11-megawatt array, announced on Friday, was brazen and at odds with community needs. 

Glare from the Royalla solar farm as seen from the Monaro Highway at 6.40pm on January 23 this year.
Glare from the Royalla solar farm as seen from the Monaro Highway at 6.40pm on January 23 this year. Photo: Supplied

"They haven't really listened to what anyone has said, which is fairly offensive," he said. 

"There is still no concessions to the submissions except for moving further back off the road."

Sixth-generation landowner Michael McDonald welcomed the 200-metre distance between the solar farm and the highway – adopted by proponents Elementus Energy after submissions – but said he was unconvinced glare would be avoided.  

"We're not against the solar farm, it's good energy, but we need the safety from the highway," he said. 

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He said the "process was a joke", and he was disappointed with the lack of weight the four submissions from locals had received.

Mr Gentleman said "strict conditions" were included with the approval, including that "non-glare materials" be used for the solar farm and the equipment and machinery used during construction. 

Elementus would also be required to address any glare related impacts raised by Roads ACT, TAMS and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority at any time in the future.

Mr McDonald said the experience of glare from the larger Royalla solar farm, 10 kilometres north on the same busy highway, gave him little confidence. The removal of the trees was also "disgraceful", he said.

Mr Gentleman's notice of decision referred to the expected removal of 156 trees in and around the solar array footprint, mostly Yellow Box. 

Bushfire management conditions included a minimum 10-metre protection zone within the development's perimeter, and a 40,000-litre water tank at the entrance to the facility.  

Mr Gentleman said he called in the development application because he believed the solar farm would provide a substantial public benefit to the Canberra community, through production of renewable energy and improving the city's environmental sustainability.

Elementus managing director Ashleigh Antflick​ said the project had involved multiple rounds of community engagement, including during an initial process where the company successfully sought exemption from preparing an environmental impact statement. 

"We took on board feedback during this phase of the approval process, and amended our plans to address the concerns raised before lodging our development approval application for assessment and public notification," he said. 

Mr Antflick said the solar farm would be switched on later this year.