ACT News

Royalla resident warns Williamsdale on glare, as farm goes Dutch

A Royalla resident whose new home is hit by glare for hours each night has warned those in Williamsdale not to expect approval conditions to stop solar farm reflection. 

The warnings came just weeks after the Spanish energy giant behind the Royalla solar station near Tuggeranong revealed they had sold their interest to investment management company Dutch Infrastructure Fund. 

The Royalla solar farm
as seen from Jennifer Howlett's property, across the Monaro Highway, in March 2014.
The Royalla solar farm as seen from Jennifer Howlett's property, across the Monaro Highway, in March 2014.  Photo: Karleen Minney

Jennifer Howlett has lived at Royalla for 37 years and said the glare problems from the 20-megawatt farm, which impact on views from both her heritage-listed and nearby new home, had not improved since she first spoke out nearly two years ago.

"I won't be moving to the new house I was planning to, basically I just didn't want to have to look at the glare every day," she said.    

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

The horse breeder said the approval conditions which required Royalla proponent Fotowatio Renewable Ventures to create screen planting had achieved nothing, with the company doing the "bare minimum" by having young tube stock planted.

"I can't see any trees growing," she said. 

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She had herself spent $3000 on fast-growing non-natives which were now about one metre high.

The veranda view from her heritage home suffered from glare between 6pm and 8.30pm throughout sunny days in summer, she said, and was less of a problem in winter because any glare came around 4pm. 

The 11.18-megawatt Williamsdale solar farm, approved via call-in powers on January 29, was required to be built with "non-glare" materials, but the 2013 call-in approval for the Royalla farm also mandated "anti-reflective coatings/layers". 

Williamsdale residents have referred to Royalla's glare when they drove past on the Monaro Highway, but a TAMS spokeswoman said there had not been a single complaint received about glare. 

Fotowatio and DIF announced the sale of Fotowatio's 100 per cent equity interest in the Royalla farm on January 18. No price was declared and there was no response from Fotowatio on Friday. 

Last month Fotowatio chief executive Rafael Benjumea​ said the sale was in "full alignment" with the company's strategy to develop, build, sell and retain the asset management activities of renewable power generation assets internationally. The company recently received planning approval for three separate large scale solar farms in Queensland. 

DIF Australia head Marco Kremer said Royalla, which won a fixed feed-in tariff from the ACT government in 2013, was an obvious choice as the private fund's first investment in Australia and would generate long-term cash flows and stable returns. 

Ms Howlett said water from Guises Creek had sometimes turned orange since the development of the solar farm, which she believed was likely due to increased silt in the creek possibly because of the removal of vegetation and trees.  

An Access Canberra spokeswoman said the Environment Protection Authority had not received a complaint about the colour of the water in Guises Creek but would now investigate the issue this week. 

The Royalla farm, with 83,600 solar panels, was Australia's largest operating solar generation facility when it was switched on in September 2014. Williamsdale's 26,000-plus panels were due to be switched on later this year.  

Environment Minister Simon Corbell said a visual impact assessment had determined views from 95 per cent of Royalla homes would be unaffected by the panels. 

The Williamsdale application provides for "additional landscaping" which will partially screen views of the site from nearby residents and travellers along Monaro Highway, Mr Gentleman said in his decision.