Uriarra solar farm relocated to Williamsdale
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Uriarra solar farm relocated to Williamsdale

The residents of Uriarra village were celebrating the decision on Tuesday to move a planned solar farm from Uriarra to land beside the Monaro Highway at Williamsdale, after the government smoothed the way with the purchase of the land.

The Land Development Agency bought the Williamsdale block this week for $3.1 million from Actew Water, now called Icon Water. Part of the site will be leased to Elementus Energy for its solar farm.

A map showing the site of the proposed Uriarra solar farm. The arrow shows the site planned by Elementus, directly across Brindabella Road from the village, but the company had approval to use any part of  the block outlined in yellow.

A map showing the site of the proposed Uriarra solar farm. The arrow shows the site planned by Elementus, directly across Brindabella Road from the village, but the company had approval to use any part of the block outlined in yellow.

Elementus must now go back to the drawing board and seek approval for the site, but the deal looks set to bring to an end 18 months of vehement opposition from Uriarra, where the solar array was to be sited directly across Brindabella Road from the 100-home-strong village.

The solar farm was to be on part of Uriarra Station run by Tony and Helen Griffin, who will lose a lease deal with Elementus but will not regret the end of months of division over the siting of the project.

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Elementus Energy managing director Ashleigh Antflick would not divulge details of his lease deal with the Griffins, nor whether he would have to make a payment to them, and the Griffins could not be reached for comment.

Mr Antflick said he had "paused" his development application for the Uriarra site while Williamsdale was assessed; if Williamsdale panned out, the Uriarra application would be withdrawn.

"We contend that Uriarra Station is still a very good site to host a solar farm and we're not abandoning that site. What we are doing it looking at an alternative site at Williamsdale and if all of the the ducks line up we think Williamsdale has great potential to be a superior site," he said.

Asked about the lessons of Uriarra, he said "consult and consult as frequently as you can".

"It has been a difficult relationship, we understand it's been difficult for residents. And for those that lost sleep or those that felt that their livelihoods were in jeopardy, that's something that I've had to also sleep with and wrestle with. I'm really pleased that we're now at a point where people can feel more certain about their homes, and their village atmosphere," he said.

Mr Antflick maintains he did consult, but was constrained by the rules of the solar auction - in which his company and two others won a 20-year feed-in tariff from the ACT Government.

"Fundamentally, I think this problem has been borne of the idea that the rules of engagement for the initial rounds of the ACT solar auction precluded us from being able to engage with them because it would have competitively hampered our representations to the solar auction secretariat during the competitive phase of this process," he said.

Mr Corbell's spoksman said later there were no rules about whom companies could consult with during the auction.

The 453 hectare Williamsdale site, which includes a former petrol station and a single tenanted house, was part of ActewAGL's bid in the 2013 solar auction. ActewAGL missed out, but already had National Capital Authority and federal environmental approvals for solar there.

Mr Corbell said the office of the coordinator general, whose job was to facilitate large-scale investment in Canberra, would help Elementus work through approvals, as it had done for Ikea.

Uriarra residents were celebrating what they described as a win win.

"It's fantastic news, it's wonderful, it's exactly what we asked for two years ago," Uriarra resident Judy Middlebrook said.

Resident Jess Agnew said the residents supported solar and fact that a solar farm was being built on a different site was "a massive bonus".

"I don't care how it happened but it happened. And at the end of the day we did it," she said.

Resident Michael Friedrich said, "There's a lot to be said for if you believe in something strongly enough not giving up ... If you believe in something, fight for it and don't stop fighting until you get the right answer."

Liberals member for Brindabella Andrew Wall said the change of plan confirmed the site was unsuitable in the first place and should not have been considered.