Williamsdale solar farm approved by ACT government

Williamsdale solar farm approved by ACT government

A controversial solar farm project near Williamsdale has been approved by the ACT government under Planning Minister Mick Gentleman's call-in powers.

The 29-hectare solar farm on the NSW border south of Canberra will be built by energy firm Elementus, which faced controversy over its original plans to build the farm on land adjacent to the Uriarra Village.

Policing minister Mick Gentleman said they had proceeded with the bill despite concerns expressed by the ACT Firearms Consultative Committee.

Policing minister Mick Gentleman said they had proceeded with the bill despite concerns expressed by the ACT Firearms Consultative Committee.Credit:Rohan Thomson

Under the new approval, the company will build a 11.18-megawatt array on 34 hectares of farm land beside the Monaro Highway and Angle Crossing Road.

About 116 mature trees will be removed from the site and stored for use in new conservation works by the ACT government, while half a hectare of native vegetation will be lost for the development.


Last year, the government offered Elementus the Williamsdale land, previously owned by water utility Icon. In 2013, joint venture ActewAGL put the site forward as a home for a 20-megawatt solar farm but missed out on a contract as part of the government's solar auction process.

In March 2015, the government's Land Development Agency bought the land for $3.1 million to smooth the way for the solar farm project. Elementus applied for an exemption from having to prepare an environmental impact statement on the basis that an exemption had already been provided for the planned solar farm.

The exemption left Williamsdale residents and the Liberal opposition unimpressed.

Construction of the north-facing solar arrays, which will be 2.5m from the ground, will take about nine months. Once completed, the solar farm will be fully automated and require no on-site staff. Only occasional maintenance inspections will be completed.

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 by improving the city's environmental sustainability.

The ACT Planning and Development Act gives the minister powers to call in development applications considered to be related to major policy issues, if it provides a substantial public benefit, or achieves Territory Plan objectives.

Friday's decision has seen the Uriarra Village development application withdrawn.

"I have imposed strict conditions on the development as part of my decision to address concerns raised in the four submissions by members of the community," Mr Gentleman said.

"I certainly think this is a better outcome for Uriarra residents. They will be pleased to hear the news today, I imagine, and of course it still gives us the opportunity to produce the renewable energy we're after."

As part of the approval, Elementus will be required to reduce glare during construction and operation of the solar farm, to maintain appropriate landscaping and ensure sufficient bushfire management measures are in place for the area.

In an effort to avoid public opposition like at Uriarra Village, Elementus made several design changes for the project, including relocating the eastern boundary site to 200 metres from the Monaro Highway and revising its landscape plan to increase screening from Williamsdale Road.

Mr Gentleman said the solar farm will power more than 2500 homes and contribute to the territory's renewable energy targets.

Elementus managing director Ashleigh Antflick said the project had faced rigorous assessment and community engagement.

"Naturally we are very pleased with this outcome, and delighted that the minister has personally recognised how significant this project is for the Canberra region", he said in a statement.

"We consider this to be a positive outcome for the territory, for renewable energy in the region, and all stakeholders in the project."

Last year the government attracted criticism for the call in of demolition plans for the Northbourne Avenue public housing precinct.

Mr Gentleman also called in the development application for the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm in 2014.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for the Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.