WESTERN DOWNS Regional Council have today approved an application for one of Australia’s biggest solar energy plants to be built at Chinchilla.
The 264 hectare solar plant from First Solar will be built just a few hundred metres from the homes of Pelican Back Road grower Darryl O’Leary who operates Paramagh Farming, a watermelon growing company.
While Mr O’Leary hoped the site would be stopped in the end there was nothing they could do due to legislation.
Under the Western Downs Planning Scheme solar plants outside industrial areas are code assessable meaning no public notification is required and landholders can not appeal the application once approved.
Mr O’Leary only heard about the project through local residents and said the planning scheme hadn’t been thought through enough to handle renewable energy projects.
“It’s like if you wanted to put a 6x6 shed in your yard, if it ticks all the boxes (being code assessable) you can go ahead with it,” he said.
“At the end of the day the council couldn’t stop it. Once it is in a planning act and meets all the criteria legally they can do it.”
It is understood the application received a six to two vote at council this morning.
The approval means the farming future of his own son, Terry O’Leary, is also uncertain.
He said they didn’t know whether the reflected heat off the panels would have an affect on their crops or if there was any health risks being so close to the plant because there was no evidence for a plant of that size.
“I’ll be hitting 60 next year, I don’t want to be here the rest of my life planting melons,” he said.
“There was a plan for them (Terry and his wife) to take over but they are baulking a bit and we are worried about devaluation of the property.
It comes as farmers on the other side of Chinchilla continue their fight to have a proposed salt dump overturned.
“It just goes to show how weak our planning act is,” Mr O’Leary said.
“These fellas they pick the soft spots and come on in.
“At the end of the day you can put up an argument but you’ve got no legal rights at all (with the solar plant).
“We are unlucky our houses are where they are. Who wants to walk out of your house and see hundreds of solar panels.”