Jervois solar farm approved despite neighbours' objections
A recent Murray Bridge council assessment panel decision has highlighted problems with South Australia's planning laws.
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South Australia’s planning system is inflexible and does not account for people’s mental health, Jervois residents say after the approval of a controversial local development.
Jody and Justin Andrews and their kids have lived on Hicks Road for 13 years.
They’ve been building their “forever home” out of old shipping containers, facing northeast so they can watch the sun set over the paddocks.
The rural setting was ideal for her teenaged son, who lived with sensory issues and anxiety, Mrs Andrews said.
But more than 5000 solar panels will soon be plonked just over her back fence after a decision of the Murray Bridge council assessment panel on Friday.
The decision will allow the Creeks Pipeline Company to build a three-kilowatt solar farm a stone’s throw away from Jervois Oval.
Energy generated at the site will power the company’s nearby pumping station, which pumps River Murray water to irrigated vineyards and farms in the Langhorne Creek area.
Mrs Andrews despaired at the idea.
“I’m all for it, just not in our backyard,” she told the assessment panel.
“It’s going to wreck the beauty of Jervois.
“I don’t want my outlook changed for something I’m not going to receive any benefit from.”
Pregnant mum Charissa Lawrence fought back tears as she spoke about the impact the development would have on her family.
“Every morning we'd be sitting at our dining table, looking out at the solar farm,” she said.
“How would you like that while you’re eating your breakfast?
“This is not the lifestyle we signed up for when we were building in this location.”
Another resident, military veteran David Kempe, told the panel his wellbeing would suffer if the project went ahead.
“The reason I chose the site where I live is it’s surrounded by rural (scenery),” he said.
“Since I’ve lived here, it’s the stablest my mental health has been in a long time.”
Sure, the developers had promised to surround the solar farm with trees, another neighbour, Adrian Burgess, said.
But had they ever tried to grow trees on windswept limestone?
‘Our power bill was $267,000 for December’
The Creeks Pipeline Company agreed to make several concessions to neighbouring property owners.
The solar farm:
will be 30 per cent smaller than originally planned
will no longer include a battery bank
will be surrounded by a vegetation screen which will be planted before construction starts
General manager Mike Reynolds struck a somewhat apologetic tone at the panel meeting.
To remain viable, the solar farm had to be close to the pumping station, he said.
And it had to be big enough to power the pumps, which used up to $1.5 million worth of electricity every year.
The company was a not-for-profit organisation, Mr Reynolds said, and he had been directed to deliver water to its 150 shareholders as cheaply as possible.
Very little energy from the project would be sold back into the grid.
Yes-or-no system fails to capture residents’ preferences
In the end, Councillor Karen Eckermann was the only panellist who opposed the development.
It had merit, she said, but it would upset too many people.
“The applicant has done a lot to address the concerns of residents ... however, I’d prefer to see this development built further away from houses to reduce its impact,” she said.
Unfortunately, SA’s development laws did not allow that option.
The panel could only say yes or no to the proposal in front of it.
Council assessment panels can put all sorts of conditions on a development, but have no power to ask a developer to move to a different site.
Although his vote helped the solar farm win approval, panellist Tony Huppatz agreed that there was a “shortfall” in the relevant planning laws.
“There may well be other sites where there would be less impact ... but unfortunately we can’t search for the best site,” he said.
“We’re left dealing with this application as it is.”
Panellist Myles Somers said the state’s development code was “not mature enough” when it came to solar farms, as it didn’t consider things like visual impact or neighbours’ mental – and not just physical – health.
“I’d really hope, within a couple of years, that when we’re considering these types of developments we’ve got more policy to work with,” he said.
“But we’ve got the policy we’ve got and we’ve got to make a decision based on that.”
Council assessment panels are appointed by local councils, but development law – the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016 – is the responsibility of the state government.
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