The environmental benefits of establishing solar farms are well-known - avoiding greenhouse gas emissions by gradually replacing coal-fired power supplies with new electricity powered by the sun.
What is often less apparent is the additional economic and social benefits which flow through to the local community when a solar farm is installed.
One local example of this is the New England Solar Farm proposed for Uralla Shire which will provide around 700MW of solar power. This installation will power 250,000 homes with renewable energy and help Australia meet its international climate change obligations.
During the construction phase over three years up to 500 jobs will be created (plus a further 200 should a battery system be included), with an additional 10-15 fulltime ongoing jobs. There will be opportunities for tradespeople including electricians, plumbers, fencing contractors and others.
Millions of dollars will be injected into the local and regional community, providing an economic boost to Uralla, Armidale and beyond. Among those businesses to benefit directly and indirectly will be equipment suppliers, contractors, labour hire companies, accommodation providers, eateries and fuel suppliers.
The proponent of the New England solar farm is UPC Renewables who have striven to engage with community members throughout the process. Once the solar farm is operating UPC will be setting aside between $150,000 and $200,000 per year for 25 years to be used directly in the local community.
A Community Reference Group made up of local business owners and residents helped to set up the guidelines for a Community Benefit Sharing Initiative. This was independently chaired by the Community Power Agency, an organisation which works with communities on renewable energy projects.
A range of proposals has been outlined to assist with local education, energy efficiency upgrades, employment, health, infrastructure, culture and sport. Recommendations from this initiative have been included in UPC's final proposal for consideration by NSW Department of Planning and Environment.
UPC is already supporting several sporting clubs in Uralla and has donated funds to Drought Assistance through the local Lions Club.
The area identified for the solar farm, after consultation with landowners and carrying out environmental studies, is around 2,000 hectares, while an additional area is still under consideration and discussion with local landowners. The solar arrays will allow for sheep grazing amongst and underneath the infrastructure and will provide a reliable diversification of income for the landowners involved.
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