A meeting attended by about 100 people at the Powerhouse Motel on Wednesday evening heard it was meant to be the first of many conversations to come surrounding the relationship between agricultural land and our developing solar project industry.
NSW Farmers president James Jackson described the meeting as an initial engagement with the NSW planning department and said he expected a diversity of opinions to be present in the room.
"There are a significant number of members concerned with this, but there are a number of people who are diversifying their income streams," he said.
"It should be noted that NSW Farmers is not anti-renewables.
"Solar is on the agenda for our conference in July. "
Mr Jackson said he was very concerned about the lack of community consultation being offered by some developers.
"What's happening at the moment is the 'Wild West' with these things," he said.
"Typically, they play people off against each other. We heard one of the people here tonight say they play people off against one another, throw confidentiality clauses at them to ensure they reduce their costs, increase the concern and conflict between neighbours, they have terrible models," he said.
"We talked tonight about having a 'Best Practice Engagement Model', and I thoroughly endorse that. I think it is a great idea."
Department of Planning, Industry and Environment's executive director Resource Assessments David Kitto provided the meeting with an overview of the situation in NSW where there were about 72 large-scale solar investments either proposed or approved.
He said in practice very few of those would be built because of the lack of infrastructure, but New England should be prepared for a potential of 1.5 Gigawatt of solar development around Armidale.
"There is no doubt in our minds there are some serious issues to sort out in the Armidale area, because that is a big change to this area," Mr Kitto said.
"It is inevitable that there will be solar projects on good agricultural land.
"The critical thing is you can't have enough public consultation. If you don't build support within the community then no amount of reporting will get your project over the line."
Mr Kitto warned farmers to be very diligent before accepting contracts from developers because, while the ultimate rehabilitation of the land sat with the solar company, the responsibility did revert to the landowner if the company was no longer viable.
Mr Jackson said there needed to be more engagement on this issue.
"I think the engagement has got to go further with the proponents, and we've got to make sure the framework for engagement is a lot broader and a lot more transparent than it currently is," he said.
"It is not up to scratch.
"It is not only Armidale finding problems with these proposals. We're holding thes forums at Wellington, last night was Dubbo and next week we're having one down at Wagga. So, there's concern from all around the State."
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