Shepparton solar farm applications

September 05, 2018

Question without notice

My question is for the Minister for Planning.

Minister, could you tell this house when you will be making a decision on the four solar farm applications referred to you by the Greater Shepparton City Council in February 2018.

It has been nearly seven months since you called in these projects and more than three months since the end of the Planning Panels Victoria hearings that took place in Shepparton.

I understand the panel's recommendations were submitted to your office some time ago and that a final decision is now in your hands.

Mr Wynne (Minister for Planning)

I thank the member for Shepparton for her continued interest in renewable energy and indeed the ambitious targets that our government has for renewable energy: 25 per cent by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025.
I do acknowledge of course that these renewable energy targets will involve a mix of solar and wind energy, and I just want to advise the house of how we are travelling in that respect. In relation to wind, Ararat, Cape Nelson, Yaloak South, Kiata, Coonooer Bridge and Maroona represent $656 million worth of wind energy already built — 2300 construction jobs and permanent jobs in regional Victoria. Can I also indicate to the member that under construction are Murra Warra, Mount Gellibrand, Crowland, Salt Creek, Timboon West and Bulgana — that is just to name a few. That is $3.2 billion worth of wind energy under construction today. This is part of our mix to ensure that we do reach our targets of 25 per cent of energy by 2020 and 40 per cent by 2025.
Turning to solar, as the member of Shepparton knows, I have in fact called in four planning permit applications at the request of the City of Greater Shepparton. They have been to an independent panel, as the member has indicated, and panel hearings were held in Shepparton in May. The report was provided to me in July, and obviously I will consider in detail the various provisions that are related to the planning panel's report, because there is a degree of complexity. I will be considering the report in detail because there are a range of other emerging issues which will need to be addressed, particularly in relation to the use of agricultural land and irrigation land. I will give those matters proper consideration.

Supplementary Question

Minister, you have indicated that your department is in the process of drafting guidelines for the establishment of solar farms. Can you please advise what progress is being made and when these draft guidelines might be made public? While there is wide support in the Shepparton district for renewable energy projects, there can be no doubt that this region comprises high-value agricultural land that has had substantial recent investment in irrigation modernisation, so there are competing interests and my community is looking for guidelines to go forward.

Mr Wynne

I thank the member for Shepparton for her supplementary question. Indeed as part of the panel's deliberations we are in fact developing new guidelines to support the future development of solar farms. They are obviously being prepared with input from specialist areas — obviously energy; the Minister for Agriculture; the Minister for Water obviously needs to be involved in these discussions as well — and when those guidelines are in fact completed, as you would expect, we will ensure that there is further consultation, particularly with the local councils through the Municipal Association of Victoria but also the Victorian Farmers Federation as well, who have a very acute interest in this.

I am also aware that the member for Mildura, in fact this morning, had a very interesting conversation with me, particularly around a couple of solar farm applications that he has got in his area, so these guidelines will certainly assist the Mildura council as well in their further deliberations on those permit applications.

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