• VCAT

October 13, 2022

Planning your solar energy facility?

Renewable energy systems are a large planning focus within the State of Victoria as they accelerate the reduction of emissions, create thousands of jobs, and put downward pressure on energy prices.

Solar energy facilities are a leading method of renewable energy within the State, with fifteen (15) independent facilities operating and outputting almost 700 megawatts of power. Seventy-eight (78) additional facilities have been approved with some already being constructed. These facilities will result in a net output of over 5100 megawatts and another thirty-one (31) facilities are currently undergoing planning assessment.

In total, solar energy facilities will provide the State with over 6000 megawatts of renewable energy, with targets setting to increase as the years progress.

The market for renewable energy will continue to gain importance as climate change continues to lead to greater impacts from a local and global perspective, meaning that the market for the construction and operating of solar energy facilities will allow for the creation of jobs and savings on energy costs.

Identifying Suitable Locations

The preliminary task involved in constructing a solar energy facility is to identify an appropriate location for the facility. The Solar Energy Facilities Design and Development Guideline (August 2019) found here, recommends that such facilities be located:

  • On land with topographical conditions that avoids the need for unnecessary or excessive earthworks or changes to the natural landscape.
  • To avoid the loss of native vegetation and biodiversity, with any losses to be offset.
  • Close to the electricity grid network to minimise the need for additional infrastructure and associated impacts.
  • A sufficient distance from existing or designated urban areas.
  • To avoid cumulative impacts of built form concentration.
  • Away from the floodplain of a major water course or wetland.
  • Where it has access to nearby main roads.

The Process

The process as described in the Guideline prescribes four stages that outline the life cycle of a solar energy facility.

The first stage is community consultation, whereby the proponent is encouraged to consult with the community surrounding the area to be used for the facility. This involves communicating the idea with local farmers, residents, and Traditional Owner groups. An effective way to conduct this is through a well-designed community engagement plan which clearly identifies what is being done, the proposed timeframe and the impact the project will have on the surrounding community.

The second stage is the design phase, and this is where a formal application will be submitted to the local Council for assessment. At this stage, considerations must be given towards the scale of the project, it’s siting on the land, screening, landscape disturbance, glint and glare management, traffic and other potential impacts that may occur. Consultation with Council and a number of consultants will be required during this phase. Council’s planning department will assess the application based on their local planning schemes, which include energy outcomes, specifically at Clause 19.01 and 53.13.

The third stage is the construction and operation phase and commences once a planning permit is approved for the project. In order for the construction and operation of the project to be as efficient as possible in mitigating problems, planning should be undertaken to safely manage environmental risks, emergencies, site access, traffic, construction noise and dust.

The final stage is decommissioning. It is expected that solar facilities will last at any one location for a period of 20 to 30 years, and so this phase requires the land to be returned to its natural condition upon closure of the site.

If you are planning to begin a solar energy facility project, feel free to get in touch with one of our experts today at www.cstownplanning.com.au.