Kingaroy Solar Farm Controversy Continues

Kingaroy Solar Farm

Local media and a councillor were not amused when they rocked up to an inauguration event at Kingaroy Solar Farm in Queensland, only to be turned away. But there’s more to the story.

Situated approximately 200 km north of Brisbane, Kingaroy is an agricultural town within the South Burnett Regional Council local government area that is home to around 10,500 people.

Rooftop solar power is popular in Kingaroy, but a 40MW solar farm development around a kilometre east of the town caused some angst in the community when it was first proposed some years ago. Among the concerns were the facility would be too close to the township and occupy prime agricultural land.

In late 2018, Council refused the development application for the proposed solar farm. An appeal was lodged in the Planning and Environment Court, which was successful. After further negotiations with Council and other concerned stakeholders, a green light was given for the project.

Greek multinational Mytilineos (Metka EGN) acquired project rights from the original developer Terrain Solar in 2019 and construction finally began late last year. More than 90,000 panels are to be installed at the site, and the target completion date at this point is August this year.

The official Kingaroy Solar Farm Inauguration was reportedly held last Friday, and it appears the event didn’t go smoothly. SouthBurnett.com.au reported:

“No local residents were present, the media were told to leave and local councillor Kirstie Schumacher, whose Division adjoins the site, was ejected mid-way through her site induction.”

Cr. Schumacher stated she was “deeply offended”.

But it turns out this was an invitation-only event and Cr. Schumacher didn’t respond to the RSVP. Additionally, the invitation was for another councillor, who couldn’t make it – so Cr. Schumacher was to attend in her place.

Given the project’s bumpy history, perhaps the developer could have been more accommodating. But in comments following the report, even Mayor Brett Otto was critical of Cr. Schumacher.

“It is my understanding that some councillors received an invitation and as such I expect that the right and respectful thing to do would have been to reply as to your attendance or pass on your apologies,” he said.

Regardless of who is right or wrong, this situation was something the project and community didn’t really need – it takes away from the good the solar farm will achieve and has created more friction.

Social Licence Is A Fragile Thing

It’s really common for large solar power projects to hit resistance, especially if they are built close to population centres. And that’s understandable, particularly if the local community isn’t familiar with solar farm development – and why would they be?

Project proponents/developers must work hard to gain – and maintain – social licence1; before, during and after their projects hit prime-time. This requires a high level of community engagement, transparency, and up-to-date and accurate information. I’ve often noticed on project web sites, details will be rather vague and/or incorrect.

For example, the Kingaroy Solar Farm web site states:

“Once operational, the project will generate approximately 50 megawatt hours of carbon free electricity annually.”

A 40MW solar farm generating 50MWh of electricity a year? That’s incredibly crappy output and obviously a typo. But this stuff matters. The community is forming its views based on information provided.

Another odd FAQ item:

“How far will the solar panels be from my property? 15 meters.”

Huh? It’s little wonder people get concerned and confused.

While you can’t please everyone all the time, situations such as what has happened with Kingaroy Solar Farm make for good case studies other developers can learn from.

Footnotes

  1. In a nutshell, social licence refers to the ongoing approval granted to a company or organisation by the community.
About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

Comments

  1. Bruce Fraser says

    There would be real cause for concern in prime farm land and residential should the next step be a BESS added to utilise this Solar ,as proposed in GREENBANK Sub Station , 200 Mw of Lithium chemical with 7,000 home sites within 4 km radius . Following Victoria’s BESS fire , Toxic gas contamination stretched up to 10 km , but we have near 20,000 people within this zone here ,some estates established only 500 metres from proposed project . I have formed liaison team and have met with Powerlink and C S Energy officials to gain assurance the public and $3 Billion assets will be absolute safe into future years , bearing Tesla s battery pack failed on initial testing , and most Ess fires have occurred within first 2 years of install. The ACCC has launched a ISSUES paper on Li chemical batteries after hundreds of domestic fires in Australia , I have made comment on Toxic Gas and Acid dangers flowing from a cascade event . My team evolved with members of the Baptist Church ,wide background of experienced and qualified people with our building 200 metres from this ,Queensland’s Largest BESS , on track to have 160 Megapack units or similar ,thousands of cells as fire threat material for years to come . How can the Qld Government keep this residential absolute free from deadly Toxic Hydro Fluoride gas and Hydro Fluoric Acid ,Cobalt and all types of chemicals out of the Oxley Creek catchment ,into Brisbane River from the start up ,and into next 50 years . There must be protections built in ,or removed to remote areas ,but where as this BESS would only power up Brisbane for about 1 hour if at all ,400 MwH output . This BESS has Grid Stabilisation and Commercial application to sell into Southern States ,a factory in the Suburbs collecting excess Solar and Wind power with all commercial and TOXIC RISK attached . Logan Council cannot do anything to help the 20,000 future residents . Bruce Martin Fraser NBBC Liaison Team ,Greenbank ,Logan City

    • Bruce

      I understand some of your concerns but if we undertake a studies review of the risks they are much lower than you may be portraying. Everyday far more dangerous chemicals and items that when combusted are release cyanide and other toxic gases are placed in our homes ie mattresses, carpets, other plastics. So I assume the council have reviewed the risks and allowed the development.

      • Bruce Martin Fraser says

        Hello Andy, In research of possible adverse effects and disaster control should we experience similar BESS Cascade event in middle of a residental area , I can referr you to EPRI BESS Failures Event Database where by over 50 Fires are listed , some near very disasterous , but usually far away from established Residental Zoned areas. Liverpool Docks had close call but estimated Million Gallons of contaminated water was released ,this from other research documents, Moorabool Tesla Battery fire burnt for 3 days , contaminated water released without residents being affected, but declared TOXIC areas by Victorian Government 10 Km long, aproximate 6 Km wide stopped short of Geelong North , now overlay this on Greenbank and you poison maybe 10,000 people and 3,000 properties ? That may extend right down to Park Ridge or Springfield if stronger winds during event .. We have too much data and research on this to ignore. Every Part of the Smoke emitted is poison , that is why Firemen around the world are now demanding safer methods and equipment , Tesla 3 model EV s very popular , very unsafe also with the battery pack s making headlines more often , need more training and gear for fieries to control , what happens if outside your house , you cannot approach such a car if emitting smoke, it will explode into flames . The ACCC opened its investigation in December 2022 , since then we had 3 bad Li Events, 2 houses burnt down , many poisoned and yes we did have deaths last year in Brisbane , This only Scooters recharging , BMS systems failing ? ACCC is now on the ball as problem has been exposed ,The house Solar Batteries recall of 7000 brand name has only seen near 2.5 thousand returned , but they are branded with different names , all info on ACCC Site ,,is major concern now. .
        It is also released that another BESS will install in Swanbank powerhouse and that is right near SPRINGFIELD .

        • Ronald Brakels says

          Toxic fumes from battery fires are a concern and steps need to be taken to limit the harm that can result. But, provided sensible precautions are taken, I’m looking forward to a world where people are exposed to far smaller amounts of toxins, as there will no longer be coal power stations and diesel and petrol vehicles directly contaminating the air we breathe every day. While things won’t be perfect, I’m confident they will be a lot better.

  2. George Kaplan says

    When I read inauguration event I presumed that meant the solar farm was officially going online. Per the SB article, it’s actually more akin to a groundbreaking ceremony – earthworks have started, but power to the site office has only just been connected.

    The event appears to have been intended for Mytilineos staff members and contractors, not residents, councillors, or media. There were also tribal dancers from some group or other to entertain said guests.

    As regards Councillor Kirstie Schumacher not RSVPing, per the SB article she holds the economic development portfolio for the SB region, was apparently invited, but didn’t RSVP. Her colleague Danita Potter did RSVP but personal issues precluded her attendance and Schumacher stepped up to fill her place. Thus there could be an element of miscommunication – an invited councillor did reply, an invited councillor did attend, but developers expelled the councillor because of a technicality – the one that could attend wasn’t the one who RSVPed.

    Add in bad info on the single page on the site addressing what’s happening – there’s also pages for the company behind the development, a page saying they’re shutting down over Christmas (clearly not updated in a while!!!), the standard this isn’t our land but thank you anyway dead and living Elders, plus a contact us page, and it’s a great example of how not to engage with a local community!!!

  3. George Kaplan says

    Oh! Forgot to mention, as regards rooftop solar being popular in Kingaroy – not so much. They’re only 25% above the Australian average (1,012 watts per person v the Australian average of 808 watts) and 42 systems per 100 dwellings versus the Australian average of 33. If you consider above average = popular then YMMV.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Still very worthwhile. Especially when you consider the grid electricity price increase they’re likely to be hit with in July.

      • George Kaplan says

        I know SQ keeps saying FiTs ought to go up – they’ve gone down, but are electricity prices really likely to go up much in July? It’ll be very interesting to see, but I’m not expecting much change myself.

        If both FiTs and electricity prices go up I may benefit, but I don’t expect that to happen.

        And if electricity prices go up too much, then batteries become a economically viable alternative to sharing a grid. As it is a decade of usage charges are slightly more than half the cost of a solar battery – assuming no rise in costs, and daily charges slightly under half the cost, meaning off-grid costs are close to parity. If usage charges rise say another 5 or 10 cents per kWh that’ll cover the cost of a fossil fuel backup for when the sun won’t shine, but still won’t be enough of a rise to justify battery + grid connection.

        Power companies need to be careful lest they price themselves out of the market.

        • Ronald Brakels says

          A number of large electricity retailers lowered their solar feed-in tariffs last financial year, despite wholesale electricity prices generally being up. If I could have stopped them doing that, I definitely would. Electricity prices will definitely be going up in July — unless the government takes action that will cost billions. Feed-in tariffs will increase, but you may need to shop around to get them. Both electricity price and solar feed-in tariffs should be highest in Queensland.

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