Smoky Creek Solar Power Station Update

Smoky Creek Solar Power Station

Edify Energy’s proposed Smoky Creek Solar Power Station in Queensland has been on the board for quite a while – what’s happening with this big solar project?

The proposed project is to be situated around 75km south of Rockhampton and 40km north of Biloela. It’s a good spot for PV – Smoky Creek’s solar power potential is significant, with the region enjoying solar irradiation levels reaching approximately 5.58 kilowatt-hours per square metre per day on average over a year

The project will have an installed capacity of up to 540MWdc that Edify says could generate up to 1,194,000 MWh of clean electricity per annum; equivalent to the electricity consumption of more than 206,000 households. The proposal also mentions an option to incorporate battery storage into the facility, the capacity of which is not provided. The solar power station will feed into Powerlink Queensland’s Calvale to Stanwell 275kV transmission lines.

The solar farm is proposed to be developed across a total of 10 lease areas to be created at the site, for a total site area of around 3,600 hectares. However, infrastructure will only occupy 1,993 hectares.

The land is currently primarily used for cattle grazing, and agrophotovoltaics – continued agricultural activity within a solar farm – is gaining traction these days. It not only makes better use of land, but can also help projects get over the line in terms of approvals.

Outside of the actual infrastructure development footprint, it seems cattle grazing could continue. The potential of grazing cattle and other animals within the proposed solar farm was considered but was not found to be viable.

The land assessment report says grazing within the solar farm by cattle or goats would present a risk of damage to infrastructure – cattle because of their size and goats because of their nature. Sheep are a better fit for solar farms, but there doesn’t appear to be the industry support for sheep grazing there and sheep blowfly are a bit of a problem in that neck of the woods.

Should the project go ahead, it will employ around 350 people during peak construction activity, which Edify indicates will predominately be local contractors. The Banana Shire local government area has a population of around 14,200, so the direct and indirect employment support would be a nice sugar-hit for the community.

Smoky Creek Solar Power Station Status

This project goes back some years – there’s a report for the Department of the Environment and Energy1 dated June 2017, so it would precede that.

In terms of approvals, Edify says the project complies fully with all applicable regulatory approvals and has Banana Shire Council’s support. It obtained final planning approval on 11 December 2019.

The current hurdle to clear is in relation to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). This comes into play when a project has the potential to have significant environmental impacts.

“When a person (a ‘proponent’) wants an action (often called a ‘proposal’ or ‘project’) assessed for environmental impacts under the EPBC Act, he or she must refer the project to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.”

This referralĀ  is then released to the public and various stakeholders for comment – and that’s where Smoky Creek Solar Power Station is now. The public comment period kicked off this week and will run for 10 business days. A decision on whether the project requires further scrutiny will be made within 20 business days.

Further information on the Smoky Creek Solar Power Station can be found here. The EPBC Notices site makes it difficult to link to a specific referral, but you can search for reference: 2021/9030 for additional detail, including how Edify intends on addressing environmental concerns.

Footnotes

  1. The DEE was merged with the Department of Agriculture to form the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment back in February 2020
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.

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