Springvale South Solar Farm Saga Update

Springvale South solar farm

A proposal to construct a solar farm in a Melbourne suburb is continuing to face significant opposition from within the local community.

We originally reported on the project back in 2019, which involves the development of a PV power station featuring 68,000 solar panels installed within a 44-hectare former landfill site in Springvale South in Melbourne’s south-east.

As well as producing clean energy, the $38 million project will create dozens of full and part time jobs during construction, and 7 ongoing jobs over the facility’s expected life of 25 years.

Lots of households in Springvale South have solar panels. In postcode 3172, more than 1,658 systems had been installed as at December 31, 2020. While solar power may be popular, not everyone is enamoured with the idea of 68,000 panels plonked in a spot nearby.

Opposition to the project includes all the usual concerns, but an issue that has really upset some residents is a claim parklands were to be developed at the site.

The Case Of The Missing Park Plans

The site is within the Greater Dandenong Council local government area and after Council failed to reach a decision on the project, proponent Progress Solar lodged an appeal with VCAT – the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal. Progress Solar had been expecting a Council decision by the end of 2019.

This is where things are getting really messy, even before the appeal is formally heard.

According to the Dandenong Star Journal, Council said it first required a decision on the status of the Section 173 agreement associated with the site to determine if the project complied.

A section 173 agreement is made between a responsible authority (e.g. a council) and an owner of land, setting out the conditions or restriction on use or development. It’s called a section 173 agreement as the power to enter into this is provided under the section 173 of the Planning and Environment Act 1987.

Apparently a clause in the section 173 agreement’s clause ensured the after-use of the land would be for recreational purposes in  accordance with the “Heatherton-Dingley Chain of Parks Concept Plan 1988”. But VCAT senior member Philip Martin is quoted as saying the concept plan is missing and what was in it subject to speculation.

More than 160 people are reportedly opposing the project. Springvale South has a population of around 12,768 – so it could be considered a drop in the bucket. But the potential for a comparatively small group of well-organised people to change the course of a project – or prevent it from even starting – should never be underestimated.

The Springvale South situation again highlights the importance for solar farm developers to first gain and then maintain social licence to operate. In some situations, particularly where a project is on the doorstep of residential areas, that may be incredibly difficult.

In this case, there is a perception among some objectors that there hasn’t been community engagement on the project. A community information session took place in July 2019, but it’s not clear what level of community engagement has occurred since.

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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