Warwick Solar Farm – Excitement And Angst

A planned major solar farm has generated both enthusiasm and concern in the Warwick area, a situation that may hold some lessons for solar developers.

Warwick is a large town of some 14,000 residents in southeast Queensland; situated around 130 kilometres south-west of Brisbane and part of the Southern Downs Regional Council area.

The Warwick Daily News reports Terrain Solar has proposed a $100 million solar farm to be constructed not far from the town.

Everything is at very early stages, but already divisions appear to be occurring in the community – some think it’s a great idea, but others believe it’s a poor use of productive farmland, will be an eyesore and impact on the value of their property. These concerns not uncommon in connection with large-scale solar situated close to populated areas.

It seems to be big news in Warwick, with the Daily News publishing five stories on it in the past few days  – but outside of that publication, there’s not much readily available information online.

The Warwick Solar Farm situation brings up the very important issues of community engagement and social licence to operate, which has been defined as:

“.. an expression of the quality of the relationship between a private sector project/company and its neighbors.”

While that definition was in relation to mining, it can certainly be applied to other sectors; including renewable energy.

Terrain Solar may find they have a job ahead of them to address some locals’ concerns – and some of that may be due to the lack of or conflicting information, which can turn into misinformation and exaggeration..

An example of conflicting information – the Terrain Solar web site states the project will cover 80 hectares and generate enough power to supply the equivalent of 15,000 average homes. Other than that, there’s not a great deal of information on the Terrain Solar site. The Warwick Daily News puts it at 154 hectares and able to generate enough electricity to power around 25,000 homes – making it a much larger project.

There doesn’t appear to be any detail on the Southern Downs Regional Council web site about Warwick Solar Farm either.

Regardless of whether a project is at a point for public consultation or not, once news is out, it travels fast – particularly online – and developers need to be prepared.

A lack of official information creates fertile ground for concerns to grow, justified or otherwise. That’s why it’s important for developers of large solar farms to have detailed web pages or dedicated sites about their projects ready from the get-go, as this can perhaps help allay some fears.

Effective community engagement, both local and broader, is crucial – even if it is for a clean and green solar power project that will bring benefits to a local community.

Getting projects approved is no mean feat. A developer won’t be able to please 100% of the people all the time, but efforts in that direction may make the approval process a little smoother. It can also make the path easier to travel for those who follow.

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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