Fed-up residents reject proposal

SOLAR FARM: The proposed development site is only 80 metres from the kitchen window of Paul and Chloe's Stirling North Property.
SOLAR FARM: The proposed development site is only 80 metres from the kitchen window of Paul and Chloe's Stirling North Property.

The battlers on Reservoir Road in Stirling North have been dealt another cruel blow in what can only be described as a never-ending nightmare.

When Paul and Chloe purchased their land almost 11 years ago, halfway between the majestic Flinders Ranges and the ocean, they never imagined a solar farm could be built only a stones throw away from their kitchen window.

Port Augusta City Council has received a development application for a 5MW fixed tilt solar PV farm on Spear Creek Road, just 80 metres from Paul and Chloe’s property. 

“It’s the devaluation of our property, and more so the health effects during the clearing of the land. Not just for us but for the residents on the other side of the flood-way on Maule avenue,” Paul explained. 

“They wont be able to control the dust that close to a town.

“If they do they will probably have to use chemical dust suppressant and how good is that going to be close to a built up residential area?”

But the recent solar farm proposal from Surpass Energy Pty Ltd is only the latest twist of fate in a saga that spans over a decade.

The view from Paul and Chloe's backyard where the solar farm development would be situated, behind the fence is Woolundunga Road.

The view from Paul and Chloe's backyard where the solar farm development would be situated, behind the fence is Woolundunga Road.

Another cruel blow

Landowners in the area have been engaged in a 10 year battle with the state government to have their land rezoned from ‘primary industry’ – which forbids residential development without primary activity (aka farming) – to ‘rural living’.

At the time of purchase, they were led to believe that the blocks would be re-zoned to rural living within six months, allowing them to build their dream homes. 

But in 2018, many of the blocks remain empty with no progress made.

While Paul and Chloe were lucky to purchase land with an existing house, they own many sub-divided blocks that are simply too small for farming.

They are still paying land rates, emergency services levy and water rates for land that has been reduced to nothing but a money pit.

Not alone in their predicament, other landowners on Reservoir Road are concerned the project could derail any future appeals for their land to be rezoned.

DISSAPOINTMENT: The landowners between Woolundunga Road and Reservoir Road have been waiting to have their land rezoned for over a decade. Stage 1 and 2 now mark where the panels of the proposed solar farm will be.

DISSAPOINTMENT: The landowners between Woolundunga Road and Reservoir Road have been waiting to have their land rezoned for over a decade. Stage 1 and 2 now mark where the panels of the proposed solar farm will be.

An article published in the science journal Nature reported larger solar power plants have been found to increase local temperatures by up to four degrees. 

The report stated: “transitions to PV plants alter the way that incoming energy is reflected back to the atmosphere or absorbed, stored, and reradiated because PV plants change the vegetation, and structure of the terrain.”

In a climate where temperatures soar into the mid 40’s regularly, the four degree increase in temperature is unthinkable for the residents close by. 

Penny and Ryan Archer purchased land on Reservoir Road over 10 years ago where they hoped to build their family home and grow their own produce. 

“We have two young kids, 10 and six, and our dream for them was to come out here so they had room to move, play and ride their bikes,” Ryan explained.

“Soon they will be of an age where they will be beyond wanting to run around outside.”

Unexplored consequences

A similar development proposal in the Goulburn Valley caused concern amongst fruit growers in the region. 

They called for clear guidelines on the design and placement of solar developments following the research that solar farms not only increase day time temperatures, but they also act as heat sinks that delay cooling at night across all seasons. 

Unlike wind farm power stations, guidelines to help solar farm proponents navigate social and environment matters have not yet been developed.

The long term effects of the new technology have not yet been determined and until then, residents surrounding the proposed site in Stirling North are calling for the solar farm to be placed further away from their homes.

Like many others in Port Augusta, the Archers want solar farms – but they want them in the right place.

Although Port Augusta City Council advises that it is too early to predict the outcome of the proposal, CEO John Banks said Council can only consider matters relevant to the assessment of the proposal.

“Community backing is very important to any project and Council will consider all relevant community feedback in the assessment of this proposal,” Mr Banks said in a statement. 

“Previous efforts or any future consideration to rezone land at this location are not relevant to the proposal. Council must only consider the current land zoning and policies.”

The application is currently on public notification.

Any person affected by the proposed development is encouraged to take representation, in writing, to the Community Planner by no later than Thursday, February 8 at 5pm.