IT’S a $50 million proposal on the fringe of Wonthaggi, but only a few people attended a drop-in session last Thursday evening to hear ARP Australian Solar’s plans to put 100,000 solar panels on 150 acres at St Clair.
The project would generate 30 megawatts of green power, enough to supply 7200 homes – basically Wonthaggi and Inverloch – and create up to 100 jobs during the construction phase.
Among those who attended the session to hear from Australian Solar director George Hughes were St Clair residents Mark and Tracy Verboon and Heather and John Brusamarello.
They’ll be neighbours of the solar farm should authorities approve the plans for the land south of Lynnes Road and west of Kirrak Road.
They were not necessarily against the plans but had some key questions answered and provided some firsthand information about the site including its susceptibility to flooding.
A letter drop in the St Clair area ensured neighbours were aware of the initial plans and Mr Hughes said he’s met with Bass Coast mayor Cr Pamela Rothfield and members of the council’s planning staff.
But a planning application has not been lodged.
“There are many hurdles to jump,” Mr Hughes said, citing potential issues connecting with power network distributor AusNet.
“Finalising the project with AusNet could take a long time but we’re confident we’ll succeed.
“We have to make sure our technology aligns with the network so they can take our power from us.”
Power could be connected to the nearby Wonthaggi substation using existing overhead infrastructure although an easement with underground cabling runs through the property and is the preferred option.
The farm would be leased to ARP Australian Solar for the duration of its 30 year lifespan.
Mr Hughes said solar panels remain effective for at least 25 years.
The panels will be 0.8 metres off the ground allowing for sheep grazing below. They will be 2.4m at their highest point.
The panels and other infrastructure, including small olive coloured buildings to house inverters and batteries, will be screened by native hedges.
Mr Hughes said there will be minimal disturbances to neighbours.
“There’s no noise from these installations and solar is basically maintenance free.”
He said apart from two inspections per month, and cleaning three times a year, not much needs to be done.
There’ll be no light at night and infrared security systems will be deployed.
Mr Hughes said local schools could visit and was he would be happy to work with the local Energy Innovation Co-op to develop a community benefit scheme.
Susan Davies from the Co-op attended the drop-in session and asked how local people can get involved.
Both Ms Davies and Mr Hughes said they were looking forward to the development of technology that would allow consumers to buy renewable energy directly from the source, rather than through energy retailers.
If all goes to plan, Mr Hughes said he hopes work at the site can commence at the beginning of next year.
ARP Australian Solar plans to build similar installations at Lang Lang and Maffra.
Mr Hughes started in the industry in the UK when he developed a solar farm on his parents’ property.
He’s since led projects throughout Europe.
ARP Australian Solar is based in Sydney but Mr Hughes lives in Melbourne.