First Solar’s submission to the New South Wales Department of Planning to build an 87 megawatt (MW) solar farm approximately five kilometres west of Gulgong has been referred to the Planning Assessment Commission for determination.

The Department of Planning has prepared a detailed assessment report for the Commission, concluding the project can be approved, subject to strict conditions of consent.

Executive Director of Resource Assessments and Business Systems, David Kitto, said the draft conditions include removal of a portion of the project that sits on land zoned for large lot residential.

“We have listened to the concerns raised by the local community and consider that it is important to protect the rural character of the locality while allowing for future residential development,” Mr Kitto said.

The Department’s recommendation also aligns with Mid-Western Regional Council’s existing plans and policies, which prohibit large-scale solar development in rural-residential zones.

The Department has drafted strict conditions requiring the implementation of visual impact mitigation measures, including establishing and maintaining vegetation screening along the site’s boundaries.

In addition, these conditions restrict construction hours, require road upgrades and traffic management, and require the biodiversity impacts to be offset.

“With these conditions, we think a reasonable balance can be struck between maximising the use of the site’s solar resources and minimising any potential impacts on the local community and environment,” Mr Kitto said.

The Department exhibited the Environmental Impact Statement for the project from 26 April 2017 to 25 May 2017 and received 37 submissions, including 27 objections from residents living within five kilometres of the project site.

In its reduced form, the project would provide an installed capacity of approximately 70MW which is enough to power 26,000 homes.

Additionally, the project would create a significant boost in local employment, with around 150 workers employed during the construction period.

The final decision on whether to approve or refuse the development is a matter for the Commission, acting under the delegation of the Minister for Planning.

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