New Year joy for Shire

Narrandera Mayor Neville Kschenka celebrating the biggest economic development in the region in decades.

One of Australia’s biggest solar farms to be built at Morundah is set to be a boon for the Narrandera Shire, with a massive boost to jobs and businesses.

Costing almost $1 billion, the 900 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic solar farm will be located at the 3000ha Yarrabee Park, 23km from Narrandera, and is expected to generate more than 450 jobs over the estimated four-and-a-half year construction period.

When built, the 2600ha solar farm will have the capacity to power a city of almost one million people, pumping out 2300 GWh of renewable electricity via 3.6 million solar panels.

Developers, Reach Solar, have worked closely with the Narrandera Shire Council, the Department of Planning and Energy, the local community and land owners on the proposal.

Narrandera Shire Council Mayor Cr Neville Kschenka said the solar farm’s approval was another positive outcome for the shire.

“It is very exciting news and it’s important that many people from Narrandera as possible are employed, or if not, we would like to see the workers accommodated here,’’ Cr Kschenka said.

He said the site was chosen for its proximity to the transmisson grid, with earthworks expected to get underway within six months.

Cr Kschenka said the short term benefits included the potential for employment of shire residents. He said interested residents needed to upskill themselves in preparation.

“If jobs can’t be provided by locals, we would like to see people living here,’’ he said. “It will mean a couple of hundred people who need to be fed, clothed and entertained – in the long term that number will drop but if 30 permanent employees remain in Narrandera, that is still a big boost with 30 families.’’

Cr Kschenka described the Morundah solar farm as the biggest economic boost to the region since the establishment of Riverina Beef’s feedlot and abattoir at Yanco in the late 1980s. The project’s consent comes on the back of solar farm developments in the area by Esco Pacific and RES at Sandigo, and Resource Assessment’s $407 million project at Darlington Point in December.

Cr Kschenka said Council had negotiated a consent condition requiring the proponent to develop and agree with Council on an employment and accommodation strategy to be signed off by the NSW Department of Planning before any construction could start.

Reach Solar director David Webster said the project had been future proofed with the ability to integrate with the existing Wagga to Darlington Point 330,000 volt transmission system.

Council has established a reference group comprising community leaders to address strategies to ensure maximum engagement for the local business community with the developers of all planned solar farm proposals in the shire.

The group includes representatives from the Council, Narrandera Business Group, Narrandera Business Chamber, QPL Rural, CVGT, Southern ICN, BEC and Paterson’s Transport.

The Solar Farm Reference Group held its first meeting on January 15. A potential range of goods and services has been identified by NSW Industry Capability Network regional manager Klaus Baumgartel, an authority in local and regional procurement needs.

Reach Solar has expressed their wider needs and requirements for the project. The potential products and services list compiled by the Reference Group includes security fencing, land clearing and levelling, external road access, drainage installation, quarry products, vegetation landscaping, weed services, site buildings, waste management, bus services, catering, accommodation, traffic management, fuel delivery and labour hire.

The project may also generate specialist roles for surveyors, engineers and security guards. A questionnaire has been circulated among Narrandera businesses to determine those prepared to list their goods and services in a database accessible by solar farm developers.

Narrandera Business Group chairperson Ann Black described the solar farm project as “great for the town’’.

“As a business group, it is something we can move forward on with, giving as much information as possible to the local business houses, whether it be retail or electrical – they all need to know about it as there are positions which can be taken,’’ Mrs Black said. “As the project goes along, we will be open to the people in charge of those projects and they will tell us what they require.

“There is a long way to go and we don’t know who at this stage is going to benefit from it.

“We are circulating an expression of interest to ask local businesses if they are committed to a solar farm coming to town and what it can do for them.’’

Mrs Black said the economic benefits of the Sandigo solar farm may provide a blue-print for the local business sector in terms of ongoing benefits. She said a trained and skilled local workforce was the key.

“As a group, we need to make sure we have everything dotted and crossed,’’ Mrs Black said.

She hoped these large scale projects would entice other manufacturing and industrial businesses to consider relocating to Narrandera. She said the success of established businesses, such as Hutchins Bros Engineering, was a model for the region, along with the town’s advantage of an industrial estate on the junction of two highways.

The solar farm’s approval was welcomed by Morundah publican David Fahey.

“We will wait and see what it means – it is a good thing for the region, not just Morundah or Narrandera Shire,’’ Mr Fahey said. “There are lots of opportunities for employment for everyone.

“We have a pretty good employment rate here anyway – most people living in town work if they are not retired, but there will be accommodation or catering opportunities.’’

Mr Fahey said Morundah’s Paradise Palladium Theatre was ideal for a conference, seminar or large function with seating for 250 people, while the village could provide diverse social activities such as opera, team penning, market days and ballet for the solar farm workers.

“We kick along fairly well, regardless of what happens in the district and we make the best of every opportunity,’’ he said.

Reach Solar developed the 300 MW Bungala solar farm at Port Augusta, South Australia and expects to generate the first electricity from Yarrabee Park in early 2020. Electricity will be generated by photovoltaic modules using a single axis tracking system with a new high voltage substation to be built on the site.

There will be designated buffer zones for the preservation of native vegetation and areas of cultural and heritage significance. Once operable, an estimated 15 to 25 permanent staff will be employed at the Morundah site including contractors.

The project approval followed the release of a Government developed Large-Scale Solar Energy Guideline designed to lead applicants and the community through the assessment process for state significant solar farm proposals.

The Guideline provides clear guidance on the environmental and social impacts of state significant solar energy projects, encouraging early and continued consultation, and suitable site selection.

There are nine major operating large scale solar farms in NSW, with a total capacity of around 500 MW. Six new solar farms were commissioned last year, representing 305 MW and $475 million in investment. Another seven solar farms are under construction representing 530 MW and around $720 million in investment. There are almost 70 solar farms with, or seeking, planning approval in NSW, with capacity to generate more than 10,000 MW.

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