Australia’s Largest Solar Farm Sparks Controversy Near Great Barrier Reef

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The initiation of a sprawling 2700ha solar farm has elicited perturbation amongst local farmers, due to its proximity of 70km from the revered Great Barrier Reef. The proposed site lies in Queensland’s Goulburn region, stirring consternation among local inhabitants who take issue with the location of the Upper Calliope Solar Farm project.

Expected to generate a formidable 2.8 terawatts per hour annually, this development marks the debut Australian venture of Danish renewable energy colossus, European Energy. It takes the crown as the largest solar project in the country to date.

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Greg Bennett, a farmer hailing from a petite township in the Gladstone region expressed his discontent, lamenting the profound community impact of this multi-billion dollar endeavour. He stated, “We’re not opposed to solar power. The crux of the matter is their positioning.” He further elucidated the scale as akin to multiple football fields spanning an area 4000 times larger.

This onslaught of concern follows on the heels of a plea from Australia’s Energy Market Operator (AEMO), calling for increased investment in the transitioning energy sector. The urgency stems from looming danger of recurring blackouts this summer across the nation’s regions.

Slated to connect to the grid in 2026, the solar farm, with its two million solar panels, rests approximately 50km southwest of Gladstone. The consensus dictates a construction duration of 12 to 24 months.

Bennett was disconcerted upon ascertaining the potentially adverse effect the project might have on his personal property valuation. His 12500-acre estate, dedicated to cattle grazing, risked depreciating by a minimum of 30% in the wake of the project. Paraphrasing his sentiments, he remarked, “This endeavour is wreaking havoc not only on our familial equilibrium but also the harmony of the district, including its tranquil valley.”

Adding to his mounting anxieties, Bennett also harbors concerns about the potential ecological ramifications. His trepidation specifically lies in the imminent felling of ancient blue gum trees adjacent to his property, a necessary sacrifice for the solar farm’s construction. In addition to feeling anxious about his own property, he also fears the pollution of local rivers, threading through the farm and potentially carrying pollutant residue straight into the Great Barrier Reef.

Bennett laments the lack of regulations and careful consideration, expressing the sentiment that there is a “complete disregard for the reef and the people it destroys.”

Meanwhile, the CEO of AEMO, Daniel Westerman, emphasised the importance of accelerating Australia’s energy transition to satisfy future demands. According to him, we “continue to forecast reliability gaps. This is primarily due to the anticipated retirement of 62% of today’s coal fleet by 2033”. He underscored the urgency of implementing investments in transmission, generation, and storage projects to assure unerring electricity supplies.

Bennett concluded his observations, expressing the desire of fellow farmers to construct solar farms, but emphasizing their plea for more strategic, ecologically thoughtful placements. He ended his discourse voicing disbelief at the apathy towards local communities and lamenting, “We’re collateral damage in this rush to net-zero.”