Page 3315 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 18 September 2013

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That said, I would like to acknowledge the community concerns that have been voiced both here and in other places. It is fair to say that the proposals for these solar farms have caused some concerns in the community. We must recognise and acknowledge that the community have significant concerns and anxieties about the developments of solar farms near their homes. For the record, I want to be clear that I completely appreciate that many in the Uriarra community have concerns about a solar farm being built right across the road from their homes. They have certainly expressed those concerns to me very clearly. Probably the first thing that came to my attention when I came back from leave last week was the clarity and the number of contacts I had received, and I am sure others in the chamber have had such contacts as well.

It is important to be clear that two processes are at play here: the solar auction process where the feed-in tariff contract was awarded by the government, and the development process once the development application is lodged. Mr Corbell has touched on some of these points. The solar auction process is the first process.

What is needed to be prepared for the solar auction process? First of all, there has to be technical viability of the project—things like geotechnical studies and grid connection assessments. The solar auction process does not require the proponent to provide any assessment of the social or economic impact. That is the way the process is currently set up. That might be something we need to reconsider, but, at the moment, they are the rules on the way the solar auction process works.

The process also does not require proponents to engage with the community prior to submitting their proposal. Proponents may choose to; they may decide they want to go and talk to the community before submitting their proposal, but it is not a requirement in the act. Unfortunately, the announcement of the auction outcome, therefore, comes as a surprise to the community. The way it has been operated is that proponents, through commercial-in-confidence considerations, I guess, generally have not been active in putting their intentions out to the community. In the eyes of the community, the outcome of the solar auction has appeared to pre-empt the outcome of the planning process.

This, of course, was not assisted by government communications that suggested that the development was a fait accompli. In fact, that is not the case. The proponent is still required to get development approval, and if approval is not forthcoming the government is under no obligation to continue with the feed-in tariff contract. That is quite an important point. If the development approval process takes into account some of the concerns that have been raised and rejects the proposal, the government is in the position of not being financially or contractually committed to proceeding.

This brings us to the development process, which is still to come. The proponent has yet to submit the development application, as I understand it. The DA process will, of course, include a period for community consultation to be undertaken. That is not a long period, and that is something that is set in the rules, but it is the time when the community gets the opportunity to clearly put their concerns about the project. It is a short period, and that point has come up many, many times with projects that have been contentious in the community, and the community certainly needs to be ready so that, when the window opens, they take the opportunity to put their case.

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