The proposal by the French company Neoen to construct an industrial solar electricity generation facility on the gateway to Armidale and Uralla will have major impacts on surrounding communities. The proposed site is located on the properties Alfoxton and Saumarez Station close to the New England Highway and under the flight path of the Armidale airport. The site is an area 4 x 4 kilometres in size of prime agricultural land of which the company proposes to cover 1500ha with 1.5 million solar panels.
This proposal will impact on the several hundred residents living in the surrounding rural residential areas of Arding, Mt Butler/Invergowrie/Mt Mitchell and the Saumarez Ponds and Bowman Estates. These communities were established by the Uralla Shire to provide residents with the opportunity for a semi-rural lifestyle. The industrial sized scale of this proposal will change the nature of the area and conflict with the purpose for which these areas were created. Some residences are within 50 metres of the proposal. Expert general advice received so far indicates that property values in the area could fall between 5 and 20% depending on proximity to the proposal.
The NSW State Heritage Registered Saumarez Homestead is situated directly to the east of the site and according to Neoen’s Preliminary Environmental report “has largely uninterrupted view of the proposal” and “has the potential to impact on the broader landscape setting that surrounds this heritage item”. We believe that this proposal will have a significant negative impact on the heritage value of the homestead as well as impacting on the planned $2.7 million tourist development planned at the Homestead.
The western portion of the site contains koala habitat and corridors and Neoen’s proposal would require the clearing of much of this scattered vegetation as well as the publicly funded volunteer planting of thousands of trees on the Alfoxton property.
Thomas Lagoon, a classified Ecologically Endangered Community along with two other lagoons are located in the middle of the site. This development raises concerns for migratory birds using these wetlands and a range of wildlife using the corridors.
We recognise that renewable energies will be an increasing part of the future however the selection of sites for these projects needs to avoid conflicts with existing land uses and not impact negatively on surrounding communities.