The New England Solar Farm near Uralla is set to expand after only one substantive objection was received to their modification proposal.
The solar farm, six kilometres east of Uralla and 19 kilometres south of Armidale in the Uralla Shire Council area, is operated by ACEN Australia. It was one of the early starters in the Renewable Energy Zone, receiving the initial development approval in March 2020, and construction started in May 2021. The project comprises more than 2.4 million solar panels, 150 power conversion units and a lithium-ion battery storage facility. One of the largest solar farms in the REZ, it produces enough power for 250,000 homes.
The modification that has just completed consultation was expected and flagged in early planning. It seeks to expand the size of the solar farm by adding 178 hectares to the development footprint, but not affecting any new neighbours. The documents indicate the additional land could be used for adding direct current (DC) solar PV capacity, without changing the solar component of the project’s total generating capacity of 720 MW(AC).
The most significant part of the modification increases the project’s Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) capacity from up to 200 MW (AC) by approximately 1,200 MW (AC) to approximately 1,400 MW (AC) (from up to 400 MWh to up to 2,800 MWh). The original plans included scope to increase battery storage but the exact timing and volume was uncertain. ACEN says the proposed change responds to market signals for the need for more dispatchable capacity to replace ageing coal fired power stations.
Of main concern to Uralla Shire Council is the increase in heavy vehicle traffic on local roads. ACEN says there will be an increase the number of over-dimensional vehicle movements during construction, upgrading and decommissioning from 15 to 30, and an increase the number of daily heavy vehicle movements during construction, but they have already done the work to upgrade the road accordingly.
The modification also increases the project’s construction hours on Saturday from 8am to 6pm (currently limited to 8am to 1pm), with some works allowed on Sunday, limited to work that will not be noisy.
Only three submissions were received on the modification: a comment from Council largely focused on roads, and two opposing comments from members of the public, one of which was from within the New England, and the other, submitted by a Mr Terry Wicks of Coolah, just said “No solar or wind farms”.
The modification is expected to be approved and work on the BESS to get underway later this year.