By Jeremy Sollars
The Southern Downs Regional Council is talking up the controversial solar farm planned for the Sladevale valley north of Warwick, claiming the $125 million project will create more than 100 jobs.
A statement released by the council last week announced that the University of Queensland (UQ) had officially taken over the project from original proponent Terrain Solar and that Lendlease would be the lead contractor on the site, with construction to begin in “early 2019”.
The council approved the project despite strenuous objections both from locals in the Freestone, Sladevale and Mount Tabor areas and from the wider Warwick community.
Residents said the 300-acre site off Freestone Road is prime agricultural land and similar solar farms have been refused by other regional councils on the basis of the loss of such lands.
Other objections included the visual blight 250,000 solar panels will cause in the picturesque valley – highly visible from the highway leading into Warwick from the north – and health and stormwater concerns.
In June Southern Downs councillors voted in favour of extending the potential life of the solar farm approved from 25 to 30 years.
The request for the extension by Terrain Solar was made after the overall project was approved by councillors at an earlier special meeting held on Wednesday 6 June.
The same day the Free Times revealed online that a deal had been done between Terrain Solar and the University of Queensland for the university to take over the solar farm at the start of construction.
Voting in favour of the application by Terrain Solar at the special meeting on 6 June were Mayor Tracy Dobie, Deputy Mayor Jo McNally and Councillors Yve Stocks, Rod Kelly and Sheryl Windle.
Those in the ‘no’ camp were Councillors Vic Pennisi, Cameron Gow, Marika McNichol and Neil Meikejohn.
In the council statement last week announcing the UQ takeover Mayor Dobie said ‘Warwick Solar Farm’ is “a significant project which will generate jobs and diversify the region’s economy”.
“The Warwick Solar Farm will generate more than 100 jobs for the Southern Downs and I encourage all local businesses to take the opportunity to become involved,” Cr Dobie said.
“This is a huge $125M project that will take a year to complete, bringing a major boost to the economy during the construction phase which is a huge benefit for the Southern Downs.
“Council wants as many local businesses and contractors as possible to be involved in the project.”
The statement also said construction of the solar farm will “require skills across a range of industries and trades including, among others, concrete work, fencing, site security, plant and equipment hire and craneage”.
“The detailed design and construction phase of the Warwick Solar Farm is due to commence in early 2019 with the solar farm expected to be complete and generating energy by early 2020,” the statement said.
A Lendlease ‘contractors session’ was held last Tuesday night, 11 December, at Warwick Town Hall.