By Jeremy Sollars
The approval earlier today by a majority of Southern Downs councillors of a massive solar farm at Sladevale north of Warwick appears to have been a rubber stamp, with a deal appearing to have already having been done by applicant Terrain Solar with the University of Queensland for UQ to take over the project.
The university issued a media release about an hour after a special meeting of councillors held today, Wednesday 6 June, announcing it would take over the solar farm “once construction starts”.
The media release was embargoed until midnight tonight but the Free Times has chosen to ignore the embargo due to significant public interest in the issue.
UQ says it will invest $125 million in the project, saying Warwick will become “a showpiece for sustainable energy research and education”.
Voting in favour of the application by Terrain Solar to install 250,000 solar panels across 300 acres in the fertile Sladevale valley at today’s special meeting 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.
Residents present in the public gallery for this afternoon’s meeting labelled the approval “disgraceful”.
But what they didn’t know was the deal between Terrain Solar and UQ had apparently already been done prior to the special meeting.
The Free Times is seeking comment from Mayor Tracy Dobie about the level of understanding she and the other councillors had of negotiations between Terrain Solar and UQ.
In UQ’s media release – issued just before 4.30pm today – Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj is quoted as welcoming “Southern Downs Regional Council’s development approval for the project, which is expected to provide more than 100 jobs during construction, and several on-going positions”.
Councillors took their vote on the solar farm around 3.30pm today.
“This 64 megawatt (MW) solar farm will be an asset to the region, providing research, teaching and engagement opportunities on the Southern Downs, in addition to the environmental and financial benefits,” Professor Høj said.
“Six to seven jobs will be supported by the project for its planned 25-year life, and I commend councillors for positioning the Southern Downs as part of the future of the renewable energy industry.”
“UQ has more than seven years of experience managing solar PV assets, with almost 50,000 solar panels at campuses in Brisbane and Gatton,” the UQ statement said.
“The University will take ownership of the Warwick project from specialist renewable energy developer Terrain Solar once construction starts.”
More to come.