Agronomist warns on solar farm soil impact as development debate continues

NOXIOUS: Paterson's curse.

NOXIOUS: Paterson's curse.

AS the debate continues over a solar farm proposed for Bathurst’s outskirts, an agronomist has warned the soil will suffer once the panels go up.

Keiran Knight of Best Environmental Technologies says the solar panels block UV light and this disrupts soil microbiology. 

“When carbon is stripped from the aggregates by the soil biology, the aggregates become compressed and the soil then becomes hard and compacted,” she said.

“When stock such as sheep or cattle graze nutritionally poor plants, they do not receive the adequate levels of minerals to meet their daily requirements, therefore they have to graze more of the plants per square metre. 

“This leads to the land being less productive because it can only sustain a smaller number of stock per acre due to the lack of nutrition in the plants.

“Another negative factor that affects plants that are nutritionally poor is that they are far more susceptible to insect and disease attack.”

Photon Energy Australia wants to build the 146MWp solar farm south-east of Bathurst on land on which it has already secured tenure.

An estimated 397,000 photovoltaic panels will be mounted on steel posts.

Because the $145 million project has been deemed a State Significant Development, the approvals process will be conducted by the Department of Planning and Environment rather than Bathurst Regional Council.

Among the criticisms of the project have been the visual impact, the fact Photon Energy has its headquarters overseas and the loss of productive land.

Landowner Sam Bonanno, whose family’s property is only separated by a train track from the proposed solar farm location, has said the site is prime agricultural land and it should not be used for a commercial operation. 

Supporters of the project have pointed to the fact the solar farm will have the capacity to power 46,000 average Australian homes and save 223,161 tonnes in C02 emissions annually.

At a community consultation meeting held last month about the project, Photon Energy representatives said grazing would still be possible around the solar farm and was, in fact, the preferred management plan for keeping grass levels down and reducing fire risk.

Agronomist Ms Knight, however, said there was a high potential for weeds to take hold around the panels.

“Many weeds such as Bathurst burr, fleabane and Paterson's curse prefer a tight, compacted soil and will thrive in an environment where the pasture is not as dense and healthy and won't be eaten by stock,” she said.

“It will be difficult for these such weeds to be controlled with herbicide due to the impossibility of a tractor and boom spray accessing the area.”

Best Environmental Technologies, which works all around the world, has a branch at Goulburn. It offers environmental products, systems and technologies, aiming to work with nature to restore ecosystems.

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